If you’ve seen my calendar at the moment you’ll notice it has a large chunk blocked out with ‘Sailing Guiding’. I’m down on the Yorke Peninsula, specifically at Goose Island, working with high school students on a Year 10 Aquatics program. I value this work pretty highly on my schedule for a number of reasons. There is a connection to the Port Victoria – Goose Island area that predates my lifetime, the program is managed in a relaxed ‘end-of-year’ style and of course; it’s bloody awesome to sail a 24 foot yacht in the ocean.
The Port Victoria – Goose Island area is special in both a short term and long term memory capacity. Short term, my family and my Uncle and Aunty both have houses here allowing us to spend random weekends and Christmas’s just doing whatever at the beach together or by ourselves. Everyone loves a good getaway to a quiet little town and having our own house in such a town is a real treat. Hence, over the years I’ve racked up plenty of hours hanging out in the water, running the coastal walking path, walking along the rocks and general loitering around the jetty, the setting of where my current work sets off from.
Long term, the word on the family tree is that my Great Grandfather made his way into Australia at Port Victoria in the early 1900’s. The details are hazy but to my knowledge an Algerian deckhand/cabin boy by the name of Jacques Marcinat (spelling is a guess…) from Phillippeville (now Skikda), snuck off when the ship he was working on docked at the bustling port that once was Port Victoria. Jacques later travelled in a boxing troupe probably trying to earn money and because he liked the fighting (a bit like me and my outdoor efforts). Apparently, having a French-Algerian last name harms your chances of getting a good fight so Jacques Marcinat became Jack Darcy hoping to sponge off some of the fame of Les Darcy; a famous Australian boxer at the time. So 100 years apart, my great grandfather was sailing around Goose Island presumably in a tall ship and I’ve been sailing around in a small leisurely cruising yacht. Same same but different.
Recognising this connection to the area is cool for me because it gives me a sense of foundation, familiarity and comfort. Something similar to what Indigenous Australians probably enjoy when they’re hanging around their local areas. It doesn’t mean I see everything in rose-coloured glasses and think the area is the most beautiful offshore island and coastal environment I’ve ever seen. But it does mean that I care about it a bit more than I would other areas. I pick up rubbish, happily pull out weeds, and appreciate the area for what it is and isn’t. Recognising that my family’s connection to the area thinly traces back over 100 years ago makes me aware that I should be doing my bit to ensure there is something to enjoy 100 years into the future.
With the past and future in mind, considering the present is important too. The nature of the program and it’s placement at the end of the school year means both students and staff approach the 5 days out on Goose Island as a mix of a holiday and an opportunity to forget about life on the big island for a bit. My job as an outdoor instructor is to help facilitate this by ensuring that when the students are sailing with me they’re having a good time, relaxing on the deck and forming some idea about sailing. When we’re relaxing on the island itself I try to again act as a bit of role model for how to enjoy life in the outdoors (go for a swim, embrace the activities), keep things light hearted with plenty of humour and finally ask a few poignant questions of students at what may be a turning point in their lives.
But when it comes down to what really gets me out of my tent in the morning, it’s the sailing. The food’s great, the break from technology good, the banter excellent, but those are things that I can enjoy at any time of the year. Sailing an Austral 24 is not and like anything, scarcity of something makes for a richer product or experience. The thing I enjoy most about sailing is the fact that despite it’s specialised terms (luffing, gybing, port, starboard, halyard, sheets) and expensive equipment is it’s such a basic sport that opens up a literal world of possibilities.
Once you understand how a sail boat works, with a bit of getting-to-know-each-other time, you can sail any boat. Just like how you can drive any car from a VW beetle to a Ferrari. There’s way less rules in sailing though and a bit more reliance on the weather but the great thing about the ocean is you can sail anywhere you want! No fucking lines, or traffic lights to follow, just go where the water’s deep, the wind’s around and not any pirates and you’ll be right. History is littered with stories of sailing adventures. Military efforts, voyages of trade, or just normal everyday people sailing solo around the world. Each story is linked by the common thread of sailing and when I’m out on the boat it’s nice to acknowledge this fact. I also like to think that perhaps one day I’ll give myself the opportunity of having a similar adventure to those I’ve read about. With that in mind, each day working as a sailing instructor just becomes a training session for a future endeavour.
Exploring the joys of working as a sailing instructor a little deeper, the two primary reasons I enjoy it are the problem solving skills and experiences that come with it and the teamwork of it all. Sailing is pretty basic, like I mentioned. The tricky part is when things go wrong and when you’re learning they often do. Problem solving with twisted mooring lines, rudders that won’t lift up, motors that won’t start, sails which won’t go up or down and anchors that don’t hold are all fun little experiences. Yeah it’s stressful when they’re happening and you’re a bit like ‘Oh geez, we’re on here’, but when you come through the other side with the problem solved and the destination reached, you feel pretty fulfilled. Doing this with a team around you makes it even cooler.
A sailboat where everyone is pulling their weight, steering the boat, dropping anchors is like chefs in a busy kitchen. People are responsible for their little jobs and if everyone’s working well, the boat cruises along smoothly. If people are slacking off, thinking about themselves, then it gets pretty uncomfortable on board as you could imagine I’m sure. On the most recent program I added a bit of my old sailing work into life on the ocean by getting my crew to pretend we were racing the other boat. They didn’t know we were exactly in a race but everyone likes to be the fastest so it wasn’t hard to get them psyched. Hooning along in 15-20 knot winds with myself on the tiller, a couple of boys on the jib sheets, someone else on the main sheet and all of us considering the balance of the boat we were flying around sticking our necks out looking over at the others. Having all of us sail along with a singular, concentrated focus on beating that other boat is when the teamwork in sailing is really obvious to these high school students and I feel like they walk a little taller knowing they were the faster boat. I certainly do. Experiences like that are what make me look forward to having my own big boat one day, sailing with mates or family to some new destination. Or maybe sailing in the Sydney-Hobart, Adelaide-Lincoln or even Melbourne-Hobart races one day… Again one can only dream and keep punching towards it…
Unfortunately sailing an Austral 24 around Goose Island for a couple of weeks each November is the only sailing luxury I have for the moment though. So, I embrace it for a few days, have a break, and then do it all again over this period a few times. But just because this program is only a once a year opportunity for me doesn’t mean I forget about the lessons sailing, living on an island and embracing my past can teach. Sure, the memory of it all becomes more vivid this time each year but the ideas of teamwork, embracing the adventurous spirit of sailors from yesteryear and the importance of acknowledging both the past and the future are ones that I hope to continue to reflect long after stepping off the Austral for the last time this summer.