By Rob Mundle and Lisa Ratcliff
The concept of a drawcard regatta at Hamilton Island was conceived by David Hutchen in 1983, after he moved to the Whitsundays to start a yacht charter business and convinced the island’s then owner and founder, Keith Williams, to stage an event that would generate tourism and media coverage.
Visiting the Clipper Cup in Hawaii then soaking up the euphoria of Australia finally ending the world’s longest winning streak in international sport, the America’s Cup in Newport, Rhode Island in 1983, cemented the idea for Williams.
Once he returned home, the powerbrokers gathered and formulated plans to host the ultimate Australian offshore series from the island.
The inaugural Hamilton Island Race Week in 1984 was a huge success and interest went way beyond expectations: 93 yachts from as far afield as Perth arrived in the Whitsundays. Unfortunately, the weather was not ideal for sailing in the tropics and rain poured down for almost the entire week.
For the first eight years Race Week was held in April, until organisers rescheduled to August, a time of year that promised warm weather and ideal tradewind sailing.
These days, a consensus between multiple regatta and race organisers along the eastern seaboard sees many in the fleet arrive at Hamilton Island having contested any one of the preceding events - the Noakes Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race, Brisbane to Hamilton Island Yacht Race and Airlie Beach Race Week.
The Oatley family take the reins
Prior to acquiring Hamilton Island, prominent sailor and famous Australian vigneron Bob Oatley and family members were regular competitors at Race Week. In 2003 – the year that Bob’s son Sandy competed in the Grand Prix Division with his yacht Another Duchess – Bob was asked if he might be interested in buying the island.
The Oatley family took the reins in 2003, cultivating both the island and the premier offshore regatta to the position where both stand as international icons.
The family introduced premium partnerships and developed an onshore program for sailors and their partners, families, and guests that is unlike anything on offer in Australia. Combined with the Oatley’s $700 million island development program, Race Week is regarded one of only a handful of worldclass destination regattas.
Picturesque passage racing
The island’s location, amid the primarily uninhabited and naturally beautiful Whitsunday isles, make for picturesque passage racing for the spectrum of boats that make the annual pilgrimage to Hamilton Island for the longstanding winter regatta.
Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race line honours winners and outright champions, timber classics, tiny trailables and popular production boats from around Australia and overseas combine annually on the 200 plus boat start list.
Multihulls were welcomed to the Queensland series in 2013, the event’s 30th anniversary year, stirring interest among this strong community and bringing spectacular ORMA 60s, Extreme 40s and all manner of cruising catamarans and trimarans to the starting lineup.
The tropical setting and any number of overseas entries, Olympic and America’s Cup crew and corporate and other VIPs flying in from around the globe create the international flair and showcase Race Week to the sailing world.
The Oatleys and Hamilton Island staff look forward to welcoming thousands of yachties and their guests this August for another memorable Hamilton Island Race Week.
About Hamilton Island Race Week
Hamilton Island Race Week is steeped in history (since 1984) and annually brings together a high calibre of crew and cross-section of ocean racing yachts plus trailables for stunning passage racing around the mostly uninhabited isles surrounding Hamilton Island.
A longstanding feature of the Australian racing calendar, Race Week caters for a myriad of boats, sailing experience and budgets. For the non-sailor, there are a range of island activities, days by the pool and traditional Race Week social events where the outstanding view is paired with exquisite food and wine.
If you find yourself at Hamilton Island during Race Week and are wondering what is going on, here are some tips: chat to any of our friendly island staff, head to the yacht club Bommie Deck mid-morning for a live start or wander down the marina before or after racing and strike up a conversation with one of the thousands of sailors who have pilgrimaged to Australia’s most beautiful sailing grounds.