Opening the bar has more connotations than quenching sailors’ thirsts when it comes to recalling the history of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s annual Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race. The introduction of this new ocean race was an event of great significance to the Gold Coast region of south-east Queensland, to ocean racing along the East Coast of Australia and, indeed, for the expansion of the CYCA.

  • Wild Thing crosses the finish line taking 2 days 1 hour 21 minutes and 14 seconds to complete the course Wild Thing crosses the finish line taking 2 days 1 hour 21 minutes and 14 seconds to complete the course
  • Simon Kurts' S&S 47 Love & War Simon Kurts' S&S 47 Love & War
  • Midnight Rambler works the angles Midnight Rambler works the angles

Promoted as 'the great winter escape', the Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race is second only in status to the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race among long ocean races conducted by the CYCA. 

The race, which starts from Sydney Harbour and finishes off Main Beach on the Queensland Gold Coast, was first conducted in 1986 following the opening up of the Southport "bar" (entrance) to deep keeled yachts, pleasure cruisers and large fishing boats, the result of extensive harbour works by the Queensland Government. Officially, it is called the Gold Coast Seaway.

The driving force behind the CYCA involvement was the late Peter Rysdyk, supported by Peter Campbell on the promotional side.  Obtaining a sponsor was a vital part of getting the race underway and Rysdyk and Campbell spent many days in negotiations with potential Gold Coast backers, with Jupiters Casino becoming the sponsor for the first seven years. 

Appropriately, the Official Starter of the inaugural Jupiters Gold Coast Race Yacht Race in 1986 was the then Premier of Queensland,  Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who fired the starting cannon to send a fleet of 83 yachts heading north - with the promise of much warmer weather!  An equally colourful character in the late Jack Rooklyn sailed his famous maxi yacht Apollo to a double victory, taking line honours and first on corrected time, a rare achievement for a maxi yacht.

Since then the 384 nautical mile race has attracted fleets of between 70 and 80 yachts each year, with entries mainly coming from New South Wales and Queensland, but also from Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and New Zealand, with the occasional other overseas entrant. In 1997, a record fleet of 86 boats took part.

The Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race is a prestigious race in its own right, but adding to its status is that is the opening event of the CYCA's ocean racing season for the Blue Water Pointscore and is a feeder race to the popular northern Queensland regattas.

The CYCA has always conducted the Gold Coast Race, with club sailing office staff flying north to join a dedicated team who finish the fleet off Main Beach, Southport. 

Since the race's inception the host club has been Southport Yacht Club, a large club with excellent marina facilities for members' yachts and motor cruisers. SYC provides escort vessels and berths for the visiting yachts, mostly on a floating marina in front of the clubhouse.

The Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race has become an important test bed for the CYCA's changes to the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, including handicap rating systems, safety rules, and multiple entries (eg IRC and ORCi), one design and other divisions.

Apollo set the pace with a time of 49 hours 19 minutes 41 seconds in the inaugural race in 1986 and the following year another Sydney Hobart Yacht Race line honours winner, Bernard Lewis' Sovereign, got the gun.

That year the Overall IOR winner of rugged 1984 Sydney Hobart Race, John Eyles' Indian Pacific, won the Gold Coast Race on corrected time.  

Taking third place on corrected time in 1986 and 1987 races was Bruce Staples in his Farr-designed 40-footer, Witchcraft II.  Staples,  later to become Commodore of the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club, has been the most successful competitor in the history to date of the Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race.  With Witchcraft II, between 1986 and 1994,  he recorded a first, a second and three thirds Overall under the old IOR rating. Then rated under IMS, Witchcraft II scored a third Overall and a first and a second in Division B. 

Back again in 2001 with Dark and Stormy, Staples placed first in IRC Division B.

The 1991 race saw the emergence of joint owners Roger Hickman, Bruce Foye and Lance Peckman,  as a formidable team with their Farr 43, Wild Oats. They won IOR that year, placed second in 1992 and 1993 and won IMS Overall in 1994. In 1993 they also won the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race on IOR corrected time.  

