My title

Southport Yacht Club

Episode 5: John Lucas Show Notes

OSP: This week we’re with John Lucas. So welcome along John and thanks for joining us on the Ocean Sailing Podcast and we’ve got a unique opportunity this week, we’re going to talk to John about his story from more than four decades ago now about an amazing trip that he made. John, tell us a little bit about what was this trip, where did this start, where did it end and where did the idea come from to start with?

John Lucas: Sure and good morning David. We call this particular expedition The Daydream Expedition where upon we sailed a flat bottom houseboat from Geelong, all the way to Thursday Island taking approximately three months. The whole issue started when a group of missionaries got together in Geelong and bought this houseboat.

After they had finished the houseboat they found that they couldn’t get it up to New Guinea in any way shape or form. They’d run out of money by that time, things weren’t going too well. On a particular day I came across the guys that put it together and I said, “Why don’t you sail it up?” And they said, “Well, we’re not too sure if that could be possible because we can’t even get it out past Point Henry,” which is a local signal station in Geelong.

One conversation led to another a month or so later I was approached and asked if it could really be done. I said, “Well, let’s give it a try.” So myself, Len Day who is one of the owners of the boat and two other people and the three of them had never been to sea in their life before. The were novices going to sea however Len had flown in the London to Sydney air race, so he was a pilot, not a seaman. So we rigged the boat up, we had advised Canberra of what we had in mind and they sent down something like 26 different departments to try and stop us from doing it. 

We had to meet all the regulations and in the end there was no reason why we couldn’t do it. However, I would say today, it would be impossible and you would not get the permission because of safety at sea rules. So we set the boat up, it was a flat-bottomed houseboat with a draft of 18 inches, two big rudders on the stern, quite a comfortable boat being a houseboat inside. We also rigged a mast, which carried a cat gaff-rigged sail and that was for the sake of an auxiliary if we had any problems with the motor. 

The motor in particular was a water jet motor that traversed 360 degrees, it was the invention of a local in Geelong who wanted us to give this particular engine a try so that was installed and it was a 310 horse power Perkins diesel, converted to over eight with the sea and cooling and we put the crew together and set off. Our first trip was down to Swan Bay for the night where we pulled in and Swan Bay is a very small bay down near Queens Cliff which is The Heads. The next morning we setup to go out of The Heads. 

Now, The Heads are known as one of the, if not the roughest, the second roughest stretch of water in the world, second only to the Cape. We were very cautious about how we go and tackle that, the first episode of course getting out of Swan Bay is we what? We ran aground. Surprise, surprise. This was a good start to the trip. However when we sorted that out, we got in touch with the Point Lonsdale light, which organises the traffic coming in and out through The Heads.

We were given the okay to make our way out so we put the big engine on, sails up. At the same time, there was the start of the Melbourne to Devonport, the up rise. The weather was pretty bad and they actually canceled the start of that but we being a little better at sailing decided that we’d take the risk and go out. Not a very smart idea if we found out halfway through.

But having done that, we made it through The Rip and not too long after making it through The Rip, our sail tore. So that was the first bit of damage on the boat. We knew that there was a sail maker close in at Flinders. We stripped the sails off, took the sails in, got them repaired, we ported in at Flinders of course, prepared the sail and prepared to go around Wilson’s Prom which again is pretty tricky if you catch it on the wrong day. That’s why they call it the second roughest stretch of water in the world. 

Well we ended up going around that in a four seven which was not very comfortable but the lucky part for us was actually on the stern. So halfway around and a number of quick prayers, we thought we’d be in trouble but we then found a refuge bay which is a safe little haven around the point there, so we pulled in there for the night, sat in there comfortably and the next morning things had quietened down a lot, so we took up along the coast.

We then got to our next stop and we wanted to go in and pick up some stores which was relatively easy to do on a flat bottom houseboat because you don’t have much of a draft. I lined up the leads to go in and I advised the crew that they were the leads, that’s how we got in and there’s quite an active discussion onboard with the guys that hadn’t sailed before who thought that there was an easier and softer and more gentler way to get through the quite big waves that were coming in.

Big argument pursued and my comment was, “Well, your boat, your problem, we will do it your way but don’t call me if you get into trouble.” Well halfway through, we’re in trouble, we were starting to broach and those sorts of things and after a time we finally made it in to a place called Inverloch, at which stage I said, “Well, thanks for the invitation to join you on this cruise but I think under the circumstances, I’m out of here.”

OSP: That’s quite an interesting place to be, given that you’re part way into a pretty long trip, to come to that conclusion quickly.

John Lucas: Yes, well the conclusion was drawn because I had lost the authority to run the boat. As we say in the classics, one ship, one captain. Again, I had the experience. I’ve been sailing since I was about eight year’s old. However, we worked through that issue and Len then said to me, “Well John, from this day on, you are now 100% in charge, what you say goes.” That’s a good idea that put all the pressure back on me. 

We then stayed in Inverloch for about two or three days until the weather had changed a little and then we continued our trip up along the coast. The local newspapers and TV stations were covering the trip and so we had a chat to them about our experiences getting through The Rip on a flat bottom houseboat which weren’t very comfortable. They were quite surprised that we had made it through.

The local sailors in the area complained and said how crazy we were and that we would have no hope whatsoever of taking this houseboat up to New Guinea. However as the day pursued, knowing that we’d taken every step for our safety, one of the crew members decided after the rough trip that the first few days that he’d quit, he had enough. I think it was either too slow or he was too concerned as to what might happen with this trip.

OSP: What sort of speeds were you doing do you think?

John Lucas: We were probably doing speeds, conservatively, around three to five knots. We had picked that particular time of year because it’s the start of the south east trades. So we pretty much had the wind on our stern most of the way. If we picked up some northerly weather we really had to pull off and park somewhere until the northerlies are gone. Because the houseboat had a chisel nose on it, which obviously didn’t take too kindly to northerly winds.

OSP: So what sort of angle could you sail to within. Beyond a reach how much further beyond could you go?

John Lucas: More than likely just on a reach. Yeah you certainly wouldn’t go into a beat of any sort. Again, because of the southwest prevailing, it was mostly up our tail or on a fair short of a reach, shy reach, which would carry on to a broad reach if we got a little bit more easterly into it.

OSP: So we’re looking at some of the newspaper cuttings from the time of the trip and this is before mobile phones existed and this was before internet existed. How did you communicate your story and your updates and your progress to the people that were following you and then on the media side?

John Lucas: Okay, well the government said that we would have to get a radio that was strong enough that we must radio in every evening to let them know where we were. We were doing that but we weren’t getting any response from them, they just weren’t there or weren’t listening and weren’t available. So whilst we tried every night, we pretty much didn’t get anywhere near them.

Philips had heard of our trip and they decided to sponsor us with a big radio, so they gave us the radio, which helped us immensely through the trip and we could keep in touch with people back home. We made it up to Ballina, we made it around the cape and up to Ballina, which is — I’ll just go back on that. We’re actually back in Sydney, I’m reading ahead on myself here. Ballina’s a little bit further on. 

Well we made it in to Sydney and we pulled into the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) who welcomed us and gave us a free berth for as long as we wanted to stay there, at that particular stage of course all the TV stations and the newspapers was starting to catch up with us and finding out where we were, what we’d been through and how we were handling the whole situation.

So we stayed in Sydney probably for about four or five days and when the weather cleared a little bit, we again took off through Sydney Heads and headed up towards Port Macquarie. That part of the trip was reasonably comfortable and it wasn’t until we get near Coffs Harbour that the wind picked up somewhat considerably and we were fighting 25 to 30 knot breezes. There were big ships that were passing us by that were bearing their bow and the spray was probably reaching 30, 40 foot up in the air, which made us look very small in comparison. Of course made us think twice about what we were doing.

