“There’s a boat back there!” yelled Sandy Oatley, 64, the avuncular head honcho of Hamilton Island and billionaire scion of the Australian wine and real estate family.

Usually he’s at the wheel of his 92-foot, AU$7 million ($5 million) motor yacht, Andiamo, which he personally designed (locals call it “Sandiamo”). Last Thursday, Oatley was standing on the aft deck, hosting some 30 Australian business titans and friends over cases of chilled Piper-Heidsieck, when suddenly a sailboat appeared to be about to strike his vessel on the starboard side. Two seconds before collision, Oatley’s captain opened up the yacht’s twin jet engines, and the craft slipped past in Andiamo’s wake.

“I got his boat number,” Oatley whispered to an aide. “Let’s send him a case of beer or something,”

In most of the Seven Seas, angry words (perhaps even a middle finger or two) would have been the norm. But this was day four of Audi Hamilton Island Race Week, the nexus of Australia’s high society, when a stiff upper lip and a sense of humor is mandatory. Just that morning, a multi-hull race had to be postponed when a trimaran ran into a catamaran—“circumcising it,” as several participants joked.

Australia’s Ascot

The race traces back to 1984, when a group of wealthy sportsmen got the developer of Hamilton Island, Keith Williams, to host the event as a way of drawing attention to the island’s fledgling hotel, then a farther downmarket package-tour destination. Now, it's one of Australia’s biggest annual social events. This year's tony doings ran from Aug. 15–22, with 202 boats and approximately 11,000 spectators and sailors crowding the two-mile by three-mile island. Major yacht owners included Hong Kong department store billionaire Karl Kwok, with his 80- foot water slicer, Beau Geste; an Oatley yacht, Wild Oats X, skippered by Mark Richards, fresh from his eighth Sydney-to- Hobart win; and Robert Salteri, billionaire heir to the Tenix construction fortune, in his 54-foot, seagoing Ferrari.

Just across the harbor next to the finishing line, Lachlan Murdoch’s AU$40 million racing yacht, Sarissa, was anchored so that his family—including his father, Rupert—could watch the proceedings from a safe distance.

While the big fellas were out on their boats, a battalion of SWAGs—local speak for “sailors' wives and girlfriends”—were left on the island to mingle, nibble beneath big hats at lavish banquets, and perhaps pick up a AU$100,000 Paspaley pearl necklaces or other glittery things in the pop-up stores lining the harbor. Everybody was whirring by in golf carts along the marina's Front Street like a pack of fabulous Jetsons. With Tanqueray pop-up bars, live bands, and public peacocking, the scene looked like an Australian version of Ascot. (There were quite a few male landlubbers and female sailors, too.)

The kangaroos and cockatoos in the jungle kept to themselves.

Semi-Private Island