Queensland’s Season of Sailing – Northern circuit just keeps growing

Some of the best sailing to be had anywhere in the world is there to be enjoyed in Far North Queensland Audi Hamilton Island Race Week 2009
Jack Atley
In 1983 Melbourne sailor David Hutchens, and the owner of Hamilton Island at the time, Keith Williams, started Hamilton Island Race Week. The southern states yachting community embraced this new regatta as a new adventure, but from Melbourne it was 1230 nautical miles to the Island and the naysayers expected the shine would wear off after a few tough deliveries back south.

But the event grew and grew and was followed seven years later by the Whitsunday Sailing Club’s Airlie Beach Race Week, with Hogs Breath Café founder Don Algie underwriting the event.

Just six years ago the Townsville Yacht Club sailors proposed Magnetic Island Race Week should join the party. First Sunferries, then Sealink took up the sponsorship challenge. The event grew rapidly as southern sailors realised it was a great place to spend time while they waited for the trade winds to turn to the north for that pleasant ride south.

In the late 1990’s Airlie Beach Race Week typically had 40 boats competing, Hamilton Island Race Week 120, but together the two regattas grew.

Now with a third event on the northern circuit, the combined events are even stronger, each one of them growing in size as the overall desirability of the far north Queensland’s winter sailing scene increases.

As the hundredth entry for 2012 Telcoinabox Airlie Beach Race Week was completed today it seems this year’s Airlie Beach Race Week is going to reach a 130 plus competitors, Audi Hamilton Island Race Week 200 plus and Sealink Magnetic Island Race Week will likely attract 80 plus entries.

Some of the best sailing to be had anywhere in the world is there to be enjoyed at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week
Jack Atley


Denis Thompson, who is heavily involved in the regatta and race management in all three events said this morning ‘Each regatta has its own style. The three venues are remarkably different, the fleets are different in nature as are the race courses and the events all have different accommodation inventory.

‘But what they do together is offer more and more choices for southern sailors, making the long passage north into the warm tropical waters a more attractive proposition every year and this is being reflected in the extended periods boats are coming north and the increasing numbers of crew changes between regattas.’

Sydney sailor and past CYCA Commodore Geoff Lavis, the owner of one of the best known ocean racers in Australia USB Wild Thing, agrees.

‘Coming to the same venue year after year is not what my crew would want to do. We’ve been to lots of Hamilton Island Race Weeks and two years ago I crewed on one of my friends boats at Magnetic Island. This year I’ve brought my 50 footer north and we are doing Airlie Beach for the first time and then Magnetic Island. For us it’s a new adventure. However we will no doubt sail again at Hamilton Island in the next couple of years.’

Race Start - Fantasea F18 Australian Championships - Sealink Magnetic Island Race Week 2011


Townsville sailor Leon Thomas says the expanded choice of regattas is wonderful.

‘We’ve done a bunch of Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island Race Weeks and of course we’ve not missed any of our home regattas at Magnetic Island. This year we are doing Hamilton and Magnetic.’

Thomas, one of Townsville's most successfull racing skippers originally purchased a sports boat to compete at Airlie Beach, then upgraded to a Farr 30 for Magnetic Island, has now replaced the Farr with a Sydney 38.

‘With the three regattas here in far north Queensland we have a great racing circuit and with the Palm Island group and the Whitsundays on our doorstep, the Sydney 38 allows us to cruise too.’

The most significant growth in all three regattas in recent years has been the cruising fleets. Many southern boats are taking up to six months to cruise slowly north in company, enjoy the social scene at a regatta or three, spend more time in the Islands and then head south, when the trade winds turn for the southern summer.

Now the Club Marine Brisbane to Keppel race has added more spice as Geoff Lavis explains.

‘We have in past times headed north starting with the Sydney to Gold Coast race, but this year we are cruising to Brisbane choosing enjoyable weather windows then racing in the Club Marine Brisbane to Keppel Race, a great feeder race to the other regattas, before heading for Airlie Beach.’

All the four events are part of the Queensland Season of Sailing – Sailing, Sun, and a Season of Fun.

Long may it continue!!

Queensland Season of Sailing!