Editor's columnRobin Copeland

Sailing is a passion that lasts a lifetime

Australian yacht racing is fortunate to have an event as spectacular and enduring as the Sydney to Hobart. From the dazzling massed start on Sydney Harbour to the drama of the race itself, the Hobart has woven its magic into our lives for 65 years.
The sailors who pass through the Heads on Boxing Day sail into a world where, for a few days, whatever the risk, elementary values of life and death return to their original meaning.
Those who put themselves in the face of dangers and challenges that test their fortitude and courage, learn and grow from their experience … and there is no greater test of seamanship than under sail, in small boats, in the open sea.
And, yes, it will deliver varying degrees of pain and pleasure. The prospect of stormy weather is chilling. Violent winds were encountered in 1998 – the year the race changed, in the public’s mind, from a blue-ribbon event to an extreme sport. The tallest waves ever measured, whipped up by a storm in the Tasman Sea, devastated the fleet that year and drowned six sailors.
Those who have sailed in the races since have done so in the uneasy knowledge that ocean and sky might combine to repeat that terrifying performance. Yet they still find the challenge irresistible.
One of the other challenges facing skippers of ocean racing boats is finding suitable and experienced crew. With this in mind, in New South Wales, the BIA is to be applauded for their latest initiative in encouraging kids to get into boating through a new program Optimist Sailing Boats for Kids.
Over 100,000 people actively sail in Australia with 128 sailing clubs in NSW alone. Over recent times these clubs have seen a six percent increase in youth participation. Sadly, with sailing clubs relying on volunteer activity as the major source of income and program development, access for kids is hindered by the limited resources available to clubs.
The Optimist is a great little sail craft, it’s been referred to as “a bath-tub that breeds the best sailors” and is used worldwide to teach sailing to kids. The BIA’s program has a target of getting 80 of them into 10 sailing clubs by the end of 2011. [For sponsorship enquiries email genua@bia.org.au]
For many of us, our sailing lives started at the local sailing club, usually in a small dinghy provided by the club or as part of a junior sailing school. Today, thousands of kids enjoy the healthy sport of sailing through one of these clubs.
Sailing builds kids’ spirit of adventure, a strong mental aptitude, healthy physical activity and great camaraderie among the participants and their peers … and, as in the Hobart, friendships and bonds that last a lifetime.
Robin Copeland