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Monthly Archives

February 2018

Willy Wonka

Willy Wonka’s widow

By | Grieve, News
Our Grieve writing competition (open now) receives many stories and poems about dementia, Alzheimer’s and other memory loss conditions.  The fabulous actor, Gene Wilder, suffered Alzheimer’s and his widow wrote this very honest article in Rolling Stone magazine  about the toll this condition takes on carers. 40% of Alzheimer’s caregivers die before their patient. Our Grieve writing competition gives carers the opportunity to express their loss and sadness as Pam Miller did in her piece which was published in Grieve Volume 4 – purchase the anthology here:
 
No One There
by Pam Miller

He holds her hands and gazes at the wrinkled skin. So soft now. These hands haven’t seen work in a long time. They are smooth and soft. Not like a baby’s hand. All round and plump and strong and grasping and reaching out for new things . . . reaching out for life.

These hands are still. They are lined and wasted and weak. There is no purpose in their life. They don’t cook or iron or clean or garden. They don’t hug or touch or comfort.

That all stopped long ago.

It stopped when her “confusions” started to appear, spreading its tentacles and stilling her hands. It forced the memories of her life into little recesses which could only be reached occasionally. In time, it pushed them further and further back. At first, it was every month when the memories couldn’t be found. Then, every week. And then, every day. It left a huge black hole, where once a life full of love and laughter had been.

He turns her hand over. There is no resistance, no feeling, no recognition of his presence.

He strokes the hand that is so familiar and that he remembers so well. And he basks in the memories that these hands remind him of. His memories. Their shared memories. He visits this empty shell of a person every week. He listens to the silence. He doesn’t say much. She was always such a talker. “Have a chat” was her nick name.

He grasps her hands and his memories of her. And he looks into the eyes of his mother. There is no one there.

 

Doris Zagdanski

Grief and Loss – ‘Tell it like it is’

By | Grieve, News

The Grieve writing competition accepts stories and poems on any topic related to loss: loss of a job, loss of a home, mobility, a pet.

Yes, death is a common theme in the stories and poems that are selected to be published in the Grieve anthologies, but the judges are also looking for stories and poems about loss that are not always recognised in society because grief can accompany any significant change or shift in our lives.

Doris Zagdanksi has been one of the Grieve judges for 3 years. Doris believes the Grieve project allows people to “tell it like it is.” From Doris:

In my 20s, I lost an infant daughter to SIDS.  It was a terrible time in my life especially because I was so young. I knew nothing about grief. Nobody in my family had died, it was such a struggle to know how to cope, to know what to do. I worked it out after a few years searching for information. And I found it really helpful to start writing. I found the experience of writing to be cathartic, a way to express feelings that I couldn’t discuss with friends or family.

People need to know there is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel when coping with the death of someone they love. When people read somebody else’s story, they think ‘I’ve been there too’.

Visit Doris Zagdanski’s website All About Grief

Enter a poem or story in the 2018 Grieve writing competition

man reading grieve anthology

Grieve Writing Competition Opens Valentine’s Day

By | Grieve, News

The Grieve writing competition opens every year on Valentine’s Day – you know the measure of your love by the weight of your loss.

Grief is the human response to change and loss in our lives, such as the death of someone we love. It is a natural and normal response, which has a physical impact on our bodies as well affecting our emotions and our thinking. This statement is from Good Grief, an Australian organisation that awards a $250 prize in the annual Grieve writing competition.

One of the programs that Good Grief delivers is the Seasons for Growth program to children and young people who experience significant life changes. The aim is to normalise the experience of grief like giving them clear, factual, age-appropriate information about the loss they have experienced; help build protective factors and minimise risk factors that affect mental health.

If you are interested in facilitating the Seasons for Growth program you must be an accredited companion which involves a 2 day training program – learn more about the training program on the Good Grief website.

 

 

Wish upon a southern star book cover

Member News – Graham Davidson

By | Member News, News, Writing Groups

Wish Upon a Southern Star is an anthology of re-told fairy tales for a YA audience. The work of 21 authors from Australia and New Zealand was chosen, including HWC member Graham Davidson’s 10,000 word story, The Tale of Krinkle-myst, Cinderella and the Prince: The True Cinderella Story. The re-telling is set in modern-day Sydney, with Cinderella and the Prince having failed to realise their destiny 1500 years in a row.

 

NSSA

Newcastle Short Story Award Prize Night 6th April

By | Lit Resourses, News, Short Story Writing

Mark your diaries for Friday 6th April at 5.30pm – the eve of the Newcastle Writers Festival – to hear competition judge, Ryan O’Neill, discuss short story writing and his experience judging the competition. Following this live chat, we will announce the prizes: $3000 – first prize (University of Newcastle); $1700 – second prize (Newcastle Law Society); $1000 – third prize (Westfield) plus 2 highly commended awards, 2 commended and several local awards and we will launch the 2018 anthology.

