By Jack O’Rourke
Keeping NSW’s fastest-growing and most festive sailing regatta on course each year requires a special effort from a dedicated and passionate band of over 40 volunteers, who work in day in day out over the entire week.
That passion is paying dividends, with Sail Port Stephens injecting an estimated $1.6 million into the local economy over the week and giving competitors an unforgettable experience.
Responsibilities include everything from operating the starting flags to preparing lunches and assisting the competitors in support boats.
“Due to the size and scope of Sail Port Stephens, the event simply would not be economical with volunteers,” one of the race administrators, Bruce Gosper, says. “They work across the whole event, making sure the week runs as smoothly as it does … their expertise and knowledge are essential.”
Over the past 10 years, mates Patrick O’Rourke, Mervin McIntyre and Einion “Taffy” Rowlands have been manning the starting line, watching every yacht pass the start mark and return safely into the harbour.
Former sailors themselves, they see this week as a chance to reconnect with the sailing community, share some yarns and have a few beers with their mates.
Patrick, a former sales rep, deals with other sails these days. “We are responsible for time-keeping. We tell the support boats where to lay the marks, and advise the competitors when to start racing,” he explains. “And when the boats finish, we record the times the race director gives us.”
Adds Mervin, who is charge of the siren and flag changes that start the races, “And I get to use the big hooter!”
When asked what motivates them year after year, their answer is unanimous.
“We are all retired sailing fanatics,” explains Taffy, as he’s affectionally known. “You need to have a passion for the sport and for helping out the community.”
Having previously served in the Navy, Taffy certainly knows his way around the ropes
The volunteers here at Sail Port Stephens come from a wide variety backgrounds. Some are club members of Corlette Point Sailing Club and others are experts from prominent sailing clubs across Australia, including Royal Prince Alfred in Pittwater, Geelong Sailing Club and Royal Queensland Yacht Club.
Others are from the local community, keen to be a part of the positive environment this event has cultivated over the years.