• For the first time in history crew members have formed an Indigenous sailing team to officially enter this year’s prestigious Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
For the first time in history crew members have formed an Indigenous sailing team to officially enter this year’s prestigious Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.
Laura Morelli

2 Aug 2017 - 11:22 AM  UPDATED 2 Aug 2017 - 11:47 AM

The team was made up of 15 members from La Perouse, Redfern and the Central Coast, with a mix of Indigenous and non-Indigenous crew members. Tribal Warrior’s sailing co-ordinator, Wayne Jones said it’s a feat he’s been hoping to achieve for years.

“I looked around at all the different sports in Australia and there just weren’t any Indigenous people in ocean racing and I thought why? About two years ago I started the process of putting it all together and now look how far we’ve come.”

Apart from breaking history, Jones said they not only created a strong sense of Indigenous pride, community and achievement, but also pushed each other’s limits.

“We were faced with several challenges on the yacht, there was heavy weather, strong currents and the wind got up to 60km per hour and when it changed, so did the movement of the boat which caused one fellow to slip and injure his shoulder,” he explained.

“People were fatigued after lack of sleep and items on our boat started to break and that caused us problems and made us drop back. Sea sickness was present amongst the boat which wasn’t much fun for the blokes turning yellow.”

Out of 54 competitors the Tribal Warrior II came an impressive 16th on their journey from Sydney to Gold Coast – a qualifying race, meaning they’ve now successfully qualified for the Sydney to Hobart Race, which will take place on Boxing Day 2017.

The Tribal Warrior II was coming fourth for three quarters of the way until they hit dead wind which slowed them down but made a somewhat amateur team feel proud of their efforts. They crossed the line at exactly 02:17:42:235.8 on 1 August just after 06:30am while first place went to Wild Oats XI who came in at 01:18:37:069.0 on 31 July just after 07:30 am.

The crew saw a mix of teammates, from young and old to athletic and some even first time sailors but by the end of the race, they formed a bond that Jones believes will only make them more deadly for their next sea journey.

Jones says the main thing is to give disadvantaged young people a chance to be part of a bigger community through activities that aren’t usually accessible to them.

“Ocean Racing is a very elite, very costly sport, the wet weather gear alone can cost up to $4000 dollars and the safety course is about $6000 dollars so it’s hard for a young person off the street to have a go at ocean racing.

Last year the Tribal Warrior II crew sailed the 630 nautical mile route aboard Southern Excellence but they could not register after being unable to secure a boat until the 11th hour. They managed to finish the race even after enduring rough weather, sea sickness, a leaking yacht and a food shortage.

Isaiah Dawe was the youngest man on board the yacht and the 23-year-old said his first time ever on a boat was only two years ago, travelling from circular quay to manly on a ferry. Now he’s been able to be part of the journey for the last two years.

“I want more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander fellas who like me, have never sailed before to be able to have this opportunity.”

“You get to appreciate life in a sense of nature and what it has to offer. You don’t have your phone, no technology it’s just you your yacht and comradery between your teammates,” he said.

“I was at the front of the yacht and I was getting thrown all over the place, trying to save brothers falling left right and centre. It’s challenging and it pushes you out of your comfort zone but it’s a new world I’m still trying to figure out.”

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The Butchulla and Garawa man says he’s had a pretty tough life but that sailing has now given him a new perspective and he hopes to inspire more young men to try something different.

“I want more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander fellas who like me, have never sailed before to be able to have this opportunity.”

For NITV Journalist Danny Teece-Johnson, the race was a bittersweet success and one that almost cost him his life, but despite that, he said he’d do it again.

“It was the toughest three days of my life, I’ve had 3 hours of sleep in four days, my body is fatigued but this was an amazing experience and all men on board inspired me.”

Danny praised the La Peruse Elders who made the whole trip worthwhile.

“Their guidance and Aboriginal pride was what drove us to perform our hardest.”

This was an especially important achievement for the Gomeroi man, who decided to dedicate the challenge to his long-time friend who recently passed away.

“The reason I did the challenge was for my best friend who died from Cancer. Martin Leroy Adams was a saltwater man from Darwin. It was just something I wanted to do for him when he passed, sail on a yacht and represent our mob.”

Jones says the team has become more like a ‘family’ now.

“We’ve got a blend of Indigenous groups all together who are contacting all their relatives and now the Indigenous people of Australia are telling people: ‘that’s our boat’ so it’s drawing everyone together.”

Except Jones says they’re missing something special and want to see that changed for the next trip.

“We haven’t got a girl on the team yet so that’s our next mission. We want to put a few girls on the team to keep the men in line and also show off their sea talents. This is a group effort open to everyone and we really want that to shine through.”

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