Episode 8: Ken Thackeray Show Notes

Links mentioned in show notes:

SICYC Website, SICYC Facebook Page, Skipr.net

OSP: Hey folks, this week we’re sitting here talking to Ken Thackeray and we’re going to talk about the Shag Islet Cruising Yacht Club and to finding out about that and how that’s quite unique in a number of ways and Ken’s got a great story to share as to how it’s evolved in the last seven years and some of the other things that are happening in the background and that they are not what you would expect from a normal yacht club.

So Ken welcome along, thanks for joining us today. We are at the seventh birthday party of Shag Islet Cruising Yacht Club. I had to tear you away from the proceedings to fit in a little bit of a chat and I appreciate you taking time. So tell me about the Shag Islet Cruising Yacht Club and where the idea came from when you go back to the early days.

Ken Thackeray with a Johnny Depp impersonator at SICYC's 7th birthday party

KEN THACKERAY: Oh it’s a strange thing really because my wife and I were on holidays in New Zealand and we decided to have a look at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron because we wanted to have a look at the memorabilia from the America’s Cup and we got dressed appropriately and arrived at reception and found we weren’t able to enter and having called the manager in, he explained to us that you either had to be a member of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron or another Royal Club or the flag officer of any fleet and we waited for our cab and off we went.

A couple of months later, I happen to be up in the Gloucester Passage in the Whitsundays sitting on the beach having a drink with a avant-guarde, old ex-army friend of mine and he said to me, “If you had been a vice commodore of some crappy little yacht club they would have let you in,” and we just happen to be looking at Shag Islet. So we came home and bought some shirts and bought a pile of vice commodore burgee’s because we figured that everybody should be a vice commodore in this organisation and now, we’ve got 4,625 people from 14 nations involved.

OSP: Wow, fascinating and 4,600 and something people as vice commodores, can get into most of the yacht clubs in the world I guess given they’re officially attached and affiliated to an official yacht club.

KEN THACKERAY: Yeah, I think they’d probably have a little bit of front these days because everybody knows who we are and really the joke’s now has subsided because the group in themselves are just wonderful people doing wonderful things for charity and I think what started as a joke has now turned into something that’s really marvellous and very supportive to the people on water.

OSP: When you read about the things that you do, it’s quite a serious affair now. It’s quite a large organisation if you look at the money that you’ve raised for charity, which we’ll talk more about. You look at the membership base, you look at the community of people that, they’re not just members by name, they gather together, they benefit from the membership and the network you’ve set up including the ability to locate fellow members nearby with online mapping tools, it’s really quite fascinating.

KEN THACKERAY: It is and the biggest thing about it since formation in 2009, is we’ve never placed an ad. Everything has been word of mouth and the people themselves, the ambassadors of the organisation, they’re just the most fantastic people. The demographic basically is about 42 to 75 and they literally carry the banner for the organisation. The fact that we raise money for prostate cancer just happened because we didn’t expect this to be as big as it is.

Ken Thackeray SICYC presents a cheque to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia

Our aim is to still create and maintain a network for cruising yachties and the fact that we raise money is just in consequence to that. But never the less, over the last six years we’ve raised just over $300,000 for prostate cancer. A lot of that has been done collectively and some of this has been done by individuals who have given their own time and effort to raise that money.

OSP: That’s a significant cause and they say now in Australia it kills more men than women that die of breast cancer. How did you choose the Prostate Cancer Foundation, as a cause to support?

KEN THACKERAY: After the first year, I think there were 34 people within the first rendezvous and then we raffled a bottle or red wine and we made $265 and we gave the money to Montes Reef Resort to put our logo out the front as a bit of a joke. A few weeks later I was talking to a few members and I said, “Look, this is in danger of making money. We’ve got to find a charity,” and one of the ladies explained that breast cancer is very well marketed and that the awareness was strong and she’d had male relatives that had succumbed to prostate cancer.

Shag Islet, Gloucester Passage in the Whitsundays

She said, “I think guys a bit stupid and I think that we should go with prostate cancer.” So that was it and I think the coincidence has been that there are demographic age is very coincidental with the onset of prostate cancer anyhow. So we’re talking to people in our organisation that are actually potential suffers with prostate cancer.

OSP: And they’re the people that are in that early detection group as well and if they can do something about that early, they’ve got every opportunity of success rather than leaving it until it’s too late.