The 1994 event was a qualifying race for the 50th Sydney Hobart and among the winners (IMS Division C) was the veteran Southerly, skippered by Don Mickleborough and his equally veteran crew.  Southerly went on to win the 30 Year Veteran Division of the 50th Hobart.

George Snow emulated Jack Rooklyn's inaugural race feat in 1995 when he sailed Brindabella to a line honours win and first place in IMS Class A. (At that stage there was no Overall winner of the race).  Brindabella repeated her line honours win the following year and again in the 1999 race when the Jutson-designed maxi set the existing race record of 27 hours 35 minutes 03 seconds.

The 1999 race also saw the introduction of the Peter Rysdyk Memorial Trophy for first place Overall under the IMS handicap category. The first winner was the Victorian maxi Wild Thing, skippered by Grant Wharington, while IMS Division B went to another Victorian boat, Chutzpah, skippered by Bruce Taylor,  then Commodore of the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria.

Wild Thing reversed the line honours order in 2000, with the many times CYCA Blue Water Champion Syd Fischer achieving his first success in the  Gold Coast Race, sailing his Farr 50, Ragamuffin, to IMS Overall and winning the Peter Rysdyk Memorial Trophy. 

Despite being beaten across the line in 2001 by Grundig Xena, George Snow received some compensation by winning IMS Overall with BrindabellaGrundig Xena completed a double, also placing first in the IRC Division A.

In 2002 Sean Langman secured his second line honours win in a row with Grundig, after Wild Thing was disqualified, with IMS Overall going to Terry Mullens' Farr 50, Sting (ex Yendys), another yacht to achieve the Sydney Hobart and Sydney Gold Coast handicap double. 

The 2003 Sydney Gold Coast Race was a very significant race with the introduction of a number of new initiatives. It was the first CYCA race to score using the International Rule Club handicap (IRC) and IMS with the subsequent demise of IMS scoring altogether for the 2004 race. The 2003 Sydney Gold Coast was also the first Australian offshore race to incorporate the International Technical Committee's recommendation that water ballast be included in the IMS handicap system and for the first time, the Sydney 38s raced in their own one design division, a sign of the growing popularity of this class of racing.

Syd Fischer's Ragamuffin scored its second Overall IMS win in 2003, the other was in 2000, while Sean Langman's Grundig also scored its third line honours win in this race, the others in 2001 and 2002, as well as claiming first overall on IRC handicap.

In the 2004 Sydney Gold Coast, the order of the top handicap results were reversed when Bob Steel's Quest pipped Ragamuffin in the IRC Division A results while the Stewart 34 Pendragon (Andrew Cochrane) sailed into second place Overall on IRC handicap, the handicap system now adopted by the CYCA to establish the outright winner of this race and its premier ocean race, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

In the race for line honours, Stewart Thwaites' first time entry Konica Minolta, the 30 metre New Zealand maxi, took lines honours somewhat controversially after Skandia, which was leading the fleet, retired from racing so owner Grant Wharington and some of his crew could dash to Mooloolaba for the Etchells World Championship.

In the 2005 Sydney Gold Coast, Andrew Cochrane's Pendragon, a previous multiple divisional winner in this race finally scored an Overall win while Bob Oatley's 66 foot canting keel Wild Oats X, which should have been competing at the Admiral's Cup at the time of the Gold Coast Race (the Admiral's Cup was subsequently cancelled) instead raced north to take line honours.

In the 2006 race, Steven David's Wild Joe took top honours in IRC Division 1 while line honours went to Grant Wharington's Skandia.

In the 2007 race, Steven David's Wild Joe won IRC Overall, with Rob Hanna's Shogun second and Bob Oatley's Wild Oats X third, after she won line honours.

In 2008, Ray Roberts' Quantum Racing took the line honours and IRC Overall double, with Bob Steel's Quest second IRC Overall and Cockatoo Ridge - The Goat (Foye Syndicate) third.