Short story writing is a demanding craft. There are several key aspects you must focus on due to the restricted length. For example, the opening line must grab the reader’s attention and this is a consistent feature of the finalists’ works that have been selected over the past years of the Newcastle Short Story Award. The opening line does not need to be comedic and entertaining, although that is one way to engage, but it should arrest the reader’s attention and pull them in. Starting with a description of the weather, or a similar scene setting that plods towards the action of the story can disengage the reader before he/she has read very far. Here we have assembled a collection of Newcastle Short Story finalists’ opening lines that make the reader ‘sit up’ and want to read on:

You can drive a pretty hard bargain with a socket wrench. – from ‘Wrench’ by Rafael S.W

Jeff spent sixty years trying to kill me. – from ‘Heart Murmurs’ by Joanna Nell

 She truly thought she was better, but after she decided to rescue that stupid dog she realised she wasn’t. – from ‘Mad Dog Woman’ by Marcelle McDonald

It makes one feel differently about the beginning when one already knows the end to be a failure.  – from ‘The Red Wallpaper’ Elianna Han

‘You know, I was an immortal once,’ said Grandfather. – from ‘The Land of Always Living’ Claire Bradshaw

“You shouldn’t name something you’re intending to eat.” – from The Names of Things Angus Gaunt

The house should be empty. – from ‘The Remains’ Karen Whitelaw

When the taxi arrived, Eileen was grumbling to her mute budgerigar. – from ‘A Silver House’ Joseph Sexton

My neighbour is sick. I hear him coughing at all hours, especially in the middle of the night. I am not sure if he sleeps. He must, I suppose, or he would be dead. I have heard you die faster from not sleeping than from not eating. Thirst will always get you before hunger or tiredness, but lack of air will kill you before anything. – from ‘The Man Next Door’ by Johnathon Hadwen

Dream Trip

By | Read, Write, Love

By Megan Buxton

Tess hopes she has packed everything they’ll need in the new caravan. Bob was at the club last night, saying goodbye to his mates. By the time he came home he could hardly stand let alone make decisions about packing.
    Now he’s hitching the van to the new four-wheel drive. Tess looks at the car, squat and pugnacious, and misses her little hatch-back.
    ‘Silly to keep it love,’ Bob said. ‘It’ll be sitting in the garage for six months doing nothing. May as well sell it and use the money on the trip. And we’ll only need one car when we get back – now we’re retired.’
    Tess shudders at the thought. Bob looks up from the couplings and glares.
    ‘Nice for some,’ he says. ‘Started the holiday already I see.
    She climbs into the car, lips thinned. The door slams and the seatbelt is yanked across, the tongue jammed into the buckle.
    ‘Steady on Tess, old girl. Treat the car with a bit of respect, eh, love.’
    Tess takes a deep breath.
    ‘Well. Here we go, eh love. Trip of a life time. All our dreams coming true.
    Tess thinks of Paris, Rome, the wonders of Europe. Someone’s dreams are coming true at any rate.
    An hour later they slow down, along with all the other northbound traffic. Tess looks ahead and sees dozens of vans in the line, inching along like giant silver snails.
    ‘A caravan of caravans,’ she mutters.
    ‘Eh, what, love?’ says Bob. ‘I thought this new bypass was supposed to speed things up. By the way, did you pack my hand surfer?’
    ‘Jesus, Tess. I’ve been looking forward to using it. I love that thing.’
    Yep, thinks Tess. He loves it so much he hasn’t touched it for five years.
    Silence in the cabin. Tess gazes ahead at the white lines dissolving in the liquid shimmer of the road.
    She thinks of the aluminium siding of the van, sucking in the heat, storing it up to torment her throughout the long night. They didn’t get the air-conditioning.
    ‘No need for that, love. We’ll be sitting in the annexe, enjoying the sea breeze.’
    Bob begins to whistle. He calls it whistling anyway; forcing air between the gaps in his teeth, the tunes unrecognisable. The sound slices through her like a paper cut.
    ‘What are we having for tea, love?’
    Tess groans at the thought of cooking in the hot box on wheels.
    ‘I thought we might go out,’ she says. ‘By the time we arrive and set up it’ll be late.’
    He looks crestfallen. ‘Oh, no love. First night in the new van. We’ve got to christen the new equipment.’
    What’s with the ‘we’ she thinks. You’ll pour a beer and relax while I cook. Same shit as home, just a different location – and more difficult.
    They pull into a petrol station.
    ‘Stop, revive, survive,’ parrots Bob, returning to the car with an ice-cream and a packet of chips. ‘Didn’t get you anything, love. I know you’ve gotta watch your weight,’ he beams at her as the fast-melting ice-cream drips onto his paunch.
    He crunches on the chips as they drive, slurping the salt off his fingers after each one.
    Tess thinks about the journey ahead.
    Six months of caravanning. Six months of caravan parks. Six months of amenities blocks with tinea –infested shower stalls and using toilets after someone with terminal digestive problems. Six months of Bob at close quarters.
    In a couple of hours they’ll be in Port Macquarie. Tess gets out her phone. Google tells her there’s an airport there. With a few clicks she could book a flight home and another to France. She’d be packed and on her way before Bob gets back from fishing. She hopes her passport is still valid.
    Bob reaches across and pats her knee.
    ‘This is going to be so good,’ he says. ‘And there’s no-one I’d rather be travelling with. You know that, love?’
    Tess sighs, puts away her phone and stares through the windscreen at the long road ahead.