OSP: How long was this vessel and how wide was it?

John Lucas: It was 40 foot long, if we go back to foot and inches and had an 18 inch draft. One of the problems we had with the water jet unit, which traversed 360 degrees, was okay but we found that we couldn’t get a lot of steerage out of the boat. So we had to put two big rudders on one on each of the stern quarters, which helped us immensely to turn the boat or to control the boat. That made it a lot easier. 

We got up to Coffs Harbour and the weather had certainly turned nasty but we were doing reasonably well, we didn’t have a lot of problems and we’d put quite a few miles behind us. After leaving Coffs, the next stop would have been Ballina and we were fighting some pretty big seas by that stage but we were running a bit short on fuel and running short on food and what have you. So we decided we should put into Ballina. We had to pull the sail down, kick the big motor over, lined up the bar and boy did we shoot in that bar.

We got in on port up at Ballina and this old fella came down, big beard, smoking a pipe, dirty old jacket on, said, “Who is in charge of this craft?” Not being in the best frame of mind at that that particular time, I said to him, “Who wants to know?” He said, “I do. I’m the harbour master.” I said, “That’s great.” He said, “Well I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.” He said, “I saw you coming up the coast,” he said, “Our bar has been closed for five days. I was out doing the garden and I saw you and thought you’re going to run for cover down around the point. 

Next thing I looked up and you were lining up the bar. I thought, “Well, I better get to the garage and grab the port’s closed signs and run them up the masthead,” which I did. The only problem was when I got them to the masthead, I had no cleats on them. He said, “By this stage, you had started coming over the bar and I just stood back in sheer amazement and couldn’t believe what I was seeing as you came through, well done.” My comment to him was, “Quite frankly, if you got those signs up, we wouldn’t have known what they meant anyway and we were coming in.” That was quite a bit of a challenge.

OSP: Well and quite a compliment in a way from a harbour master who sees all sorts of things happen and then to put in context, the east coast of Australia, the sand bars most of the way up and down the coast are pretty treacherous and they change and move around a lot and lots of them aren’t suitable most of the time in the conditions that we have.

John Lucas: Sure. Well going back in the early days, of course they’ve got a long way lately to making a lot of the bars a lot safer than they used to be.

OSP: To put this in context, what year are we talking about here? What year was this?

John Lucas: We’re talking about 1972.

OSP: So 44 years ago, just to put some context.

John Lucas: So 44 years ago, most of the only boats that generally used the bars were the fishing boats that knew the waters very well and spoke with the harbour master before they came in and out.

OSP: Okay. In terms of the trip John, what is the total distance from Geelong to Thursday Island?

John Lucas: Over 3,000 miles.

OSP: When you think about that, and you put that into context, that’s more than crossing the Tasman Sea twice and it will get you a fair way to South America if you were to sail across the ocean towards South America.

John Lucas: It most certainly would.

OSP: How old were you at the time?

John Lucas: I was 27 at the time, that might give you an indication as to how old I am now but how many sea miles I’ve done.

OSP: With the trip, how many people did you do the trip with?

John Lucas: Well it started off four of us and as I said, one of them got off but when we pulled in at Inverloch, we went to the local hotel to have a bar meal and a quick drink. We had little to drink on board but went to the bar to have a quick drink, we were talking to one of the young farmers there and he said, “Well where are you guys from and what are you doing?” We said, “We have this flat bottom houseboat and we’re trying to take it all the way to New Guinea.” He said, “Do you need help?” We said, “Yeah, actually we’re one short in the crew.” Well within the next half an hour he’d been home, packed his bags and he was on the boat.

OSP: Quickly.

John Lucas: He had had a bit of experience, so he had worked on trawlers and what have you, over the years, in between his farming, when he was cropping and what have you. But he was very keen, jumped on board and was a great help of course.

OSP: You made it out successfully over the bar again and you left Ballina and what happened next?

John Lucas: Okay, our next big bar to across was of course the bar at Surfer’s Paradise, which was notorious in those days. Most of the fishing boats that came out through there, used to have to run up the coast, find the channel and run back down. We had different things in mind because we knew we had a shallow draft and we heaved the boat straight through. 

Now, it was a pretty rough day and those that were at the local hotel, all came roaring out and thought that we’re going to see the greatest demise of a boat that had ever come through or crossed that bar. When we got in, of course there were great cheers and many of them came down the boat, brought a lot of alcohol with them, congratulated us and sat down on how to chat all day, all night about what we’d been doing, how we got to that stage, and what our next big trip was to be.

OSP: Great, a classic Gold Coast welcome. So then you stopped in the Gold Coast, and how long were you here for?

John Lucas: So after the Gold Coast and we were in the Gold Coast for about five days, again, waiting for a bit of a break in the weather. However we knew that there was an inside passage so we used the inside passage to go up to Morton Bay and out through Morton Bay to continue our journey.

Our next big problem was getting around Double Island Point. Once again, the weather was very heavy, the bar had been closed for a week or so. So we were stuck out there, we couldn’t go in, so we had to find somewhere to hide, which we did just around the corner of Double Island Point, there’s a little lagoon.

We carefully placed it out to make sure we could get in, we popped in there and had to sit in there for about four or five days before they reopened the bar. Now, we were in constant contact with them and the first prawn trawler that came out when they reopened the bar, hit the sand bar and disappeared completely.

OSP: Gosh. So it just sank?

John Lucas: It sank and there were no signs of it or any of the gear and as you would know, most fishing boats carry a lot of floatation gear, none of that was ever found. So what we assume happened was they were coming out sitting on the top of the wave, it dried out underneath them, the bow dropped off the wave, hit the bottom, the sand completely encompassed the boat and nothing was ever seen of them again.

We were called in to help to see if we could find them because the way they had settled quite a bit by then. So we traveled up and down the coast whilst the coast guard also went out looking for them, but they were never seen and no parts of the boat were ever found again.

OSP: Wow, puts the challenges and dangers of crossing bars into context when you hear a story like that.

John Lucas: Yes, most certainly. I think we all learn when we go sailing that the first thing to do when you’re crossing a bar is to try and get some local knowledge form somewhere because the bars do shift, there’s quite a bit of shifting sand. They can be in one place one day and different place the next. So local knowledge is certainly very, very important.

OSP: Okay, so what happened next?

John Lucas: From there of course was inland passage, which was lovely of course, going inside Fraser iIsland, coming out of the top, by that stage of course, you’re basically inside the Great Barrier Reef, you’ve gotten rid of a lot of the big swells that come up from down south and traveling was a lot more comfortable by that stage. We’d made a couple of stops to pickup fuel and then made our way up to Hamilton Island where we were warmly welcomed and then up to the group of islands there. 

Now, a lot of the people on the island had heard that we were coming up. They met us when we got in, we had some very wealthy business men approach us and asked us if we needed anything. We really didn’t but they said, “Well, what we’re going to do is we’re going to let you order as much steak and as much food as you can carry and as much fuel as you can carry and we’re even going to organise some paint for you if you want to paint the boat when you get up there.”

So we loaded up with all those things, thanking them very much that they were quite interested in the trip that we had taken and talking about it and what sort of problems we’d had and where we were going to go from here. So that was very helpful.

OSP: That’s a generous offer and crew will never turn down a good feed or a good meal after a long trip, so it was great to be able to stock up there.

John Lucas: Well by that time, the idea of having a steak was very good. But we had good cooking facilities on board. Surprisingly enough, many would ask us how the boat was traveling and when it rode a wave, it was very much like a surfboard so it went up basically level and then sunk down basically level. So you could take on a big sea a two metre sea or a three metre sea and ride the wave out quite nicely with the salt and pepper still on the table.

OSP: Wow. And it’s 40 foot long, what was the beam of the boat?