KEN THACKERAY: And then part of the evolution of SICYC is bringing that awareness and once we got involved in it we started to find people putting up their hands to say, “Look, I am suffering from prostate cancer,” or, “I’ve been operated on it,” and so even within our organisation, we’ve now got a sort of informal counselling group where people are able give one another advice and assistance and the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia is one of the leading scientist in Australia heading up their research, in Queensland and she’s been very supportive as well. So there’s been a strong marriage between SICYC and the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia.

OSP: Okay, that’s fascinating. So when you look at seven years on, how what’s largely become a significant organisation and how that has evolved, what are the main aims now and have they changed much since those early days?

SICYC members form the Prostrate Cancer Foundation logo on the water each year

KEN THACKERAY: No, the aims haven’t changed. We’re very strong on the idea than it is to create and maintain a network for cruising yachties, and that’s how it will always be. We’re certainly not touting ourselves as a fundraising organisation and if we don’t make more money successive years, well it doesn’t matter at all. But as you probably may know, the people that fly the burgee, which is a Vice Commodores burgee, (at the moment there’s 4,000 of those floating around the world), can identify themselves wherever they might be.

We ask members to place their VHF on 16 and 72 on scan and when they arrive in an anchorage, harbour or marina they can go in and do an open call and ask if there are any Vice Commodores on net and so they can socially meld wherever they are and also from May until October each year, we have the Vice Commodores Net, which runs on 65 and 16 at 0745 Australian eastern time in the morning and that’s straight after the Queensland HF weather and they can talk there. We also have an SICYC page on Skipr.net where you can log in, say where you are and that’s very good for the Vice Commodores keeping in touch and also for their families that might want to know where they are.

Besides that, they have newsletters that come out every six weeks and we’ve got a very active Facebook page. So the involvement of the individuals is what SICYC is all about. They’re the people that make it work, they are the people that keep the momentum going and from the cruising point of view, it’s wonderful for first time cruisers because they can immediately slide into this very social network, which envelopes them and it gives them confidence and assistance and direction to as they go up the coast.

OSP: It’s a great way to start cruising for someone who’s new and when I started five years ago, it was quite amazing from a standing start not knowing anybody,y how friendly boaties are, but those same people, if you walked past them in the supermarket or the street, you wouldn’t even know who they were, but on the water and so having a structure where from the get go, you can identify fellow club members and then on skipr.net see both located on a map is pretty cool. And so with skipr.net, how many of your members actually update their locations when they’re our cruising?

KEN THACKERAY: I think it’s seasonal. We find that our page is pretty dormant during the summer season but during the winter cruising season it livens up again and not everybody cruises the coast each year. So you’d find that there’s a varying number but certainly it peaks out around May, June, July and it’s very little activity at other times.

OSP: Okay and what’s the kind of split between yachties and power boaters of the members, do you know?

KEN THACKERAY: I don’t know. I think the majority would be sail but we’ve got a huge number of power boats and there’s no differentiation at all. Everybody is happy in the organisation and in fact, I think we’ve got about 15% that would get seasick if they looked to the water and don’t own a boat at all, because it’s become such a social organisation that people are joining for just the social aspect of it.

SICYC members gather together in 14 different countries

OSP: Yeah and in most power boaters are friendly people and I know I ran aground recently it was thanks to a power boater who pulled me off the sand and I needed the grunt, so they come in quite handy. So tell me how membership works? If I want to become a member, how does it work? What does it cost? What do I get access to and where do I join?

KEN THACKERAY: Yeah, well to become a member SICYC, you go to www.sicyc.com.au. On there, it explains like everything there is to know about the SICYC, there is a blog site attached to it, there is a Facebook site attached to it and on the home page, there’s a pretty welcoming sort of introduction and then there’s a page specifically dedicated to how to join. So you can just join online. The essence of this networking idea is that people choose a nautical location that they know something about.

Subsequently after they’ve applied, they become the Vice Commodore of that location and it might be a beach or a reef, a bay, an inlet, a quay or something like that. So as they go through their application they choose that location and it costs them $65 and they’re in for life and that life membership includes a shirt with the Vice Commodore logo on it, it gives you a life membership card and everybody’s card, everybody’s life membership number is 0010 because our motto is that we’re exclusively non-exclusive.

OSP: Especially after your early experience at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.

The Shag Islet Cruising Yacht Club Burgee is photographed all over the world

KEN THACKERAY: So it kicks off in a happy way. If people want to buy a burgee, they can buy a burgee for $35 and that entitles them to receive whatever they want over the years and once you become a Vice Commodore, you are responsible for running it as anybody else. Even today, if a chap approached me and said, “Look, I can run a function in Port Douglas?” And I said, “By all means” and that’s how it works. People in Hobart have regular functions and it just depends on the vibe in the particular group.

