Event History

The Bali International Yacht Race Story

In the midst of the euphoria surrounding yacht racing in Australia during the 1970’s and 80’s, when Alan Bond’s repeated tilts at the America’s Cup were attracting worldwide attention, the Fremantle Sailing Club was re-born in its current magnificent clubhouse and marina, and the search began for a marque event to put the club on the international stage. That search led to the establishment of the first Fremantle to Bali International Yacht Race.

The inaugural Cliffminex Fremantle to Bali Classic started on Saturday 2nd May 1981 and attracted 33 yachts to its racing division and a further 16 to a cruising division.  Rolly Tasker’s 75 foot Siska IV sizzled up the coast at the head of an ugly weather system, to set a time that stood for 30 years before Alan Brierty’s state-of-the-art all carbon Limit smashed it in 2011.

Such was the interest in the 1981 race that even in a country centre like Bunbury, the crews of the three local yachts (Santervea, Finistere and Jenny Philp) were feted to a civic reception hosted by their Mayor Pat Usher before their departure.

The inaugural race was full of drama – even before it began.  The late Dr Harold Dicks (circumnavigator David Dicks’ father) had a flaming and very public row with the Commonwealth Health Department about the policy of the destruction of unused canned Australian food brought back to Australia.  Sue Hutton had a horrendous fall from the mast onto the deck and fractured her pelvis. She missed the race as a result of her injuries.

The drama continued during the race as wild weather hit the fleet within 24 hours of the start.  Rob Appleyard’s SixPack broke a rudder and pulled into Geraldton, Peter Engelbrecht’s Aztec broke a mast and there were many reports of sail damage and seasickness.

Then on Thursday afternoon on 7th May, about 50 miles north of NorthWest Cape,  Ray Parker’s ferro cement Tahara’a hit a whale and went down within two minutes, taking with her all the crew’s belongings, radios and gear.  Fortunately their flares were spotted by the cruising yacht Lois III, which picked them up some four hours later.

One of the most striking differences between the 1981 race and offshore racing today concerned navigation.  In 1981, a handful of yachts were equipped with SatNav, a new fangled contraption that was able to communicate with satellites to deduce a position – two or three times a day as satellites passed overhead.  The rest of the fleet used more traditional methods of navigation, relying on compass, sextant and stopwatch to work out their position in the Indian Ocean.

Today’s yachts all carry modern GPS equipment, most interfaced with a chart plotter.  Position updates occur in fractions of a second and a full suite of navigational information is available.  Unlike the race in 1981, when cloud cover prevented the sun and stars from shining through, the GPS continues its continuous flow of up to the minute information with pin-point accuracy, and unlike 1981, there is no longer an excuse for any yacht that comes ashore on Bali’s neighbouring islands Java or Lombok!

In 1986, Dudley Rowland’s Ivanhoe claimed fastest time, but took more than 8 days to complete the voyage.  The cruising division in that race aimed for a mass finish at Benoa at noon on 5th May, but most arrived well ahead of that target, cleared Indonesian Customs, and returned to sea for their official ”mass finish”.   Peter Lynn’s Tenggara II won the cruising division, while the legendary Eddie Edwards, who had previously claimed the IOR fleet navigator’s trophy in 1981, repeated his success on Eric Powell’s Rasa.

The Challenge Bank (later acquired by Westpac) sponsored the 1988 Fremantle to Bali Race.  First to arrive, once again in eight days, was Peter Bennett’s well traveled ketch Independent Endeavour, whilst the racing division IOR trophy went to Stan Best’s Finistere. The cruising division was split into A and B fleets for the first time.  Neville Bowman was the winner of the A fleet, while Carnarvon yachtsman Gary Westcott won the B fleet in Wild West.

The Challenge Bank connection remained for the 1990 Bali Race, which was notable for the inclusion of a one boat square rigged division, won by the only entrant, the sail training ship Leeuwin!

It was Ron Clarke’s Pacemaker that claimed line honours in 1990, but light winds dogged the fleet for much of the journey and Pacemaker took 10 days to reach Bali.

A major change occurred in 1993 when the race terminated in Lombok instead of Bali, once again with the support of the Challenge Bank, and also produced one of the best finishes in the history of the event.  Big boats Syrenka, Finistere and Second Term made headlines as they approached the finish. Syrenka led the trio over the final stages, but opted for a course well away from Lombok while her two rivals adopted a “rock hopping” strategy to avoid the notorious tidal streams and overfalls of Lombok Strait.  Second Term, a near new Jutson 50,  took line honours by just four minutes from Finistere, but Syrenka, caught in the worst of the tides and at times moving backwards, crossed the line some six hours later.  It was to be a triumphant year for Holman and Pye designed UFO 34’s, with John Knoch’s  Amadeus  winning IMS handicap honours and Roy Stone’s Vela skippered by Clayton Aylmore, taking out the YAH trophy.

Lombok was again the chosen destination for the Indonesian race in 1997, but this time Syrenka was not to be denied, giving Ross Swanson a well deserved line honours victory. Once again it was Finistere which had to settle for second place over the line.

Declining numbers and the threat of international terrorism resulted in a 12-year hiatus for yacht races to Indonesia, but in 2010, after some spirited campaigning by Kaye Riseley and the late Mike Harvey, it was decided to run a Bali race in 2011.  Enthusiastically led by Richard Webster and Nick Clews, the event received the support of the Indonesian Ministry for Culture and Tourism and the race was branded the Visit Indonesia Fremantle to Bali 2011.

The twenty three participating yachts enjoyed some wonderful Indonesian hospitality and most also took the opportunity to cruise through the Indonesian archipelago before returning to Fremantle.  Alan Brierty’s RP62 Limit made headlines within hours of the start, when one of her crew fell across the full width of the boat, landing heavily against the rim of a winch, breaking six ribs in the process.  A copybook rescue effort saw the crewman cared for by the yacht’s first aiders and taken to Geraldton for hospitalization.  Five days later, Limit made the headlines again by smashing the thirty year-old record for the race, despite having to carry the time spent in Geraldton.

Many of the 2011 fleet of yachts made full use of their cruising permit travelling on from Bali to  the Eastern Indonesian archipelago and subsequently reported such a wonderful range of experiences that a formal “Beyond Bali” component was added to the 2013 event with a special course and program prepared by the 2013 Rally Director and 2013 participant Ralph Newton.  Again the reports from all who joined the fleet for the extended sailing showed the area to be a wonderful cruising ground with welcomes by all the Indonesian people and fantastic scenery in calm inviting waters.

The 2015 event is now in its early planning stages and entries via an Expressions of Interes form are encouraged and available here.


To view the results of the Fremantle to Bali events please see the box on the right of this page.

Organised by  Sponsor Naming


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