JULIE Keating has competed in every Marlay Point Overnight Race for the past 25 years, and while she’s not one to brag, she has a lot to be proud of as she prepares for her 26th race in 2018, the 50th anniversary of the iconic night race.
The 50th Marlay Point Overnight Race will take place on the Gippsland Lakes on March 10, 2018. More than 200 trailable yachts and multihulls are expected to compete in Australia’s best known overnight race, and Keating was excited to be racing for the 26th consecutive year.
Keating began sailing in her 30s, and what began as an enjoyment for cruising soon turned into a passion for racing. She did her first race in a Hartley TS16, and continues sailing one today.
Keating and long-time friend Helen Doyle began sailing with the Hartley association. Hartleys are an old timber boat.
“We learnt to sail with the association and did our first Marlay Point, a drifter, with one of the members,” Keating said.
“The following year we came back in our own Hartley, and then we did about 10 Marlay Points with just the two of us on board, and only occasionally other girls. We tried to introduce friends along the way, but none of them ever came back a second time.
“The Marlay Point was the first race I ever actually entered. For us it is more about completing the race than actually winning.
“Our claim to fame is being the first all-female crew to ever complete a race.
“The year we did that there was a boat load of Noelex girls and we didn’t realise it was a thing until they announced them as being the first all-female crew and we thought hang on, we’ve been doing it for years. They pulled out of the race and we finished, so we said we’ll have that title thanks.”
That was about 10 years ago, in one of the rougher races the series has experienced and the girls were on their beloved Hartley TS16.
“Helen and I were fairly consistent sailing together for all those years. It’s only in the later years that we’ve split up and gone on different boats,” Keating said.
Keating will return to Marlay Point with Justin Green on her Hartley TS16 Moloka next year.
Keating said while there used to be many Hartley’s entering the Marlay Point in the early days, there are only about five or six racing now.
Doyle has since bought a Sunmaid, and while Keating has raced with her, she still prefers the challenges presented by the smaller timber boats, especially on the Marlay Point course.
“There’s something about being on a little boat in the middle of the night, I like to be able to touch the water. We’re the mad ones,” Keating said.
Every year the Marlay Point continues to offer up different experiences for Keating, who considered it a pinnacle of her racing career.
“Easy, fast racing is good fun, you know, it’s great to go round the sticks on a Thursday night. But there’s something more to being able to endure all conditions and navigate at night, although it’s much easier these days than it used to be,” she said.
“In the earlier days you virtually did it by sight. It was all about pitting yourself against the test.”
While many bigger boats dread passing through McLennan’s Strait, Keating said this was often where the Hartley shined.
“A nice little broad bottomed boat can just slip down the middle while the bigger boats have to tack a lot. Sometimes this is a huge advantage,” she said.
Keating has experienced many challenging moments in her 25 years of racing, including witnessing multiple dismasts at the start line in Lake Wellington some years. One incident which stood-out was around their fourth attempt at racing two-up.
A storm blew in while passing Carstairs Bank at the back of Raymond Island. The 40 knot breeze was too much for the Hartley and the jib sheet was lost.
As Doyle went forward to catch the sheets, Keating recognised the danger they were in and there was some out of character swearing from the helm.
It was soon decided that “the direction they were heading was the direction they were going”, Keating said, and they ended up on the beach. Disappointment set in as they realised they were out of the race, however when they finally took the time to look around them, to their amazement they saw about 30 other boats on the bank with them.
Friends in Paynesville caught the ferry across with food for a sausage sizzle on the beach. All crews bedded down for the night on their boats and sailed home in the morning.
That was the only time the girls hadn’t finished the race, with Keating saying completing the race year after year was something she was proud of.
Keating confessed to loving the Gippsland Lakes, calling it her sailing home. Often cruising with family and friends on the Lakes, in recent years she has been fortunate enough to experience offshore sailing, crossing the bar at Lakes Entrance with Peter Foxton on Shaynee to Deal Island, Flinders Island and Tasmania, enjoying the new challenges thrown her way.