John Lucas: I can’t quite recall the beam.

OSP: Looking at pictures, it’s pretty big, right? Probably at least 15 feet maybe wide?

John Lucas: Yes. 16, 18 foot wide.

OSP: Okay. So what happened next?

John Lucas: So we then left there, which was absolutely lovely of course, going up to Rockhampton Mackay. As I say, once again, we were in calm seas by that stage. The motor was running pretty much all the time, not a lot of breeze, the breeze had dropped out, so we were looking forward to doing the last laps as we went up past Rockhampton, Mackay following the passage up through there, Townsville, Cairns. Had an engine problem in Cairns and had to call back home for new parts to replace, to keep the engine going.

We did find that the sail we’d set up came in very handy quite often through the trip but in this particular stage, it was all we had. So it did help us a fair bit of the way. So we’re pretty well up at Cairns by now and heading inside the Great Barrier Reef, which was quite pleasant, a lot of whales. We made it up to the very tip of Australia and right at the very tip of Australia, there’s a little channel that you got through and there’s a Japanese Pearling company.

Now that pearling company had been there for 50 odd years or so, which was quite interesting because we’d had a war with Japan, but the Japanese were up there pearling, we were invited into the pearl farms, fed up very well, drank some nice Japanese wine and they presented us with some of the pearls in particular some black pearls, which are quite expensive. They were very happy to see someone come in and have a chat to them, pull in, what have you. We stayed there for a couple of days before we started to make our way over to Thursday Island.

OSP: Pretty unique opportunity that you probably never would have imagined possible, especially if the cultural differences maybe even then, given that it wasn’t that long after the war really, 25, 30 years.

John Lucas: Yes, not long after which was quite surprising. When we got up there, we were met by the US Navy who then advised us, unbeknownst to us that they had basically been covering us on our trip all the way up with their technical gear, which would have been happy to know of course. But they had us on board, gave us a lovely meal, presented us with a United States Navy officer’s ring and made the comment that our trip sounded more exciting than the RA and Kontiki expeditions put together. Cause one thing you don’t normally do is put to sea in a flat bottom houseboat.

OSP: That’s a really nice touch. What a nice way to recognise the trip you’re undertaking given by this stage you’re probably on your way to your trip and in the final stages.

John Lucas: Yes, the final stages, the trip from Australia across to the islands was very rewarding, very comfortable, big seas had gone, we were glad to get in and looking forward to booking our flight to get back home, having been away for two days shy of three months.

OSP: Okay and then to the arrival at Thursday Island, describe how that unfolded?

John Lucas: Well we arrived at Thursday Island, which is regarded as a first port of call into New Guinea. So they have all the customs there, they have a customs hall. We had the customs officers come down and meet us, we had to fill out the official customs forms for getting in there but we were made quite welcome.

There were not a lot of Anglo Saxons actually made it up that way, so they were quite happy to see us. We did our official bit and our official paperwork, we booked our flight and spoke with the missionaries over in New Guinea who were to come over and pick the boat up and take it up to the Fly River.

OSP: Did you ever follow the boat after that? In terms of where it ended up?

John Lucas: I have no idea where it ended up, after having spent three months on it, which probably two days short of what we should have spent. It was constantly used, the Fly River is one of the largest navigable water ways in the world. We certainly had very little to do with the boat once it got there but the missionaries did use it to travel up and down the river and because of the 360 degree traversing water jet, it was quite comfortable on the river runs.

OSP: So when you’re think back now about the construction of the boat and the condition of it when you stepped on board was it fit for purpose or did you have challenges along the way with things breaking and wearing out and coming apart?

John Lucas: No, the boat held up extremely well, the only damage we really sustained apart from a few problems with the motors and the sails, we actually took a big brass - huge brass bell that we were going to give to the missionaries, we had that parked on the bow and when we came over the Ballina Bar, with a fair bit of water smashing across there, we lost the bell. So I have no doubt the bell is still down the bottom of the Ballina Bar. But the boat was in good condition when we handed it over.

OSP: What was it constructed out of?

John Lucas: It had a steel hull on it, built very much like a barge. So it had a chisel nose on it and of course the upper deck was in ply. We put two ex-aircraft seats on the back so that we’d be comfortable sitting on the wheel, we ran shifts of course as we went up there, it was sort of four on and eight off as we swung to people looking after the craft while the others were asleep. But it was much appreciated when I got up there.

OSP: Okay, what were the bunks like in terms of sleep, did you get a good night’s sleep?

John Lucas: Yes, always a good night’s sleep because it had four cabins and each cabin had two bunks in it and they were very comfortable bunks and all in all from the point of view of those that do sail and sail mono-hulls where you’re on a slant most of the time. We’re on a flat surface and could get actually get a good night’s sleep.

The Houseboat - Daydream

OSP: When you think about that, that changes things a lot doesn’t it when you are flat almost all of the time. What about managing provisions, cooking and refrigeration, did you have refrigeration?

John Lucas: Yes we had refrigeration but once again because of the shallow draft, we could get in wherever we needed to get into pick up fuel and to pick up fresh goods, bread and milk, the lunch was normally two slices of bread with some sliced cheese in it and a raw tomato. The idea of losing a lot of weight on the trip certainly came true, I think I dropped about two stone.

OSP: Okay, and did you have much success with fishing along the way?

John Lucas: We did, we’ve had a line in from time to time, never caught much. However when we got up near Cairns and Townsville, there were a lot of Spanish Mackerel around. Spanish Mackerel are a very good fighting fish and you really don’t have to use bait, you can actually put a colored ribbon on your hook and throw it in and they’ll snap at anything.

The aircraft seat installed for helming comfortably

So we had a lot of Spanish Mackerel to eat, plus from time to time we would run into prawn trawlers and we would offer to buy some prawns off them but being the good fellas they are and being boaties, all boaties are good friends, they would give us bags and bags of prawns, which everyone would enjoy of course and did not want to charge us anything.

OSP: Okay. So if you think about the people in the three-month trip, it’s a long trip. After that initial incident coming over the bar, where you had almost had a bit of a mutiny going on, how did people get along? Did you have people all got along well? Did you have personality clashes at times? Did you have things that became large thorns in your heel by the end of the trip?

John Lucas: Yes, there were those times and that’s because you’re living in closed quarters of course. So there was a small breakdown between the crew and the skipper and the skipper and the owner were sort of 50% of the road and the crew were the other 50%.

So there were times when we had to call everyone into a meeting and say, “Look, if you’re going to let anyone down, you’re going to let the team down if you don’t participate and do what we expect of you. They all came around, there were no big blues or arguments, there was just some grumpy little incidents that came up over the trip.

OSP: Which is pretty natural, three months together in a space like that. You talked about the multitude of government agencies involved and getting approvals to do the trip, what did you have to do back then in terms of safety equipment and what was the plan if it all turned to custard?

John Lucas: Well, as I said, at that particular time, just prior to that, all the States used to look after their own coastline and three or six months before we did the trip, what the government did was they put them all into Canberra so that it then became the centre to say you have to go to Canberra. So I think Canberra were all interested in coming down and having a look at checking safety. So we had to rig the boat with a lot of safety gear up to date; jackets, right arrows, flares, charts and anything else you can think of that might be in our safety. As I say, today, you would not be allowed to do something like this. You just would not be able to meet the safety standards.

Quite the pin-up poster boy

OSP: Okay, when we think about the trip, did you have any really hairy moments or times when you actually wondered if you’re going to get through?

John Lucas: Yes, hairy moments, probably three months. No, not quite. Going out through The Rip is always a testing time. There were 19 commandos back then who had to paddle across the front of The Rip and they were all lost. They all drowned and they were commandos. There was a pilot boat and pilot boats are a very, very safe boat. They lock up all the hatches if they roll over, they pretty much come back up the other way, however two boats had been lost at sea going out through The Rip. 