One of the longest and light air races is what the 2009 Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race will be remembered for. The fleet of 80 started in a 3-5 knot ESE on Sydney Harbour and battled head winds all the way up the coast, with some of the fleet going over 90 nautical miles offshore to find some breeze. After 49 hours, 29 minutes and 23 seconds, the Mark Richards skippered Wild Oats X took the line honours win from Stephen Ainsworth's RP63 Loki, who finished second across the line, just over one hour behind Wild Oats X

Ed Psaltis & Bob Thomas' modified Farr 40 AFR Midnight Rambler claimed the overall win for the only east coast offshore yacht race that the duo had not won! Henk Wellman's Sydney 36CR Aileron finished second overall and Rod Jones' Archambault 40 Alegria, the eventual Audi Australian IRC Champion, placed third

2010 Race Wrap: 25 Years on...

For the silver jubilee Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race, a high calibre 75 strong fleet representing New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia lined up in Sydney Harbour in a sou'westerly breeze for the colourful spinnaker start.

The largest were itching to have yet another crack at the elusive race record set back in 1999 by George Snow's mighty Jutson 79, Brindabella, and were at times on record pace, but mishap and the weather transition near the border once again worked in Snow's favour. 

First over the line in the 384 nautical mile coastal race with an elapsed time of 1 day 6 hours 25 minutes 37 seconds was the Bob Oatley owned and Mark Richards skippered supermaxi Wild Oats XI, as bad luck would have it missing the longstanding record by the same number of hours it cost them detouring to Newcastle to drop off their injured bowman. 

The only major incident of the race was bowman Tim Wiseman's fingers accidently finding their way into the mainsheet block on the whopping carbon fibre boom, forcing the 100 footer to offload the crewman for medical treatment. Weeks later he was back on the bow of Wild Oats XI at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week with his finger still strapped after surgery having made a near complete recovery.

Stephen Ainsworth's RP63 Loki continued its march onwards from the Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta, claiming the outright IRC win from a top field and then backing up for the trifecta at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week, the only boat to have ever taken the top prize at all three events in the same year.

Harvey Milne's Archambault 31 Aroona as still hanging onto the yellow leader's jersey in the Audi IRC Australian Championship after the Audi Sydney Gold Coast results were tallied, but that too went to Loki once the final event of the four-part national series wrapped up a month later at Hamilton Island.

With the last boat, the Swanson 36 Mister Christian, safely home by Tuesday afternoon, it was regarded a quick and straightforward dash north to Southport. The breeze peaked at a manageable 30 knots and from the starting line-up there were only four retirements and an equally low rate of gear failure and sail damage - a great result for organisers and competitors.

Over 25 years the Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race has cemented its place as the Australian offshore racing calendar's season opener and in terms of stature and fleet size is regarded one of the country's key blue water events.

By Lisa Ratcliff

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2011 Race Wrap: Race gift wrapped for birthday Doll

At the end of the Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race, which according to participants went on for an eternity, Wild Oats XI took line honours from Investec Loyal after a protracted battle and Michael Hiatt received a great present when Living Doll was declared the IRC overall winner from Loki andRagamuffin on his 59th birthday.

Michael Logan from the Bureau of Meteorology warned everyone in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's annual 384 nautical mile race that the weather would be light and changeable, but the direction of wind and pressure was a little different than anticipated.  

Contested by 69 boats, of which eight retired (mostly due to time constraints), the race was characterised by its light to medium winds and the sundry wind holes that trapped even the smartest players. It was agreed the race was tactically and navigationally challenging, but nevertheless enjoyable.

Swords were drawn between the two 100 footers from the outset. Bob Oatley's Wild Oats XI with Mark Richards in his usual role of skipper, and Investec Loyal, now solely owned by Anthony Bell, boasted some of the biggest yachting names in Australia and New Zealand.

