31st August 2016
From Saturday 20 August, Aussie A-listers flocked to Hamilton Island for fun, food, fashion and of course sailing for the annual Audi Hamilton Island Race Week. The general population of about 4800 residents and visitors swells to over 5600 when race week comes to town, with 48 flights from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne ferry in sailors, their family and friends as well as punters who are here for the atmosphere.
What an atmosphere it is. The waters around the Whitsundays were dotted with multimillion dollar monohulls and multihulls while $3.4 million worth of polished German luxury cars taxied people around the island. Aside from the Audis, there was also the shiniest and rarest deep sea pearls. The event went through 3000 bottles of the finest Piper-Heidsieck French champagne, 106,000 cans and bottles of beer, 7440 oysters, 220kg of Moreton Bay Bug meat, 8400 pies and over 800 punnets of strawberries.
On top of the opulence the festival brings, it's also one of the world's only regattas to bring together hard core racing and trendy social events. Whitsundays cruises and sailing has always been famous, but none more so than Audi Hamilton Island Race Week. This was the first race week since Hamilton Island owner Bob Oatley passed away in January of this year and was perhaps the biggest and best yet, with 250 yachts confirmed to race. In memory of Oatley the bow of Wild Oats XI, which has won the Sydney to Hobart 8 times, was erected at the Hamilton Island Yacht Club.
Other highlights of race week included food and wine events, fashion parades, live bands, sportsman speakers, car racing on the airport runway, champagne bars, food markets, sunset cocktails, wine tasting and more. Some of the more notable names that attended the event included celebrity chef Matt Moran who kicked off opening weekend with an exclusive dinner. World champion surfer Layne Beachley also hosted the Wild Oats Ladies Lunch, while world-renowned chef Guillaume Brahimi curated a Cote d'Azur-inspired champagne lunch. Channel Nine presenter Catriona Rowntree also hosted a "White" luncheon on Pebble Beach and as the grand finale event, top chef Shannon Bennett presented an evening of gastronomy.
With so much going on other than sailing, you'd be forgiven for wondering if anyone really noticed the race amid all the social soirees. That is the essence of Audi Hamilton Island Race Week, and the schmoozing goes hand in hand with the sailing. The sun was shining, the sea was sparkling and for the spectators and sailors who had travelled from further south, this was their chance to catch up with old mates and celebrate the end of winter as much as it was about the sailing. The old they get, it seems the less steely, cut throat, hard core racer they are and the more they appreciate their peers.