by Rob Mundle
The inaugural edition of Australia’s, and the southern hemisphere’s, first annual superyacht regatta, the Hamilton Island Superyacht Series, has been postponed for 12 months as a result of government regulations that would impact some of the competing vessels, and to a lesser degree, due to the severity of the wet season that was experienced in Queensland’s tropical north this past summer.
Superyacht Series organisers say that the major problem was with existing Federal Government legislation, and although considerable effort had recently been made by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority towards minimising the impact this legislation would have on the series, time had run out for the world class contest to be presented as desired in November this year. The legislation, which was originally introduced to control the access of large tourist vessels to the Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef, unfortunately gave little consideration at the time to the incredible growth of the superyacht industry, and the massive economic benefits these vessels could bring to the region.
'The problem is pretty simple,' said Hamilton Island CEO, Glenn Bourke. 'Under this legislation superyachts over 35 metres in length, especially if they are under charter, cannot put down an anchor within 1.5 kilometres from beaches like Whitehaven and other beautiful locations in the Whitsundays. The anomaly is that same legislation currently permits large tourist vessels, with hundreds of guests on board, to anchor close to these very locations. It’s not hard to understand why the superyacht skippers feel left out.'
'Our Superyacht Series has been established to lure some of the world’s largest and most spectacular private yachts to this magnificent cruising ground. It will also bring a direct benefit to the local superyacht industry as there is no doubt the owners of many of the yachts we will attract will consider spending millions of dollars on refitting their vessels while in Queensland waters. Additionally, the event sits perfectly within the Queensland Government’s recently announced Superyacht Industry Strategy as it will encourage local and international superyacht owners to come and cruise our equivalent of the Caribbean – the Whitsunday Islands.'
Hamilton Island Superyacht Series organiser, Rob Mundle, said that the legislation had a direct impact on the staging of a world-first competition that was being planned for the Superyacht Series, one designed specifically to appeal to the owners of these vessels.
'This competition pays careful consideration to the fact that we want to protect the unique natural beauty of the Whitsunday region and the Great Barrier Reef,' Mundle said, 'but we can’t present a competition where guests aboard vessels over 35 metres are at a disadvantage, just because that vessel is under charter. We have had two of the world’s pre-eminent authorities on superyachts visit Hamilton Island in recent months, and even they expressed concern about the impact this legislation will have, especially when charter plays such a significant role in the international superyacht industry.
'It must be realised that superyachts, in private operation or under charter, rarely carry more than 10 guests, and they represent low impact and exceptionally high yield for a region.
'To postpone the Superyacht Series is extremely disappointing; especially when you consider that the first two vessels to commit to the event were 40-metres in length. We were expecting between 15 and 20 superyachts this first year with at least five from overseas.'
Glenn Bourke said that there was one up-side to the otherwise unfortunate situation of postponing the series for a year.
An artist’s impression of the innovative new Hamilton Island Yacht Club, which is currently under construction.
'Queensland’s tropical coast endured its most extreme wet season in a decade this past summer,' Bourke explained, 'and the rainfall we experienced at Hamilton Island has slowed the construction of our impressive superyacht facilities at the new Hamilton Island Yacht Club.
'While we can, and do, still cater for visiting superyachts, our desire was to showcase the stunning new yacht club, and its wonderful amenities, to our local and international Superyacht Series competitors this year. Now, the yacht club, and our magnificent new 18-hole golf course, will definitely be ready for 2009.
'From this point on we look forward to working with the government authorities to overcome the remaining hurdles, and I’m pleased to say we remain optimistic.'