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Sail Port Stephens attracts biggest and best ever fleet

by Mark Rothfield 10 Apr 05:21 BST April-May 2024
Sail Port Stephens Antipodes © Promocean Media

Just when it looked like the Sail Port Stephens Passage Series couldn't grow any further, the iconic regatta has once again surpassed trends and expectations with a record fleet of 115 entries gathering ahead of the Monday April 15 start.

The timing coincides with the NSW school holidays for the first time since 2017, placing added demand on accommodation and berthing in the popular tourism region, but crews have been welcomed by local businesses and the community. Among the entries are a large number of first-time competitors who didn't have the advantage of rebooking from 2023.

And along with quantity, there's quality and diversity - from Division 1 line honours favourite Virago, a RP52, to the trailable Elliott 780 Blacksheep and Melges 24 Wubaray.

Interesting interstaters include the Cnb 60 Bordeaux Journey from Sandringham Yacht Club and Queenslander Garry Holt's reigning Australian IRC Division 3 champion Let's Get it On contesting both the Passage Series and NSW Yachting Championships - the latter running April 26-28 as a stand-alone Windward-Leeward series.

No SPS would be complete without CYCA member Greg Newton competing in a Beneteau called Antipodes. He has done so without fail for the past 16 regattas, aboard a 42s7, a First 47.7, an Oceanis 523 and most recently an Oceanis 45, all bearing the same moniker. Newton is also a long-term sponsor through his company, Rolly Tasker Sails.

"I believe I'm one of only two owners who's done every regatta, the other being Jeanneau sailor Peter Lewis from Middle Harbour Yacht Club," Newton says. "The initial attraction was that it's so close to Sydney, and once you're there you can set the boat up and enjoy five or six days of sailing - that's the beauty of it.

"The blend of inshore and offshore sailing is also fantastic for cruising sailors because some days you think 'geeze it's going to be rough out there' and then they run an inshore course.

"In terms of the social activities, 16 years ago we were rampant, we'd go to everything, but these days, with our average crew age being 70, we tend to have quieter nights."

Port Stephens Council is capitalising on the regatta's holiday timing by staging a midweek (April 17) street party in the heart of Nelson Bay's CBD. This will give Sail Port Stephens participants a brand-new event with live music, a public street bar, late night dining and shopping with special offers, and giveaway competitions. Already, more than 1000 people have expressed interest in attending.

"Our regatta dates change each year to avoid clashing with Easter and other calendar events, so falling inside the school holidays this year caused some initial trepidation," Regatta Director Paul O'Rourke says. "But in our 17th year it's going to be the biggest and hopefully best ever, both on and off the water."

Key event sponsor Pantaenius is again offering an Australian Club Championship trophy to foster friendly inter-club rivalry during the series, along with generous prizes for two-boat teams that nominate for the Pantaenius Cup.

Pittwater's Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club has 18 starters, ahead of regatta custodians Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club (12) and the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (11). Nine locals from Port Stephens Yacht Club are added to the mix.

The five-race Passage Series, wrapping up on April 20 with a Jimmy Buffett tribute band, merges the 'cruisy' Commodores Cup (PHS) and Port Stephens Trophy (ORC) series, sailing scenic courses that utilise the spectacular inshore and offshore islands. Sailing Instructions and the Notice of Race can be found at www.sailportstephens.com.au.

Sail Port Stephens is supported by the NSW Government via its tourism agency Destination NSW, Port Stephens Council, Pantaenius Australia and subsidiary sponsors.

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