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Sail Port Stephens attracts biggest, best ever fleet

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Just when it looked like the Sail Port Stephens (SPS) Passage Series couldn’t grow any further, the iconic regatta has once again surpassed trends and expectations.

In fact, a record fleet of 115 entries is gathering ahead of the Monday 15 April start.

The timing coincides with the NSW school holidays for the first time since 2017, placing added demand on accommodation and berthing in the popular tourism region.

However, the crews have been welcomed by local businesses and the community.

Among the entries are several first-time competitors who didn’t have the advantage of rebooking from 2023.

Virago will be the line honours favourite. Photo: Promocean Media

And, along with quantity, there’s quality and diversity – from division 1 line honours favourite Virago, a RP52, to the trailable Elliott 780 Blacksheep and Melges 24 Wubaray.

Interesting interstaters include the Cnb 60 Bordeaux Journey from Sandringham Yacht Club and Queenslander Garry Holt’s reigning Australian IRC division 3 champion Let’s Get it On contesting both the Passage Series and NSW Yachting Championships – the latter running 16-to-28 April as a stand-alone Windward-Leeward series.

No SPS would be complete without CYCA member Greg Newton competing in a Beneteau called Antipodes.

He has done so without fail for the past 16 regattas, aboard a 42s7, a First 47.7, an Oceanis 523 and most recently an Oceanis 45, all bearing the same moniker.

Newton is also a long-term sponsor through his company, Rolly Tasker Sails.

“I believe I’m one of only two owners who’s done every regatta, the other being Jeanneau sailor Peter Lewis from Middle Harbour Yacht Club,” he said.

“The initial attraction was that it’s so close to Sydney… and once you’re there you can set the boat up and enjoy five or six days of sailing – that’s the beauty of it.

“The blend of inshore and offshore sailing is also fantastic for cruising sailors because some days you think ‘geez it’s going to be rough out there’ and then they run an inshore course.

“In terms of the social activities, 16 years ago we were rampant, we’d go to everything, but these days, with our average crew age being 70, we tend to have quieter nights.”

Sail Port Stephens will boast another big fleet for the inshore start. Photo: Promocean Media

Port Stephens Council is capitalising on the regatta’s holiday timing by staging a midweek (17 April) street party in the heart of Nelson Bay’s CBD.

This will give Sail Port Stephens participants a new event with music, a public street bar, late night dining and shopping with special offers and giveaway competitions.

Already, more than 1,000 people have expressed interest in attending.

“Our regatta dates change each year to avoid clashing with Easter and other calendar events,” regatta director Paul O’Rourke said.

“So, falling inside the school holidays this year caused some initial trepidation.

“But, in our 17th year, it’s going to be the biggest and hopefully best ever, both on and off the water.”

Key event sponsor Pantaenius is again offering an Australian Club Championship trophy to foster friendly inter-club rivalry during the series, along with generous prizes for two-boat teams that nominate for the Pantaenius Cup.

Pittwater’s Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club has 18 starters, ahead of regatta custodians Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club (12) and the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (11).

Nine locals from Port Stephens Yacht Club are added to the mix.

The five-race Passage Series, wrapping up on 20 April with a Jimmy Buffett tribute band, merges the “cruisy” Commodores Cup (PHS) and Port Stephens Trophy (ORC) series.

Sailing instructions and the Notice of Race can be found at sailportstephens.com.au.

  • Mark Rothfield

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