A UNIQUELY Australian boat race propelled by a sponsorship deal with extreme sports giant Red Bull is preparing for record nominations.
The Riverland Dinghy Club is expecting more than 100 entrants for its 2017 Red Bull Dinghy Derby in South Australia on February 5, eclipsing this year’s record of 91 boats.
The club will split the field for the 100km race into two for the first time next year to separate the smaller boats from the top performers and to allow for future growth of the River Murray event.
The main race sees competitors start on the Murray, Australia’s longest river, before being diverted through a network of narrow creeks where the small aluminium boats have to weave a path between submerged logs and overhanging branches at speeds of more than 90km/h.
Riverland Dinghy Club President Scott Jenke said the high river levels following heavy winter rains across Australia would not affect the event.
“The high flows might make a few people panic but there’s actually not that much water behind the peak that’s coming down the river so we should see it drop away during January and by February everything should be back to normal,” he said.
“We’ll be running the course as we have in the past. There will probably be a few new interesting obstacles to go around, I daresay a few trees have fallen over and some snags have moved so we’ll do a bit of reconnaissance but if anything it will all look a bit more lush and green.
“We’re coming into the 37th year and in the first four or five years we had different courses but after that the course has predominantly stayed the same and it’s just grown in popularity over the years.”
The first Dinghy Derby was run in 1981 but the event has swelled significantly since Red Bull came on board for the 2015 event.
The past two years have seen a 30 per cent and a 50 per cent increase in entrants to 91 in 2016. Jenke said he expected entries to go past 100 for the 2017 event.
He said Red Bull approached the club after a promo video for the event by Riverland local Matty Kaye went viral on the internet in 2014.
“That spread like wildfire and got noticed by Red Bull, “ he said.
“They are really interested in promoting the sport because it’s something so unique to Australia and they are just happy to help us grow.
“Their input has enabled us to step up our timing systems and our infrastructure behind the scenes, which takes the load off our local sponsors, so it’s been really good. In terms of the media footage, I think we’ve performed in the top 10 per cent of some of their videos worldwide so it’s definitely helped to gather some interest.”
The growing popularity of the derby has caused organisers to expand the event into a six-race championship in recent years, beginning with the Dash for Cash and Dinghy Derby in February and ending in October.
The Dash for Cash event will be held on Friday, February 3, under lights on the Renmark Riverfront on a two-lane sprint course.
“We try to keep it fair so anyone who enters is eligible for the prize and there’s 10 random draws of envelopes for a total of $2000 that we’ll give away for the dash,” Jenke said.
“All of our prizes have always been like that, the race winner gets the trophy and the bragging rights but the prizes are drawn randomly.”
Seven classes ranging from 15hp through to 300cc and 30hp Sports classes with top speeds of more than 90km/h will contest the events.
Jenke said the growth of the derby and the championship in recent years had attracted entrants from the Gold Coast, Geelong and Bathurst as well as international visitors to region about 250km east of the South Australian capital Adelaide.
He said the unique network of creeks near Renmark made it ideal for dinghy racing.
“Back in the ’80s there was some form of dinghy racing in other places but the Riverland is probably the only place in Australia that’s racing to this extent and for so long,” Jenke said.
“Three or four thousand people line the riverbank on the Friday night for the Dash for Cash and that’s a massive event for the town and then on the weekend there’s half a dozen main vantage points and they could have up to a thousand people at each.
“Then there’s pockets with 50 or 100 people watching all along the course so it’s pretty unique but because of the access to the creek system it’s a little bit hard for people to get to some places.”
The main derby race is run over four laps in a short/long/short/long format.
“The boats leave the Renmark Club and they head up into the creek system and turn off into a short and a long lap and another short and long lap before they start the run home back to the club.”
One crewmember drives the dinghy while the other acts as navigator and also moves around the boat to shift the weight according to river conditions.
“It’s pretty crucial because the boats are so small for the driver and navigator to get it right.
“When you come to a creek, you drop your trimming device down and the navigator goes to the front. He’s got to put his weight in the right spot at the front so you can get the boat to turn left and right. Without the navigator you just wouldn’t get around some of the bends. “
“There’s a fair but of unsaid communication between the two and if the driver doesn’t get it quite right then the navigator has to put his weight in a certain spot to fix it.”