OSP: Yeah.

KEN THACKERAY: But yeah, so there’s no ongoing responsibilities for anybody but once they’re in the network, they’re there for good.

OSP: And there’s no ongoing costs either, other than your time, right or the cost of getting to  wherever you want to go.

KEN THACKERAY: Yeah, so it doesn’t detract and some people get this wrong. It doesn’t detract from the yacht club of origin, but if you happen to be a member of say, Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, as a few know, is probably one of the pre-eminent squadrons in Australia and it provides great services to it’s members. The difference is, SICYC doesn’t have that strong geographic grip, it has a universal grip. So while you’re cruising, the chances of you running into somebody on a regular basis from Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron is very slim. But being so strong in numbers, SICYC has a huge cruising fleet out there that enables this association by recognition of the burgee and the radio nets and so on.

OSP: Yeah, it’s a great concept. Have you seen this concept and operation anywhere else in the world that you know off? It’s like a national membership that’s affiliated to what you’d like to do as opposed to where you live. Have you seen that anywhere else?

The members get into party mode at the Shag Islet Cruising Yacht Club Rendezvous

KEN THACKERAY: Well there’s two parts; my wife and I had no idea we were organising something that was going to turn into this. I thought we’d get 50 friends and just have a bit of fun and ho-ho-ho-ho and just laugh about it. And I don’t think you could have written a business plan for it because, I can’t believe it now, let alone perceive it. But yeah, I don’t know really, the only similar organisation I have seen is Hash House Harriers.

And I believe, as I reflect on it now, looking at the Hash House Harriers people, that was started in I think Malaysia during the British military presence and it was established I think by some army people and now it’s a rash. It’s all over the world and it’s a fun way of exercising and having fun but it’s the nearest thing that I can think of to what SICYC might be.

OSP: Yeah, it’s a great example where it illustrates as human beings how we just like to connect to anybody from any background if they’ve got common interest or common passions.

KEN THACKERAY: I think in a lot of ways people like to be a little bit tribal and especially people traveling in isolated environments particularly where you’re two people, just a couple on the water and if they feel that they have other people in their presence that can give them advice and assistance, that might have some experience that they’ve never had and just for the pure thought of having somebody to socialise with on the water I think is particularly important. As we’ve gone on over the years, people tell us that when they first trip up the coast they were very nervous about it and they were just so pleased to have other people giving them a hand.

OSP: It’s amazing how you go from being nervous to being experienced just from one visit to somewhere and it’s a great example too of when you’re cruising and you’re accessing land from the water often you have got limited time, so when you’ve got people that can tell you where to go to get stuff fixed or that can tell you how to make the most of your time on land, places to go and eat or get a coffee or whatever, that community is what makes the whole environment really, really satisfying and enjoyable and it helps you make the most out of it.

200 plus boats gather each year at Shag Islet, Gloucester Passage, in the Whitsundays for the rendezvous

KEN THACKERAY: Yeah well there’s two parts to this, as we go along now, we have what we call a season of sail for SICYC and all the way up to coast for the cruising season, we have marinas and clubs now that welcome SICYC members and they have functions, arrival functions and discounts for them in their location and that’s a big part of it I suppose.

OSP: Yeah, well this starts create another whole dimension when you can gather together as you’re travelling up the coast, especially when there’s a couple of thousand of kilometres of coastline.

KEN THACKERAY: At our annual rendezvous, we meet up in the Whitsundays in Gloucester Passage each year on the last weekend in August and we’re getting between 200 and 240 yachts at each of these events and the local accommodation facilities are booked out annually, so you’ve really got to book ahead to be there and the caravan parks are booked out so it’s a little bit like a light to an insect at the moment. People may not be members of SICYC but as they travel up the coast they meet other people and they get to hear about it and then they sort of end up all together.

It’s just a lovely sight to see all of these people in their blue shirts up there enjoying themselves together and then the other side of it comes up on the Saturday of that weekend. We have an activity called Holding Hands Across the Blue for Prostate Cancer and everybody has their blue shirts on in their tenders and we have a series of temporary moorings put in and they hold hands across the blue in the shape of the prostate cancer logo.

We have our VIP guests each year on a super yacht with a band on the back of it and we always have some story to deliver about prostate cancer and our relationship with it while they’re entertained on the water and they’re having a champagne so it’s a nice event too.

