More than 50,000 people flocked to the Geelong waterfront and vantage points around Corio Bay on Australia Day to celebrate the return of the historic Festival of Sails to the long weekend.
The 175th Festival of Sails got off to a magnificent start with more than 250 boats taking part in the Melbourne to Geelong Passage Race.
The Passage Race, which dates back to 1844, included boats of all sizes representing most divisions competing at the Festival of Sails, which raced from the northern end of Port Phillip to the waters of Corio Bay.
Sydney to Hobart winner Ichi Ban took line honours in the 32 nautical mile race.
The largest keelboat regatta in the southern hemisphere has attracted more than 2500 competitors, with entries representing all Australian states and participants from New Zealand and Norway.
The Festival of Sails is Victoria’s oldest sporting event. More than 100,000 people are expected to enjoy the festivities over the long weekend, both on and off the water.
The three-day regatta is also Geelong’s largest event, with last year’s festival injecting more than $12 million into the local economy.
This year’s Festival of Sails supported by Rex Gorell Land Rover coincides for the first time with the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. The combination of these two stellar sporting events is generating an unprecedented amount of sporting activity and entertainment on the Geelong waterfront.
Festival of Sails chairman Peter Alexander said the Passage Race was a magnificent start to the historic event.
“It was an impressive sight to see more than 250 boats of all sizes from around Australia and overseas line up for the opening event of the 175th Festival of Sails.”
Mr Alexander said the Festival of Sails was also a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the iconic Geelong waterfront.
“It’s fantastic to see so many people relaxing on the grass and beach, having picnics and enjoying the festivities. It really is two events in one with the Geelong Connected Communities Waterfront Festival offering something for everyone with roving performers, live music, free entertainment and food stalls.”
The three-day Waterfront Festival is based at Steampacket Gardens and Transvaal Square. Children are encouraged to discover sailing with Come & Try activities on Eastern Beach. For the thrill seeker there’s the Land Rover Double Terrapod display, a simulated off-road driving experience, the VR Regatta virtual reality game and remote control Laser boats.
Highlights of the first day of the Festival of Sails included an Australia Day citizenship ceremony, a performance from the Royal Australian Navy Band and a thrilling display from the RAAF Roulettes, the RAAF’s elite formation aerobatic display team.
Celebrations will continue tonight with live music from 6.45pm in the Regatta Village (ticketed event) and Steampacket Gardens. Australian music legend Ross Wilson will perform with the Peaceniks from 9.15pm. Australia Day festivities will culminate in a spectacular fireworks display at 9.15pm.
Festival of Sails runs through to Sunday, January 28. Large crowds are again expected tomorrow to enjoy an action-packed day of sailing from midday and a smorgasbord of family-friendly activities.
Festivalgoers are reminded to slip, slop and slap and stay hydrated throughout the weekend. Free water is available from the Barwon Water drinking station on Transvaal Square and sunscreen from first aid stations in Steampacket Gardens and the Regatta Village, the Festival of Sails regatta office and the Events Geelong marquee in Fairnie Park, outside the Yacht Club.