It’s pretty treacherous passage of water. It’s one that the Sydney Habour sailors don’t look forward to when they’re coming across there because you’ve got all that big water coming across from the west, you got all that run down the southeast coast, you’ve got that big winds and seas coming up from the south and it all meets there and it can be flat calm at one instance and really bubbling at the next.

Hoisting sails required tw0 crew in stronger breeze

Wilson’s Prom was obviously a, more than a challenge. At one stage, I certainly believed that we’re in trouble until we come upon Refuge Cove but a lot of the yachties know where Refuge Cove is and a lot of them do use that as a safety mooring overnight. The bars up along the coast were obviously very challenging. Back in those days, once again, you didn’t have the advice that you have today. 

We did, it was one of the first books that Allan Lucas — no relation to him by the way — actually wrote and we were using that one as the bible as we went up. I found that very, very informative and very, very helpful but certainly many of the bars created a lot of problems but once again, once we got inside Fraser Island and up past the Whitsundays, it was just magic. It was probably some of the best sailing I’ve done in the world.

OSP: Okay, it’s interesting that the trip is more than 40 years ago but you’ve got really vivid memories of quite a lot of the detail of the trip. It must have had quite a big impact on your life obviously at that point. But what have you done since or what did you do next? Following something like that, it must have almost been a challenge to go back to a day job and a regular sort of nine to five life.
John Lucas: Well fortunately for me, I was in show business back then and we would probably only bring one or two shows. I was Elton John’s Australian tour manager, did shows like the Bee Gees, Suzi Quatro and what have you. So I would probably only do two big shows a year, so I did have a lot of time to do so many things like this. 

The Daydream motor sailing in fair weather

But I started at the Royal Geelong Yacht Club at the age of eight, in Yachting World Cadet dinghies and I was the youngest member of Royal Geelong to have a Quick Cat Catamaran which was designed by Charlie Cunningham, was a single handed boat. I was certainly too small and too young to handle it, so that was quite a challenge and I’ve had several boats since then.

OSP: Okay, and have you done much in the way of offshore passages or have you been mostly coastal cruising or done a bit of racing? What’s your sailing been year round?

John Lucas: Done a bit of everything. I spent a bit of time over in the Isle of White. Lived in the Greek Islands for about three months, did a lot of sailing around the Greek islands, lived in the south of France for about six months, done a lot of sailing through the South of France. So I spent a lot of time on the water doing racing and cruising.

OSP: Okay. That’s great, and what else would you like to tell me about the trip or your experience that I haven’t asked you about?

The Daydream under motor in spectacular conditions

John Lucas: Well, as I say, the newspapers and the TV stations covered the trip pretty extensively and so I have a good record of the trip and my son was looking over the records only a few years back and he said to me, “Dad, if I wanted to do something like that, would you let me?” And I said, “No bloody way son.”

OSP: What did your parents think of it at the time?

John Lucas: My parents and my girlfriend who I finally married and have been married to for over 42 years, all had a trying time waiting because it wasn’t all that often that they heard from us and they picked up most of their information from the newspapers. So they didn’t know where we were or what was going on. The family were very apprehensive.

OSP: Which is pretty natural because that’s not a common voyage that someone does, let alone in a houseboat. It’s not really made for that kind of thing I guess, but shows you what’s possible if it’s well constructed and you’ve got capable people on board. 

John Lucas: Yeah, we do think all things are possible and I think sailing comes down to riding a bike and driving a car and as much you’re on the side of caution and you just take everything as it comes and you work through the issues. But homework again is probably one of the most important things. Understanding the crew is certainly another one and the crew’s requirements. So it’s all a fair sort of a challenge, but something — this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, something that no one else has ever done, and no one else is probably silly enough to ever do it again.

OSP: They won’t be allowed to.

John Lucas: Let alone be allowed to, yeah. But it was an exciting voyage.

OSP: It’s a great story and I really appreciate you taking the time to share it with us today so that people can listen and understand and learn about a story that they would probably not be aware of. Particularly given this predates when even media content was online. Certainly what I’d like to do is scan or photograph some of the material you’ve got here and post it online because it will allow anybody listening to this to then go online to the show notes.

John Lucas: Yes I’m sure they’d appreciate seeing what the boat looked like.

Built like an ocean going tank

OSP: Yeah that’s right, visually, it brings it to life and when you look at it, it puts it into context. It’s quite staggering and the mast relative to the size of the boat, it’s not a big mast, so clearly it’s not going to be moving at a great pace. With that, how much of the time where you motoring and how did you manage fuel requirements and carrying enough fuel?

John Lucas: Look, we were probably motoring most of the time but once again because it had a shallow draft, we could get in and out when we needed to fuel.

OSP: Well that’s excellent John, I really appreciate you putting the time aside and we’ll capture this and post it online and be ready to share it, it’s really a fascinating story. I was amazed when you told me about the story, maybe about a year ago now, you mentioned it to me. What a fascinating story.

John Lucas: I do mention it from time to time and the local papers back home have a history of it of course and they’re always asking about it. But other than that I basically haven’t done much with it. I’ve been asked on a number of occasions to do a book on it. I’m not a bookie person so I wonder whether that will ever get done.

OSP: Well it’s a lot easier to talk than to write. Well that’s great. Well thank you for appearing on the Ocean Sailing Podcast this week and look forward to being able to share your story with everybody.

John Lucas: You’re welcome Dave

Interviewer: David Hows

If you enjoy the show and find the content valuable, consider the extra benefits of becoming an Ocean Sailing Podcast Patron.

Episode 4: Ray McMahon Show Notes

OSP: Hi Ray, thanks for joining us on the Ocean Sailing Podcast today. It’s great to be able to chat to you about the history of the Southport Yacht Club. Its 70 years old this year and interestingly when we chatted a little while back you explained how it’s not always been a sailing focused yacht club, even though it always had the name Southport Yacht Club. So, tell me about the birth of the yacht club initially and what really drove the development of the sailing club well we were largely a power boater’s domain back then. 

Ray McMahon: As you said David the yacht club is 70 years old and in fact in just three short weeks from now, on April 19th we celebrate the 70th anniversary from when the club was first incorporated back in 1946. Over the years the club has gone through many changes, power boaters, sailors alike have frequented the club and used the club and both have used it with great excitement. And there’s been several attempts over the years to create a racing club here as well, as another arm of the Southport Yacht Club but I think over the last 10 years it’s been the most successful. We now have a serious racing division at the club and we have got over 500 races this year at the Southport Yacht Club.

Ray McMahon as MC at Sail Paradise 2016

OSP: Well, that’s more than on a day, it’s a pretty good batting average.

Ray McMahon: It’s a big ask, isn’t it? And the people behind it do a damn good job and having to keep up with the pace as well, yes more than one a day.

OSP: Okay, when racing started off at Southport, did it start at Southport Yacht Club first? Were
there other sailing clubs in the early days on the Broadwater? 

Ray McMahon: Look, clubs have come and gone and there are still other a few clubs around here on the Broadwater but the Southport Yacht Club seems to be the one that’s survived the test of time and obviously in surviving the test of time has grown and grown into what it is today.

OSP: Okay. And what I find unique about the facility here is its got a big food and beverage business and It’s in a unique location and my experience has been that most yacht clubs struggle to operate food and beverage other than Friday, Saturday and maybe a Sunday and they don’t have the patronage that we have at the club. How much of that contributes to the ability of the club to invest and grow, outside of revenue from Marina berths and sailing fees and all that kind of stuff?

