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AKARANA near Fort Denison, Anniversary Regatta race,  January 26 1889.

Centennial International Regatta

The 1888 Melbourne International Regatta was held on Port Phillip Bay on the 23rd and 24th of November. Yachts from NSW, SA, Tasmanian and New Zealand took part, making it a true inter-colonial event. Races were held for a variety of classes, including open boats and yachts.

The feature event was for the first class yachts, which included three new designs by Walter Reeks, the well known naval architect from Sydney. These were the ERA, (NSW), VOLUNTEER (NSW) and IDUNA (Vic). A fourth large design by Reeks MIRANDA had also enetred but was forced to return to Sydney after it was damaged in the bad weather off the NSW coast.

The three yachts big yachts were joined by the JANET and TANIWHA from Victoria, and WANDERER from SA. Their race was hampered by the extremely light conditions of the first day, and surprisingly after almost 12 hours, the leading yachts finished very close together. However there was controversy over the correct rounding of marks and the finish, and the committee abandoned the event, which probably had been won by IDUNA who had followed the correct sailing instructions for the race finish. The race was re-sailed in a good southerly wind three days later, and ERA pulled away for a convincing win. The prize included a gold anchor trophy, worth 100 guineas.

In the smaller yachts the main feature was the anticipated performance of the New Zealand yacht AKARANA, racing against MADGE from Tasmania, GALATEA from Victoria and ASSEGAI, from NSW. The latter was originally a Victorian boat designed and built by Henry Murray, but had been substantially rebuilt and re-rigged under Reeks' direction to become a formidable racing yacht. AKARANA'S entry had its own element of controversy. The boat had been designed to the beam and length related tonnage rules which promoted narrow, deep yachts, but this regatta was one of the first sailed anywhere in the world to the new waterline length and sail area rule, which Reeks was already well versed in with his three designs. Robert Logan, the NZ owner, designer and builder was aware of the rule change before he came to Victoria, but decided to bring AKARANA regardless of the change.

In the same light weather that plagued the first class race, AKARANA won the race for yachts between 5 and 10 tons over the line and after time allowance, adding prestige to its earlier convincing win in a trial race held in the lead up to the regatta. In the second race it contested, with a mixed fleet of keel and centreboard yachts, Akarana fell back to finish in fourth place after the throat halyards gave way and it was forced to slow up while repairing the damage.

ASSEGAI was delayed on its passage south by bad weather and arrived after the regatta, but senior officials were keen to see how it compared to the other yachts, so a special race was organized between ASSEGAI, AKARANA, MADGE and GALATEA. It was sailed in a heavy breeze bordering on a gale. AKARANA faired badly in these conditions, not helped by further gear damage, this time at the start. ASSEGAI also suffered gear problems during the event. The race went to GALATEA on handicap, and the event failed to settle the argument over which was the better boat of that size.

Amongst the other races in the regatta, one of interest was between a Sydney live ballast yacht AILEEN, where its crew of thirteen were the "movable ballast", and the fixed ballast Queenscliff boat MAYFLOWER. MAYFLOWER won by just over 2 minutes.

Crowds watched the races from onshore and aboard steamers that followed the events on both days. The light conditions of the first day were confusing for the onlookers, as boats from all classes milled around with no semblance of any progress, despite having started their race. The stronger breezes in the two extra races provided a much better spectacle.

References:
Neale R. 1984, Jolly Dogs Are We, The History of Victorian Yacht Racing, Landscape Publications
Fletcher, Daina 1991, Akarana, Beagle Press for the Australian National Maritime Museum