The 66 footer, Van Diemen, is owned by Robbie Vaughan and will represent California’s Newport Harbour Yacht Club at Race Week. She was designed by Australia’s Warren Muir along the lines of a classic cutter created by famous American naval architect, Nat Herreshoff, more than half a century ago.
Vaughan, who was born in Tasmania, went to America in the early 1970s where he became a prominent ocean racing yachtsman before establishing a successful property development business in California. He will bring three Americans with him to Race Week and they will join a number of his long-standing Australian mates to form the crew.
Vaughan has cruised extensively through the South Pacific since the yacht was launched in New Zealand four years ago. He sailed Van Diemen to his home state a few months ago and recently headed north to Sydney en route to Hamilton Island.
One of the locals who will be with Vaughan for Audi Hamilton Island Race Week is well known Sydney yachtsman and yacht broker, Michael ‘Zapper’ Bell. He met Vaughan and joined him as a crewmember aboard the ocean racer Charisma in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1974. The pair then crossed the Atlantic on that yacht and were part of the crew when Charisma represented America in the Admiral’s Cup in England in 1975. Audi Hamilton Island Race Week will be the first time since then that Vaughan and Bell have sailed together.
“Race Week is always fun, and this year is going to be even better,” said Bell, who ironically was a crewmember aboard Peter Briggs’ Hitchhiker when it won the inaugural Hamilton Island Race Week 25 years ago. Hitchhiker, which hails from Perth, will also be at this year’s regatta.
“We’ve entered the Cruising Division just to ensure that as guys who are now more than 30 years older, we won’t have to stress too much,” Bell added. “We will be racing for the fun of it. That’s what Race Week is all about.”
Van Diemen’s crew certainly won’t be lacking when it comes to colourful characters. Included in the team is legendary Tasmanian ocean racing yachtsman Charles Blundell, who is better known to the international sailing scene as ‘Chas. from Tas’, plus equally legendary Sydney newspaper columnist Piers Akerman, who Bell says will be the ‘Minister for Diplomacy’ aboard the yacht.
With the entry of Van Diemen being the 150th, and entries for Audi Hamilton Island Race Week not closing until August 10, there is a strong possibility that last year’s record fleet of 216 will be exceeded. Regatta organisers are going to great lengths this year to ensure that this 25th anniversary event will be the best ever, both on the water and onshore.
News of the rapidly growing fleet has been welcomed by Audi’s managing director in Australia, Joerg Hoffmann, who said: “This is another positive sign for Race Week, and Audi is hoping that we will see a record fleet.
“With more than a month to go, and with 150 entries already secured, there is a strong message to sailors, sponsors and the media that AHIRW 2008 is going to be a great sailing event. Strong competition and fast boats, combined with a wonderful location and well-run racing, certainly makes this 25th anniversary Race Week an important regatta for all keen sailors.”
Audi Hamilton Island Race Week is Australia’s most awarded regatta. It has been recognised as Queensland's ‘Best Significant Event’ at the annual Queensland Tourism Awards on three occasions, and also taken out two Australian Tourism Awards.
As Race Week approaches Hamilton Island is continuing to expand in spectacular fashion via major upgrades in accommodation, and the development of new facilities. Among the new projects being undertaken is the spectacular 18-hole Hamilton Island Golf Course, and the impressive Hamilton Island Yacht Club complex. The first significant development to be established under the new plan, ‘qualia’, is a world class resort situated on the secluded northern-most tip of the island.