Ray McMahon: Yes, massive contribution. The food and beverage brings new people into the club and they discover the sport and want to be involved. Part of the reason why this is busy 7 days of the week is again the 70 years it’s been here. It’s been here a long time if you’ve opened a restaurant up, we all know the first few years are the toughest ones but it’s been here for 70 years, its 7 days a week. 

We are also a bit unique on the Gold Coast as well in that we have got this fantastic weather pattern, where even our winters don’t really hurt us too much so we can be out on the deck four seasons of the year and enjoying it. We are also very blessed to have the view that we have got here. Those people 70 years ago that setup the club put it in probably one of the best spots you could on Broadwater.

OSP: It’s pretty unique and enviable. Surely there is plenty of cases where yacht clubs don’t have
waterfront views or water frontage in terms of what they look out at so that makes it a unique facility.

Southport Yacht Club offshore racing is friendly but extremely competitive

Ray McMahon: Absolutely and if you travel up the down the east coast yacht clubs, many of them have pleasant views of fishing trawlers etc and that is unfortunate for them because I am sure they would like to have our view, but yes we are lucky. We are blessed to have the fantastic location, fantastic view and all this helps the club to go forward. 

OSP: So, tell me about when yacht racing actually got started here at Southport, how did it get started? Was it inshore, was it offshore? Tell me about those early days.

Ray McMahon: Yes I will take you back to almost 10 years ago, which I would term the modern era of yacht racing here at the club. There were a few attempts that have come and gone, but for many years the club has owned our sailing squadron up at Hollywell as well which is a brilliant venue, its great and kids learn to sail up there and there are some amazing sailors such as Matthew Belcher that have come out of Southport Yacht Club.

Kids start learning how to sail on opti’s and sabers and then into teenage years on slightly larger boats. And we have had a fairly strong inshore fleet and for what I would say trailer size sailing boats. But we have never really had a big boat keelboat series that’s been successful for a number of years. 

I moved here from Sydney just over 10 years ago around the same time as another guy famous with yacht racing in this country; Rob Mundle who had moved here about a year before me, also from Sydney and a few locals around here Matthew Percy a former Olympic sailor, John Hall who was known up here as a broker, and Lee Dorrington another ship broker. These guys all got together some 10 years ago and realised there was nothing really happening out of the Main Beach clubhouse for big boats. I think our complete racing calendar for the year for big boats was about 5 races.

Formative years at the Southport Yacht Club

OSP: Wow!

Ray McMahon: Yes. It’s nothing when you consider going to other clubs that would have 70, 80 or 100 races for the year for big boats. So, the guys got together and formed a twilight races series because twilight racing is the big thing around the world. Its social, yes it is racing, but the bottom line it is social. Not too scared to have a drink in hand while sailing around in a twilight race. Every club these days that is successful has got a strong twilight race series and most clubs do them throughout the summer. 

So about 10 years ago these guys got together and formed the group called the KBG as opposed to the Russian Secret Service, which is the KGB. We were the KBG which stands for the Keel Boat Group and we organised a race series for 8 Thursday afternoons on 8 consecutive Thursdays in the summer and thought we would see how this goes. We had no real idea what was going to happen after that. So in first race when we had 5 boats which was quite exciting and when the eight weeks were up and I think that every boat owner and every crew person was like ”oh, what do we do now, its been a great 8 weeks and it had ended in mid March. 

So we started again in spring later that year with a much longer twilight series of 13 weeks, which was 6 weeks pre-Christmas and 7 weeks post-Christmas and then at the end of that we found ourselves saying, “what do we do now?”. It was about our 3rd year we decided that why don’t we run our twilights through the winter as well.  Just because other clubs don’t do it doesn’t mean we can’t when we have got the weather here. So we decided to have a spring summer and winter series. Cut a long story short now we have 42 twilight races each year, we have three series throughout the year. 

So we do a 14-week series and then have a 3-week break and a 14-week series and a 3-week break. So throughout the year we are doing 14 weeks on and 3 weeks off and over Christmas we have the 4 weeks off. So twilight racing really was the start of what is now building into a fantastic keelboat fleet and offshore racing. Probably about 5 years ago we then also realised perhaps offshore racing could start to lift as well and not to preempt any criticism about offshore racing, but this year now the club now has 76 races for the year for keelboats with a combination of twilight and offshore racing. It’s a long way from the 5 races 10 years ago.

OSP: It’s a substantial change. What about the fleet sizes for twilights and offshore what sort of
numbers are you seeing with this kind of frequency? Is there fatigue with the increase in race
numbers, is there fall off or is the opposite happening in terms of growth in race numbers?

The Broadwater before it was dredged and before the Seaway Entrance was established

Ray McMahon: Interesting question. I think to a degree our fleets are fairly typical Gold Coast and what I mean by that is Gold Coast is a rather transient area. People come, stay for their 5 or 6 years and eventually move on. Others like myself love it here will stay forever but it’s quite transient. So, I have been finding that our fleets are literarily the same with the people who come and sail with us for 4 or 5 years and potentially move on. 

So our numbers are good. In a twilight race we have around 20 and have had as many as 30 out there which is great and our offshore fleet is undergoing unprecedented increase in fleet numbers as well. But at first I was a little concerned how we were getting to 20 and weren’t climbing above that and I have noticed we have lost some boats. 

But looking at where we lost them we only lost them because the boat had been sold when the owner had moved on or the owner had moved and taken the boat with him to another part of Australia. So we weren’t losing them for reasons of not enjoying the club or not doing the right thing, we only lost the boats because they were changing their post code. So I have had to come to terms with that. As much as I am builder I like building things. I don’t mean a builder as in houses I just like building businesses or whatever. Now we get the growth in numbers and we get to lose a few I have got to accept that. I don’t like it but that’s Gold Coast. People will transit to the other capital cities of Australia.

OSP: Ok. So, if we go back to those early years and again how the KBG were operating. So they were operating outside of the Southport Yacht Club initially and then the yacht club approached you I think for and talked to you about using their facility. How did you go from operating outside of The Southport Yacht Club on probably minimal resources to then suddenly morphing into it and working inside the Southport Yacht Club? How did that all come about? 

Ray McMahon: Yes. You are absolutely right David. Initially in the early days and I will give you a bit of a background to how tough it was, John Hall one of the guys I mentioned earlier, he is a solicitor. We wanted to have John involved because John was able to draft up documents to ensure that in the event of an accident, I hope it never happens obviously, but that we are indemnified against that risk and obviously we had to get aquatic permits and so on and to get aquatic permits you have to make sure you have structures in place etcetera. 

Southport Yacht Club is an world class facility in 2016

So having a solicitor onboard was very handy for him to actually draw up a lot of this gear and make sure we were doing the right thing and make sure we were going the right way. So, we did a lot of work behind the scenes ourselves. Every week we were on the phone talking to other boat owners trying to get them involved. 

Lee Dorrington who was a boat broker and involved in the early days, used to walk up around the marina literary knocking on the boats doors when he saw an owner onboard saying, “Hey, you want to come and join us for a sail?” And we were doing all the work. That’s fun. We were happy to do that. We wanted to go racing ourselves so no problem. But you are correct I think the club saw it was going well, after attempts in previous times where it hadn’t been successful, so the club thought it was going on well and were approached to bring the Keel boat group under the banner of the Southport Yacht Club. 

I must admit to a rousing round of applause to the guys that did all the hard work, because we all had businesses to run or jobs etcetera and that was kind of a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel, after the work that we had done. For the club to take over and run it through their already structured administrative system was great. 

So that happened which was great and we basically handed the reigns over to the club. There was teething issues at the time and I think at one stage we found we had almost lost a few boats, but I think the owners felt perhaps we had actually (the KBG guys involved) had stepped back too much and we knew what the owners wanted because we started the structure. 