In life, As in Death

By | Read, Write, Love

By Robert Edmonds

Behind the crematorium
they toss unwanted wreaths.
As local kids we piled them up,
and liked to play beneath.

In Loving Memory became
a place where girls would hide,
hanging their hair with flowers
that had only just arrived.

In Peace became a fortress
that I once attacked
with Always tied around my neck,
Forever on my back.

I like to think God Broke My Heart
was the scene of my first kiss.
But it might have been Remembered,
or even Deeply Missed.

We dug a pit and covered it
with Waiting For Me There.
We waited there to ambush those
In His Eternal Care.
Gone But Not Forgotten
was a cubby at the rear.
But they were close to compared to So
Far Away and Yet So Near.

The toughest kids I ever fought
were from Cherished and Adored.
They were bold and fearless and
Forever In Our Thoughts.

Our allies used to run away.
They fancied they were clever.
They’d go and hide in Sadly Missed
or in With Us Forever.

Sleeping Now were all defeated.
Those playing dead did not survive.
And so I swore I’d never
Stay At Rest while still alive.

And when I find I’m Free Now,
I’m In Heaven drawing breath.
Make me a part of everything
In Life (yes) As In Death.

 

My Brother Ross

By | Read, Write, Love

By Bronwyn MacRitchie

An accident, they said. By his own hand, they said.
    My brother Ross was twenty seven years old when he died. He had been working alone on a mine near Hermidale in NSW and I hadn’t seen him for several months.
    We are in the basement carpark lift at the Sydney RSL on the the way to his wake when the lift stops. It is stuck between floors with twelve passengers. Except for my sister, everyone else is a stranger to us, but not to my brother. They have travelled from the Central West to attend his funeral. Having shouted, banged and pushed every button, we introduce ourselves and reminisce on Ross’ exploits while waiting for rescue.
    He was crazy, inventive and loved to push the boundaries. When our older brother came home to Dubbo on school holidays he and Ross would go down to the shunting yards and roll between the train wheels. Ross was five. He built a rocket when he was eight, climbed up a tall tree and launched it from there. Instead of shooting into outer space, the tree caught fire instead. He tried skiing on the dam with a piece of corrugated tin pulled around by the jeep. Time and again it sank or hit the fence that went through the middle. When he worked in Cobar he built an airconditioner from an aeroplane propellar and inserted it in the wall of his bedroom. It was too powerful to use. Having a pilots licence brought out more mischief. We were travelling from Orange to Mount Hope in a small Cessna when he decided to herd a mob of wild goats. I didn’t find it amusing as he dipped and turned. I held my breath and gripped the seat. Crop dusting had been good practice, he said. In New Guinea he was flying goods to isolated areas. The plane became stranded and he was surrounded by cannibals. He managed to convince them he would not be a tasty meal and offered them a bottle of whisky as a substitute. It became one of his regular runs. He could fix anything mechanical and was fastidious in servicing the aeroplane and car.
     The lift begins to move upward. We will be half an hour late but that doesn’t matter because Ross loves a good party. He will be honoured with tales from those who’d encountered his quirky humour and brilliant mind.
    But no-one knew him the way I did. The boy who comforted me when my backside hurt from the strap or one night when my nightdress caught fire when he burnt his hands putting out the flames. They didn’t know he punched Johnny Paterson in the face for calling me an stupid idiot or when he took the blame for my wrongdoing and got the strap. They didn’t know he had driven me to the station after a fight with Dad and cried when I left. He wept when our animals died and insisted on a full burial each time. We had small crosses all over the back yard. He was fiercely protective always. He hated being in the city, even for a short time but he did it to spend time with me. They didn’t know his tender heart was bruised many times by a cruel step-mother and manipulative father.
    ​ The rope was round his neck, they said.