Richards' crew contained 32nd America's Cup winner Grant Simmer (Alinghi) calling the shots and Adrienne Cahalan navigating. Bell beefed up his crew with helmsman Billy Merrington, tactician Michael Coxon, 32nd America's Cup winner Will McCarthy, Tommy Braidwood, and New Zealander Mike Quilter, who along with Cahalan, is among the world's top navigators.

Wild Oats XI won the day, finishing the Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race in one day 18hr 11min 27sec, but it was only by a nine minute 22sec gap after Bell and crew pulled to within two miles of the winner in the closing stages. Never more than 8 or 9 miles ever separated the two.

After taking line honours, Richards conceded Investec Loyal had kept them honest throughout the race. "It was good stuff - really close the whole way - it reminds us we're not infallible," he admitted.

"It was very close towards the end. The most important thing was getting to the finish first. We made it so that they (Investec Loyal) had to sail around us to beat us."

Richards said they were very happy with the modifications made to the boat, "The new daggerboard worked well," he said.

Of course Bell was just as happy with his yacht's result. "We're in stage one of some modifications and this was our first big race since Hobart. We've altered the keel and got a new rig, so we didn't want to press the rig too hard in our first race, so we've got more to give," he said.

Closing the gap on Wild Oats XI at around 3.00am in the morning, Bell said: "Tactically we pushed a bit harder in the early hours and took a bit out of them. We made a couple of tactical errors in the race, but who didn't?"

Despite being one of many who had to return to the start after crossing early, Michael Hiatt's Farr 55, Living Doll, featured at the top of the standings from early on, so her win was no accident, nor was it controlled by the whim of the weather.

The Victorian yachtsman who owns the funky Living Doll clothing label, put together a winning crew, and his yacht was race-ready. Malfunctions and breakages have been setbacks for Hiatt in the past, but not this time.

However, it took all of Will Oxley's considerable navigating skills to keep the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria entry out of the wind holes and in the right place, mostly on the rhumbline for the ever-transitioning wind it swung from land to sea breezes and back again, from nothing to 12 knots or so.

Grey hulled Living Doll was leading the race overall on the first afternoon and Oxley, who is in big demand on the international scene, said at the time: "We're working hard to try to get the sea breeze timing right with closing on the coast, and then thinking about how best to deal with tonight.

"Looks like a few parking lots ahead and behind us. Trying hard to avoid this fate, but we'll have to go through this all again tomorrow morning/afternoon."

Throughout, they warded off challenges, especially from those who finished second, third and fourth behind them: 2010 winner and reigning Audi IRC Australian champion, Loki, a Reichel/Pugh 63 owned by Stephen Ainsworth; Syd Fischer's TP52 Ragamuffin; Harvey Milne's Archambault 31 Aroona (the smallest boat in the fleet at 31ft), skippered by Anthony Paterson and Victoire, Darryl Hodgkinson's Beneteau 45, all from NSW.

Picking up a nice southerly to finish off the race, Living Doll stormed home under spinnaker to claim the IRC overall trophy after the smaller boats did not get enough puff to bring them into contention.   

Hiatt said their premature start had no bearing on the outcome and did not disrupt their game plan. "Will (Oxley) looked at the weather pre-race and all went as planned. Our timing was good; we knew it would be a tactical race and that navigating would be tedious, but Will and Steve Cotton (a top Kiwi sailor) worked really well to make it happen," he said.

Oxley and Cotton were assisted by prominent long standing afterguard, Ross Lloyd calling tactics. "I had a lot of confidence in the three of them, and all of my crew, which includes seven from New Zealand," Hiatt remarked.

"It was refreshing having Will aboard; this is his first ocean race with us,"  Hiatt said. "It's a great feeling to win; it's a nice birthday present."

When light winds were forecast for the race, Living Doll was proposed as a top prospect by others. "We really enjoy light air - if we get eight hours or more of reaching in light winds we do very well and can take time away from opponents - and we were keeping our eye on Loki, Hooligan (Marcus Blackmore's TP52) and others," Hiatt said. 

