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Hunter Writers Centre

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.

tom addis

Cloud Chaser

By | Sailing in the Hunter
By Peter J Wells
Every sport has its elite.  Those who take on the biggest challenges their sport has to offer.  Stories about these people are told in awed tones, often with a degree of romance.   To others within their sport, they are the ‘rock stars’.  In sailing, there is no doubt that the ‘rock stars’ are off-shore sailors. 
           To understand why, try to imagine you are on the deck of a 70 foot racing yacht sailing somewhere below South America.  Out here there is nothing but sea and steel blue sky; and your hands and feet feel the cold.  This boat is big and heavy, the spinnaker alone weighs 300kg and takes up to eight of you to handle; this boat is a highly loaded piece of precision engineering, it is designed to go fast, in fact you are travelling at 20 knots.  You look around and realise you are on the crest of a wave, it appears to be the size of a large hill, at least 200 metres across its crest.  You look into the ocean and see a Fin Whale, for the next five minutes it swims alongside then, with no show of exertion; it accelerates and leaves you in its wake.  This is another day at the office for the off-shore sailor.
             Tom Addis, who these days calls Lake Macquarie home, is a full time professional sailor who has raced off-shore since 2004.  He has participated in three Volvo round the world races and eight Sydney to Hobart races (winning six times and twice breaking the race record), as well as numerous other races around the world.  In a busy year Tom is away from home for 230 days of the year, “there’s always racing going on in the world, most of my work is overseas, mostly in America and Europe…  it’s all about managing your calendar.”  
              Tom is a specialist Navigator.  In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the job of the Navigator was to understand the current location of their boat and how fast the boat is travelling.  Tom likes to think about the sea skills these navigators used; “it involved dead reckoning, compass headings, correcting for currents; if you had clear sky’s you could get the sextant out and take sun sights to find where you were, that was plus or minus 5 miles… it involved a lot of skill, time and technique.  Nowadays knowing where you are is simple, these days the job of the Navigator is all about positioning the boat to take advantage of the weather and currents.”
               These days a boat’s location is continuously available, as are detailed forecasts of weather and tides.  The job of the navigator is to interpret this mass of data, and to observe how these mathematical models interact with the real world around them.  Unlike in-shore racing, the navigator has a critical role to play.  Tom says “we live in a world with more computing power, races are won and lost on much smaller details – tacking now rather than five minutes time to get this side of the cloud – understanding why that clouds there and what that means the breeze is doing.”
                 Tom grew up sailing boats on Sydney Harbour.  Both of his parent’s came from sailing families, his father owned a Puffin Pacer, not the fastest of boats – Tom soon owned his own Flying 11.  He understands why sailing is often a family pursuit; without the encouragement of a parent or family member, many people give up after one of the inevitable set-backs sailors will experience.  When something goes wrong out on the water, there is no one else to help.
                  Despite his enjoyment of sailing, when he reached 15 Tom decided to focus on his studies, and went to the University of New South Wales to study Mechanical Engineering.  He qualified with Class 1 honours but he soon realised a desk wasn’t for him, and began to work toward a professional career in sailing.   “I was working as an engineer and decided I needed a bit of a career change…  I’m not a very good political player and I really enjoy the way natural systems work, so I took myself back to Uni.”   This meant studying mathematics and climatology.  After three years Tom graduated with a Master’s in computational mathematics, with a focus on atmospheric weather modelling. 
                  Back in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when there was money to be made from a fast passage, skippers would look out for storms and clouds, as these would indicate a strong sailing wind.  It’s easy to see Tom as a modern day cloud chaser, “there’s a categorisation for clouds; cumulus clouds with flat bottoms, air cooling as it rises, vaporises when it reaches a certain temperature, a sign of circulation which can drive a sea breeze; certain clouds show convergence lines, which can be good to sail in and you may need to be on a particular side… the wind is moving 5, 10, 15 degrees constantly.  When you’re racing these are the things you’re interested in. Most people don’t understand the wind moves in three dimensions, not two.    I’m keen on treating every situation on its merits, sailing is a sport with so many variables, and not many people understand it.  I’m always scared of giving myself rules, which goes back to my technical nature – every bit of wind or soft patch is there for a reason, the key is to understand why it is there, I really enjoy that.”
                  It wasn’t until the age of 25 that Tom returned to sailing, this time in Moths, and he travelled the country sailing.  His first international job was on Team NZ in the America’s Cup.  That year Team NZ won the challenger series but lost the Louis Vuitton trophy to the Spanish team by five races to two. “Back then it was very different to America’s Cup now, with version 5 boats, heavy monohulls, and a large crew of 18 people.  It was all about trying to predict the first shift.  If you could predict which way the breeze would go you could win the race.”  Tom says the team had “various computers generating forecasts, we had three weather boats out on the course looking for cloud and weather patterns and I developed gadgets which used various inputs and mathematical models to try and learn patterns in the breeze… these races were won or lost on tiny little details…  every summer for years before the race you’d be on weather boats collecting information…  all grist for the mill…  data for your neural networks and modelling.”   
                  Tom says that “for me personally as a sailor, off-shore is where I am most comfortable.”  In 2008 he raced in his first ‘Volvo’ round-the-world race.  “I got an offer to jump on the boat; I joined them in India… I enjoy the longer races, you get into a rhythm, bits break and you’ve got to fix them and you have to eat and drink and I really enjoy that.”  In his second leg the boat broke a forestay.   Tom says “a seventy foot boat sounds big but your actual living space is the size of a small kitchen.”  While the crew kept the boat stable, they couldn’t hoist jibs and were reduced to 4 or 5 knots rather than 10 or 12 knots.  It took 42 days to finish that leg, which was “too long for everyone.”