OSP: Yeah. It’s really interesting I saw some photos on your website and they might be taken from a helicopter or a drone or something of the boats gathered together in that symbol and it’s quite amazing to see.

KEN THACKERAY: Yeah, HeliTaxis is one of our major sponsors and they provide helicopter support throughout the whole four days of our rendezvous each year and they take scenic flights and they donate back to prostate cancer from a percentage of the money they make. So that’s how those beautiful aerial photos are taken.

OSP: It’s such a stunning backdrop too being in the Whitsunday Islands. So this year, what are the dates for the event?

KEN THACKERAY: The event is actually is the 25th to the 28th of August and our main theme this year is Parrot-head, a Jimmy Buffett type theme and this year, we’re having a radio station operate over the four days as SICYC Parrot-head Radio, to keep everybody informed of what’s going on, giving them tide tables, giving them weather reports, having sponsor half hours for our very important sponsors.

The 1972 HQ Holden Station Wagon being raffled at the 2016 Rendezvous

This year, we’re raffling a 1972 HQ Holden station wagon, which is being done up in Jimmy Buffet Parrot-head wrap and we have over 20 other fantastic prizes that go with it. So we have fireworks on the Saturday night. We have probably five bands that operate over the period and we actually, on the second day, have a function out on the island, which is a kite theme and so kites from all over the place are flying over the area, we have the sausage sizzle and we have a band and the radio station operating from out there so it’s all a lot of fun. 

OSP: Wow, it looks like a great sort of festival.

KEN THACKERAY: It is, it’s good. My wife and I had enjoy the meet and greet, which happens on the Thursday afternoon and we can sit there and have a glass of wine. You look at these people because some of them are coming and meeting people that they haven’t seen since last year and then you meet people or you see people that are obviously new to this and you can see this network just evolving in front of you.

It’s an amazing thing and by the second day, the new people are as part of it as the people that have been in it for years. It just absorbs people’s enthusiasm and their personal commitment and involvement and yeah, it’s marvellous. We get a bit of a tear in our eyes sometimes it’s an amazing thing.

The detailed graphic art work was all provided by sponsors

OSP: Well it appears from being here today, that it’s a great community and a great bunch of passionate people that just have gathered together and a great social time and share stories.

KEN THACKERAY: Yeah, it’s wonderful.

OSP: So what are some of the memorable moments for you I guess over the last seven years and particularly the annual event in the Gloucester Passage at Shag Islet in the Whitsundays, what are some of the things that stand out for you?

KEN THACKERAY: Well the rendezvous always stands out because it’s the key event that we have but members get together wherever they are and they organise things. We’ve had two people, one from Malaysia and one from Thailand who organised sail-aways and we did the sail away from around Langkawi and then another one from Langkawi to Phuket and that was very well attended by people all over Australia and in fact from overseas.

We had one of our members organise a motor home trip around South Island, New Zealand and everybody turned up, hired a motorhome and put their burgee in the back window and motored around the place.

OSP: Land cruising.

KEN THACKERAY: Yeah, land cruising but you always find that somebody will come up with something that really strikes you. You know, some individual that will come up with something and just do something extraordinary. Last year one of our very pretty young members decided to shave her head for prostate cancer and she raised $25,000 in doing it and she worked her behind off for that year and culminated it with a haircut.

Fun was the theme of the day at the Shag Islet Cruising Yacht Club 7th birthday party

Then another one of our members decided being having diagnosed with prostate cancer, he’d like to raise some money and he and his crew on Great Expectations raised $78,000 for prostate cancer. So there other things where you just sit down and shake your head and you think to yourself, “You know, how do these people do it?” And we’re so proud that we sort of had something to do with engendering this sort of enthusiasm in those people because as you would have noticed from the people around, one these people are in it, they’re in it up to their ears and they get so involved.

OSP: That’s pretty satisfying for you to think you planted that seed in the early days and its gathered some momentum and then suddenly this mushrooms into something that’s got it’s own momentum now and as people join it, one in every hundred have got something special that they bring that starts to add another dimension.

KEN THACKERAY: One of the chaps that is here today pulled up in the Galapagos Islands, dropped his anchor and he and his crew were pretty tired so they made sure the anchor was set and he said they went to sleep and they woke up just before dusk and they looked up and the boat beside them had the SICYC burgee flying…

OSP: What are the chances?

