The 2018 Port Fairy Winter Weekends has begun

Cheers: Port Fairy's Holly and Amanda Sheehan were rugged up and enjoying a glass of mulled wine on the Fiddler's Green at the start of the 2018 Winter Weekends program. Pictures: Rob Gunstone

Cheers: Port Fairy's Holly and Amanda Sheehan were rugged up and enjoying a glass of mulled wine on the Fiddler's Green at the start of the 2018 Winter Weekends program. Pictures: Rob Gunstone

While dachshunds were descending on Port Fairy in preparation of Sunday’s big race, it was families that met at the town’s heart to welcome the festival on Friday night.

Planning: Port Fairy's Mark Winnen and daughter Heidi Winnen, 9, were making decisions aboutevents to attend at the start of the Winter Weekends.

Planning: Port Fairy's Mark Winnen and daughter Heidi Winnen, 9, were making decisions aboutevents to attend at the start of the Winter Weekends.

Huddling together with mulled wine, hot chocolate and live music, a crowd of more than 200 joined the countdown to the annual light show.

Following an acoustic Welcome to Country, gathered on-lookers witnessed light projections marking the history of Port Fairy before dispersing to the numerous events scattered across the town.

Starry night: Port Fairy hotel The Star of the West was one of the town's icons to be lit up  for the Winter Weekends opening on Friday.

Starry night: Port Fairy hotel The Star of the West was one of the town's icons to be lit up for the Winter Weekends opening on Friday.

Event organiser Loren Tuck said she was thrilled with the turnout.

“It’s great to see so many people here,” she said.

“We love the way people come out on a winter’s night to enjoy the atmosphere and each other’s company.”

While pet owners soaked up the atmosphere many short-legged athletes were resting after their intensive training for the ‘Dachshund Dash’.

Race organiser Harry Bracegirdle said this year’s event was attracting pets from near and far.

“As of Monday morning we surpassed last year's number of 73 dogs,” he said. 

“We've got one from Port Fairy, a couple from Portland, 10 from Warrnambool and quite a few from Geelong and Melbourne suburbs. 

“There's also three or four from South Australia and country Victoria.”

Mr Bracegirdle said record numbers of pet lovers were also expected.

“There's been about 1500 people in the crowds each year and we are expecting an even bigger crowd because of our wider social media reach this year.”

“It's a fun event. We now have four heats in the under two section, four heats in the over two and at the moment one race that is limited to about ten veterans, which is eight years or over.”

Tactics have been diverse over the years, Mr Bracegirdle said.

“We had one guy who started at the line and while the handler held the dog, the owner waved a bit of bacon and ran right down the track to get the dog to follow him,” he said.

“Another guy laid out a whole lot of string and once the race started he slowly starting winding in the string. Turns out it had a little wooden dog connected to it.”

The 2018 Port Fairy Winter Weekends has over 30 events running throughout the weekend.