Yachts assembling Hamo race week

THE 29th annual Audi Hamilton Island Race Week (AHIRW) starting on Saturday, will see one of the most impressive cross-sections of racing yachts ever assembled in Australia.

Cruising division yachts are coming from all points on Australia's east coast and will be joined by the most impressive Grand Prix level offshore racers on the spectacular courses around the Whitsunday islands.

The line-up for this year's series leaves little doubt that next year's 30th anniversary regatta will be the biggest and best ever seen.

The Grand Prix level of racing yachts, totalling 31, will be competing for the Audi IRC Australian Championship. This fleet will include last year's championship winning yacht Hooligan owned by Marcus Blackmore from Sydney.

However, the entry list confirms Hooligan faces a tough task in defending her crown. Her challengers include Black Jack (Peter Harburg, Qld), Georgia (Jim Farmer, NZ), Living Doll (Michael Hiatt, Vic), Sydney-Hobart race winner Loki (Stephen Ainsworth, NSW), Shogun V (Tristram Eldershaw, Vic), and Yendys (Geoff Ross, NSW).

While all these yachts are of similar size, the Grand Prix scene will be dominated by the presence of the Sydney-Hobart race record holder, and five time line honours winner Wild Oats XI. This 30-metre-long supermaxi is owned by Bob Oatley - the man who bought Hamilton Island in 2003 - and is skippered by Mark Richards. Bob Oatley will be using AHIRW to prepare both the yacht and crew for another assault on line honours in the Hobart race, and while the 84-year-old won't be racing to Hobart he will certainly be on deck for race week.

A highlight of this year's AHIRW will be the South Pacific Trophy event. This will see three of Australia's top ocean racing yachts matched against three of the best from New Zealand. The Kiwis currently hold the trophy and will be doing everything within their power to make sure they retain it.


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