KEN THACKERAY: Yeah, what are the chances of anchoring side by side in the Galapagos. Another day in Borneo where a guy saw the SICYC burgee on a boat and he brought four other boat’s crews over and they all got a photo taken together. We had a Special Forces guy who’s been one of their fellows for a fair while and he arrived in the Kabul and he was operating out of Special Force Headquarters and we wondered why we got all of these French and strange nations joining up.

Then he sent a photo of them all with their bloody glasses on and the SICYC burgee on the wall up behind them. So there’s some incredible stories to be told about how people joined SICYC.

Another georgeous sunset for cruisers anchored at Shag Islet

OSP: That’s amazing, how it starts to spread like that. And when you’re think about 15 odd countries and with the way the events are planned by the members or the Vice Commodores in their locations, do you understand how many events are being run in the locations?

KEN THACKERAY: Some of them actually have discrete groups, but most of them don’t and they let me know wherever they are in the world and then I just send out e-mails to those geographic locations and people turn up.

OSP: Oh right, to invite people from the membership base, to a members event?

KEN THACKERAY: Yeah.

OSP: Yeah right, great.

KEN THACKERAY: But we have a group of about 12 I think coming from Key West in Florida for the rendezvous this year and they have their own little gathering and sometimes they have them discrete but other times they have engendered more enthusiasm from other people. The people in Amsterdam are pretty busy. They have a function every six months. One function they sail on the water and the other one they ice sail.

OSP: Yeah we take for granted here in Queensland how winter’s not winter everywhere is it?

KEN THACKERAY: Yeah, no, no.

OSP: Okay and I guess when you got something like this that sort of mushrooms from n idea into something that’s quite large, how do you manage the administration workload?

KEN THACKERAY: Well that’s the other extraordinary thing. You look at the band that you saw today and they’re Vice Commodores and they give their time. We’ve got solicitors, barristers, accountants, disc jockeys, all sorts of people in the organisation and one of the strong organisation is iSonic, which is a software development company and they write all of our software.

So people are just join online and once they join online, their application is sent to our supplier. The supplier sends the membership packs out to them and once a month the supplier sends us a bill for what’s gone out. So gone are the days where we had some people write things out on a piece of paper and then trying to keep it in bloody Excel or something.

OSP: So you’re not packing and posting from the back office anymore.

KEN THACKERAY: No, no we sometimes don’t even know if people have joined, such is the process but we always send them out a response to let them know and what actually they have got themselves into and where they can contact us if they need to. Yeah, so it’s not as bad. Actually, strangely enough, as the years go on it’s easier to manage than it ever has been before.

OSP: Okay, so how do members get feedback to you in terms of photos of what they’re doing and the activities and other things?

KEN THACKERAY: Some people don’t get that involved with it. I suppose 20 or 30% of the people have this thing where they’ll send a photo like this morning I received one of the guy’s standing in front of Niagara Falls and we had some people go to the Royal Yacht Britannia in, I think it’s Glasgow, and it was snowing and they’d paid for a dinner in the boardroom or whatever it was and she snuck out during the meal and held our burgee underneath the royal ensign.

So they send you these things, which is just a bit of devilment and that it gives everybody a bit of entertainment and the other things it’s that sense of belonging. They have a strong sense of belonging, these people and those sorts of things are the things that make it. You’ve probably read through our newsletters, our newsletters are having a shot at somebody who drinks too much wine or somebody who’s late all the time or something like that and they developed the relationship with people they’ve never seen before.

OSP: Well you get to the stage where with one-upmanship, where people start looking at even more creative places to have photos with the burgee, right? They start planning, that stuff…

Shag Islet Cruising Yacht Club members are passionate about getting behind each years party theme

KEN THACKERAY: My wife and I are going on holidays next week to Europe and we packed the burgee and the shirt because I’m sure there’s going to be places there where we can sort of add to the culture of the organisation.

OSP: Okay and are you Facebook as well?

KEN THACKERAY: Yep, Facebook. Facebook’s very active.

OSP: And people are sharing stuff on Facebook, do you find that?

KEN THACKERAY: Yeah, that’s good. It’s a closed book, so we don’t have rat bags coming in and going but where people want to put something on there, it comes into us and one of our administrators posts it up and that’s good and we don’t sort of bar things in a general sense, you just want to keep the culture right.

OSP: Yeah and stop blatant promotion and the self-interest type stuff that can happen at times.

