David Salter reports on a unique event that combined offshore yachting nostalgia with hard racing and a weekend of fun ashore.
Until its sad demise, the Admiral’s Cup was the unofficial world championship of offshore racing. Held every two years in England, three-boat teams representing their countries would assemble at Cowes to do battle over a four-race offshore series run by the RORC, culminating with the Fastnet.
In 1967 Australia won the Cup at its second attempt with Mercedes III, Balandra, and Caprice of Huon. They won again in 1979, triumphing with Police Car, Impetuous and Ragamuffin.
Those Aussie victories were huge news back home, dominating newspaper front pages and elevating skippers and their boats to lasting fame.
As the 50th anniversary of the first win approached, a group of veteran Down Under sailors came up with what seemed like a nice, simple idea. Get a few of the old offshore boats together, hold a couple of informal races around the cans, and then enjoy a few drinks afterwards with old shipmates.
Five months later that simple idea became a full-blown regatta with yachts sailing to Sydney from interstate ports to join the fleet and sailors flying in from overseas just to be part of the Australian celebrations.
“The whole thing grew like Topsy,” says committee chairman David Champtaloup. “Many of Australia’s most famous boats and skippers wanted to take part. Old crews re-assembled and plenty of new sails and gear were bought just for the Regatta. Suddenly we had a major event to organize and conduct.”
Held on December 1, 2 and 3, the Admiral’s Cup Anniversary Regatta was a joint venture between the Classic Yacht Association of Australia and three of Sydney’s most famous clubs: the Sydney Amateur Sailing Club, the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron and the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. It attracted 21 entries for a three-race series raced on Sydney Harbour and offshore.
The event had three co-patrons, each with special connections to the Admiral’s Cup:
• Syd Fischer, who competed eight times in his various Ragamuffins, won the Fastnet Race in 1971 and captained the Australian team on six occasions;
• Gordon Ingate, skipper of Caprice of Huon for her incredible three-in-a-row wins in 1965; and
• Sir James Hardy, who contested the Cup in his own yachts and also as a helmsman on Impetuous during the Australian team victory in 1979.
Entry was open to any yacht that represented Australia in the Admiral’s Cup or had sailed in the selection trials. Among the celebrated old offshore racers taking part were Caprice of Huon, the first Ragamuffin, Salacia II, Love & War, Mister Christian, Anitra V, Mercedes III and IV, Pacha and the original Wild Oats.
In addition, Anitra V and Lorita Maria were invited to participate in recognition of their distinguished role in the development of offshore yachting in Australia.
The task of assembling the fleet and ensuring that they complied with the safety regulations for offshore racing fell to committee member and Admiral’s Cup veteran Peter Shipway.
“To be frank, it was a bit of a shambles early on,” he recalls. “But as the weekend of racing drew nearer the blokes started to get their act together. In the end I reckon it was the prospect of some really good fun – and healthy competition – that made it all happen. It was like old times. Just once more, maybe for the last time, old friends were having a crack on boats they loved.”
More than 20 of the original crews from the golden age of Australian offshore yachting dusted off their wet weather gear to take part. Many were north of 80 years old, a testament to the health-giving properties of fresh sea air and Queensland rum.
Weather conditions for the regatta could hardly have been better. There was brisk Nor’easter for the opening race on Sydney Harbour, another solid Northerly for the 16-mile offshore return to a mark laid off Long Reef, and a typical Sydney Summer mixture of challenging breezes for the concluding Harbour race.
The racing was fair and spirited throughout, although a regrettable starting-line incident in Race #1 put an end to Impetuous and Caprice of Huon’s regatta before it had begun.
The sight of traditional displacement yachts thundering down Sydney Harbour in 25 knots under their huge symmetrical spinnakers stirred the souls of anyone familiar with the spirit of Australian sailing a generation ago. For one nostalgic moment, Too Impetuous and Salacia II flew their bloopers, sails that can’t have been out of their bags for 20 years or more.
There were social occasions after each day of racing, the most formal of which was a welcome dinner at the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. More than 260 guests attended, including the three co-patrons.
The surprise guest of honour at the dinner was the Admiral’s Cup itself, kindly lent to the regatta by the Royal Ocean Racing Club and secretly flown out from London. The Cup was carried into the room to great applause by the sons of the skippers of the three victorious yachts in 1967 – Balandra, Caprice of Huon and Mercedes III….
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