Could it be sailed around the World?

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Australia’s largest sailing regatta, Geelong Week, is preparing to expand its horizons with plans for an international IRC event. If the Royal Geelong Yacht Club has it way, the Admirals Cup could be sailed ‘down under’ as part of an international rotation.

Geelong Week, the southern hemisphere’s largest regatta was first held in 1844 and officially established in 1859 when Geelong Yacht Club was formed.

(Geelong Yacht Club was decreed Royal in 1925). Now recognised as Victoria’s oldest sporting event, it has grown in strength over the last decade and in 2009 there were some 420 keelboats competing.

Today the Chairman of Geelong Week Andrew Neilson announced the Geelong Week dates for 2010 and explained the earlier than expected parting with the long term title sponsor Skandia, who had contracted to their title sponsorship until 2011.

'Skandia Australia has been sold and whilst the company will continue to operate in other global markets, they no longer have a platform to promote in this country. This unexpected sale led to amicable negotiation and a positive outcome that provides Royal Geelong Yacht Club with the ability to deliver the event for the next two years', Neilson explained.

The 2010 program will commence in the Melbourne Docklands, with the Docklands Invitational and King of the Docklands being staged on Thursday 21st and Friday 22nd. January. The traditional 31 mile passage race from Williamstown to Geelong will be sailed on Saturday January 23rd and the program will conclude on Australia Day, Tuesday January 26th.

The Geelong end of the program, which has attracted crowds in excess of 100,000 people in recent years, will be extended to four days in 2010 and five days in 2011, creating a significant economic boost for the city.

Since its inception the hard fought Audi IRC Series has been held partially in Williamstown and partially in Geelong. 'Sailors really enjoy the atmosphere in Geelong and they absolutely love the flat, protected waters of Corio Bay', Neilson commented.

The Audi IRC series is the first round of the Australian IRC championship, the second round is Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta, the third the Audi Sydney to Southport race and the final round is the Audi Hamilton Island Regatta.

Over the last year many commentators have asserted the quality of the Australian IRC fleets is second to none and now it seems there are plans afoot to see the world’s best IRC racers competing ‘down under’.

The windfall settlement resulting from the sale and resale of Skandia’s parent company, as global financial groups re-align, has given the Geelong Week event a significant opportunity.

As Geelong Week looks at expanding its IRC base, the subject of the currently inactive Admiral’s Cup last sailed in 2003, has come to the fore.

Eddie Warden-Owen, the CEO of the Royal Ocean Racing Club in the UK, visited Australia in April 2009 seeking support for a re-introduction of the Cup. At a meeting at Sydney’s CYCA, Australian yachting icon Syd Fischer suggested the event should be sailed in different venues around the world.

Back in 1989 14 teams raced on the Solent - then the Cup’s downhill sail started. In 1991 there were only eight teams. The removal of the Fastnet race in 1999 took much of the offshore adventure from the series and with it much of Cup’s international appeal.

Now Skandia UK’s funding of the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s feasibility study on the future of the Cup, shows there is recognition that it should not be destined to remain in the Trophy cabinet in the foyer of Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club in Pittwater Sydney forever. (Club members Bob Oatley and Colin O’Neil lead the RPAYC team that won the Cup in 2003; the last time the event was sailed).

Geelong Week Event Coordinator Doug Jarvis said today, 'Geelong Week is in great shape and we have every reason to be excited about the future. It is nothing but onwards and upwards for the multi award-winning event, in fact it is our intention to raise the benchmark and look further a field. Our aim is to host a sanctioned IRC World Championship.’

‘We are keen to support the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) in their ongoing promotion of IRC and their endeavor to resurrect the historically significant Admiral’s Cup. We are even keener to host the Cup in the not too distant future. We have raised our ambitious plans with the RORC and we hope to talk again in the UK later this year.

‘When you consider the strength of IRC in Australia, the attraction of competing in the Rolex Sydney to Hobart and the long term benefits of allowing the Admiral’s Cup to roam - you could build a strong case around the package we could offer.’

Commenting on the sale of Skandia and future title sponsorship Jarvis added, 'We are certainly in the market for a new title sponsor and if necessary we will take advantage of our strong financial position to leverage a long term relationship. When you are talking about 165 years of sporting history, you need to consider longevity and make smart decisions.

‘I cannot speak more highly of Skandia. The management had enormous faith in our vision and they have intimately shared the phenomenal success we have enjoyed over the past six years. They have done so much for Victorian sailing, Royal Geelong Yacht Club and the wider community of Geelong. We will be eternally grateful’ Jarvis said.

‘The thinking behind the Australian IRC championship was to try and combine the strongest events into a circuit that made each of those properties stronger. It is working very well for all the events. Now you’ve got sailors who aspire to be crowned a genuine Australian champion and who have raced in different conditions.

‘So for every event, we believe, if you’re serious about sustainability then you need to continually reinvent yourself. You need to be bold enough to say are we doing it right and asking your audience if you’re doing it right and not sitting back waiting for numbers to decline.

‘We are surging ahead and are very fortunate that Skandia have left us in such a strong financial position.

‘We support the Royal Ocean Sailing Yacht Club in their endeavour to get the Admiral’s Cup resurrected. We also support them strongly in relationship to the promotion of IRC. We want it to be stronger. Don’t tear this thing down, it’s working well. Let’s keep going with it.

‘Look at Australia and what it has to offer - the strength of the fleet that we have in this county; the package that we could put together; the attraction of competing in the Sydney Hobart; the fact that you could put together a reasonable itinerary for international yachts and that we might be able to broker some arrangements in relationship to subsidised transport. If we can do that, surely we could build a case for Australia to host the Admiral’s Cup.’

This afternoon Jarvis expanded. ‘Last night I spoke to the sponsorship manager of Skandia Tim Sewell and they are like the rest of us, very keen to see what can be done to resurrect the Admiral’s Cup and that’s what they’re about at the moment.

‘Skandia is helping the Royal Ocean Racing Club with a feasibility study and their ultimate objective would be to just see the Cup competed for again.

‘We are very appreciative that this is the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s trophy; all we’re saying to them is let us all help you, the club, resurrect this event. If we can play a part in it one day in the not too distant future, we would be very happy. It could only benefit the sport.

‘We think the discussion needs to be extended and that we need more people in that loop. We need people to be talking about what is good about this suggestion.

‘All we are saying is that we want to help promote IRC as a rating, because we would like to host a World IRC Championship – that is out ultimate aim.

‘If that World Championship could fit within the strategies of the Royal Ocean Racing Club and fit within the Admiral’s Cup, then I think everybody’s a winner,’ Jarvis said.

‘The sport just needs an iconic, global cup like this. This trophy is almost a household name – I can talk to non-sailing people and they recognise the Admiral’s Cup.

‘The Royal Geelong Yacht Club would love to host it. If the model that comes from discussions was a transportable model that people could bid for, then we believe that’s a long-term gain for the Royal Ocean Racing Club and a gain for the sport.

‘How good would that trophy be if sailors worldwide could travel to another country to win the ultimate prize?

by Rob Kothe, Sail-World.com