In Australia, the whole spectrum of ultra-dedicated series racers, club racers, twice-a-year fun racers and the occasional hopeless cases can be seen at a handful of very big inshore or estuary summer races. Two of these are run on freshwater in South Australia, on the lakes and channels at the mouth of the Murray River.

Goolwa Regatta Yacht Club burgee

Goolwa Regatta Yacht Club burgeeThe races follow 20-25 mile courses between the two 19th Century riverboat ports, Milang and Goolwa. They are no small events. The Milang-to-Goolwa Freshwater Classic, run by the Goolwa Regatta Yacht Club and sailed downstream, attracts a yearly field of 400-500 boats of every shape and size between 14 and 40 ft. The Milang-Goolwa is by far the largest yacht race in South Australia and reputedly the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.

Trailable yachts dominate, with some participants trailing 400 miles or more to compete. There are so many designs racing in one or another division that it's possible to slip an odd boat into the field, with barely a blink from the race committees, who are very tolerant.
Part of the fleet in Milang anchorage, pre-race day.

The Goolwa to Milang Lake Alexandrina Classic is run by the Victor Harbour and Milang Yacht Clubs, with about half the number competing. As with the Milang-Goolwa, trailable yachts predominate. The fast cruising divisions are the largest class in each race (eg in 1993, about 90 in the class for the Milang-Goolwa and 40 yachts in the class for the Goolwa-Milang).

The races are great spectacles, since the fleets can be watched for most of the course close to land. They are also great fun, the 20 to 25 n. mile courses being miniature point-to-point cruises with little resemblance to triangular course racing.

There are a few drawbacks. Although the downstream section of both courses runs through the delightful sheltered nooks and crannies and invisible shallows of the Lower Murray channel, the upstream section can be a horror. The courses cross Lake Alexandrina, which is big and shallow, and nasty.

But at least in the races, you are assured of a medley of support and rescue craft, spotter planes, water police and shore stations if you do hit trouble. In fact, for a tyro crew in a new boat, the races are probably the safest time to try out on the lake. And besides, someone has to provide the entertainment for all those escort craft.

Other cruising races which deserve a mention are the longest freshwater yacht race in the country, and the hardest-to-finish race in the country. The longest freshwater is a marathon 50 n. miles from Goolwa to Meningie. We haven't won that one yet as we've never entered it.

The hardest-to-finish one is the Dauntless Cup, also run by the Goolwa club, but in the middle of winter, where storms in some years and no wind in others tend to reduce the numbers actually surviving it. We haven't won it because we've never been able to finish in time. (Tried using a motor this year but they wouldn't accept our placing....)

Clayton Bay Boat Club burgee

Clayton Bay Boat Club burgeeA race of a totally different character is the Rat Race Regatta, run in Autumn by the Clayton Bay Boat Club. There are actually two races run twice, morning and afternoon-only consistency will win these races. The Stony Point race is a conventional out-and back race in clear water for larger yachts. The Rat Race is for a menagerie of smaller boats, sailing over a highly demanding course through backwaters, the lake approaches, and the river. It looks like a pleasant sail (and is) but it demands a lot from skippers and boats. The Rat Race Regatta is accompanied by a Wind-In-The-Willows-type feast, brass bands, Edwardian costumes, and an amazing array of boats including one year a rubber duckie with a jury rigged sail as well as the not-so-successful Light Schooner.

The great thing about these races is that they provide a secure environment, through the general organisation, the safety provisions, and the comfort of numbers, at the same time as giving a steep, indeed vertical learning curve. We learnt more about the capabilities and limitations of our boat in five Lakes races than in two years of puddling about--coping with dead calms, gales, windward sailing, sailing at close quarters, finding where the shoals are, sailing in howling winds, knockdowns, capsizing, start melees. (eg sailing into a 30 knot wind with all plain sail up and the sheets tied is not such a good idea.)

The potential for rapid learning in safety, together with the fun aspects, is why we urge people to support these races, even if they're generally not into racing. Mind you, we don't object to the occasional win, either.

The Milang-Goolwa From Behind (the maiden voyage of Flying Tadpole II)

The Goolwa-Milang From In Front (the revenge of Flying Tadpole II)

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