Grand dame of the sea Australia I has been given a new life as a thrilling sailing experience on Sydney Harbour, bringing together old salts and new.
The yacht is a 1977 and 1980 America’s Cup challenger, which sailed off Rhode Island. Built entirely of aluminium, the yacht is no frills or comfort as it’s been pared back for racing, designed with a large sail area (168 square metres). This is a rare opportunity to sail on an important piece of Australia’s sailing history. Australia I is built 100% for going really fast in relatively light conditions. She’s not built for open ocean racing, like the Sydney to Hobart challengers which weather extreme conditions.
Australia I is skippered by Jay and Steve, who take enthusiasts out each Sunday, weather permitting, 11am-4pm. Some crew are regulars and know the ropes, others are there for the experience and a social sail. It’s always an interesting bunch of people. The skippers seem to have a fair bit of patience. An Australian laconic sense of humour goes a long way.
The America’s Cup dates back to 1851, and has rarely been out of American hands. New Zealand has won it twice and Australia won in 1983. Switzerland has also wrestled the Auld Mug from the USA.
Australia I’s pedigree quickly becomes obvious when the jib and genoa are unfurled and hoisted. As soon as wind fills the canvas she picks up speed and powers gracefully through the dark blue waters of Sydney Harbour. It’s quite a ride.
There’s plenty to do on the boat. You can help cast off, hoist the sails, learn to tack. The mechanical part of the release is not very hard. The timing, on the other hand, is. Holding the release to get the correct amount of back wind in the headsail is the way to a good tack. Knowing when to release the sheets and when to start hauling them in on the winch, is key. One of the biggest ways to make tacks faster is to minimise the flapping of the sail, which creates a lot of drag. Do it right and you might get a thumbs up from the skipper. Slow and sloppy will warrant a comment too.
This past Sunday Jay took the boat out of the harbour past the Sydney heads into the open ocean for a short distance. In a stiff nor’ easterly breeze under mostly sunny skies and mild temperatures, with a gentle swell, it was perfect sailing conditions. This old salt had a whale of a time.
As I said earlier, she’s no frills. There’s no shelter on deck so if a wave breaks over the bow almost everyone will cop a drenching. No cabin either, but there is a portaloo down the forward hatch if you can’t hold on until you get back to shore.
While you’re out on the water you might see other former America’s Cup challengers, Sydney to Hobart Race challengers, and much older grand dames than Australia I.
Sailing Sydney on Australia I check list:
- Meet at the Balmain Yacht Club marina at 10.30am
- Cost: $59
- Cast off is 11am, no later
- Bring your own drinks, lunch, sunscreen, hat etc
- Die hards sometimes meet at the Riverview Hotel on Birchgrove Road afterwards for a beer
- Australia I and stablemate Steak & Kidney are run by a Not For Profit organization. The aim is to keep these historic boats in working condition on the water. No mean feat
- More info click HERE