Hiatt said the best part of their race came just after Living Doll was trapped in her only park-up, two miles north of Point Byron (40 odd miles from the finish). "We were three-sail reaching with a Code Zero up. We were on fire and it felt very comfortable," he said. "Then we put the kite up and flew home."

Living Doll charted a course close to the coast. "We couldn't see the value in heading out to sea," he said. Hooligan and others spent time further out and it did not pay off.

As to how slow the going was, at 800am on Day 4 at sea (two days 19 hours into the race), only 14 yachts had finished the 26th edition of the race. In stark contrast, Brindabella's race record, set in 1999, is 27 hours 35min 03sec. Wild Oats XI finished this race nearly 12 hours behind it.

Jonathan Stone's Davidson 34, Illusion, finished on the afternoon of August 3, bringing the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's 26th Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race to its conclusion

By Di Pearson

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2012 Fast downhill slide nets records for Wild Oats XI and Loki

It was third time lucky for Mark Richards and crew on Bob Oatley's 100ft super maxi, Wild Oats XI, which smashed Brindabella's 13 year-old Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race record, slicing 5 hours 31min 57sec of the 27 hours 35min 43sec set in 1999.

In ideal downwind conditions, Wild Oats XI crossed the Main Beach finish line at 11.03.46, in the time of 22 hours 3min 46sec. Peter Harburg's RP66, Black Jack, with Mark Bradford at the helm, was second on line and first Queensland boat home.

Black Jack also finished inside the record, in 26hrs 24mins 2sec, as did the race's overall winner, Loki, which claimed third on line some 28 minutes later. The three Reichel/Pugh designs also finished top three overall, in the reverse order: Loki, Black Jack, Wild Oats XI.

Wild Oats XI took line honours in 2010 and 2011; the latter well outside the record in one day 18hr 11min 27sec, when the fleet coped with light to moderate breezes.        

This time, conditions played into the hands of Wild Oats XI, which was on record pace from the outset. South and south-westerly winds, mainly in the 15-25 knot range and gusting in the 30's, relentlessly drove the yacht to her third line honours victory and the record.

"We got amazing conditions. We hit 34 knots boat speed. It got light and funny towards the end, but we were expecting that," Richards said.

"To take the boat out of the shed after it's been sitting there since the Hobart race, is a great tribute to the crew and to the Oatley family. It was a ride from heaven," Richards declared.

Brindabella's original owner, George Snow, was early to call and congratulate Richards on the new record. He was pragmatic, commenting: "I watch every year; it had to go sooner or later." Snow also enquired how Brindabella (now owned by Jim Cooney) was fairing - she finished fifth on line in the time of 33 hours, 37min and 5 sec.  

As the last five yachts headed to the finish, just over two days after the start, the CYCA confirmed Loki's overall win. Her elapsed time was 26hrs 52mins 39sec, 43 minutes insideBrindabella's record.

"We're off to a good start," said Ainsworth, referring to the opening race of the CYCA's Blue Water Pointscore Series, unaware Loki was the new owner of the conventionally ballasted yacht record. His grin widened when told.

"It was a very satisfying win. Conditions were harsh; we drove the boat hard and didn't back off. The boat and crew handled the race very well. We got the best weather you could ask for. 

"It was a wild race; I remember seeing 33 knots on speed dial. Then there was so much spray I couldn't see the dial anymore. It was like being on a sub - the full fire hose treatment," Ainsworth said.

Loki has broken many records, won the 2010 Audi IRC Australian Championship and the CYCA's Blue Water Pointscore Series and then the 2011 Hobart. She won the 2010 Audi Sydney Gold Coast, was second in 2011 and won this 2012 edition.

Every yachtie had tales to tell of the race dubbed 'The Big Downhill Slide', which also included a couple of light patch south-east and northerly breezes. Only six boats retired from what some initially thought would be "boat breaking conditions."

