We're aboard a fine vessel called the Ghost, the official media yacht
of the Audi Race Week on Hamilton Island, and we're going nowhere. Some 500 meters
off the starboard bow, two unexpected guests have us in their sights and are steadily
powering their way towards the boat. So unexpected are they in fact that the race
itself fades into the background momentarily.
Our guests are a mother humpback whale and her calf, which go from leisurely drifting
in whatever patch of water they please to carving a path for themselves right next
to the race course. The race in question is the largest offshore yachting regatta
in Australia and involves many different classes of yachts. As of 2010, the organizers
have not created a division for whales so they are a bit of a diversion for the
moment. There are also reports of a pair of albino dolphins somewhere in the mix
but we don't see them, unfortunately.
Back aboard the Ghost, we are awaiting the start of proceedings. Given
that tomorrow is lay day, today is traditionally reserved for the Club Marine Classic
Long Race, with IRC Classes, the Coppersmith Rock Race, Performance Passage and
Around Islands all mixing it up. It's a very pleasant day, from a landlubber's perspective,
but we are told that the changing weather is holding up the start. The Long Race
has already been replaced by a shorter race, thanks to the peachy weather, and nature's
irascible fickleness is working towards changing the day yet again.
All around us are yachts of all persuasions, from behemoths such as Lang Walker's Kokomo and
Bob Oatley's Wild Oats XI to nimble players such as Manly Too.
The organizers put the number here at 200, with everyone out on the water in advance
of the lay day. We are told that somewhere in our midst is the recently famous Jessica
Watson, teen-solo-sailing-around-the-world sensation, and Australian sailing icon,
Iain Murray (at the helm of Wild Oats X) representing the other end of
the experience spectrum.
The race presses on, with yacht after yacht careening here to fro as they struggle
to come together as a group behind the mandated start line. Wind changes and delays
alike are playing havoc with everyone's concentration and the line breaks down a
couple of times. Once the boats get going though, they move with a speed that belies
their elegant profiles. On the day, Lahana is the big winner, at least
amongst the IRC Grand Prix contenders but the champion of the overall regatta, now
in its 27th year, is a mischievous boat called Loki.