A Union of One

By | Sailing in the Hunter

By Patricia Green

An Australian girl, growing up on a farm on the Lachlan River, develops an affinity with water, marries a sailing man, shares his passion, commences a life sailing Hobi Cats on inland and coastal waterways, holds senior positions in education, circumnavigates the country in a monohull, explores tropical islands in a catamaran, writes for sailing magazines, helps disadvantaged peoples in the Pacific, becomes a skipper after her husband’s death and sails solo on her “good looking cat” Subzero. 

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          Cherylle Stone describes herself as being gifted with a “fearless love of water and its challenges”. Growing up on a farm on the Lachlan River, once they could swim across and back, two sisters enjoyed freedoms denied town children. The imperative to explore, test herself and seize the day was established early. The girls wandered the river— paddling, collecting yabbies, attempting to float on a half forty-four gallon drum—a Huck Finn life for Australian kids!
          At the age of six, Cherylle began skiing lessons on Lake Cargellico. The sisters became excellent skiers, pitting themselves against the elements, persisting with the challenges. It was a family affair. Harold Miller, their father, held the endurance record for barefoot skiing. With their mother driving the boat, the girls attempted manoeuvres that Cherylle would never contemplate today. Both excelled at slalom. Cherylle revelled in the exhilaration of jumps, daring to fly up timber ramps despite the possibility of crashing or of being injured by skis on landing. Meeting challenges head on and honing skills with determination and wry humour are attributes displayed by this woman from her early years.
          After graduation, Geoff, with a Forestry degree, and Cherylle, a teacher, married and settled in Eden. This period marks the beginning of Cherylle’s life as a seafarer. Geoff’s family had always sailed and he had spent his childhood mucking around with dinghies in Sydney waters. The couple had spent university breaks on the family yacht, but, she reports, “It was pretty tame after water skiing—no big deal!”               They bought a “beautiful, varnished, plywood, twelve-foot catamaran”. Launch day saw the establishment of the “Eden branch of the For’ard Hands Union” when Geoff, having instructed her to put on a trapeze harness, failed to explain its purpose. Once out on the water he directed her to “hook on to that loop and hang out over the side”.  “I squawked” she laughs, but after a dry run on land, they were off into the swell of Two Fold Bay. Tongue in cheek, Cherylle adds “There has always been a branch of the union. I encourage others to join as they tell their tales of woe.”
          Sailing in those days did not include wet suits or safety jackets—just put on a woolly jumper, a pair of sandshoes and off you go. For a woman with a zest for approaching timber ski jumps at high speed, this was a piece of cake!
          After three years in Eden, they purchased their Hobi 16. Geoff was transferred to the pine plantations at Oberon and Cherylle accepted an appointment to the High School. These were the years of “Swamp Sailing” on inland waterways—Lakes Oberon, Wallerawang, Carcoar, Wyangala, Jindabyne just a few. “Inland waterways are less formidable than off-shore ‘can’t see the horizon’ oceans,” she claims, “the wind either nothing or too much!”
          Early on, during the Jindabyne regatta, Cherylle realised she needed to learn to take charge of the Hobi if Geoff left— “Which he did”. He thought he was hooked up, but fell off and was about thirty metres behind, when she heard him yelling instructions to come back. Nonplussed, she realised she had no idea how to turn the Hobi, much to the amusement of the sixty crews giving her wide berth as they passed.
          “I knew nothing. It was a good lesson that whatever the vessel, we needed to be able to care for each other.” she reflects with a rueful sigh. And one she mastered, for they were to sail for many years together, always conscious of the other’s whereabouts on the vessel, either able to take charge, despite possible conflict and the futility of appealing to the For’ard Hands Union. “You’ve got a boat to look after, each other to look after, so the bottom line is that you’d better be careful both of each other and of the boat.”.
          After nine years on the Central Tablelands, the Stones, appointed to positions in the metropolitan area, purchased a home at Soldiers Point and commenced weekend commuting. Fearless competitors, they were selected to compete in many events including Nationals in Melbourne, Fairy Bower and Botany Bay. Placed seventh in the Selection Trials for the Australian team to compete in the first Hobi Worlds, they competed in Hawaii in 1988. “We didn’t do particularly well, but we did have fun!”