All enjoyed the fast ride and the odd spot of whale watching. Some could not believe the boat speed their yachts attained. CYCA Commodore, Howard Piggott, said of his Beneteau F40, Flying Cloud: "It was like launching off Cape Canaveral a lot of the time - it was white knuckle sailing. We did 16-18 knots - on a Beneteau!"

Black Jack claimed ORCi overall honours from two TP52's; Ragamuffin and Jason Van der Slot's Calm (Vic).

The Inglis/Jones 39, She's the Culprit, owned by "The Culprit Syndicate' from Lake Macquarie, won PHS overall from Andrew Wenham's V60, Southern Excellence and the Kerry Burke/Robert Carr owned Northshore 370, Mortgage Choice Rumba.

Last yacht to cross the line was Biddy Hu II from Victoria. The Beneteau 50 finished in 2 days 7hr 30min 32sec. Owner, Paul Lindemann, who kept up a text dialogue throughout the race, signed off with humour: "The eagle has landed!"

By Di Pearson

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2013: Wild Thing finds pot of gold at end of rainbow; Brannew wins first major title in Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race  

One of the slowest races on record, the Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race was challenging and exciting, with both line and overall honours going down to the wire.

Neither the open race record holder, Wild Oats XI, or the conventional yacht record holder, Loki, were on the start line, and the fleet was a smallish one at 47, but it did not detract from a diverse grand prix fleet representing NSW, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania.

Grant Wharington’s 100ft Wild Thing, taking part in only its second ocean race, led the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s annual 384 nautical mile race from its midline start on Sydney Harbour. It was only headed once, in the last hours of the race, by John Honan and Peter Millard’s 98 foot Lahana (NSW). But a short time later, the Queensland super maxi regained control and sailed to line honours victory at 14:21:14 on July 29, in 2 days, 1 hour, 21 minutes, 14 seconds.

Around the time Wild Thing finished, Chris Bran made a final push for overall honours with his one year-old Beneteau First 40 CR, Brannew.   

Bran was victorious, but not without some angst. Late in the race, he still had to contend with various yachts, keeping the Brannew crew working overtime all the way to the finish line for their first major offshore win. After the CYCA skipper finished, he had to wait it out for several others to do the same.

Contenders knew the forecast ahead of the 28th edition of the race, so were under no illusion that it would be a quick simple one.  Roger Hickman described it as: “Classic Sydney Gold Coast,” while from 2008 Hobart winner Quest’s owner, Bob Steel’s point of view, “It was a race you want to forget.”  

Michael Logan from the Bureau of Meteorology prepared competitors for light and variable winds, forecasting a light westerly for the race start on July 27 (It was 3 knots, but increased to around 8 within the hour). He said the wind would tend northerly up to 10 knots in the southern part of the course and then light easterlies as the fleet sailed into the northern section, with a westerly or two mid-race.  

A southerly was due on the fourth day, too late.

The variable weather was reflected in the changes of overall leaders throughout, from super maxi Lahana, to Rod Jones 50 footer, Audi Sunshine Coast, to Bob Cox’s Nine Dragons at 46 feet and Flying Cloud, owned by CYCA commodore Howard Piggott and Phil Molony’s Papillon, both 40 feet, among others.

Kim Jaggar, co-owner of the 25 year-old Davidson 34, Illusion (one of the smaller yachts in the fleet), was not so sure. ”Only if we don’t get too far behind in the first couple of days can we capitalise on the southerly,” he said.

“The big boats will get the stronger northerlies (up to 10 knots) and the westerly of up to 16 knots, which will push the bigger yachts quickly up the coast, and they should get away from us there. It will all come down to the transition in breeze and whether we can be in the right place at the right time. It’ll be tricky and there’ll be a bit of luck involved,” Jaggar summed up.

The decision makers at the back of each boat had to work out whether to go offshore or hug the coast – some did a bit of both – but most stuck with the coastal route.

