Konica Minolta takes line honours in her first Ingles Yacht Race

When the starting canon for the 19th annual Ingles Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race was fired last Saturday (31 July) crews aboard the fleet sat motionless to leeward and skippers desperately scanned the horizon for a puff indicating where the next breeze might fill in. Out of the 75 yachts that started, 44 have, so far, crossed the finish line and 13 have retired due to time constraints or sail damage.

It looked like Grant Wharington, skipper of 98ft super maxi Skandia, had made the right decision to leave half of his crew behind and go on this race with only ten. However, the crew of Skandia not only had line honours on their mind, but Wharington and three of his crew had another deadline to meet – the first heat of the Etchells world championship which is being held further north at Mooloolaba, Queensland. “There is a bit of pressure on the four guys,” said Skandia’s navigator Will Oxley before the start of the race, “we’ve packed sedatives for them for Sunday night if it looks like it’s going to be close,” he joked.

With Skandia leading the 384 nautical mile race, all crews had to contend with light and fluky winds and although a fresh nor’westerly filled in on Monday the crews amongst the fleet were growing weary from having to tack back and forth directly into the wind to make any ground towards Southport.

Following closely behind Skandia was Stewart Thwaites 98ft maxi Konica Minolta with 23 crew onboard. Konica, at one stage just under 15 miles astern of Skandia were hoping for “something pretty dramatic weather-wise” admits trimmer Gareth Cooke, “because we won’t pull her back just out-and-out racing.”.

Well Konica got her chance. With Skandia not meeting the required knot speed average to get her across the finish line in time so that four of the crew could fulfill their commitment at Mooloolaba, the heart-breaking decision was made to retire from the race and forgo the lead to Konica Minolta. “The decision wasn’t really made by us,” said Wharington as he arrived in Ballina, “it was made by the lack of wind.” The four Etchells crew were ferried to shore and transported to a fixed wing aircraft that saw them arrive at the regatta 15 minutes before the start of Race 1.

With line honours now in Konica’s sight and a freshening 15-25kt breeze, Thwaites kept his super maxi ahead of record holder and now following in second place, George Snow’s Brindabella.

After three days, seven hours and 42 minutes, Stewart Thwaites’ Konica Minoltasee phototook line honours in his first Ingles Sydney Gold Coast Race. “We came over to win and that’s what we’ve done,” he said, “to win a race you have to finish a race,” he continued commenting that he was unconcerned that Grant Wharington’s Skandia is likely to have beaten him over the finish line had they not retired earlier that morning. Thwaites admitted that they had hoped to catch up to and eventually pass the equally-sized super maxi.

With a quarter of the fleet still to cross the finish line and encountering lumpy seas with short sharp chop, it looks as though the famous hospitality and after-race party atmosphere at the Southport Yacht Club couldn’t come quick enough for some.