           Few women were engaged in racing when Geoff and Cherylle started out on Hobis. Most crews were all male. Cherylle did not have the strength to ease the jib so Geoff would luff up. Later, when more females began sailing, techniques changed for dealing with the jib and big, beefy men began to luff up too. By then, Cherylle has worked out a system for herself!
          Compared to racing, cruising is another world where women are respected and valued as crew members. “You travel in your own time and at your own pace.” It is a little like caravanning for nomadic sailors, exploring new territory alone or in company, meeting up at an agreed destination, sharing tall stories, spare parts, weather warnings, food and music. Excursions on shore for barbecues, boule and exploration might be included. “Friendships forged through cruising last forever.”
          In 1986, the Stones bought a Catamaran, a Seawind 24. They began cruising the NSW coastal waters, and continued racing the Hobi. In the Seawind, they sailed to the Myall Lakes National Park, a large coastal lake system. In time, the couple itched to tackle the challenge of sailing further afield. Catamarans then, were not suited to the cruising they anticipated.  “So, we grew one leg longer” and in 1992, purchased a “a leaner”, a monohull—Willy Wagtail—named for its characteristic waggle! Now it was time to use holidays and long service leaves cruising along the coast sailing three times to the Whitsundays.
          The years 2001-02 marked a new phase in life for the Stones. Both retired and spent fourteen months on Willy Wagtail, circumnavigating Australia in the wake of Flinders, to celebrate the bicentennial celebration of his achievement. They cruised in company with many vessels, some joining for one or more legs and others completing the whole journey.  
          Exmouth to Perth proved to be the most exacting leg, strong winds prevailing South East or South West. The number of anchorages was limited by the Zuytdorp Cliffs extending for one hundred and fifty km and rising in places, 250m above the sea. On one occasion, anchored inside Ningaloo reef at Norwegian Bay, the vessel pitched unmercifully all night wearing out a snubber. “As soon as it was daylight, we got out of there!” Weather forecasting was not so reliable then. Rounding Cape Leeuwin, a forecast for good weather changed to a gale warning. Sheltering at an anchorage protected by cliffs, they waited out the gale for forty-eight hours.  
         Then they set off across the Bight, expecting great weather and smooth sailing. About one hundred and fifty miles west of Ceduna at 10pm, Cherylle on watch with two sails up, a bolt failed, the mast snapped, and the boom hit the dodger just as she was head down grabbing the torch. With the mast hanging over the side, sails floating on the ocean, a shaky Cherylle holding a trembling torch, Geoff went around with bolt cutters freeing all the stays. With foresight, he kept the HF aerial and jammed it into the life lines which act as an antenna, so that when it was time for the midnight “sked”, they found they could communicate with the others. Then, firing up their twenty horsepower engine, they “book-booked” to Ceduna and were piloted in. New rigging, sails to come from Adelaide and a wrecked dodger to be repaired meant that they would spend three months in SA, celebrating Christmas with other members of the cruise in Adelaide. Under sail again, they followed the map of Flinders’ journey, visiting each of those spots along the spectacular SA coast.  
          In 2004, Geoff and Cherylle purchased a 12m catamaran, Subzero, named for the Melbourne Cup winner, and painted in its colors.               “Why wouldn’t you? You sail on the level. You sail fast. It’s spacious. It sails well to windward, has dagger boards rather than mini keels. And it’s a good-looking cat!”  
          And so commenced a rich, fruitful period—so many people to see, so many places to go, so many things to do. These were joyful years together—summers at Soldiers Point, cruising in coastal waters, racing at Port Stephens and wintering in the Pacific— cemented by deep love and companionship, a keen appreciation of our natural world and its challenges, enthusiasm for competition, joy in the company of other cheerful wanderers and love of a great tall tale!
          The Stones commenced regular visits to New Caledonia and Vanuatu in 2005. They established a close relationship with a local family. The extended Yata family dreamed of building bungalows on Tanna Island for the tourist trade. This venture would provide income for islanders and pay the fees for secondary education for children. Two years later, the Stones brought over a mobile sawmill. This would enable the villagers to mill the timber lying around and begin building units for tourists. In 2009, the couple returned with a wind generator, batteries and solar panels. They provided items such as linen, crockery and mattresses for the bungalows as well as materials for building a shower and toilet block.  
