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Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race: Our local stories

Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race: Our local stories

Flashback 1986. The Gold Coast Seaway project has just been completed, opening up an all-weather entry into the Broadwater for deep keel yachts and large pleasure vessels. The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) established the annual Land Rover Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race, taking advantage of the Seaway completion. The 384-nautical mile race sent a fleet of 83 boats north, with the promise of warm weather. The “great winter escape”, as CYCA describes it, has then become an annual event that traditionally opens the CYCA’s challenging Blue Water Pointscore Series (BWPS) and is a test-bed for changes in safety, technical and eligibility rules for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

Fast forward to 2015. The Southport Yacht Club (SYC) on the Gold Coast is again the ultimate host destination for the winter race. Offering a semi-tropical warm welcome to visiting skippers and crew of the racing yachts, the SYC has kept very close relationship with the CYCA—a cooperation that has made the race an illustrious one.

The 30th edition of this race offers our own Gold Coast yacht sailors yet another opportunity to experience and to talk about a very exciting way of coming home. But for our locals who have already joined the race in the past 29 years, interesting stories are already imbedded into the history of SYC and the Gold Coast.

A special race

Many sailors enter races for different reasons. Skippers and crew of regularly racing yachts use races to practice and increase experience and improve their skills. Some sailors are simply asked to join a team seeking to race. Some of them race for the love of it. The list can go on.

Gold Coast local Matthew Percy, skipper and owner of Alacrity (Beneteau First 44.7), first raced in 1988, to help raise funds for their Olympic campaign. “The owner of the 38-footer offered money so I did it. I wasn’t keen in offshore sailing in those older-styled boats. I was a driver and mainsheet trimmer. In those days, we all did many roles. The old IOR (international offshore rules) boats rolled a lot with big chutes up.”

While Matthew joined to help out, another local, Tony Horkings, skipper and owner of Lee-way, knew that his yacht had a winning history. “I first raced on Lee-way in 2012, after I bought her in Sydney. I discovered that she had won Sydney to Gold Coast twice before, both under different names. I would love to win not only divisional, but outright. She’s more than capable.”

Ray McMahon wanted to go big after only eight months of sailing before he did his first Sydney to Gold Coast Race in 2003. “It is a major event on the sailing calendar, so I wanted to be part of it. There is no point starting small. I was living in Sydney then, yet the Gold Coast felt like my second home. It was an obvious choice. The owner of a Farr 50 called Cadenza wanted me aboard. I jumped at the chance and was mainsheet trimmer for that race.”

The Sydney Gold Coast Race is also unique in that it is held right in the middle of winter in Australia—in the month of July. Hence, the “great winter escape”, and also referred to as the coldest race of the year.

Southport Yacht Club

The rewards

Although winning is everybody’s mission, it is not the ultimate reward. The best reward is actually completing it. With the cold weather and the unpredictability of the seas challenging the racers, it is always gratifying to be able to complete the course.

For Tony, the greatest achievement was “Finishing! After a bad start when a sail went overboard and breaking the foil, we overcame and had us clocked at 24.9 knots on yacht tracker, a record for an old Northshore 38.”

Beyond the race, rewards also come in various forms. Ray shares, “The greatest challenge for me was being asked on board the yacht Kioni for the 2008 race. Kioni was to be crewed with sailing students, and I was asked to be one of four ‘mentors’. For me, being asked to ‘oversee’ these inexperienced sailors at sea was an honour and a vote of confidence in my sailing skills.”

Home is Gold Coast

The best part of the race for our local sailors is really the finish, “because it is now at home,” shares Matthew. Tony shares the same sentiment: “The race can be quick or slow, but I love that it brings us home to our club.”

Ray further compliments the host club. “The SYC destination is the friendliest destination of the year. It is always a pleasure to arrive and stay a few days at SYC. And, for some reason the Gold Coast always turns on a beautiful few days for those arriving from the cold Southern states.”

Ray enthuses, “It is the second largest race on the East Coast of Australia, and it is only surpassed by the Sydney-Hobart. It brings world class racing yachts to the Gold Coast for sailors, both young and old, to aspire to ‘one day be on board’. It gives the Gold Coast sailing community a chance to compete against some of the best in the world, and sail into your home port. Most importantly, it makes the Gold Coast proud to be a major part in ‘the best race of the year’.”

For the city and the local sailing community, this race brings about camaraderie and a chance for the locals to meet the racing crew of the yachts. The 30-year old race has proven to be of immense value for the Gold Coast. Tony sums it up: “It highlights what a great location we live in. We have a great sailing arena at our door step. I believe more boats should do the race.”

John Hilderbrand, crew member from Wild Oats XI, SYC Commodore Phil Short and crew member from Celestial

John Hilderbrand crew member from Wild Oats XI SYC Commodore Phil Short and crew member from Celestial


  • The official starter of the inaugural Jupiters Gold Coast Yacht Race in 1986 was the then Premier of Queensland, Sir Joh Bjelke-Peterson.
  • The late Jack Rooklyn sailed his famous maxi yacht Apolloto a double victory, taking line honours and first place on corrected time, in the inaugural (1986) race.
  • In 1997, a record fleet of 86 boats took part.
  • The open race record of 22 hours 03 minutes 43 seconds has been held by Bob Oatley’s 100ft Wild Oats XI since 2012.
  • Land Rover Australia is the naming rights sponsor, since 2014.
  • At 1300 hours on 25 July 2015, the fleet contesting the race will line up at the Nielsen Park start line on Sydney Harbour before turning north at the Heads, bound for the Main Beach, Southport finish line. Along the way, the yachts will pass landmarks, such as Newcastle, Port Stephens, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour and Cape Byron.

By Roselle Tenefrancia

Photos supplied by Andrea Francolini and SYC