On October 21, Michael will be holding his breath as the Aussie sailors take on their counterparts from around the world in Hansa 303 dinghies, a class in which he is a three-time world champion, and the current NSW champion.
At regular training sessions held on Pittwater in Sydney, Sailability Batemans Bay’s training officer is teaching two rookie sailors from Townsville how to sail with the help of his wife, Tish Ennis, also a former 303 world, national and state champion.
ADF veterans Davin “Bear” Bretherton and Peter Arbuckle, who are both leg amputees, will be among the 500 injured or ill veteran or serving service men and women competitors at the Games.
Michael said Bear and Peter arrived for their first sailing lessons on Pittwater with about one hour’s sailing experience (with Sailability Townsville) under their belts.
“They are the best of mates and that is one of the reasons why they have learnt so quickly,” Michael said.
“They are always egging each other on.”
Michael says their military background makes Bear and Peter a coach’s dream. “They are disciplined, punctual and ready to go, and also fantastically enthusiastic and just want to be there,” he said.
Michael and Tish say coaching the pair is “very rewarding”. “We really feel the special camaraderie that exists between mates in the military,” Michael said.
Even though Bear and Peter are finding yacht racing rules to be the hardest part of their training, Michael has every confidence that they will be able to easily observe the basic rules. “The rule book is huge but, out on the water, the sport is self-regulatory,” he said. “An example of that is what happened when Wild Oats failed to do so in the last Sydney to Hobart yacht race, which cost it the race and the race record.”
The 303 course for the Games will be laid in Farm Cove on Sydney Harbour, a tight space designed to maximise spectator numbers.
Also watching keenly on race day will be Sailability Batemans Bay volunteers and sailors. They are all 303 sailors and were very proud when Michael skippered Queen’s Baton Relay bearer Ruby Rose McMath across the Clyde River in February. A letter sent to the Queen pointing out the connection between Sailability Batemans Bay, 303s, the Invictus Games and Prince Harry brought a lovely response but no promise of a visit to the Bay from the Royals next month.
People of all ages and abilities are welcome to sailing days with Sailability Batemans Bay.
Volunteers will also be made very welcome. For more information, phone Jocelyn on 4478 1262.
And as to Bear and Peter’s chances on October 21?
Michael gives them a confident 1-2 finish.