          There were rallies in the Louisiades between 2007 and 2013. Cruising travellers to these remote islands take plenty of basic goods to give, or to barter for fresh fruit and seafood. The couple joined a rally in 2008, between biennial visits to Vanuatu.  “Subzero was well down on her lines” on departure from Australia, because of the variety of trade goods for barter, as well as supplies for clinics and schools.
          “Cruising in the Louisiades is a bit of a challenge,” Cheryl wrote in an article. The deep anchorages were “corally. We often encountered that tell-tale grinding sound of chain on rock or coral….”. Digital charts were unreliable, so they depended on Ozi Explorer, linked to a GPS to use aerial photos to help judge where “the hard bits were”.  
         Cherylle was captivated by the Kimberleys. The couple left Port Stephens in March 2010, sailed to Darwin and Broome, spending three months on the Kimberley coast and returning in December, a round trip of 8000nm.  
          “A thousand miles of largely uninhabited, stunningly beautiful rocky coastline, half a dozen majestic, navigable rivers and an equal number of large bays and sounds occupied by an amazing variety of fauna and flora, splendid fishing, countless calm anchorages, endless walking opportunities, fantastic art galleries and good supplies of water,” she wrote in an article that reflects her deep appreciation of our land, its natural wonders, its history and its beauty.  
          In 2011 Geoff and Cherylle set off on their fourth journey to New Caledonia and Vanuatu. Returning home, they sailed Subzero to New Zealand and left her to be painted during the summer. In May 2012, they collected Subzero and joined a rally of about twelve boats on an eleven day cruise from New Zealand to Tonga and then on to Fiji.    
          Now began their last passage together wandering through the Pacific islands they loved so much. Geoff became ill in Fiji and they flew back to Australia for medical treatment. Geoff died in November 2012 leaving behind his best mate, his lifelong partner flailing helplessly in the face of such a loss.
          How does one reconstruct a life once an essential component no longer exists? Clearly there were some dilemmas to be resolved—to sail or not, to keep a boat with which she was familiar—or not. “I needed to keep sailing,” Cherylle says. “It’s not brave. There is nothing else I want to do. Sailing solo is not as much fun as in company but I do it in order to continue cruising. If I waited to always have a crew, I would not be sailing enough.”
          To continue her seafaring life, Cherylle adapted to the demands of a solo life. “There were Geoff’s jobs and my jobs. Geoff was a fairly cool calm competent person. He was really good on weather, and forecasting. He was pretty handy with the engine and the mechanical stuff. He understood electricity. Plumbing was not a problem. And navigation was something he loved and adored. I was in pretty good hands.” Now all the jobs were hers. “Sailing requires physical and mental fitness. Keeping a boat and equipment functional is a constant process of careful planning, observation and checking.”
          She proceeded to arm herself with the knowledge necessary to maintain an independent life and continue to sail. She needed to morph from carefree crew to skipper. “Just get on board on Wednesdays with knowledgeable friends and do it!”  A couple of inexperienced people wanting to sail, now race regularly with her at Port Stephens in a mixed fleet. “Nothing develops skills as quickly as racing!” She took a one day course in diesel familiarisation (one of Geoff’s jobs!). Now she knows how to change the oil if necessary, but prefers skilled mechanics to look after the engine.  
          With her characteristic determination to craft a rich life, Cherylle has found a way of being that enables her to continue sailing solo or with crews who may not be lifelong companions, but have become good friends. She has maintained her close relationship with the Yata family on Tanna Island and flies there each year. She stays at the Tanna Island Dream Bungalows, in one of the dwellings she and Geoff made possible. She has provided the materials for the construction of permanent kitchen/dining room block for guests as a memorial to Geoff. She has continued to support the project as need arises. The Stones promised to contribute to university fees when any kid in the Yata family “made it”. One child has already graduated and is employed in a government department in Vanautu.  
          It is May 2017. Soon, Cherylle with crew, will travel north, hugging the NSW coast sailing against the current. From Southport, she will sail solo into the Whitsundays.
          In a few months, twenty miles out on the edge of the continental shelf, running free on three knots of current—and “hopefully, fifteen knots of breeze from behind”— Cherylle will return south for the summer.             