KEN THACKERAY: Which is a big problem for an organisation like ours because people now see that we have this reach and so very often, other charities come to us and say, “Can you promote this?” And of course we can’t. We already have our own charity and of course now, we’re sponsored by some wonderful, wonderful sponsors and we’re a good vehicle for them from the nautical point of view because we have such coverage and they’re very good for us because they provide discounts for us and provide all sorts of things that you wouldn’t get in another yacht club over a broad geographic area and so at the moment there’s discounts all the way up to the coast.

OSP: Yeah and they’re also reaching people that are actively cruising as opposed to yacht club members who don’t own boats or they own boats they never use and never leave the marina. So they’re a pretty active, passionate group in terms of taking advantage of what you offer.

KEN THACKERAY: Yeah, I know. I don’t know where it will go from here but it certainly is just a self-fulfilling prophecy at the moment. We did a calculation yesterday and in three weeks, we’ve had 57 people join and when you consider that there’s no advertising in that, its something people would be quite amazed at.

Hundreds gather for the beach party at Shag Islet

OSP: To get from say 2,000 to sort of 4,600 members, how long has that taken?

KEN THACKERAY: Oh initially it was slow.

OSP: It takes a while right, to first start?

KEN THACKERAY: Yeah, we figured we could only get 50 members because we’ve been singlehanded for a long time and had a few names and I just told them what I was doing and that’s the only marketing we’d ever done. It was just evolved from there but I think when we got the burgees, the flag maker said he could only do a minimum of 100 and I came home and my wife said, “How many burgees did you get?” And I said, “I got 100,” and she nearly killed me.

She said, “Where are we going to get rid of a 100 burgees?” And I said, “Ah we might get rid of them in a couple of years,” and seven weeks later they were gone and that’s where the journey began and we were on a journey that we knew nothing about. We didn’t know where we were going, why we were going there, and even how we were going there because it was just something that as we spoke about before, that there must have been a need for and all of sudden it just went.

Yeah, I often think that there could be opportunities for this and all sorts of other things like the grey nomads in the caravans and there’s still, although there are some associations, there’s still not something that is run completely on the idea of SICYC. And even golfing groups, people can’t own a golf club but they could become more of a holistic organisation where they go to all these rat bag golf courses, the little sand courses and have that sort of a culture but I am only smart in hindsight because we had no idea.

OSP: Well yeah and the thing about sailing and being on the water, there’s so many choices of anchorages and there’s so many risks and things that could go wrong and there’s so many great experiences if you just know about them and it is quite unique, isn’t it? When you think about yachting down the water being reliant on word of mouth and other’s experiences as opposed to Google maps taking you wherever you need to go from golf course to golf course or caravan park to caravan park.

KEN THACKERAY: I think a lot of people too, it’s the dream and a lot of people when they’re going to work on a daily basis just can’t afford to go cruising and then as they get a bit older, they now find themselves a little bit better off and have the time to do it. So a lot of people are not only out there in an isolated environment but there are couples that are probably in their 50’s or 60’s or in some cases in their 70’s out there really doing it and it can be tough from time to time. If you just haven’t had the experience, it’s nice to have the reassurance.

OSP: Yeah absolutely and on a couple of fronts, because no matter how good your boat is, stuff breaks and they can be quite stressful and quite disconcerting depending on what it is so having a network that can give you advice and help with how to fix stuff or point you in the right direction. But also if you are cruising for the first time, you never really know how much is too much wind when you’re anchoring and how much is too much of anything when you’re looking for safe locations, so having that knowledge base and that confidence to just get started because you can go from having known nothing about cruising to cruise for a month or six weeks non-stop and you will learn a lot in a very short period of time and with what you offer in the community that’s behind it, that means people can get out there without that “I’ll wait until I know enough” type of procrastination holding them back until they run out of time.

KEN THACKERAY: Yeah and it’s just got so many aspects to it. There was a boat at Pioneer Bay at Airlie Beach and it was drifting and drifting pretty fast in a 35 knot breeze and there was nobody on it and some other Vice Commodores saw the burgee so they went straight onto the SICYC site, Googled the boats name, got the phone number of the people who owned the boat. The wife got onto 72 and asked if there’s any Vice Commodores in the area. Three SICYC boaties jumped onto the back of the boat, they re-anchored is and were able to tell the people that were ashore that their boat had drifted and been secured and that’s the network in action.

OSP: Yeah, that’s a great example there that never would have been coordinated any other way.

