Main photo: Kevin Nixon and his Accru crew. Photo by Salty Dingo

A variety of entries for Royal Geelong Yacht Club’s (RGYC) 2023 Festival of Sails include newly minted Australian Yachting Championship winners, who look forward to racing at the annual event from 26-29 January when it celebrates the 180th edition of the Passage Race.

Australia’s oldest and largest keelboat regatta has attracted the Melges 24 National Championship to its shores. High-profile NSW skippers, Chris Links and Heath Walters will bring solid teams, as will the Kendall family, who convincingly won the 2022 NSW Championship with ‘The Amigos’. Two entries from Adelaide have also put their hands up.

Reigning Melges 24 National champion and executive committee member of the International Melges 24 Class Association, Kevin Nixon, is also looking forward to racing: “The Festival of Sails is my favourite regatta,” he insists. “We did the Melges 24 Worlds there in 2014 and before that we were there every year.” 

Since then, the NSW sailor and his crew have competed at the Festival of Sails as often as they can.

“There’s always a variety of winds on Corio Bay and you often get that nice afternoon sea breeze of around 18 knots. Sometimes you get a big shift that causes havoc. It’s a good all-round Bay to sail on with its nice flat water. And the Club puts everything on for you – you just have to turn up.

“Being the Australia Day Weekend there’s always something happening. The vibe is good.”

Outside of the Melges 24’s, competitors are fired up across the regular divisions on offer each year and RGYC organisers are anticipating in the vicinity of 300 entries across the board.

In the Passage – Windward/Leeward Rating Series you will find the likes of Division 2 Australian Yachting Championships 2022 (AYC) winner, Bruce McCraken with his Beneteau First 45, Ikon.

“We go every year – we’ve been going for 20 years or more,” Ikon’s Victorian owner states. 

“Maritimo (Bill Barry-Cotter) pipped us by one point last year in very light winds. It was the complete opposite at Hamo (Hamilton Island),” he says of the windy days and their three point victory over Maritimo. 

“We’ve had some good tussles at Geelong in the past, especially with the other Beneteau 45s.”

McCraken adds, “The Festival of Sails has a great atmosphere. We take our families; it’s a good gathering for us. The weather is nice in January, with good winds. The Club puts on a good show; bands, food, entertainment. There’s a lot of things for everyone to do. We look forward to it every year.”

Entered in the Passage – Rating Series is Festival of Sails long-termer, Darren Pickering with Larriken 2. He is likely to face Ari Abrahams’ Xpresso (Vic), which finished runner-up in Division 4 at the 2022 AYC’s (held in conjunction with Hamilton Island Race Week) after a week-long battle with Get It On, Garry Holt’s Adams 10 (Qld), a possible entry for the Festival of Sails.

“I’ve done around 33 or 34 Race Weeks – I’ve done all of them. I was hooked at the first one. It’s too much fun,” Pickering claims.

“We sailed a Thunderbird at the first one, then we went to a Hick 30 and this year our syndicate of five bought a local Farr 40, Local Motion,” said Pickering from East Geelong. 

“The 2022 Festival of Sails was our first with the Farr 40. We finished third in the Performance Racing division. Ray Roberts won it (Team Hollywood) and Ikon was second.”

Pickering knows he will be up against it, as Team Hollywood has just come away from the AYC’s having won every single race in Division 3. And then there is Xpresso. 

“We’ll have to pull out all stops to get back on the podium. We’ve got Ray (Roberts) in our sights,” Pickering said laughing.

Other divisions include Passage – Spinnaker Series; Passage – Non-Spinnaker Series; Guyon Wilson Trophy Series and the Passage Mini Series. Entries to-date have come from Victoria, Tasmania and NSW.

For NoR and to enter the Festival of Sails online click here

Photos by Salty Dingo