Let’s Go Sailing

By | Sailing in the Hunter

By Megan Buxton

There’s nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats said Ratty in The Wind in the Willows.And Alyn and Danielle Ovenden, who have spent a large part of their lives doing just that, would agree with him. 
         Messing about in boats requires resourcefulness. Alyn, at twenty years old, had been sailing for a year when he set his sights on an A Class catamaran – a new and exciting design that promised good sailing.  These boats were, however, expensive and Alyn and his friends were ‘as poor as church mice.’ 
          What do you do when you want a new boat and you have no money? Simple, according to Alyn; you build your own. He and two friends did just that – constructing three A Class boats from scratch. It was an impressive achievement but the boats lacked buoyancy forward in the hull.  A nosedive when sailing downwind was always on the cards. If that happened the sailor was likely to be flung forward and off.
           Wisely, Alyn gave up on that boat and built himself another. This one, a Unicorn A Class, proved to be much more buoyant – so much so that Alyn won the 1966 NSW Championships sailing it.
           Messing about in boats also creates life-long friendships. Alyn spent many years sailing 505s with his friend Peter Hewson, known to everyone as Wally. They had begun sailing together when Wally was a boy of ten. Wally steered then and has been steering Alyn’s boats for the last fifty years.  They have travelled the world together competing in World Championships in Germany, Japan, Canada and the USA. In every contest Alyn and Wally finished in the top ten boats in the world.
            Inspired by their successes Alyn and Wally even thought that they might try to qualify to represent Australia in sailing at the Olympics. They joined a gymnasium so they could ‘get buffed’ but decided that they lacked interest in the gym and, besides, there were more interesting pursuits to be had. Alyn says, ‘The world was populated by women and we were trying to get to know every one of them.’
             In 1989 Alyn decided that he would like to mess about in a yacht. His search for the right boat took him to Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast where he found Valkyrie, a fully –fitted out yacht built in 1986. The first decision after buying the boat was what to name her.
             ‘I was a pushy sort of a prick,’ says Alyn. ‘One of the things I said all the time was “C’mon. Let’s go!”’ Someone suggested that they should call the yacht Let’s Go. It was a fitting name, given Alyn’s energy and his intention to sail the world, so Valkyrie became Let’s Go.
             
Let’s Go
 had been bought for cruising, but Alyn and his crew, feeling ‘the need for speed’ decided to race her. She was an old-fashioned boat and, at first, couldn’t deliver the success they were used to. Alyn jokes that they’d been used to winning and ‘there’s nothing worse than not being able to get to the bar first’, so some radical changes were needed, especially to Let’s Go’s keel. It took one year and many thousands of dollars but Alyn was confident that the changes would be worthwhile.
           They were. In their first race, at Belmont, after the modifications Let’s Go flew past the brand-new, very flash boat that had previously been considered the fastest.
            ‘Jesus, Alyn,’ said one of the crewmen, ‘we’ve built a rocket ship.’
            Let’s Go remained the top boat at Belmont, winning the most races and having the highest point scores for the next five years.
               
Alyn entered Let’s Go, sailing as Collex Onyx, in the iconic Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race in 1992 and again in 1993. The 1993 race is recognised as one of the hardest in recent history. One hundred and four boats started the race but severe weather conditions, with winds of eighty-four kilometres an hour, struck the fleet as it entered Bass Strait at night. The attrition rate was enormous and only thirty-eight boats finished. Not only was Let’s Go one of the thirty-eight but she crossed the line in ninth place.
             The fiftieth Sydney to Hobart in 1994 was to be Alyn’s last. A record three hundred and seventy-one boats entered and Let’s Go was twenty-seventh across the line and second in her division on handicap. It was a great result but Alyn’s priorities had changed.
‘I was chasing after a beautiful woman,’ he says. ‘Luckily enough, she had an eye defect and agreed to marry me.’
              That beautiful woman was Danielle.
               Danielle had only been messing about on boats for about six weeks, mostly on Let’s Go, when she entered a nationwide competition: Why I’d Like to Win a Trip to Hobart. She wrote a poem, made a video and found herself one of six finalists on an orientation cruise around Sydney Harbour.
               While the other finalists sipped champagne Danielle pitched in to help the crew. Her efforts impressed the boat’s owner and, ten weeks after starting her sailing life, she found herself heading out of Sydney Heads on Future Shock. The boat ran into problems and was forced to withdraw from the race but, she says, they beat Let’s Go out of the heads and she ‘has the photo to prove it.’
               No-one in Danielle’s family had ever sailed but Danielle had become addicted to messing about on boats. Throughout the late nineties as well as their club racing Danielle and Alyn competed successfully in long-distance ocean races such as the Gosford to Lord Howe Island race, the inaugural Brisbane to Solomon Islands race, Sydney to Southport and Pittwater to Coffs Harbour.
              Only their decision to concentrate on building a business from scratch slowed down their racing commitments. Alyn had always wanted to start a yabby farm (either that or a ‘good brothel’); Danielle didn’t even know what a yabby was. ‘I must have been the only person in Australia who didn’t know,’ she says. She soon learned and the farming enterprise was under way. Life was hectic. They ran the farm, worked at other jobs as well and even managed to fit in their wedding in 2004. Messing about on boats took a back seat; In 2002 Let’s Go had been lifted from the water and she didn’t get her keel wet again until 2009 when Alyn and Danielle began the process of selling the farm.
                   