KEN THACKERAY: Somebody was saying, “Oh that boat’s drifting,” but to have that network around you, to know that hey, we’ve got to do something and not only wanting to, but being capable of doing. Being able to go onto the SICYC membership site with their username and password, call up the boat’s name, get their phone number, ring them and say, “Your boat’s drifted.”

OSP: Well that’s a great resource because most people don’t know but if you’re not on your boat and it’s anchored, you’re not actually covered with insurance in many cases if there’s damage. So having people watch out for your boat when you’re not around for that one in a hundred times is a pretty good support base to have. So in 2014, you were awarded an OAM an Order of Australian Merit for your services to charitable organisation and to veterans.

It sounds like you’ve had quite a long history or quite a strong passion and background and supportive of your communities let’s say because not just your local community but your sailing community, which kind of spans all of Australia and more. What is it that’s driven you to contribute like this to these types of organisation?

KEN THACKERAY: This is SICYC thing was something that took us totally by surprise and look, I’m very grateful to receive the Order of Australia but at the same time, it’s just been a journey of great experience, enthusiasm with some wonderful people and it’s not been a burden at all. It’s just something that evolved and is more or less enriched my life and my wife’s life as well.

So it’s something that we have to make sure that we have a transition plan for, but it was good and the work with veterans, I was a Vietnam Veteran and I worked for a long time as an advocate for veterans who were having problems through DVA but in fact, it was The Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia I think that were the driving force behind the Order of Australia and I think it was a signal too to people that SICYC wasn’t a joke.

That all of a sudden they thought, “Well, maybe there is some essence in this organisation.” So I think it was for the first time where some of the organisation that looked at us as being something trifling that would come and go, all of a sudden realise that, “Hey, it’s here to stay.” So whilst it was an award that I received, I think it was a recognition of what SICYC people were doing across the boating community and I think it’s incredibly important.

OSP: It’s a really, really great example and quite a unique example of people who are passionate about what they do and the things that have evolved naturally and that people enjoy it. It’s almost like it’s not an effort, its happened as a byproduct. You can set up an organisation and set out to do all sorts of things including raising money, but it can be hard work and you can struggle to get support, but you’ve got a great model, you’ve got a great group of people and this is a byproduct of them enjoying what they do.

KEN THACKERAY: You’ve heard the way they communicate, there’s no essence of conservatism in the thing. The people have got a smile on their face and when you look around the people, you look into their eyes, you look at their faces, they’ve got a smile on their face and enjoying themselves and you’ve got to contribute to that and have that cup half full approach to the organisation and to cruising in itself. There’s so many negative things in life anyhow that you can’t avoid and I think that’s the good thing about SICYC. They’re good fun people. They might be exclusively non-exclusive and that makes them even more important to society.

OSP: Well and it’s a great environment. There’s a lot of fun that happens on the water. A lot of your problems get behind when you leave land and so how long have you been sailing? When did you start?

KEN THACKERAY: 1986 I had a trailer sailer and I used to go up to the Whitsundays on an annual basis when I had leave and then I started sailing more regularly in about ’92 and then I had a divorce in the early 90’s and I decided to retire young and I single-handed for about 11 years and Rhonda and I just got together about nine years ago and Rhoda had been interested in the water.

And so it’s been a nice bonding thing for Rhonda and I and our relationship too, because Rhonda always says to me as she would wake up in the morning, “Is today an SICYC free day?” Because as long as we’ve been together we’ve had SICYC as the third partner in our relationship.

OSP: How much time do you put into SICYC?

KEN THACKERAY: It’s seasonal, yeah I’m very easy now. Next week, I go to Airlie Beach and we’re doing a ball and it’s going to take a fair bit of organising but it is going to be probably the most elegant ball that Airlie Beach has ever had and we’ve got huge sponsorship with people providing food, catering services, grog, the facility itself and it’s coming together at the same time as the rendezvous.

But by now, we’re in a situation where if we haven’t got it done, well it is just not going to be done. So it’s this period from about January through to the end of the May I guess that is really bad. So Rhonda and I generally get up to Airlie Beach in late June and we work through until the rendezvous is over and then we sail for two months, and go and hide somewhere.

OSP: That’s nice. Yeah that’s nice. Yeah, that’s really nice. Well what I’m going to do Ken is I’m going to, when I publish this, I’ll publish the show notes on the website as well on OceanSailingPocdast.com and I’ll put all the links in there to your site, the details that link to the site, the blog, the Facebook page and to the skipr.net site as well because I’m sure we’ll get a lot of interest in this.

