Hamilton Island Race Week lures sailors, socialites

Hamilton Island Race Week lures sailors and socialites

The champagne was flowing and spinnakers blowing at Hamilton Island's salubrious annual sailing regatta. Produced by Tim Martin, who attended Race Week as a guest of Audi Australia and Hamilton Island.

Audi Race Week on Hamilton Island has evolved from a strong regional regatta to a sailing event which captures the interest of the sport's elite.

The transformation mirrors the changes on the island itself, where greater sophistication in the activities and accommodation enhances the island's natural beauty and stunning climate.

Chief executive of Hamilton Island Glenn Bourke says Race Week was always great fun but it has expanded to cover many more types of craft.

"It was once pretty much for old salty sea-dogs. They could come up for a while and enjoy what was a good regional regatta," he says.

But just as qualia –  – has set very high standards in food and design, Race Week has broadened to attract those passionate about sailing and boating such as chairman of Blackmores, Marcus Blackmore.

Continuous improvement

Bourke himself has a vast history in sailing. He sailed for Australia at the 1992 Olympic Games in the Finn class, won seven world championships and competed in America's and Admiral cups.

After leaving elite competition, Bourke moved into sports administration, including a major role with the Sydney Olympics and as CEO of the Cruising Yacht Club in Sydney, before taking on the top position at Hamilton Island.

He works closely with principal race officer Denis Thompson on the rules and regulations for Race Week, which this year should have more than 200 vessels across the different categories. It is the largest offshore yachting regatta in the country.

"We tweak things every year, of course. It's very important that it remains competitive," Bourke says.

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This year the IRC Australian Championship will be held in conjunction with Race Week. Those racing in the TP52 class and the field this year will include a new boat from Team Beau Geste, which won the championship in a former vessel in April 2014.

The team is run by Hong Kong businessman Karl Kwok. Of the event, Kwok's sailing master Gavin Brady says a well-rounded boat and crew is required, given that conditions in the Whitsundays can vary from light breezes to strong winds and big seas.

"After launching and sailing the latest Beau Geste in the Hauraki Gulf in July we found the boat was hitting her targets and felt balanced, which is a great platform to start from.

"Our goal at Audi Hamilton Race Week and during the IRC championship is to make sure we maximise the benefits that will come from each day spent on the water.

"We'll have our normal mixture of Kiwis, Aussies and a few from the UK making up the crew. It's not hard to find people to come sail a new 52, in one of the best places in the world to race high performance yachts," Brady says.

Strong growth

Ciaran Handy, general manager hotels and resorts on Hamilton Island, says the island has had strong growth in its accommodation business recently. Across the island, July was 18 per cent above last year and occupancy levels are always above 90 per cent.

Race Week plays an important role in that. It is one of the busier times of the year, as crews and support staff seek accommodation.

The event started in 1984, with the then-owner of the island Keith Williams enlisting the help of sailor David Hutchen and sailing expert Rob Mundle, who has stayed heavily involved, to develop the concept. 

Handy says one of the key developments was moving the date from April to August.

"There's still a lot of good weather for sailors in NSW and Victoria in April, so some of them wouldn't come north at that time of the year. But now they come for the sun and competition here in August."

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Audi's sponsorship, a relationship which looks set to continue according to managing director of Audi Australia, Andrew Doyle.

"Bring on the next decade," he says.

"Audi Race Week is the jewel in the crown for us in terms of customer experience."

Social buzz

Anna Burgdorf, general manager corporate communications Audi Australia, says it's been a great partnership with Hamilton Island.

"It is two strong brands which continue to reinvigorate each other. We're always open to new ideas."

What Audi seeks when backing sport or art is an extraordinary event, Burgdorf says.

"But it also has to be accessible. Social buzz is what we are after."

New yacht club

Audi hosts a number of events throughout the week, including this year inviting noted chef Guillaume Brahimi to hold two dinners, one invite-only and one ticketed.

"That's how we like to do things, to have a mix like that. But the emphasis in Audi Race Week is the sailing, which continues to evolve."

She points to the inclusion of two new categories this year, multi-hulls and trailable boats. The multi-hulls could have 31 entrants.

"The amazing architecture of the Hamilton Island Yacht Club is a real drawcard for us. It's the home of the Audi Village during Race Week and we have free coffee for the sailors," Burgdorf says. Hamilton Island also provides food and ice for crew after a long day on the water.

"That new yacht club has made such a difference. Like qualia, it is what our customers want to experience."             

Audi Hamilton Island Race Week runs from August 15 to 22.   

This article first ran in .