In autumn of 2010 they set off, with their border collie, Connie, to begin a life of full-time messing about on boats.
               Let’s Go sailed first to the beautiful Louisiades, an archipelago off Papua New Guinea. They sailed to many of the islands, and at each one were treated to feasting and celebrations. There was more to this trip, however, than just messing around in boats; their passion for sailing allowed them to help others. Alyn and Danielle were part of a fleet of around eighteen other yachts raising funds and delivering medical supplies and other goods to a clinic on one of the islands.
                On Boxing Day 2011 they set off again, this time for four months circumnavigating Tasmania, visiting places like the inaccessible Port Davey.  Sailing has allowed Alyn and Danielle to experience the beauty of the Tasmanian wilderness in ways that most land-bound travellers never do.
               Heading home to Port Stephens in 2012 they learned that the sale of the yabby farm was complete – their dream of sailing around the world was another step closer.
               
There were one or two ‘must-dos’ here in Australia first. Alyn and Danielle had long planned to travel along the Murray – Darling River system so, in 2013, they swapped messing about on sailing boats for messing about in a twelve foot tinny. They launched it near the Queensland border and for three months travelled the Darling and Murray rivers camping on the river banks each night.
Twenty-fourteen marked the seventieth Sydney to Hobart race.  Alyn was not keen to compete. ‘I decided I didn’t like being cold and wet,’ he says, but Danielle didn’t want to miss the opportunity of competing in such a milestone raceThey worked hard to return the boat to race- readiness, stripping back the external cruising gear to make her lighter and faster. One thing Danielle would not consider leaving behind was the ashes of their beloved dog, Connie, who had died from leukaemia not long after their return from Tasmania.
                 Finally, in May 2015, they set out to fulfil their dream, sailing north towards Cairns with the plan of visiting the Kimberleys before setting out across the Indian Ocean. The first hitch in their plans came when Alyn began to fell ill. When they reached Cairns he was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix.
                 Many weeks later they set sail again, rounding Cape York and headed for Darwin – three months of sailing west, into the sun, and watching the ‘green flash’. Each evening at the moment the sun disappears behind the horizon a fluorescent green streak flashes across the water. It is the kind of special moment that only comes to those who mess about on boats.
                  Hitch number two came in Darwin. Let’s Go had been slipped to repair a minor problem. As she was being returned to the water the slings holding her broke and she fell, damaging the rudder. More delays followed while the rudder was repaired.
                  They set off for the Cocos Islands, 2,000 miles west of Darwin and their first big passage on their own. The islands were idyllic.
                  ‘Paradise,’ says Danielle. ‘Exactly what you imagine when you imagine a deserted island.’ Despite the beauty they were concerned that they would be too late to cross the Indian Ocean before the cyclone season but, at the yacht mooring on the island they met up with a group of international yachts halfway through their circumnavigation. Alyn and Danielle joined them – the last group of yachts to cross before the season. Surely, they thought, there could be no more disasters.
                  But disasters come in threes and much worse lay ahead. Over the next few weeks they made their way across the Indian Ocean, stopping at Mauritius and Reunion islands, rounding the Cape of Good Hope and visiting St Helena before deciding to head straight to Barbados. They were to get no further.
                   Alyn had just finished fixing the boat’s fridge when he complained of a dreadful headache. An aneurism in his brain had burst; he was functioning but in great pain. Danielle, unaided, put him into the rubber ducky and raced him two miles to shore. Brain scans at Queen Elizabeth hospital revealed the extent of the problem; Alyn would die in twenty-four hours without an operation and the operation would have to be performed in Barbados. It was good fortune that the hospital he was admitted to had the only neuro-surgeon in the whole of the Caribbean and that it had not happened a day later when they would have been on their way to an island with no medical facilities.
                   Complications from Alyn’s surgery meant he was in intensive care for over two weeks. Wally and some other life-long friends from the sailing fraternity arrived to help Danielle deal with the task of moving the boat somewhere safe from cyclones, finding somewhere to live while Alyn recuperated and coming up with the large sums of money needed to pay for his treatment.
                    It was almost two months before Alyn was given clearance to fly. They made the long trip home in stages, stopping first at Grenada, where Let’s Go had been lifted from the water, so Alyn could reassure himself that all was well with the yacht.  The first port of call in Australia was Toronto Yacht Club so his friends could be reassured that Alyn was okay.
                     He was not quite finished with hospitals and doctors just yet, however. A precautionary brain scan before a hip replacement revealed another aneurism, requiring another round of brain surgery. Both it and the hip replacement were successful. 
                     ​When they left Australia in 2015 the Ovendens had planned to be away for ten years so as soon as they knew that Alyn was well enough they returned to Let’s Go.  Danielle raced the whole of the Caribbean season on a local yacht, they have been in Antigua and are now on their way to Bermuda. Despite all the hardship and tribulation they had faced they did not abandon their dream because, for Alyn and Danielle there’s nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.