The small township on Tristan Da Cunha – https://labandfield.wordpress.com/category/field/

​Tom’s next Volvo race was on Puma, and it was another race, another gear failure – this time a broken mast.  The crew realised they must make landfall to repair the mast.   They managed to get a freighter to stop and give them fuel for their emergency motor.  Since it was dangerous to tie up alongside a boat of this size, they set up a rope system and received the precious jerry cans by flying fox.   With the diesel on board they limped to the tiny Island of Tristan Da Cunha, which describes itself as the most remote island in the South Atlantic.  The island is named for the Portuguese explorer who discovered it in the 1500’s. However it stayed uninhabited until the early nineteenth century, when the British got wind of a French plan to rescue Napoleon.  After the military left, people stayed behind.  The sparse population was later supplemented by a group of ship wrecked Italians.   Tom found his enforced island stay fascinating and is still in touch with the islanders.   “It looks like a cone, it’s a volcano, six miles across and 1 mile high, there’s one flattish area where the township is, the island is very steep…  they have their own species of lobster, that’s their industry, they export the lobster.  Though there is a general store each family has a veggie patch and a limited number of cows and sheep.” 

Perpetual Loyal racing to Hobart [http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-28/sydney-to-hobart-perpetual-loyal-takes-line-honours-race-record/8149904]

​                  Of course any conversation about Australian off-shore racing inevitably turns to the Sydney to Hobart Race.  This race has captured public imagination in a way other races have not. Tom says “I think I’ve done eight or nine Hobart’s, and I’ve been lucky enough to win six of them.  I’ve never done the race in anything smaller than a 50 footer.” 
                  Among the highlights, Tom talks about an American boat called Rose Bud, “a 65 footer, the first American boat to win race since ’75, and then Alfa Romeo in 2009, sister ship to Wild Oats… I was involved with Wild Oats for a couple of wins.”  But the highlight must be Perpetual Loyal in 2016.  “We finished the race in just over a day and beat the previous race record by almost five hours – in Wild Oats we only beat it by 15 minutes; that boat goes well in specific conditions with very minimal time of upwind, we got a lot of it in this race, a lot of reaches, we had a full day of reaching and the boats behind were also good reaching boats, it’s a record that could stand for a while.”   Owner Anthony Bell only decided to enter Perpetual Loyal in the September before the race.  It had sustained serious damage in the previous two Hobart races and Tom says “it was a sad sight laid up in Newcastle Harbour.” Bell managed to assemble a very experienced crew, which was one reason Tom was keen to join.  After the race Bell said of Tom “our navigator did an awesome job. He picked everything.”
                   This is the sort of praise Tom enjoys.  He says of himself; “I’m very self-contained, I get internal satisfaction, I know if I’ve done a good job, I can be happy to finish forth if I’ve done a good job.  The team works nice, I’ve started to enjoy more and more, I’m a very introverted person. I’ve been lucky to have high quality jobs and high quality wins.”
                   Tom is keen for his kids to learn sailing.  He believes sailing teaches you to be responsible for yourself “you’re on a floating object in the middle of the ocean.  You’ve got to sort it out.  That’s why I want my kids to sail, not to win races or anything like that – it’s just being able to cope with a bit of adversity and come up with a solution yourself – ego’s got no place, that’s why I enjoy working with the weather, all that stuff is stripped out, it’s basic principles.  The people are simple wholesome principled people -that’s how I see it anyway.”
​                    When it comes to elite professional sportsman, Tom Addis is not your typical ‘rock star’.  Introverted by nature, he does not live for the winner’s podium, but finds satisfaction in doing his job well and working with good people.  He appreciates living on the water at Lake Macquarie and says “it’s incredibly special to be on the lake, I’m at my happiest when I’m on the lake on my own in my dingy.”