So a few of us are still very much involved now and again to make sure what started, maintains its progress etcetera. So the club now runs it, which is great, a few of us are still involved to help with the running of it, but the KBG is long gone. A lot of fun but a lot of hard work at the time.

Early Gold Coast days before the Southport Yacht Club was established

OSP: It’s interesting. And who were some of the colourful personalities behind this in those in the early days and are they still around today?

Ray McMahon: There are two of us still around today very much so. Colourful, absolutely. Lee Dorrington a broker as I mentioned earlier, Lee is one of the most colourful guys you will ever meet and those that know Lee, I am sure we will be going “yes he is colourful”. He is ok, he has got the beard and the long hair and when he is on the dock is not afraid to call a spade a spade. 

Great guy real good bloke, happy to call him my mate and actually he just recently attended last years presentation night and we actually got him to present a few prizes because he was one of the guys that actually started his whole big ball rolling. He is a great colourful character and he is in Sydney these days. Matthew Percy longest member here at the club, Vice Commodore of Sail at one stage, former Olympic sailor as I said earlier and Matt again colourful character. Matt is about 6ft 7 and probably about 130 kilos, so when Matt’s in a room you know it. And Matt being a character he is, uses his very bold stature and when he is in the room and he will put his hand on your shoulder you know Matt is the only person it could be. 
So Matt is a very colourful character and a guy that has been part of the sailing of this club for many years and I am sure he will be for many more years. John Hall who was our solicitor at the time John now lives in Melbourne and John is a lovely bloke, great guy, fairly quiet and I guess to a degree he just went about his business and made no fuss. And then we all know in the yachting world Rob Mundle. Rob is still very much involved at the club. Rob is a past Commodore of the club went on to become Commodore of the club shortly after the KBG days and Rob has written many hundreds of articles regarding sailing and yachting around the word and now he is getting more notable as an author of maritime books and doing a great job and still very much involved here at the yacht club.

OSP: Its quite fascinating when you think Rob is pretty understated guy, comes out and sails, nice guy but then you go to the bookshop and there is a whole lot of books there and then you listen to the commentary on the Hamilton Race week on TV, there is Rob’s voice and you wouldn’t know it is the same guy.

Ray McMahon: Yes. Its true and every now and then Rob asks me if there are any spare crew if he is short of crew for his boat, so I will put someone onboard and I will say to the person you are in Rob Mundle’s boat today and often I get back “The Rob Mundle” “Yes, the Rob Mundle”. He is ok, he is cool, he doesn’t bark he doesn’t bite, so he is just a good old bloke that gets out there and I don’t mean “old” Rob, but he is just a good bloke that gets out about there and has a sail. Yes very much understated as you said.

Southport Yacht Club early years

OSP: Ok. So when you look at the last 10 years have there been any moments at the club where the sailing just kept going because of a core group of passionate people or has it’ just gone from strength to strength over the last 10 years?

Ray McMahon: I guess if you have to really answer that in a short phrase, it has gone from strength to strength to strength. Obviously there have been patches where there has been lulls and the odd J curve and the GFC hurt boating and yachting around the world. So, it hurt us to be sure and many of us including myself a few times questioned was it going to survive and keep going, but fortunately those questions where 1% of our thinking and 99% were how do we go forward? How do we progress and so on. So, on a whole I would say it has kept going forward from strength to strength, with the odd speed bump rather than mountain to overcome. 

The Broadwater before the Southport Yacht Club was established

OSP: It was just too expected. Okay, so, when you look at some of the prestigious clubs, well established clubs around Australia CYCA, Royal Prince Alfred, Royal Victoria, Royal Perth and Middle Harbour, how would you say the Southport Yacht Club compares and where are the areas that we could still be better at or build strength, competency and reputation with?

Ray McMahon: As a club we compare very well with the ones you mentioned and other clubs around the country. Obviously I can’t speak for them but speaking for ourselves, we are a strong club financially and with growth and we are quite a strong club that’s had good management here over the years and I think we compete and compare with the best around the country. 

On the water it’s certainly a different story. Certainly our juniors have been very much competing and comparing with the best around the country and we have got a fantastic credibility at junior regattas where the Southport sailors will come home with all the cookies. In bigger boats, in keelboats it hasn’t quite been that way. There has been periods throughout the club’s lifetime, but in my time here (and I came from Sydney and was a member of the CYCA) and I felt our fleet was a little naïve at the time, and again five races breeds naivety and probably everybody knows everybody. 

But it was a little naïve at the time and so therefore in building a race series, we have also had to ensure that we built the skills of our skippers and crews to go along with that. We knew we would get to a stage where we had 20, 30, 40 even 100 boats out racing and potentially with 100 Muppet’s at the helm, you don’t want that, that’s dangerous. So, we had to make sure we kept increasing our skills for our crews and our skippers along the way. Where are we today compared to other clubs? Well, we are building and we have got a great yacht club here but we are building a racing keel boat division and where we have come in 10 years is amazing and I know that David, I’ll have this conversation again with you in 10 years time and we will be going even better. 

The last couple of years we have been able to bring home a few decent trophies back here to the club. A local boat won the Beneteau Cup, which was great, another local boat won its division in the 2015 Sydney to Gold Coast race and another in Airlie Beach Race Week. Things like that 10 years ago was just not going to happen. Now our keel boats are starting to compete with the bigger clubs on the water. We always competed with them as a club venue and I am convinced 10 years from now we will just be as strong at competition level with the ones you mentioned.

The Southport Yacht Club at the head of the Broadwater today

OSP: So somebody who is listening to this may have read about sailing, they may have always dreamed about getting to the sailing. You look at a yacht club and you look at these expensive boats sitting there. How easy is it to actually get into sailing and become a sailor and step onboard with no experience and just doing some sailing? How do you go about that and how easy is it?

Ray McMahon: One of the great anomalies about this sport I am sure people sit on the shoreline and see a beautiful yacht go past and think God I wish I could do that, how do I get onboard? Well it’s actually easy, you just walk in the front door of the yacht and we will happily do our best to find you a ride on a boat that suits you and your personality. And again adding to that, it’s also quite bit funny that often we struggle to find crew and you get people who say, what are you kidding me? And yes its true boats will go out sometimes needing 10 crew and they will have 8 or 7 because we often struggle to find crew. 

We obviously struggle to find very good crew, but sometimes we just struggle to find any crew just to fill spots. So it’s quite easy to get into, it’s a great sport, its very healthy sport, you don’t
have the drug issues that some other sports have unfortunately for them. We are a very clean sport which is great and we spend our entire time out there on the water in the fresh air and it’s just great. The camaraderie is just great as well we will go out there and have a race and then back in the club will be the stories how I let you beat me etcetera and its great camaraderie and we have a good club house that makes it even easier to do that, but yes get down here, come for a sail and I promise you the only drug that we have in sailing is your own personal drug of “you want to come back again and again and again”. It’s great fun.

OSP: It’s very addictive. It’s one of the few sports where you can enter at any age. You can be 50, 
overweight, out of shape and be a great sailor, right? You don’t have to be an athlete and you still don’t need to have steroids to help you with that, because clearly it’s not that demanding.

Ray McMahon: Absolutely right.

Southport Yacht Club foiling catamarans racing on the Gold Coast

OSP: …quite extreme although with dingy sailing and some of those high performance sail boats, you need to be very fit and athletic, but keel boats are pretty easy to enter at any age really, age 16 or age 66.

Ray McMahon: Absolutely right. You can come here for a sail. We start taking kids from age 7 here at the club, we will start teaching them from 7 years of age and again if you go to the other extreme, there are guys like Syd Fisher who are out there so you don’t need to be young.

OSP: Syd Fisher recently retired.

