Main photo: Salamander III (second from right) on the first work yesterday. Photo Andrea Francolini, AWKR

Sabina Rosser is on her 29th AWKR. Photo Andrea Francolini, AWKR

Sabina Rosser has plenty of knowledge to impart and a wealth of stories to share when it comes to those sailing at the Australian Women’s Keelboat Regatta (AWKR), the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron (RMYS) hosted premier event held since 1991. 

The 70 something year-old is a local sailor who is taking part in her 29th AWKR, missing only two since the event’s inception. She sailed with Gai Clough, founder of the regatta and a past Commodore of RMYS, where Rosser has been a member for 33 years.

“I crewed for Gai on Your Shout Next. Since then, I’ve helmed 25 of my 29 regattas, the last one I helmed was Mood Indigo in 2017,” Rosser said.

And the respected stalwart of the regatta is as enthusiastic as ever, sailing this year as mainsheet hand on the Adams 10, Salamander III, owned by Monica Jones: “Monica asked and I accepted. It’s nice for a change to crew, as I don’t have to organise a boat or the training. I sail all the time through the year, so it’s good to just get on board and go racing.

“I don’t usually do main, so I’m enjoying that and I’m also on the spinnaker at times.”

She is a great advertisement for the more mature women in sailing. It has kept her fit and in good humour – a must on Salamander III where the mainstay crew are, at the risk of sounding rude, a little mad.

Rosser says she loves the AWKR, “Because when you sail with guys, they tend to take the key positions and tell you what to do. This regatta gives everyone opportunities to helm, call the shots, navigate and do other positions they like on the boats.

“They learn a lot more in this atmosphere. I never get bored with it, it’s part of my life and I love doing it,” she says of the regatta that has appealed to 15 year-olds and those in their late 70’s alike.

“It’s all good and fun ashore too. Everyone chatting and catching up – and the whole camaraderie thing is good at the BBQ after sailing every day.”

Alex McDonald is a perfect fit for the bow. Photo Andrea Francolini, AWKR

At the other end of the spectrum you will find quietly spoken 19-year-old Alex McDonald who has never sailed on a keelboat before. The statuesque uni student is a rower with great upper body strength, making her perfect for her position on the bow.

McDonald is still learning the ropes from the experienced sailors, such as Rosser and getting used to their humour, but she is loving it. She is not clueless, having coached Tackers at Royal Brighton Yacht Club (Vic) as a kid, but gave it up for rowing, before coaching dinghies at RBYC again later.

“I had an O’Pen Bic (a fast and exciting small skiff) when I was 12, but I started rowing at 15 and that took over my life,” McDonald said.

“Last month, one of my coaching friends at Brighton invited me to sail in the Commodore’s Challenge and I realised I had a passion for sailing again. I saw this regatta coming up and my mum knows a committee member at Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron who put my name down. From there, Monica reached out to me and threw me in the deep end!

“I went out just once before this regatta. I was a little nervous, but Monica reassured me I’d be fine and I was,” McDonald said.

Jones introduces a new face or two to her crew each year. It’s her contribution to make sure women come sailing in a fantastic environment and to keep them coming up through the ranks.

This regatta is unique. The racing is serious, but the banter onshore afterwards at the daily BBQs, the crew dinner and the prize giving, is nothing short of hilarious. And those involved in the regatta could not be more welcoming.

“There are so many talented people on the boat,” McDonald continued. “I’ve been observing and taking it all in, using their knowledge and experience. They’ve been so welcoming and entertaining , so I’ve been very comfortable. I love the bow because you have to be active.

“I would love to continue to sail with Monica and keep learning. I’m going to Canada for six months on an exchange, working at Kingston Yacht Club, so I’d love to continue university sailing there. When I get back, I’d love to do more.”

McDonald is doing a double degree at university, studying politics, philosophy, studying for a Bachelor of Arts, “So I haven’t had much time for sailing but I’m going to find the time.”

Salamander III’s owner, Monica Jones said, “They are two very different people who bring their own talents to the boat and the crew is happy they could join us. Sabina has experience that is hard to beat and we’ve known her for years through the Club and this event.

“Alex’s rowing background, physique and temperament makes her perfect for the bow. She’s doing a great job and fits in well. We hope she continues to sail, as she has the right attitude and learns quickly.”

By Di Pearson
AWKR media