The 187th Australia Day Regatta
The 187th Australia Day Regatta – the oldest continuously-run annual sailing event in the world will be conducted again next year, not surprisingly on Australia Day, January 26.
Well, first, it preserves a remarkable unbroken record. No other regatta in the world has survived two great economic depressions, two devastating epidemics and two World Wars – and more recently, and more locally, some political sensitivity around the celebration of the day itself.
From its beginnings in 1837, the regatta has been less about politics and more about an expression of equality and opportunity. Its aims have always been to demonstrate that in Australia, sailing is a sport that allows everybody, regardless of ability or disability, age, race or gender to take part. The regatta is less a sailing race than a celebration of Australian life – freedom, equality and opportunity.
And it is not one single event, east of the Sydney Harbour Bridge but a plethora of races and events involving some 600 vessels ranging from offshore racing yachts to beach dinghies and radio-controlled yachts at more than 20 sailing clubs around the harbour and up and down the NSW Coast.
Secondly, and importantly, while the regatta is an opportunity to enjoy friendly sporting competition on the world’s most beautiful waterways, it should also give sailors pause to reflect on the extraordinary surroundings we are blessed with and recognize that for tens of thousands of years, Indigenous Australians have been aware of the symbiotic relationship between the country and the water that surrounds it. First Nations people from the saltwater clans have long had totemic relationships with, and responsibilities for, the sea and the different sea creatures within. And we all continue to reap those benefits.
Thirdly, getting as many boats out on the water as possible, is an important demonstration to the powers-that-be – not least our politicians and sporting administrators – that sailors and sailing represent a significant and growing constituency. It is not just a sport for the wealthy with their enormously expensive offshore yachts but one for people of all ages and abilities – a sport where anyone from any walk of life can get involved.
Evidence of that was at this year’s Australia Day Regatta Prize Giving at the Sydney Town Hall, where one of the nation’s most successful business entrepreneurs, Marcus Blackmore – owner of the 100-foot Ammonite – lined up alongside 12-year old Sabot sailor, Tomas Armitstead, to collect their respective winner’s trophies.
The regatta management committee, a collection of volunteers from local sailing clubs, is encouraging sailors not just to participate in the many scheduled events this year, but for clubs to be actively involved in the celebrations surrounding the day. Be it a barbeque or party pies and drinks back on land after the event, the regatta has never been “just a race” but a celebration of what we have and who we are. It’s a day for all Australians.
East of the bridge there are two key events, the City of Sydney Sesquicentenary Ocean Race to Botany Bay and return organized by the CYCA, and the Harbour Race conducted by the RSYS. Elsewhere there are numerous events conducted by clubs around the harbour as well as those from Botany Bay, Lake Illawarra, Lake Macquarie and Pittwater. All have information on those events on their websites.
No yacht is too large or small to enjoy this wonderful day afloat. So, get out on the water and celebrate the day.
More information can be found at www.australiadayregatta.com
Main photo: SASC yachts competing in the 2016 Australia Day Regatta on Sydney Harbour. Photo by John Jeremy