Ray McMahon: I don’t think he ever retired but Syd has been doing Sydney to Hobart at nearly 90 years of age and that is just outrageous. So, it’s a sport you can do your entire life and you talk fitness levels, you are right. You choose the level of the sport that suits you. If you are a gung ho, super fit person and you want to get into that style go for it. But if you a person you are just of average fitness and you just want to go out there and enjoy your sailing well, there are areas for that as well. I know people that have done the Hobart that probably couldn’t run 100 meters but they were good at what they had to do on the boat. 

OSP: And there’s boats and cultures for everyone in the sense you have high performance crews on one level and then you have the cruising boats that do social sailing they are not that serious about racing but more serious about having a good time and so you can pick your boat, pick your crew, find your spot and you will see  how seriously or not you want to take it.

Ray McMahon: And that is exactly right I couldn’t have put it better myself, its exactly right.

OSP: Two years ago I was at my neighbourhood barbecue and one of my neighbours said “I have always wanted to do the Sydney Hobart” and I said “that’s fantastic, how much sailing have you done?” He said “none”. I just like watching it in TV and he is now racing with me as a brand new sailor that started only two years ago. He is a great sailor already and started from nothing, so it’s a sport you can learn as quickly as you want in terms of the people around you and resources and courses and books that are available and it’s a sport no matter how much you learn you never stop learning.

Ray McMahon: It’s great. Will he get to do that Sydney to Hobart?

OSP: This year.

Ray McMahon: So he is good enough, he has learned enough.

OSP: Yes.

Lasers racing out of Southport Yacht Club Hollywell on the Gold Coast

Ray McMahon: Fantastic and that is great. And that is the sort of the story I would love to hear as well.

OSP: It’s a great outcome.

Ray McMahon: 3 years is a great outcome. It’s a good story and I would love to hear that sort of thing and really how simple it is. It’s one of those sports where you get started you enjoy it, hook into it because the sky is the limit. There are so many interesting things and we have mentioned Hobart a few different times. The Hobart race is great but these days there are so many things around the world that you can be involved in with the America’s Cup etcetera. There is all this fantastic racing all over the world these days that you can be involved in.

OSP: And you can make a living out of it too, right?

Ray McMahon: Indeed so.

OSP: I remember 30 years ago, Brad Butterworth sailing in the Citizen Match Racing Cup on Auckland Harbour with Russell Coutts in as amateurs and didn’t earn a bean from that you think about 30 years later, how the world has changed. So it’s a career path as well.

Ray McMahon: You are absolutely right. I think take Matthew Belcher, hasn’t worked for several years now, he just sails.

OSP: An interesting stat from the 2007 Americas cup. The average age of the winning team was 53 years.

Ray McMahon: And what is it today?

OSP: Its probably 33 I would say you look at those high speed soiling cats and it shows there is plenty of brain power required not just out and out braun.

Ray McMahon: Absolutely right but the good part us old guys (and I am over that 53 mark) but us old guys are still useful because it’s a kind of sport where experience does count for so much as well. You need a good mixture of youth and enthusiasm and experience.

OSP: Yes. absolutely. It’s a good analogy for lots of part of life I think. So our premier event at the
Southport Yacht Club is Sail Paradise and it attracts  40-50 entries and if you look around the country events like Hamilton Island, Airlie Beach and Geelong Race weeks, they attract some really big fleets. So when you look at the location here at the famous Gold Coast, where there is 50,000 to 100,000 tourists every week and it’s got this beautiful year round climate. What do you think we need to do differently or more of to grow Sail Paradise into a more significant event on the national calendar from a keel point of view? 

The Gold Coast, Queensland makes a great backdrop for Southport Yacht Club offshore racing

Ray McMahon: Good question. One of the great things like the one you mentioned earlier is that events like Hammo have been running for a number of years. So they have obviously got that time factor on their side and they are great with regattas and they run very well and I enjoy going to them all. The Sail Paradise regatta is only new and its been running now for about 5 years and I think and we really used the first 4 years as a bit of trial and error.
We learnt a lot in the first 4 years and this year in the most recent event we have just held, in January a few months ago, I really believe we got it right. And I hope I viewed that correctly as an organiser in watching it. The previous year I was one of the organisers as well and we got it wrong in so many areas. So we learnt from that and we had the same organising team working on it for a bit over 12 months, which makes it handy to get a second crack at it and we got it right this year. So, from this we will build. I am convinced our 40 to 50 this year would turn in 60 to 70 next year and again not wishing to be complacent, I will do my darnedest to make sure we get it right next year, so that 60 to 70 turns in 80 to 90 the year after.

So, that’s what I believe we have to do to improve Sail Paradise. Its one thing to get it up and running and build it, but you have to make sure that every year we are not complacent. If we have a good year let’s not sit back and pat ourselves in the back, lets have 10 second pat on the back and then go right back out and ask what can we do better next year? So that is the big one I think and lack of complacency is very important and I know we don’t have the complacency problem. 

So we will just spend time and keep building and listening to what they want, listen to the skippers. Skippers and crews always have different requirements, crew are a little bit easier, but skippers are the ones footing the bill and they have to get the boat there, get the boat home and so on, so listening to the skippers and the crews requirements and catering to them in the best possible way is super important, but again we are looking into the future I really believe that  one day we will be talking about Sail Paradise in the same sentence as the Hamilton Island, Airlie and Geelong Race weeks, because we would have had time and hopefully we will have the same organisers in that period of time as well, to make sure we keep building it and I look forward to where it’s going.

OSP: Well that’s exciting and when you look at the fact that there is a couple of thousand yachts spread across a number of marinas up on Moreton Bay, just 5 to 6 hours motoring from here if you can make it down here through the Broadwater or probably twice as long if you come down the outside, but there is a reasonably large pool of boats that have the potential to compete so it’s not like we need them to come from Sydney, they are not that far away.

Sail Paradise the premier regatta that the Southport Yacht hosts every January

Ray McMahon: Its true and we were lucky to have boats from many clubs competing this year, so it wasn’t the case of just one club supporting the event. This year we had a good spread across many clubs and I was quite excited to hear that they were all going home to tell their club mates what a great event it was and how we will access those couple of thousands of boats that are within a few hours north and south of us, is by someone from their club coming here, experiencing our regatta, experiencing the hospitality of Southport Yacht Club and then going back to their club and saying to their other members “hey guys we are good for next year, you want to go there too”. 
What we don’t want is people going back to their clubs and saying, “don’t waste your time, it was terrible.” That is what we don’t want and we hope we never ever have that and if we do well, we have got to fix it. But this year we were fortunate to get it right and some people have gone back to their clubs and actually said exactly that and I reckon several other club members will be here next year and if we can convert those additional next year in going back as well, that is exactly how we get all those boats up the road on Moreton Bay to come down for it.

OSP: That is exciting. There is nothing more exciting, whether you are a keelboat crew who do a little bit of racing or a serious sort of keel boat racer in having 20 or 30 or 50 or 70 boats on the start line. It’s a real buzz as opposed to 5 or 10. So as if those things start to build more too, it builds that buzz and that kind of atmosphere. 

Ray McMahon: With the thousand of races I have done, I still love it when I am on the start line and there is 100 plus boats and it doesn’t matter if its literally a twilight afternoon race which is potentially low key in the racing ladder. But when there is 100 boats on the start line the adrenaline the excitement level for that is off the planet and that is where your competitive side kicks in as well. If there are 100 boats beside you, you don’t want to be boat 100, you are getting up there as far as you can. If there is three boats beside you, you can always say you ran in third but when there is 100 boats around you, you want to make sure you are up in single figures.

OSP: You have got you eyes in the back of your sails when there is 100 boats beside you.

Ray McMahon: Oh yes absolutely.