By Di Pearson

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2014: Celestial wins Land Rover Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race Wild Oats XI takes line honours - again

Wild Oats XI and Celestial emphatically took line and overall honours respectively in the 384 nautical mile Land Rover Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race in July, but the race record stayed intact.

The 29th running of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s race was a far cry from last year, when a number of yachts retired, citing time constraints as the race climaxed on the fifth day.

And although the tricky weather at the start left a lot to be desired, it was one of the most pleasant races in recent history for those who managed to stay ahead, or up with, the storm fronts and weather changes.

Enjoyable 15-20 knot north-westerly and south-westerly winds, aided by flat seas, were tailor made for a fast reaching race. There was also the added benefit of sea life spotting, anything from seals to penguins, dolphins, whales and sharks.   

Conditions prompted America’s Cup and Olympic sailor Iain Murray (Wild Oats XI) to comment afterwards: “An enjoyable reaching race on flat seas – it doesn’t get much better.”

Fifty-five yachts piled up at the boat end of the Nielsen Park start line on Sydney Harbour. A wet, miserable grey morning transformed to sunny blue skies by the 1.00pm start, but the predicted breeze was nowhere to be seen.  

Instead, light shifty 5 knot to nothing airs, fanning from all points of the compass, turned to parking lots on the Harbour. The pop of spinnakers at least provided extra colour.

Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI, skippered by Mark Richards, appeared the only one to be free of the windless shackles. Richards would later say, “We had a plan, we stuck to it, and it paid off big time. The crew were fantastic and kept the boat going up the Harbour.”

He steered the super maxi straight down the eastern side of the Harbour, and although slowing down at times, it didn’t stop. Steven Proud’s Swish was the only one to get within cooee of Oats. The Kernan 44 trailed the 100 footer to Lady Bay, but then lost touch with the breeze before finally setting off again.

As Wild Oats XI reached the Heads, Paul Clitheroe’s Balance Bruce Foye’s The Goat and Darryl Hodgkinson’s Victoire started to make good ground near North Head.

Able to see the funny side, Clitheroe, who recently purchased the 2008 Rolex Sydney Hobart winner Quest and renamed her Balance, reported: “Must buy a new boat more often. After much drifting between the Heads and enjoying watching sunbaking seals and penguins, Balance is arguably the first boat to Manly.

“A fair point is that Wild Oats is halfway to the horizon and made more distance, but if it was Sydney Harbour to Manly, we've got that covered. Problem is, we’ve got no idea what will happen next, but lovely afternoon....so far!”

Left in this group’s wake was Perpetual LOYAL, owned by Anthony Bell who had friend and Australian cricket captain, Michael Clarke, along for the ride. Up alongside was Black Jack, the Queensland V70 owned by Peter Harburg.

Harburg’s skipper, Mark Bradford, commented pre-race: “The predicted reaching winds will suit us and LOYAL down to the ground, although the breeze won’t be strong enough. These boats (both designed by Argentinean Juan Kouyoumdjian) need 20-25 knots.”

His prophecy proved accurate, as the closest Perpetual LOYAL got to Wild Oats XI, was 4 nautical miles on the first evening. “At one point, Black Jack “came barreling at us, but when she gybed back in to the coast, that was it,” Richards said.

From there, Wild Oats XI kept up a steady pace all the way to Southport, averaging speeds of 18 knots. It reached the finish line in 15.27.46 hours, taking 26 hours 27 minutes and 47 seconds, more than four hours short of its 22 hour 3 minute and 46 second record set in 2012.

Over two hours later, Perpetual LOYAL finished second on line for eighth overall, while Black Jack repeated its third on line of last year, but this time was well up the overall board in second place.

The only blip on Oats’ radar was her year-old carbon fibre hydrofoil wing snapping off while surfing down waves at speeds averaging 18 knots, but surging into the 20’s, at around 1.30am on the morning after the start. Installed to improve speed, a crew member said it did affect their performance.