KEN THACKERAY: It’s good for the people generally because there is an open side to skipr.net and some organisations just have their own page and we have our own page because we are what we are. But I’d recommend it to anybody whether they are associated with SICYC people or not and you don’t have to be a member of SICYC to go onto it.

OSP: Right, I didn’t realise that, okay.

KEN THACKERAY: No, you can just do it and what it will do is introduce you to the association and like all of our aspects of our organisation today, there were people that weren’t members enjoying the thing and saying I’m going home to join and of course, that’s all we’ve got to offer. We don’t really need to have to kid and cajole people if they’re only going to turn up once.

OSP: That’s right.

KEN THACKERAY: That’s not going to break the bank.

OSP: You’re right, I know from the Southport Yacht Club I’ve heard anecdotally about your club for a couple of years now but I have never really understood it until just recently, but I know that there’s a number of disappointed sailors that this year are doing Hamilton Island Race week and of course it clashes for I think the first time that had…

KEN THACKERAY: No, no it’s always been except for last year. It’s always been at the same time and last year, we were successfully able to ask them to push back a week, but they had some sponsorship problem this year and they didn’t. But nevertheless, the biggest flotilla we’ve ever had was 240 yachts and we had that on a weekend that was Audi Hamilton Island Race Week anyhow. So we’re different fish really, we’re a different fish in the pond.

About eight years ago, one of our guys won the Audi Hamilton Island Race Week and he was sailing on a Dufour 38 and he worked out that he could have won his division and then they got frightfully drunk and went off to the Hamilton Island Tavern and the security people said, “You’ve got to come back, you’ve got to come back, you’ve got to come back. They won the Audi.” Still to this day, he can’t remember picking up the keys.

OSP: Wow?

KEN THACKERAY: So when they do the sail past, they wear their blue shirts and salute with closed fists as they go past them. They still carry on but it’s the biggest boating event in the Whitsundays now. It has more boats and admittedly it’s not racing, but they have more boats participate SICYC than at Airlie Beach Race Week or Hamilton Island Race Week. In fact two years ago we have more boats than both of them put together.

OSP: Which is significant when you think about it and it means whether you’re going north to go racing or going north to go cruising, there’s something for everybody right? It’s just a great backdrop.

KEN THACKERAY: Yeah and it’s taken a while for clubs, all sorts of clubs to sort of get used to us because we’re not a club in a normal sense. Like we don’t have a club house, we don’t have any staff, we don’t have marina berths, we don’t have moorings, we don’t have anything else but we’re a fully insured, incorporated body and so even getting public liability insurance was difficult because there wasn’t just the paper cut out policy.

OSP: Of course.

KEN THACKERAY: So they have created a policy for us.

OSP: Yeah, you’re a virtual club, but the reality is you have a larger membership base and you gather more people together and you raise more for charity than probably 95% of clubs worldwide. So it is quite a significant achievement.

KEN THACKERAY: Yeah. Yeah I know it is.

OSP: Okay, well I know that, I’ve had to tear you away from the SICYC’s seven year birthday party and you’ve got a bunch of members here today that are wanting to spend more time with you, so thank you Ken for giving up your time, I really appreciate that and I’m sure that with what we’re going to be sharing with information about what you do, we can send a whole bunch of people your way, so they can enjoy what SICYC has to offer.

KEN THACKERAY: We’re always after people that can help the process for prostate cancer although our main aim isn’t the fund raising. It’s now become significant because so many of our members are being treated and really guys are a bit silly. They don’t get their tests and things like that, so if anybody would like to contribute in that way too, it’s much appreciated.

OSP: And just on a health note, when should you start getting tests? What age if you’re a guy?

KEN THACKERAY: Well, distinguished Professor Judith Clemens is here today and she was saying to me that guys are getting diagnosed now in their 40’s. So she was saying if you’ve got a family history or something like that and you’re early to mid-40’s, you should be getting your PSA test and the way I look at it if you’re smart, you’re get a blood test once a year anyhow and the PSA is just another part of the test. So if you go in, you’re silly if you don’t just add the PSA test to it.

OSP: Yeah and if you get early diagnosis, what’s the chances of success?

KEN THACKERAY: Like any of it, the remedial action might be minimal but in a lot of cases, guys just let it go and when the symptoms start, it might become obvious, it’s often a little bit too late. So yeah but anyhow, that’s all we can do.

OSP: Thanks Ken, all the best. It was great to meet you, and I look forward to seeing you on the water some time.

Interviewer: David Hows



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