Winds of Change

By | Sailing in the Hunter

By Maree Gallop

In 1850, a man and his family stood on the deck of the La Rochelle awash with sea and salt. The ocean swelled with mystery and secrets as the man looked through the misty air with apprehension. He gripped the ship’s rails and stumbled along the gangway on sea legs created from the deep stretch of ocean traversed from Germany. Staring into the blinding sun, what seemed like a visionary delusion in the far distance was an Australian Flag being raised. The man could never have predicted the future of one of his descendants, an Australian man who married a spirited Kiwi. They had a baby girl in Brisbane. She was named six weeks later, Liesl.
              Liesl spent the first three months of life in Brisbane, then New Zealand. When she was seven her family returned to Australia. At Coal Point on the shores of Lake Macquarie, the water glistened and waves lapped at an old boatshed. In the afternoons, weekends and school holidays, Liesl dragged an old windsurfer with rig known as a wishbone, into the lake. Wind blew through her hair as she bounced over whitecaps and salt sprayed her face. She got a taste of the ocean that lay beyond the lake.
               The lake was a playground to Liesl and other neighbourhood children. Liesl’s neighbour, Robyn, often arrived home from work to a house with the doors wide open and her three children missing. She’d peer through binoculars at her children sailing over the choppy waves wearing bright yellow lifejackets, then focus her attention on Liesl, her babysitter, sailing an old wooden Moth and wearing a cheap jumper that clung to her small body like a wetsuit. Liesl would throw back her head and call into the wind, her voice floating back to shore. Robyn would set down her binoculars, kick off her nurses’ shoes and plonk herself on the lounge, confident that Liesl would guide everyone home.
                 In the evening, Liesl dragged the sailboats ashore and delivered the neighbourhood kids home safely. She padded home on water logged feet in time to hear familiar voices over the ABC News that flickered on the television. Her parents and sister greeted her with a welcoming smile.
                 As Liesl settled into the normal thrum of life in Newcastle, nobody heard the ocean mulling over its deep secrets. The surface was smooth. But as Liesl plunged into teenage life with friends and university, an undercurrent was about to drag her in a different direction.
                  In 1988, Liesl set down her pen on top of her completed exam and walked from the room. She waved goodbye to the solid brick building, and Newcastle University for another year as she breathed holiday air, sweet and full of promise. A couple of days later, Liesl’s strong athletic legs pumped the pedals of her bicycle as she rode from a girlfriend’s house in the midday sun. Thoughts swam through her mind. The beach, the smell of coconut oil, surfers riding the waves and the yearly contest that was Surfest. A plastic bag swung from the handlebars of her bike, weighted with shoes worn the night before. The road ahead was clear. But the bike swerved. The gutter rushed up to meet her. Her trajectory changed. She somersaulted over the handlebars onto a concrete driveway below.
                ‘Is there any tingling in your hands or feet?’
                Liesl tried to focus on the lady’s voice that carried the knowledge of a nurse. Beside her an elderly woman watched on. Concerned.
                ‘Yes,’ Liesl moaned.
                Sirens pierced the air. Later, the thump of a helicopter.
Liesl’s Mum sat at Liesl’s bedside, comforting her with warm hands. The chaos of life and Sydney traffic buzzed just beyond the hospital doors. The thought of home, university and work were a distant memory for her and her mum. Whilst lying in a dim room the doctor delivered words as sharp as the fragments of bone that were removed from her broken back.
             Spinal cord injury – Lie on your back – Two months – Hospital – Six months – Never walk again – Paraplegia.
             The words turned and clunked in Liesl’s nineteen-year-old mind, spinning her and her world around. But as her mind and body slowed and rested, the bruising and swelling on her spinal cord reduced. Liesl felt some sensation in her legs. After six weeks, the edge of the doctor’s words softened. Incomplete paraplegia.
             ‘I will walk.’
At Toronto High School, Liesl had studied books, played basketball, ran cross-country and sailed on Lake Macquarie for sport. She absorbed everything. She couldn’t have known then that her knowledge and ability to read the wind and water would flow through her life. She understood changing weather patterns and how to respond to make her boat sail faster. Now, from her hospital bed, Liesl had to draw on that knowledge and respond to the changing conditions of her life.
            During hospital rehabilitation, a physiotherapist took Liesl to Mt. Druitt to a basketball stadium full of sweat, strength, competition and wheelchairs. She met people who worked, drove cars and lead valuable lives. Liesl found a way to respond. She already knew the rules of the game. She already had the skills to play. Liesl propelled herself home to Newcastle.
             The buildings at Newcastle University were the same as the day she’d left, but looked different from a new angle, in her wheelchair. The basketball stadium carried the smell of life and identity. Liesl rolled through her studies of human and physical geography and a diploma of education, all to the rhythm of a bouncing basketball, and in an environment that had not yet embraced the diversity which she was about to impress on the world.
In 1990 Liesl ventured across the ocean, spinning wheels of opportunity. The Woman’s World Basketball Championships in France presented new beginnings and possibilities. In the years that followed she became a teacher of geography at Brisbane Water Senior College and played Paralympic basketball with the Gliders, representing Australia in Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996). But in 2000, Sydney hosted the Paralympics. On home soil, Liesl wheeled out in front of family and friends. Her school students poured from buses and waved with inclusive hands as they embraced the Paralympians that created magic. A silver medal around Liesl’s neck shone into the eyes of the world and whole communities became alive with ability and change.

