Are you set for Hamilton Island Race Week? Let the fun begin


So was born Hamilton Island Race Week, the southern hemisphere’s premier annual extravaganza embracing everyone from elite racers on maxi yachts to landlubbers who feel seasick at the thought of the hour-long crossing from Shute Harbor to the island’s marina.

Mundle has witnessed the transformation of race week since its inception in 1984 to its secure position in 2022 as one of the world’s most glamorous international regattas. (When Mundle first landed on Hamilton Island in Williams’ private plane in 1983, the runway was a dirt track).

After two years that had to be canceled because of you-know-what, Hamilton Island Race Week is now back with a gigantic Luna Park-like smile on its face. Denis Thompson, race director since 2007 says the 2016 record of 257 competing boats could have been easily broken this year, such is the desire of sailors (and their families and friends) to compete and party again.

The racing can be as thrilling for spectators as it is for the racers, especially if you watch it from Quantum, the official spectator boat. Salty Dingo

“We decided to restrict the number of entries to 220 this year due to the availability of marina berths,” Thompson says. “The entry list was filled in the first 30 days, leaving a waiting list of 40 boats when entries closed.”

Among those single- and multi-hulled entries are the super yachts that will feature in this year’s Sydney to Hobart (see separate story).

Paspaley’s White Luncheon in 2019. “The atmosphere around the entire island is like no other regatta in the world,” says Rob Mundle. Kara Rosenlund

On the island too will be a fresh batch of superstar chefs, the Paspaley pearl sessions, the fashion shows, the endless parties, the daily pre-race rivalry and the post-race commiserations over a beer.

“The parties are just unprecedented,” Mundle says. “The atmosphere around the entire island is like no other regatta in the world.”

Mundle has seen some of the great races over the years. But surprisingly, his favorite memory of race week happened on a gentle cruise arranged for the then sponsors, out from Europe.

“Suddenly a whale surfaced beside us,” he recalls. “There was this terrific explosion in the water. The whale had given birth alongside our yacht.

Race Week coincides with humpback whales’ annual migration between Queensland and Antarctica. Salty Dingo

“The mother swam down and reappeared with her baby on her fin. We watched her in awe as she taught her baby how to swim.”

In race week each year, Wednesday is Lay Day, when there is no official starting gun and the competition switches to who can have most fun on dry land.

Some might use it to play a round of golf at the island’s spectacular 18-hole course (designed by five-times British Open winner Peter Thomson and “Mother Nature”). Others might explore the bush walks or go snorkelling to spot the abundant coral life.

Whitehaven is one of the most popular spots to spend the Lay Day. Tourism Whitsundays

“One of the best things we did in the early days was the Whitehaven Beach party,” Mundle reminisces.

Whitehaven – a two-hour sail from Hamilton – is one of the world’s most acclaimed beaches, famed for its seven kilometers of white sand and its turquoise waters.

The Lay Day trip to Whitehaven is no longer an organized event, but many of the yachts head there anyway.

Since 2003, the island has been owned by the Oatley wine dynasty, founded by the late patriarch Bob Oatley. Mundle was sailing with Bob’s sons Sandy and Ian during race week while Bob stayed ashore. Unbeknown to them, Bob was talking to the resort’s management team with a view to buying it. At that point, Hamilton Island was in financial difficulties.

That night the family talked about the opportunity. Apart from Bob, no-one was on board, stressing that though their wine business had flourished since 1974 when he’d founded it, none of them knew anything about running a resort.

The late Bob Oatley had the foresight to realize the potential of Hamilton Island. Jessica Hromas

A few days later back in Sydney, the patriarch handed his finance executive a folder of relevant facts.

According to Mundle, the finance executive said: “Bob, we’re a wine business, not a tourist business,” and threw the folder in the waste bin.

“But Bob was always good at seeing an opportunity,” Mundle says. He picked the folder out of the bin and told his accountant to take it home and read it overnight.

The Oatley Family’s Wild Oats XI at Hamilton Island Race Week in 2019. Salty Dingo

The next morning, the three Oatleys were waiting for the verdict when the accountant walked into the office wearing a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and a sunhat. And so the island was purchased.

There will be fewer international competitors this year than “normal”, Thompson explains, because commitments needed to be made before the world reopened. So there are just four: three from New Zealand and one from the Philippines.

The Cadillac, skippered by Peter Chappell and based at Perth’s Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club, has made the longest journey to be at the starting line.

Perhaps the keenest observer of race week will be Peter Brulisauer, the island’s new CEO, whose extensive career in the tourism industry has been built in the ski industry, at home and overseas.

This will be his first race week. “I’ve heard so much about it so I’m looking forward to seeing it for myself,” Brulisauer says. “My dad was a keen sailor. I grew up with him on catamarans on Lake Jindabyne when we couldn’t ski.”

What can the High Country bring to Hamilton Island, and race week in particular? “There are strong parallels between skiing and sailing,” Brulisauer insists. “Both sport a strong sense of community, camaraderie and a love of the outdoors.”

Adventure, escape, nature, overcoming challenges and a sense of shared experience are common to both. “In moving from the snow to the sand, I’m focused on making Hamilton Island even more enjoyable for our guests – in race week and the rest of the year.”

Race Week at a glance

when | Saturday, August 20 to Saturday, August 27
Starts | Sailing starts each day between 10am and 11.30am pending conditions, in front of Hamilton Island Yacht Club.
racing classes | Four classes for racing boats (IRC, One Design, Performance and Racing Multihulls), plus four for cruising boats (IRC Passage, Cruising, Non-spinnaker and Cruising Multihulls)
lay day | Wednesday, August 24. Hamilton Island offers more than 60 activities, from game fishing and bush trekking to golfing and spa treatments.
Dress code | Smart casual (for shore activities).
Accommodation | Hundreds of competitors sleep on their yachts in the marina. Others opt for the luxury of qualia, the renovated Beach Club, more economic alternatives like the four-star Reef Hotel, or one of the 160 private holiday homes on the island available for hire.
Best spectator spots | Hamilton Island Yacht Club, or Quantum (the official spectator boat). Several companies offer spectator charters – including for sailors who want to crew while watching the action.
what else | August is a perfect time to watch humpback whales on their annual migration between Queensland and Antarctica.

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