The 2023 Australian 16ft Championships have started in dramatic circumstances after heat one was abandoned due to a luxury cruise liner making its way out of Sydney Harbour.

Minutes before Light and Wonder (Matt Meaney) just edged out Belmont stablemate Domino’s (Michael Quirk) to claim what would have been a memorable victory after a gruelling two-hour race in tough conditions, race officials were forced to abandon the heat under instruction from Maritime NSW. The Harbour Master gave the order to ensure the waterways were clear for Carnival Splendor’s departure through the Heads enroute to Brisbane.             

Australian 16ft Skiff Championships chief race officer Hugh Leicester explained: “We had to clear the race area, all boats and marks, and confirmed it was under instructions from the Harbour Master. “We had discussions on what we could do to save (the race) but couldn’t come up with any answers. “You’ve got nowhere to go when you’ve got those instructions given to you. “It’s disappointing but we had no choice.”

The race committee later met at host club Manly 16ft Skiffs to decide whether the heat would be re-staged on Wednesday’s planned lay day. It was a bitter pill to swallow for both Light and Wonder and Domino’s, who staged a thrilling race to the finish but for no reward in a stiff 13-16 knot sou’ easter.  “It’s very unfortunate and very disappointing because it was a cracking race,” Quirk said. “We saw a bit going on with Maritime and it just became apparent there was an abandonment for some reason. We only found out right at the finish.

 “Light and Wonder snuck through at the end but we were just happy to get it down there in one piece really because it was pretty mountainous out there. “We’re a wreck because it was such a physical race – we’re absolutely smashed – and it would have been nice to start with a second. “It was a very unusual way to finish a race.”

Veteran skiffs sailors could not recall any race being abandoned due to a cruise ship making its way out of the harbour. The unofficial top nine from heat one read: Light and Wonder, Domino’s, Noakes, Nozomi, Red Pumps, Erics, Moonen Yachts, SKE Electric and Sail Racing. Several boats were forced out of the race early after suffering gear damage in the bumpy conditions. The Nationals regatta continues with heat two on Monday.

by Adam Lucius

Photos SailMedia