Later, in 2009, the direction of the wind changed. A strong gust pushed Liesl onto a 54-foot yacht bound for Hobart. Her wheelchair clunked as she rolled down the wharf toward the Kale but as Liesl sailed on Sydney Harbour and through the Heads, the briny ocean and the wind rushed through her mind. She was captivated by the beauty of the water. A mirage for the intense race that lay ahead. Sydney to Hobart. Blue water roared as it swamped the deck amid a mass of quivering rigs and thrashing sails. The ocean slapped her face and her hands and mind worked the intricate strings of the Kale. Liesl was where she belonged.
                 Aboard the Kale, Liesl was inspired by the courage of Sailors with disABILITIES. She harnessed the wind, fell in love with sailing again and met her partner, Mark, a boatbuilder who understood her thirst for knowledge. Her voice developed a new accent of adventure and confidence. It rode the peaks and troughs of the ocean as her ancestors did and ricocheted around the world. An Australian sailor with Olympian qualities by the name of Daniel Fitzgibbon watched Liesl Tesch on television. A five time Paralympian basketballer, sailing on a yacht. Dan had a sharp eye and a passion for sailing. He recognised something special and sensed success and tracked Liesl down.
                Boxing day, 2010. Liesl googled “SKUD 18” and read a book on “how to trim the gib” and she met Dan for the first time. Liesl offered her hand to shake Dan’s, but he couldn’t reciprocate due to his quadriplegia. Liesl looked at the mainsail and contemplated on how much more she needed to learn. Out on the water, the mast tipped sideways and the sail swept the surface of the water as the boat breached twice. Dan showed Liesl what he was capable of. Liesl had the time of her life.
                ‘Do you want to sail in Miami next week?’ He asked.
                Liesl debated in her mind for a moment, thinking about Mark. I have got a new partner. But he is offshore. ‘Yes!’
                A week later Liesl and Dan were in Miami sailing in a nifty 18-foot sports boat with a weighted keel. Dan sat strapped at the back in a seat like that in a racing car with two straps diagonally across his chest. He steered the boat like a genius and canted from side to side in his seat by sucking and blowing on a tube connected to a battery. Liesl was strapped in the front. She worked 17 ropes, trimming the sails, wearing a life jacket and carrying a knife, in case they capsized.
                 As they sailed on water as smooth as glass, the conditions changed quickly. In a heart-beat, a gust of wind came down across the water, toward them.  Wind slapped the sails with a deafening force. Liesl and Dan were in survival mode, they couldn’t hear each other speak. But the gust passed as quickly as it came and they sailed on to win. They won their first three regattas. Liesl found the water beautiful in its ability to change. The reflection of the water was about to be mirrored in her life. She was about to leave the basketball stadium behind.


