A TIME-honoured yacht race is reclaiming its place as one of Australia’s leading freshwater events after being crippled by the Millennium drought.
About 200 boats and 1000 sailors are expected to take to the water in South Australia for the Milang-Goolwa Freshwater Classic on January 22.
First contested by two boats in 1966, the Freshwater Classic still holds the record as the largest freshwater yacht race in the southern hemisphere when 584 boats competed in 1986.
However the 50km race was abandoned from 2007-2011 because there was not enough water in the Lower Lakes as a result of the Millennium drought, which parched much of Australia and saw the River Murray reach record lows.
The race begins at the lakeside town of Milang and continues across Lake Alexandrina and down to the river port of Goolwa, near the mouth of the Murray.
Racing is open to many off-the-beach monohull and cat classes as well as trailable yachts and vintage riverboats.
Goolwa Regatta Yacht Club Commodore Lyn Roberts said the event was still one of the biggest events on the South Australian yachting calendar and a celebration of the Murray, Australia’s longest river.
She said depending on wind conditions on the day, the race record of 2 hours 47 minutes and 59 seconds could be under threat this year.
“I hope so anyway – I think we’ve got a special trophy for that,” Commodore Roberts said.
“There’s more water in the river this year than we’ve seen since the drought and there’s also a three to four knot flow coming down the river so that’s going to be behind the sailors as they come down the river and might make a difference to their times.
“The water is looking really good at the moment, and it’s deeper of course.”
Nationally, this year was Australia’s second-wettest winter on record, with rainfall 82 per cent above average for the season. As a result, river flows at the South Australian border peaked at 95 gigalitres a day on November 30. High flows continued through December, peaking at Murray Bridge just upstream from the Lower Lakes system just before new year.
Since the Freshwater Classic reconvened in 2012, it has included a full week of activities on and off the water. This year’s festivities will kick off on Saturday, January 14, with the Marina Challenge time trial through the narrow channels of the southern lagoons of Hindmarsh Island Marina.
The State Sailability Championships for sailors with disabilities will be held on Sunday the 15th along with a Gala Expo day and a Vintage boat race. The vintage race will feature the 1914 Edith, which contested the first three Milang-Goolwa races against Esther from 1966-68.
The Kies Hardware Dash for Cash will be held on Friday, January 20, and will
provide skippers of yachts with a CBH (Class Based Handicap) equal to or greater than .740 the opportunity to test their boats in racing conditions before the big event.
The format for the event comprises two heats of a windward leeward windward leeward course with the top four yachts (on corrected) going through to the final where they will vie for the $750 winner-takes-all cash prize.
Commodore Roberts said Goolwa, at the bottom of the Fleurieu Peninsula, was a notoriously windy place making it an excellent spot for yacht racing.
“One of the particularly exciting events is the Dash for Cash on the Friday night before the big race. It’s very close and tight racing in the waters in front of the yacht club and the winner takes all,” she said.
“We’re still trying to build from the drought and it’s building all time so now we have a whole week of events, which includes nine on-water races and many social events.”
All entries for the main race must be received by midnight on Friday, January 13.
Late entries for Divisions 8 and 9 will be accepted until 4pm on Saturday, January 21.
The Marina Hindmarsh Island Milang to Goolwa Freshwater Classic Yacht Race sets sail at 9am on Sunday, January 22.There will be nine divisions this year, catering for many off-the-beach monohull and catamaran classes as well as sports boats, family trailer-sailor and large multihull yachts, along with wooden vintage river boats.
The race starts near the Milang jetty, proceeds across SA’s biggest inland waterway Lake Alexandrina to Point Sturt, and downstream past Clayton to the finish in front of the Goolwa Regatta Yacht Club.
Thousands of spectators are expected to watch the race from the shore and from hundreds of powerboats on the water along the route downstream of Milang, around Point Sturt, past the ideal viewing place at Clayton cliffs and on to Goolwa.
“This a unique and iconic event, held in one of SA’s most extensive recreational water playgrounds,” Commodore Roberts said.
“Goolwa Regatta Week helps showcase the Lower Murray Lakes and the river and Hindmarsh Island as one of our state’s significant tourist attractions.”