The 59th Australian National Sabot Championships and John Hillcoat Sabot Week
Held at Port Dalrymple Yacht Club in northern Tasmania. December 27 to January 3.
Sponsored by: LIBERTY Bell Bay – a Leader in Sustainable Steel
written by Lily Mercer (age 12).
As part of the Drummoyne Sailing Club Sabot Group, we have been invited to attend the 59th National Sabot Championships by Port Dalrymple Yacht Club. There are five groups of Sabots from around Australia that compete. North Queensland, South Queensland, Northern NSW, Southern NSW and Tasmania. We are part of the Southern NSW Sabot Association and compete for a Teams Trophy and Individual Trophies:
- National Championship1‐Up Division
- National Championship 2‐Up Division
- Sabot Week 1‐Up Division
- Sabot Week 2‐Up Division
When the season at Drummoyne Sailing Club (DSC) begins in September, there is a gradual build-up of training and racing to help us gain confidence and to be competitive when we arrive in Tasmania: We have regular Friday evening training that is challenging for the newer sailors when the wind reaches 15 knots. However, the club provides plenty of support for the strugglers. Gradually, we all become competent and confident as the wind increases.
As we progress toward the championship, there are regattas and Interzone events that help us learn to race better. Charlie Norsworthy from the Northern NSW Zone sets the pace and gives us an idea of what we need to do to improve. Charlie is great for advice and is happy to help. The cooperation and camaraderie with our Northern friends is pleasing.
We also have to plan the big trip through or over Bass Strait; most of this is done by our Parents, our Zone authority and DSC. In early December, a container is organised, and the boats are padded, put in and shipped away. The club provides boats that we use for training in the intervening weeks.
The club sailors are starting to improve; we can’t compete with Charlie, particularly as the wind increases, but we are improving. We can’t wait for the Regatta to start; so excited but a little nervous.
On Christmas eve, the great adventure starts; we all pile into the Camry: Mum, Pop, Luke , Harry, and I and set off for Albury. The plan is overnight in Albury, then To Geelong, arriving on Christmas day and onto the Ferry for the Bass Strait crossing the next morning.
The trip to Albury is ok, Harry is under threat to behave, or he won’t get McDonald’s for Christmas breakfast; it works pretty well.
The next day, Christmas day, after a stop at McDonalds, we cruise down to Melbourne and through to Geelong. Harry has been threatened again, but realistically we didn’t have any roof racks to put him on; this time he ends up in the front seat next to the driver.
We arise at 5:30am to get to our Ferry, The Spirit of Tasmania, for the trip across Bass Strait. I am cautiously excited. Over the years, Bass Strait has become an enigma to me, with the stories of wild, treacherous seas and strong currents. The tragedy of the 1998 Sydney Hobart yacht race looms in my thoughts, and my brother has been showing me pictures of the tragic Wahine and Zeegrubbe Ferry disasters. However, I am optimistic that nothing disastrous will happen after all, my Uncle Capt. Frank White and Master Shipwright Ian Begg are, at this time, in the Straits with us. Frank and Ian are taking a small Lobster boat, restored by Ian, across the strait and down the west coast of Tasmania to the Australian Wooden Boat Festival in Hobart. The ferry trip is less exciting, with smooth seas and fine weather. The Ferry is more like a hotel than a boat, with restaurants and bars, games and movies.
On the Ferry, we met with Caelan Byrt, who is representing South Queensland Sabot Zone. I sure hope all the Queenslanders are as pleasant. Caelan was optimistic that the South Queenslanders would be good this year as they had been doing some serious training.
The last leg of the trip is a scenic drive, winding from Devonport to Beauty Point, where we are staying. We are on the northern Coast of Tasmania in the Tamar River valley; the Tamar River forms a large bay before narrowing again to flow into Bass Strait.
The Regatta opens today, 27th December. It’s boat measurement and registration day. There is plenty of time, and Mum keeps saying, “settle down; there is no rush,” but we overwhelm her and head down to the Port Dalrymple Yacht club. It’s a funny feeling; the excitement, the new people, the officials, and the parents busily going about their business. There’s a mild angst among the parents endeavouring to get things done. To find a spot to rig, get the boats ready for measurement, fix things that the measurers have questioned, fill out the forms and find their kids who have disappear with the other kids, exploring and making friends. The seasoned parents are chatting and catching up, and the new parents are seeking help and advice. The place is abuzz….