The London Paralympics beckoned. Liesl and Dan practiced as much as possible in Pittwater and Weymouth. Her life became a whirlwind, sailing in the two-week school holiday breaks. A plane ride to England followed by a bus, train, cab, sailing, and then in reverse, to arrive home in time to teach a class on Monday morning. They developed a powerful partnership. A combination of astute tactics, advanced communication and natural instincts led them to the race of their lives in the London Paralympics 2012. But Liesl’s human skills and emotions were put to the toughest of tests. On the first day of racing Liesl entered a room and received the news that her mother had died from bone cancer. A lady handed her a scarf that belonged to Princess Sophie. Liesl clung to the scarf, and her mother’s dreams, “mum’s just want the best for their kids.” She found an inner strength and sailed with a dream, and professional finesse. She and Dan made no mistakes and secured an unassailable lead to win gold at London. On the podium at Weymouth they were presented with their medals. Amid a moment of pride and joy, Liesl searched the crowd. Her partner, Mark, her neighbour Robyn, from Coal Point and a group of supportive friends were there. Her thoughts were with her mum.
                Liesl accepted the unpredictability of nature’s course of events and sailed into Rio Paralympics 2016. The challenge of the race in Rio meant everything. The future of Paralympic sailing beyond Rio had changed. New boat classes were to be introduced, none of which would accommodate Dan’s ability. The deafening news from the official committee had surfaced in Miami, on a gust as unexpected as the one they’d sailed in there.
                 In Rio, Liesl and Dan faced the most complex conditions in the massive mouth of a bay six times the size of Sydney Harbour. Her knowledge of geography was worth its weight in gold. They studied the tactics of their opponents, the overlay of the wind and the underwater topography. Currents moved around according to the shape of the bay, incredible tides ebbed and flowed and meteorologist’s reported adiabatic lapse phases that only her old climatology lecturer could explain.
​                  Liesl’s mind was filled with wind and water. She and Dan sailed into history together on a two-person SKUD 18, “a beautiful fast glamor boat with an Australian Flag spinnaker hanging out the front.” In a moment of incomprehensible joy, beneath an ancient mountain known as Sugarloaf, Liesl stepped onto the podium in stylish custom made boots, adorned in green and gold. Her hair flowed freely as a gold medal was placed around her neck. Her face reflected a pride foreign to anything she’d previously known. And from a vision created long ago, a dream became a reality. The Australian flag was raised.

Champion Cubed

By | Sailing in the Hunter

The Utterances of a Child

By | Read, Write, Love

By Cassandra O’Loughlin
                       for my granddaughter Claire

Surely the song-larks on the Hay plains heard your call
on the landline, and the birds in the atolls of light
on the Murray. The bright-eyed quolls would have stopped
to listen in the mountain’s deep-scented shade.
Certainly the koel in the fig would know it was you,
and the restless boobook that twirls curlicues in the fog.
Your voice sends out light from every syllable, every vowel
and consonant . . . there is no one who can explain this.
Rain falls on my face, on my hands, as I wait for your next call.
The household words gathered in your four years are sweet
raspberries at my breakfast table, wrens on my pillow. 

