Heaven can wait 24-hour Yacht Race
by Helen Hopcroft
'To have cancer is to sail into the
darkness. But it is for the weary sailor that the sun will rise
in the morning'
Mannering Park Yacht Club on Lake Macquarie
recently hosted a 24 hour yacht race to raise money for the NSW
Cancer Council. The race was a success with over $20,000 raised
for the Cancer Council. Seventy three boats participated in the
weekend sailing, with 30 yachts racing in the 24 hour event.
The winner of the 24 hour event was an Adams 10 called 'Brigitta',
skippered by Phillip Yeomans. Peter Sorenson on his Bethwaite
8 yacht 'Vivace' was the fastest boat over a one lap course.
What is really interesting about this story
is why a small, suburban sailing club decided to host a high
profile race purely to fundraise for NSW Cancer Council.
Mannering Park Yacht Club was established
in 1968 by workers from the nearby mines and power station. The
first races involved a motley collection of VJ's, sabots, skiffs
and catamarans. In the words of the current commodore, the races
were open to 'anything that could float'. Nowadays the club holds
a popular twilight sailing series on Wednesdays, and yacht and
catamaran racing on Saturdays. They are proud of the fact that
they have the largest 14' catamaran fleet in NSW.
The club is located on the shores of the
western side of Lake Macquarie. It's right in the middle of the
small suburb of Mannering Park. The club building is a square
brick shed. Facilities are limited; there is a tiny kitchenette,
a couple of toilets, and a few plastic tables and chairs. It's
not the sort of place that you think of when you hear the phrase
'yacht club'. It is unassuming, friendly and slightly down at
heel. It retains its working class roots; many of the club members
work within the construction and building industry.
The club commodore is retired sailor Mike
Lewicki. The Lewicki family is the lifeblood of the club. Like
many community organisations, it only functions because of the
energetic input of a few dedicated volunteers and the endless
whining of others. Every weekend Mike and his wife Anne, Darcy
Wilson and Ken Douglas, are down at the club making sure that
the day's racing goes smoothly. Anne brings in cakes and crackers
for people to snack on. The sailors buy cheap beer from the bar
and choke down charred sausage sandwiches. They stand in front
of the lovely view and talk about sailing. It's a genuinely nice
About three years ago Shaun Lewicki was
diagnosed with cancer. He was thirty five. As for many people,
this changed his life completely. By the time he had started
to feel better his yacht, 'Heaven can wait' had been out of the
water for four years.
The experience of battling cancer gave
Shaun the idea for holding a yacht race to fundraise for the
Cancer Council. He was lying in his hospital bed one day and
counting the chips of paint that had flaked off the ceiling over
his bed. He suddenly thought that the paint chips looked like
a race course; if you kept the first chip to starboard, you could
reach across to the second, it would be a spinnaker run down
to the third etc
The 'Heaven can wait- 24 hour yacht race'
The idea of the 24 hour race was to 'celebrate
survivors and to remember those lost along the way.' Sponsorship
was obtained from Rafferty's resort and a number of local and
national businesses. These included Navman Marine Electronics,
Ensign Mines and RFD Australia. The small Lake Macquarie yacht
clubs of Wangi Wangi and Toronto supported the event. Rob Kothe
publicised the event on his Sail World website, as did Prime
TV and a number of local newspapers. Sailing Anarchy became involved
in the event early on and did a tremendous amount to ensure that
the event happened and was a success. The range of people and
businesses that were prepared to put time and money into a new
event was surprising.
The race took place on a blustery long
weekend in October. It coincided with school holidays and the
rugby league grand final. The wind was mainly southerly and gusted
up to approximately 30 knots. Lighted buoys were put out to mark
the night course. The race started at 1pm and finished the same
time the next day. There were two divisions which started five
minutes apart. Each lap was approx 31 nautical miles. 'Vivace'
completed the fastest lap in three hours and twenty five minutes.
A small fleet of trailer sailors also took part in the shorter
race which was called the 'One lap dash'.
Sailors came from far and wide to participate.
One crew drove down from Queensland the night before. There was
another crew that flew in from the Northern Territory. Blake
Middleton, a race official from the USA, flew over for the event.
He was also a cancer sufferer. He found out about the race on
the internet and was determined to attend. He said that it was
'the only regatta I have heard of conducted for the right reasons.'
The range of boats that raced was equally
wide. There was everything from the fastest sports boats in Australia
to a little Careel 18. A particularly fast vessel, from Sydney's
Middle Harbour Yacht Club, was popularly considered to have been
travelling at speeds of up to about 20 knots. A friend told me
he watched it sail past and was so impressed that he forgot to
breath. One unlucky vessel, 'Stealthy', broke it's rudder in
the early stages of the race and had to pull out.
Race fees were a $50 donation per crew
member for the yachts and $50 per boat for the trailer sailors.
10% of the races fees went to the volunteer Coastal Patrol and
the rest went to the Cancer Council. Rafferty's resort, a luxurious
waterfront restaurant and hotel on the east side of Lake Macquarie,
made a very generous donation. There were trophies for the winning
boats and Navman supplied some of their latest gear as prizes.
The club kitchen was busier than it had
ever been with an army of volunteer cooks preparing meals for
the sailors. The kitchen was run by a tough, good natured nurse
called Sharon and a former publican called Jenny. The bar was
also extremely busy. A great time was had by all participants.
People stayed around drinking and talking long after the race
For the Lewicki's, the race was the culmination
of months of hard work and a personal celebration of Shaun's
recovery. They did a tremendous amount of work organising the
event and running the race. Mike, who is in his 60's, said that
after the race was over he and his wife 'could hardly stand up.'
As such a small club, they had limited experience of organising
an event of this size. They both say that they learned an enormous
amount from the experience.