Changing the face of Ocean Racing in Australia?
The 69th running of the Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race is a landmark year for several reasons and it looks like skippers agree. Entries for the race do not close until later this month but already the fleet size is well above entry levels seen in the last five years and could go past the mid-forties if talk around the marinas is to be believed, an increase of fifty percent.
Interstate entrants are now starting to show a healthy presence on the entry list. Australian Sailing president Matt Allen will be heading north in the J/V52, Ichi Ban and will be joined by Ray Roberts’ Farr 55 Hollywood Boulevard, the Farr 1104 Sail Exchange.com.au and 2014 B2G race winner Duncan Hine with his ever competitive Reichel Pugh designed Alive. It is a quality group and is leaving organisers, Queensland Cruising Yacht Club, wondering if more will decide to make the trip to Queensland for Easter.
Whilst the entry list currently suggests defending champions Black Jack as the first boat crossing the line in Gladstone Harbour it is far from a forgone conclusion, any small mistake and the chasing pack will be close enough to take advantage. Black Jack has won Line Honours in the race for the last three years but the elusive record set in 2004 by Skandia Wild Thing remains untouched. Owner Peter Harburg will have his sights firmly set on taking this record in what could be the last Gladstone race for the current version of Black Jack before a bigger and even faster replacement appears.
In the overall battle for the Courier Mail Cup, one of the oldest perpetual trophies in Australia that has been competed for on a continual basis, the race is wide open. Robbo Robertson who will be celebrating the thirtieth anniversary since he last won the race, will no doubt be in with a shot on Corrobboree as will Surf to City winner Mr Kite, Sail Paradise title holder Auric’s Quest and David Rose’ new and untested boat Kerisma. Truth be told, organisers believe that with so many new boats in the race, this year’s podium will be one of the most unpredictable that has been seen for years.
The question many will ask is what made the difference, why has the Brisbane to Gladstone suddenly caught the interest of skippers up and down the east coast? In a recent media launch at QCYC, Race Director Nigel Statham laid out three significant innovations that had be developed for this years race. The first two were formulated based on skippers feedback, “We have listened to our Skippers and reacted” he commented. “We have undertaken a significant review of the safety regulations associated with the race and found that there were some rules in place that were overly onerous and costly to skippers. The changes have been subtle but the results are a huge cost saving for skippers. Whilst some have immediately assumed that these changes may have a negative impact of safety, Statham was quick to point out that “The safety measure that Skippers are required to put in place remain essentially the same, we have simply allowed them to do it in a more cost effective way. We have the full support of Australian Sailing and I thank them for their assistance with the project”.
The second major change this year is the introduction of a ‘Yachties’ welcome party in Gladstone. Port Curtis Sailing Club, with the financial assistance of Gladstone Regional Council, will be putting on an entire day of live music and activities welcoming the Crews into Gladstone on Easter Sunday. Depending on the weather, organisers are hoping that race winners may be stepping up onto the concert stage throughout the day to receive the accolades of their peers and the local crowd.
The third innovation is probably the most significant. “It is an idea that I have had in my head for a few years now but it wasn’t until I sat down with newly elected Gladstone Mayor, Matt Burnett, last year that the idea started to become reality.” said Statham. With a huge financial commitment from Gladstone Regional Council, the start of this years event will be streamed live locally, nationally and to the farthest reaches of the globe for audiences to watch on their mobile device or computer.
“We believe it is an Australian first. In the same way as spectators can watch the Sydney to Hobart on TV each Boxing Day, we are bringing the start of the race to a mass audience through a professionally produced, multi camera, fully commentated production that will be absolutely free to watch anywhere in the world. There will be four cameras used to catch all the action from 10am Brisbane time including one on Black Jack. It is hugely exciting, this is an historic race but it has also become the trendsetter for yacht racing in Australia”
There are many reasons to get excited about the 2017 Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race, the future of Ocean Racing in Queensland is a bright one.
The Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race starts at 11.00 on Good Friday, April 14. Live Streaming starts at 10am