A letter From The Land of Alone

By | Read, Write, Love

By Megan Buxton
Awarded the National Association of Loss and Grief Award 2014

​Dear You,
      I’m standing in your room. If I breathe deep enough I can smell the cinnamon scent of you. If I’m still enough I can feel a tiny tremor of your essence. If I’m quiet I can hear you, but you’re as faint as the echo of bird call in a canyon. And you’re fading.
      I put your things away today in cardboard boxes. Six of them. How can they, so flimsy in substance and so small in number, hold all the love and the dreams and the hope that I’ve packed away inside them. 
      There they squat, like toadstools on the bedroom floor. And I don’t know what to do with them now they’re full. How can I give away the things you touched, the clothes that once touched you? I’m scared that, if I let them go, there’ll be nothing left to remind me of you.
      Death took you and as he left, he poked holes in me so the heart of me leaked out. I zombie-shuffle through my days dressed in black. You hated black, but colours are for the living; they hurt my grieving eyes.
      It’s funny – in a sad, strange way. You died and I’m like a corpse. 
      And here I am in the land of alone. And it’s hard here.
      People talk about my ‘late’ daughter. How I wish that were true and any moment you would burst through the door, scattering your belongings like confetti. How I wish that death was just a lack of punctuality.
      ‘Try to think about the good times,’ they tell me.
       I wonder how that’s supposed to help.
       Thinking of the good times is vinegar on raw flesh and opens up the wound to bleed memories of arguments and petty jealousies, pointless anger, bitterness. All thrown so carelessly back then when I thought I had forever. Never retracted, never recanted. Lost chances and disappointments.
       I feel the awful loneliness of regret.
       ‘Give it time,’ they say.
       But grief is a ravenous beast. I’ve been feeding him time and all he wants is more. More time, more pain, more of me. He takes and takes and gives nothing in return.
       I’ve said those same words to others in the past. They sound the same here in the land of alone but their meanings shimmer like mirages and I don’t seem to have a dictionary.
       And the words don’t tell me what to call myself. I’m not an orphan; I still have parents. I’m not a widow; it’s not a husband I’ve lost. No-one has a word for the mother who’s lost a child. So what have I become? What am I without you?
       ‘This will pass,’ they tell me. I know they’re wrong.
       Anger ends. Happiness and laughter end. Why, then, does grief go on and on?

When the Sun Goes Down

By | Read, Write, Love

By Maree Gallop

Storytime lane

Story Time Lane

By | Member News, News

HWC member Graham Davidson and Emily S. Smith have created “Storytime Lane”, a YouTube channel with regular storytelling webisodes in response to the declining literacy rates in Australia. They hope their project will support the development of young children’s literacy skills by providing adults and children with access to visual storytelling and free resources and activities that extend on those stories. The webisodes will have an Auslan interpreter signing the stories so more people have a greater access to the content. Storytime Lane

Doris Zagbanski

Grieve Anthology Winners 2017

By | Grieve, News

Such beautiful poems and stories were entered into the 2017 Grieve Writing Competition. Over 100 captivating, brave and compelling works by Australians were chosen to be published in the anthology Volume 5. Buy the anthology either in ebook or printed book form here

Submit your poem or story into this year’s competition open to all Australians

Congratulations to the 2017 prizewinners:
Rachael Mead Powerless
Joel McKerrow On Saying Goodbye
Ky Garvey Deep Breaths and Heartbeats
Janet Holmes Carpet Beetles
Fiona Murphy Our Small Kingdom
Kathryn R Bennett Numbers
Josh Wildie When One Door Closes
Kaylia Payne I Miss You, Kid
Laura Jan Shore First Anniversary
Kathy Childs The Man in the Mirror
Ellen Shelley Failed to Provide
Vicki Laveau-Harvie Seasons of Grief
Undine Kanowski Okay
Cheryl Parker My Truth
Melanie Zolenas-Kennedy Scraps
Donni Hakanson The Ghost of A Mother
Edwina Shaw Thirty Years Gone
Sarah Bourne The Sounds of You
Gail Hennessey Message to My Mother
Kathryn Fry There She Is, My Mother

Lucy Williams

Newcastle Poetry Prize Winners 2017

By | 2017, Newcastle Poetry Prize, News

First prize: $15 000
Lucy Williams
the crows in town

Second prize: $5,000
Shari Kocher
Forty Desert Days and Nights and White

Third prize: $1,000
Judith Beveridge

Commended Awards:
Debi Hamilton
Sleeping Beauty Lessons

Local Award:
Kit Kelen
a field guide to Australian clouds (prolegomenon)

Harri Jones Memorial Prize (for a poet <35 years):
Joan Fleming
A History of the Tanamite People

Hunter Writers Centre members’ award:
Magdalena Ball
the clock is a circle

Newcastle Poetry Prize proudly supported by