We are back together with our DSC friends and family. Most families are in the same tourist park, and it’s comfortable and quiet. Kev and Jodie Gilroy have the Mansion of the park, and inevitably it becomes the meeting point for The Park’s social life.
It’s Invitation Race Day, and blowing 20 knots plus. Damn, that makes us all worried; we may have improved over the last few months, but are we good enough for this, and a considerable wave height. Drummoyne isn’t like that; it has small waves and sheltered waters. Charlie is thrilled; this is his weather. Inevitably Charlie wins, and Calean, who we met on the Ferry, does well. A little Girl from North Queensland, Alyssa Mathieu, shows everyone that small sailors can handle this weather if they develop the correct technique. 10 boats completed the course out of 50 or so. DSC was set aback with no boats finishing. We reached for the forecast for the next few days, and it looked a little softer, so it proved.
After the Invitation race, we have the traditional National Championship Opening Ceremony. It feels good to be a part of a larger team. Team SNSW is led by team captains Josh Green and Sarah Doolan. The ceremony is formal, and Zone Captains raise their zone flags that will remain in place for the duration of the championship. Each zone has a team song, and after that fun and formal welcoming speech, we all retire to the beach to watch the sunset.
The first race day dawns, and the weather has improved (from our point of view). We are relieved and head out for the first race. DSC’s Sarah Doolan knocks our socks off with a second place. There is a South Queensland boat that has won the race, which is a sign of things to come. Laken Eaton sailing Poker Face wins the first two heats and looks terrific. Charlie is hanging in there, but if lighter weather evolves, he will have trouble.
Over the next few days, DSC sailors’ results are very hot and cold, as our trainers say we need to smooth out the bumps. However, Charlie NNSW, Laken SQLD, Alyssa NQLD, among others, are all very approachable and happy to help us and give us advice. We love this Regatta, but the evenings are just as good. So back at the Tourist Park, we turn up at Jodie and Kev’s to relax and muck around. Because we are precious, the parents wash and hang out our sailing clothes for the next day and then arrive at the Mansion, which has been renamed The Manor.
Lay day arrives, and DSC goes to Cataract Gorge: The Gorge is on the lower section of the South Esk River near Launceston and features a large swimming basin and the Alexandra Suspension bridge. After a sumptuous lunch with the parents, we kids head out to explore. We are naturally drawn to the swaying suspension bridge. As expected, everyone helps to make it sway more. The afternoon is filled with walks and swimming. Alex finds a high, overhanging rock ledge and jumps off; thanks, Alex, now we know it is safe, we can all have a go. After a fun afternoon, we all head home to prepare for our next day’s racing.
We are now at the back end of the Regatta, some sailors have relaxed and accepted their place in the scheme of things, but the top sailors are now very focused, eating well and resting as much as possible. The rest of us, not so much. In the last heat, DSC has another excellent result, with my brother Luke Mercer coming in first. That bodes well for next season. Laken Eaton from SQLD wins the Regatta, receiving back slaps aplenty. Then, as tradition has it, he is thrown into the water. And, of course, many sailors are immediately frolicking in the water with him. The Port Dalrymple Yacht club has done a fine job of running this happy event, and as we wind down for the trip home, everyone is relaxed and happy.
As tradition has it, Port Dalrymple Yacht club presents a formal Closing Ceremony. All the competitors proudly wear their Zone uniforms, and our SNSW Team Captains lower the Zone flag and congratulate the race winners and each other. Everyone is a winner because we made new friends and improved our sailing skills.
On the trip home, we visit Cradle Mountain. I’m sure Pop thinks the Camry is a racing car as we wind our way into the National Park. Cradle Mountain is the largest mountain in Tasmania, and at its base is a beautiful alpine lake called Dove Lake. Our hike takes us around the 6km circuit, overlooked by the majestic Cradle Mountain.
That evening we arrive at The Ferry Wharf for the Bass Strait crossing. We sail at night, and after watching a movie, we hit the sack. In the morning, we roll-off and head back up the Highway to Home, exhausted but happy.