A great atmosphere at the Sail Paradise prize giving in 2016

OSP: So at Southport Yacht Club the birth of yacht racing happened almost 10 years ago and you are basically the face (whether you want to be or not) of our twilight keel boat racing and a resident MC when it comes to sailing presentations and bits and pieces and awards nights and now a director on the board at Southport Yacht Club. What is your vision for the club if you fast forward 10 years from now, when you look at the amount of change from small beginnings on the sailing side over the last 10 years, what do you see in 10 years time when you look back? What does it look like?

Ray McMahon: Well on the face of the club I too agree I have a great face for podcasting, but I don’t see myself as a face of the club. We are a club, we have got a bunch of great people here and we all do a great job. Potentially I am the guy with the mic, I am often the MC so yes I appreciate I am often the face because I am the guy with the mic so people come to me with questions and that’s fine. Where do I see the club in 10 years time? I will wear a couple of different hats. First of all I will wear my board hat. As a board member the club will continue to grow, will continue to be a premier yacht club in Australia and will also continue to be a premier venue on the Gold Coast. We have plans at the moment on how we are going to expand the business and the building where possible and again we are not being

In our board meetings every month we make sure we look at what’s happened, how we can improve on it and where we want to go forward. So, the club itself will keep going forward in a wonderful way. On the sailing side, I also believe the next 10 years could be the most exciting. We are now at a point where we have gone from very little to having quite a good series for both twilights and offshore, so therefore great for being both social and competitive. So, the social racing is competitive, and so is your offshore. We have got a good race series; we have got 76 races this year as I said earlier and I will do everything I can in my power to keep being positive and motivated to ensure that arm of the club builds and builds. So, when we go to regattas around the country we can really gauge how we are going and we want out boats to be competitive at every regatta. We are not going to win every regatta, nice goal but it’s not
going to happen, but if we go there and we can be competitive and if we have got 10 or 15 boats at a regatta, if they are all competitive in their divisions then I think that’s a success, that’s a win and that’s where I want to be in 10 years time.

OSP: Ok. That’s great. And when you look at the location here at the southern end of the Broadwater, Main Beach, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, its a magic  destination but what comes with that is this area called the split, which if you read some of the history was largely fishing trawler based and then out of that in the 1960s came the sea world theme park and now there is talk of hotels, a casino and a cruise ship terminal, so what do you think that could mean for Southport Yacht Club if even half of those things start to materialise in the next 10 years and the pressure it will place on infrastructure, water, traffic, marine permits and all of those little things that suddenly become bigger challenges?

Crews preparing for tough racing as they head out for day 1 of Sail Paradise 2016

Ray McMahon: Is that a landmine question I am about to hit or not?

OSP: Given the re-election of the popular very development focused mayor recently…

Ray McMahon: Mayor Tom Tate does a good job. He does a good job so I don’t have a problem with Tom. Look, from a yacht club perspective we would be affected in a number of ways. Obviously if all of these big plans go ahead financially it can only help us bring more people to this part of the Gold Coast and in particular here to the Broadwater and we have an absolutely sensational fine building that is great for coming and having dinner and having a quite drink. 

So we would obviously get a significant benefit out of that financially which is wonderful. On the water it would be varied, there would be a bit of a mixture with  benefits and losses as well. So the jury is still out on that part and I say that because there are so many different proposals in place and every proposal has its own features and benefits and possibly its own negative points as well. So it’s a hard question to answer because it depends on which of the proposals we really are referring to.

I have see one that suggests that we will bring these big ocean liners right into the middle of
Broadwater. Now let’s not be silly; if there is a big ocean liner coming in here, there is not going to be a racing course in its way. so that would affect the racing side of the club. Obviously that wouldn’t impress me too much, but there are other proposals that don’t bring the ocean liners into the middle of the Broadwater which wouldn’t affect our on the water activities, so I don’t have a problem with those. But I have got to say though that those are just my own personal opinions, and as a board member here at the club the board’s policy has been similar to what I have just said; that we really can’t focus one way or the other until there is a definite proposal in place. 

Once the definite proposal are in place then we can look at it and decide what could be the best for the majority of the members of the Southport Yacht Club and that is always what we have to do. There is always going to be one person that wouldn’t be happy but we are going to look at what the benefit is for the yacht club and the majority of yacht club members and we would go from there.

OSP: Yes and if you go back 50 or 60 years and you look at where it is today, you would say that by and large the development of infrastructure and everything around here has enhanced the opportunity for the club not taken it backwards. I am probably sure 50 years ago there were people that were pro-development and people that had all sorts of concerns about the evolution and growth of the Gold Coast.

Ray McMahon: I am sure 70 years ago, there were people who were saying they don’t want a yacht club here and if you look now 70 years later at what it has done for the area of the yacht club, so of course that is always going to happen with development. So again it’s just going to come down to which proposal is the one that would appear to get a green light and if there is a green light we can formulate an opinion of what is best for the members.

Cyclone the carbon hull, Frers 50 competing in Sail Paradise 2016

OSP: Ok. And as an aside, we have recently had one of our members; Andy Lamont talking about his plans to sail single handedly round the world later this year on a non-stop voyage on a S&S 34 yacht. Would do you think about that a club member doing that, is that something you would have pictured 10 or 20 years ago?

Ray McMahon: I think he is nuts. I have got to give him 10 out of 10 for bravery, crikey around the
world solo nonstop. And Sailing 22,00s nautical miles in 9-10 months at sea on your own, I promise you he will get one or two storms in amongst that. So he is a brave man. It’s not really something I plan on doing. I think it’s absolutely fantastic for the club and that he is a member here at the club and a member that participates in all of our events here. 

I think it’s fantastic for the Gold Coast that somebody wants to leave on an around the world journey from the Gold Coast and return from their around the world journey to the Gold Coast. I was talking to Andy a little bit earlier and I said “I think you are crazy” but give me one liner so we can work out how unique this is and he said “Ray, more people have gone to space than have sailed around the world solo” and that put it into perspective for me. Very few of us get to go into space. So its amazing this guy is going to do this, I wish him all the best but I think it’s fantastic for the club and fantastic for the region, for the Gold Coast. The Gold Coast can literary say hey, he is ours and more importantly I will look up and say he is actually more ours. So it’s good.

OSP: Well, Ray thanks for catching up today. It’s been really interesting to talk to you and find out more about the background of the Southport Yacht Club. I am sure our members will learn a lot out of that and anybody thinking about sailing in any club around the country might think about stepping inside their local yacht club and asking how they can go up for a sail and dip their toe in the water, so to say and check out sailing for the first time and who knows where that might lead?

Ray McMahon: Well, it’s been a pleasure David. Thanks for asking me. I have enjoyed every second of it and you are 100% correct if you are listening to this and you have got a friend that’s ever said I would like to sail, then just tell him how easy it is. Just walk into your local yacht club and tell them your level of fitness and what you really want to do and even if you don’t know, just say “I don’t know what I am going to do” you’ll get the experience, so get on a boat, it’s not that hard and it’s a hell a lot of fun for the rest of your life.

OSP: And on that subject we have got to wrap this up because in about 10 minutes we are actually going to do exactly that. You are about 10 minutes away from a whole lot of people walking in the front door saying “I want to go sailing today” as you are coordinating which of the 20 boats they are going to end up on.

Ray McMahon on the water with John Ashton, one of Southport Yacht Clubs boat owners

Ray McMahon: That’s exactly right and again I love every second of that. I love seeing the new faces that walk in, because you never know who is going to walk in and it’s always interesting having people walk in saying they want to go for a sail. So looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great afternoon, the suns shining out there, its about 15 knots, we are going to have a blast.

OSP: Excellent. Thanks Ray.

Ray McMahon: Cheers mate.

Interviewer: David Hows

If you enjoy the show and find the content valuable, consider the extra benefits of becoming an Ocean Sailing Podcast Patron.