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By Di Pearson

2015:David and Goliath battle waged for 2015 Land Rover Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race

The Land Rover Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race threw its usual curveballs at competitors, combining nice reaching and running with wind holes, then Black Jack was announced overall winner before her Queensland owner and skipper declared an error in their finish time and Quikpoint Azzurro took the winner’s seat, surprising her crew.

At the pointy end, after taking control of the race from North Head, Anthony Bell’s Perpetual Loyal took line honours from Peter Harburg’s 70 foot Black Jack in the 30th edition of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s 384 nautical mile race.

The 100 footer sailed the distance unimpeded, but conditions were not conducive to breaking Wild Oats XI’s time of 22 hours 03 minutes 43 seconds, set in 2012. Perpetual Loyal covered the course in one day nine hours 57 minutes 49 seconds, with her smaller adversary two hours behind.

Both yachts have undergone further modifications to increase speed since competing in the 2014 Rolex Sydney Hobart.

Bell said after the race: “This is the fastest the boat’s ever been. We spent ages trying to work out what to do to make it faster. We modified the bulb and keel and it’s all looking very positive. We are very confident in the boat.”

He said they were happy with their race after sailing through a minefield of fluky light air to Sydney Heads.

“We took off after that. We were averaging 24-25 knots til midnight in a north-westerly, which suited us. Then it all went flat on Sunday. Lots of boats got trapped in Coffs Harbour and we parked a lot in the afternoon,” commented Bell, who was “disappointed” that Wild Oats XI was not in the race.

“Given our modifications, I would have been delighted to race them, just to see how we went against each other in these conditions,” the Sydney yachtsman said.

Harburg and his skipper Mark Bradford worked on making Black Jack more slippery in lighter winds and are happy with their findings too.

“Our boat’s never been better suited to a race that this one. We’ve just modified it pretty heavily for lighter air, so the forecast is right for us,” Bradford said beforehand.

Their point was proven when Black Jack took over 20 miles out of her larger rival when moderate reaching conditions returned late on the second evening as they headed to the finish line.

Back at the July 25 start off Nielsen Park, there were shades of déjà vu as weak fluky winds, similar to last year’s start, took hold. The Bureau of Meteorology’s forecast 10 knot westerly arrived as the bulk of the 62-boat fleet was approaching Sydney Heads, with a little south thrown in on the eastern side of the Harbour.

Many of the smaller yachts took advantage of the situation in the Harbour, leading their larger contemporaries. Most opted for the eastern side of the Harbour. Tony Kirby’s Patrice slipped through the two big boats off Watsons Bay and made a beeline for the Heads under spinnaker, until the breeze kicked in and Perpetual Loyal overhauled the Ker 46, with Black Jack still giving chase.

As the boats headed north, the weather was variable, with parking lots offsetting lovely reaching and running conditions. Warm and sunny, seas were relatively flat, making it a pleasant race and creating opportunities for everyone, even though the holes caused frustration.  

A few boats enjoyed their time at the top of the overall standings, including Perpetual Loyal, Black Jack, Chinese Whisper, Wild Rose, Quikpoint Azzurro, Black Sheep and Local Hero, which with Stampede, took a big dive offshore to briefly lead IRC and PHS standings respectively.

Initially, Black Jack was declared overall winner, with Quikpoint Azzurro second and Chinee Whisper third, before Peter Harburg and Mark Bradford pointed out the error in their finish time and were relegated to third.

Harburg was philosophical. “Mistakes happen. I like to win trophies, but I like to win them fairly and honestly. Bradford reiterated Harburg’s sentiments, before calling Kearns to congratulate him.

Kearns’ Quikpoint Azzurro and Rupert Henry’s Chinese Whisper kept popping up in the top three. Dissimilar in nearly every way, the two finished first and second respectively. They were also the top two in ORCi, with Derek and Martin Sheppard’s Beneteau 45, Black Sheep, third.

Click here to read the full race wrap

By Di Pearson

© Peter Campbell, Lisa Ratcliff, Jennifer Crooks and Di Pearson