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Festival of Sails fleet coming through the Hopetoun Channel - Photo Credit: Teri Dodds
Festival of Sails fleet coming through the Hopetoun Channel - Photo Credit: Teri Dodds

Ideal conditions forecast for Festival of Sails mass Passage Race start

Conditions are shaping up to be ideal for Saturday morning’s mass start of the Melbourne to Geelong passage race for 225 boats, the chief curtain-opener for the Royal Geelong Yacht Club’s annual Festival of Sails presented by Rex Gorell Land Rover.

In the distance at Melbourne Park, Australian Open staff will be sweeping the tennis courts, filling the fridges with drinks and preparing to open the gates while out on Port Phillip, the bulk of the Festival fleet will be limbering up for the 0930hrs start of the 32 nautical mile Passage Race, creating a spectacle unique to the southern hemisphere.

The long range outlook for Saturday January 23, 2016 is a “pretty typical Port Phillip summer’s day; light southerly winds for the start off the bayside suburb of Williamstown building to a 15 knot sea breeze by the end of the day, and sunny!” says PRO Denis Thompson. Sunday and Monday look like they’ll bring similar conditions, which is great news for the 2,500 or so sailors travelling from interstate and overseas to join the active Victorian racing community for the historic long weekend regatta.

Total Festival entries are well up on last year, 276 compared to last year’s 229 plus off-the-beach classes.

Adrenaline levels are still sky-high for the two MC31 owners racing the clock to get the brand new hulls, just off a boat from China, ready in time. “The boats are in the water and rigs should be there today,” reports one of the owners, Rohan Veal. “Despite the delays it is all coming together and we are hoping to get a couple of tuning sessions in before Saturday's race.”

A newly formed Super 11 division scored under AMS handicap will be trialled at the Festival of Sails for the MC31s and other high performance asymmetric boats around the 30-foot mark that are often penalised by the IRC handicap system.

Tim Pepperrell and Rob Reiger plan to out-run the bigger keelboats and beat the entire fleet to the finish line off RGYC, as they did in 2012, with their 28-foot Grainger trimaran Bare Essentials. In 12 knots of wind the super-speedy multihull can lift up on to one hull and travel faster than the wind, thanks to reduced drag and the apparent wind that propels them forward. Based on the forecast and physics that will come into play, plus a new mast and sail suite, the tri could have a massive edge over rival monohulls such as a TP52.

“Once we get up on the foil and cruise across the waves, it’s just incredible to sail,” gushes Pepperell. “We’ll wind it up after the Passage Race start and hopefully we won’t have to worry about anyone in front of us getting in the way coming into the narrow Hopetown channel.”

At close to twice the size of Bare Essentials, Geoff Boettcher’s TP52 Secret Mens Business from South Australia is the favoured front-runner among the monohull fleet, with other racy 50-footers from the Rating Series division very likely to be nipping at their stern all the way to the City of Geelong.

The day before, Friday January 22, marks the start of the racing program on Corio Bay’s main arena when the sports boats and VX One class commence their respective series. For the VX’s it’s an Australian Championship year thanks to the Bausele watch company, so too for the Morris Finance Sydney 38 fleet from Victoria and South Australia contesting their three day national title.

Sunday and Monday all crews complete either windward/leeward short course races or passage races, depending which of the 12 divisions on offer the owner opted for. At full stretch all five course areas spanning Corio Bay’s inner and outer harbours will be operating simultaneously under RGYC sailing staff, Denis Thompson and a large team of race officials and volunteers.

Most divisions complete their pointscore on Monday which means the hard work is over and those crews can enjoy more of the tasty fare on offer, and the brilliant shoreside fireworks that evening to mark Australia Day, on Tuesday January 26.

The Rex Gorell Rating Series, Optimum Time Super 11 series and Yacht Safe Performance Racing series play out on Australia Day along with a jam-packed national holiday program along Geelong’s waterfront for sailors, residents and holidaymakers, thanks to Geelong Connected Communities.

All information relating to the 173rd edition of the historic regatta is on the website www.festivalofsails.com.au

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