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Port Douglas Race Week Penguin Passage

The History of the Clipper Cup

Facilities: Amenities
Clipper-Cup trophy
Dick Gooch

Cairns & Port Douglas

In 1995 the inaugural Mirage Resorts Clipper Cup was held in Far North Queensland, Australia. The trophy had been collecting dust in the archives of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia for several years since Dick Gooch returned to Sydney bringing the trophy with him following the demise of Pan Am in Hawaii.

The inaugural regatta attracted forty-four entries from as far afield as PNG, New Zealand, Victoria and New South Wales.

The seven race series commenced with the first three races staged by Cairns Yacht Club with the fourth being a 40nm passage from Cairns to Port Douglas. This was  followed by three further races staged by Port Douglas Yacht Club.

Billed as "Fun in the Tropical Sun" the first regatta was held in September as the usual south easterly trade winds mixed with the on set of the summer sea breeze. The honours went to the five week old Bashford/Howison 41 'Australia Challenge 2000' of Wayne Miller followed by Chris Packer's 'Thai Airways' and 'Bartercard Morning Mist'.

The first Port Douglas Carnivale in May 1994 was originally a concept conceived by Mike Burgess of Quicksilver Connections and Moss Hunt from Silky Oaks to stage a seven day yacht race from Port Douglas to Lizard Island with a Carnivale to be held in Port Douglas to celebrate the start of the yacht race.

The yacht race didn’t eventuate but the concept of Carnivale did and has since taken off to be a huge annual event.

Yacht racing became an integral part of the ongoing Carnivale events and in 1999 the Mirage Resorts Regatta was moved from September to May to coincide with Carnivale and expand the activities.

From 2000 on the Clipper Cup run by Port Douglas Yacht Club was a major event each year held in conjunction with Port Douglas Carnivale attracting major sponsors such as Hogs Breath Cafe.

1995 Cairns Clipper Cup.jpg

Click on the image above to read the full 1995 Inaugural Cairns Clipper Cup Notice of Event 


To Race the Winds of Paradise

After a couple of years of dwindling numbers the tide turned for the historic trophy and the races that determine the next names to grace her pedestal.

In 2012 two pivotal decisions were made that set the regatta back on course for success. First was the re-introduction of multiple divisions, with each winner in each division to be recognised on the trophy. Secondly, the regatta was staged over five consecutive days instead of two consecutive weekends.


In response to the changes twenty-three yachts contested the 2012 Exemplar Clipper Cup Regatta. This was the spark that ignited the success of the event for the next decade.

Exemplar Coaches and Limousines continued sponsorship of the event from 2010 to 2014 as the Exemplar Clipper Cup Regatta.


In 2015 it was decided to rebrand the event as Port Douglas Race Week with a new naming rights sponsor, Mickey Ink Marine. This new branding and sponsorship led to an increase in visiting boats as a regular fleet from Townsville, Mackay and Cairns began to make the annual passage north for the first major north Queensland regatta of each year.

In 2017 Quicksilver Group came aboard for the next six years as the major sponsor and the regatta continued to flourish, followed by current naming rights sponsor Riddoch Insurance Services.

It's often said that history repeats. In 2024 just as almost 50 years before when in 1976 racing for the Clipper Cup was threatened, a few dedicated club members were not ready to give up on what they knew was a great event. After the disappointment of 2023 the Riddoch Insurance 2024 Port Douglas Race Week was a huge success, once again building the foundations for the futue of the historic Clipper Cup. 

Today the trophy sits proudly on display at Port Douglas Yacht Club and is the trophy for the regions premier sailing event.

Race Officials

Every regatta needs a race director, the skilled administrator that calls the shots.

Over the years Port Douglas Race Week and the Clipper Cup regattas have been fortunate to have the volunteer assistance of some of the countries finest race officials.

The '95 Clipper Cup not only attracted forty-four entries, it also attracted the expertise of Arthur and Val Hodge and Bob Brenac. Experienced and qualified race officials that were an essential ingredient of the success of the event.


In 2011 John Graham answered the call to assist and for several years John brought back a steadfast and by the book approach to the clubs premier event.


From 2015 Greg Sinclair and Lister Hughes were integral in maintaining the high standard of race conduct.


In 2021 due to ongoing COVID related travel restrictions Ross Chisholm and Gayleen Lowe took over the helm continuing the tradition of expert on water race management until Greg Sinclair returned in 2024.     

Filling in the missing links

Any person with historical knowledge of the event or the trophy and its travels is invited to contact PDYC to contribute to the history of the Clipper Cup.

Charm Offensive
Start-boat and Race Officer

Getting underway...

The yacht race that would create the name Clipper Cup originally began in 1972 when members of the Waikiki Yacht Club created a 755-mile "fun race" to “race the winds of paradise”. It was to be an annual summer race around the major islands of the island state of Hawaii. Local sailors and visiting yachts competing in the biennial Transpac or Vic-Maui races were invited to attend.

By the sixth "Around the State Race" in 1976, interest in it had noticeably faded and there was talk of disbanding it entirely. Yet, a few WYC members were not ready to give up on what they knew was a good idea. Through their efforts, the race was transformed into a biennial series of races that attracted yachtsmen from around the world.

At the time Australian Dick Gooch was Pan American World Airways sports marketing head in Honolulu. He secured sponsorship assistance from Pan Am and the Clipper Cup Yacht Series was born.

Why the Clipper Cup?

Pan American World Airways, commonly known as Pan Am, was the principal US international air carrier from the late 1920s until its collapse in 1991.

The airline was identified by its blue globe logo and the use of the word "Clipper" in aircraft names and call signs such as Clipper Maid of the Seas.

The term Clipper was also used by Pan Am at this time for its business class called "Clipper Class" the “Clipper in-flight magazine” and its “Clipper lounge” at airports. It's not surprising the term was used to name the event they sponsored.

During the following four events, through 1984, the Clipper Cup series grew in popularity and international stature. The fleet expanded from 41 yachts to a record 78 entries representing Australia, Bermuda, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the U.S.


Then, once again, the future of international offshore racing in Hawaii was threatened. Pan Am dropped Hawaii from its overseas routes and ceased its promotional activities in the Islands.


The race series was revived under new sponsorship as the Kenwood Cup and the name "Clipper Cup" and the magnificent trophy dropped off the radar for a while, passing into the pages of sailing history.

Original video from 1980 Waikiki Yacht Club Pan Am Clipper Cup

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