As the sailing season draws to a close, offshore sailors are now focusing on the Melbourne to Apollo Bay Race which starts at 9am on Saturday the 25th of May.

The 52 nautical mile Category 3 coastal sprint is the final event of the Ocean Racing Club of Victoria’s (ORCV) Coastal Championship series.

The popular race, which has a near record fleet, starts at Queenscliff with the fleet leaving Port Phillip Heads before turning right along the coast, finishing at the seaside town of Apollo Bay.

Known locally as the Great Ocean Road ‘Sail’, the race takes the fleet along one of the world’s most stunning coastlines of beaches, sand dunes, cliff tops and dramatic headlands, nestled beneath the lush rainforests of the Otway Ranges in Victoria’s South West.

While the panoramic scenery offers breathtaking views for the sailors, the coastal environment can play a big part in sailing tactics, especially within 10 nautical miles of the finish with the area renowned for its holes and unpredictable conditions.

Top contenders for line honours include Rob Date’s Carkeek 43, Scarlet Runner, which has finally hit her straps after undergoing a year of improvements, with the team hoping for lighter conditions to maximise their sail options.  

Toecutter, skippered by Robert Hick, will be relying on his secret weapon, Apollo Bay local Paul Cannon, who will be onboard and ready to pick the gusts and maximise the local conditions for the team.

If lighter conditions prevail, also expect another top performance from the J111 Ginan, co-skippered by Cameron McKenzie and Nigel Jones. The team has sailed exceptionally well over the last few seasons and is in the box seat to win the Coastal Championship.

Will McKenzie, a 20-year-old mechanical engineering student from Monash University and part time sailing coach, is on the bow of Ginan and sailing his first Apollo Bay race.

“This race is different to any that I have sailed before. I’ve done two Melbourne to Hobart races, but I expect this will be a short but intense race.

“It’s also really cool that I get to sail with my Dad and my godfather [Nigel Jones] and that I’ve got to sail some coastal sprint races with my Mum, Jo and twin-sister Sophie,” said McKenzie.

The young sailor will be one to watch in keelboat racing with his next big regatta the Newport-Bermuda race in June this year which he will sail on Blur, also a J111 boat.

First time Race Director Catherine North will be leading a mostly female race management team and is looking forward to overseeing her first Apollo Bay race.

“My memories of the race are different from many others – we had pretty steady winds during the race which actually turned blustery towards the end, which isn’t always the case people tell me.

“It can be challenging to get into the harbour at Apollo Bay especially if we have an easterly breeze, and with the winds coming down off the Otways, but it’s a beautiful race,” said North.  

ORCV Sailing Captain and skipper of Cadibarra 11, Paul Roberts, has sailed the Apollo Bay Race 15 times and is wary of the unpredictable conditions.

“If you sail into a hole as you close in on the finish line, it can cause all sorts of problems. While it’s hard to feel confident, if we sail a smart race and get the call right about how far offshore we go, I think we’ll be OK.

“What we love about the race and the ORCV offshore sailing program is the opportunity we have for a mini sailing adventure – to sail with great company, to test our sailing skills in different conditions, and to stay over in some fantastic destinations, like King Island and Apollo Bay,” said Roberts.

The winner of the Coastal Championship is decided on AMS handicap with the Apollo Bay Race having normal weighting and the sprint races each having double weighting.

With three races completed, yachts will drop their highest scores putting Vertigo, skippered by Timothy and Clare Olding, and Ginan in equal first place on three points (before weighting is applied), although Vertigo is yet to enter the race.

Alien, skippered by Justin Brenan, and Pegasus, skippered by Andrew Lynch, go into this race in equal third place on eight points after dropping their highest scores but face an uphill battle to knock off the leaders once the points are doubled.

The race record for the Apollo Bay race was set in 1999 by the Peter Blake sailing his Jones 37, KAOS, and stands at 5 hours, 24 minutes and 4 seconds but it is unlikely to be challenged this year.

The 2024 race welcomes several first timers including Belle, skippered by Richard Taylor and Kylie Balharrie from the Sandringham Yacht Club while Siesta, skippered by Robert Coco, is sailing her first Category 3 race.

The double-handed entries continue to grow with Jokerx2, skippered by Grant Chipperfield and Peter Dowdney and Quest, skippered by Peter Tardrew and Rod Gunther, sailing well and likely to feature in the results.  

Follow the race action here