by Laura McKee
At the Audi Hamilton Island Race Week, a born and bred Scottish skipper who has steered the same boat for 15 years proving that a boat’s age is no barrier.
Nessie at the 2013 Audi Hamilton Island Race Week
Will McMillan, his wife and their pride and joy Nessie, a Sonata 8 design from the Clarence River Sailing Club, have been in partnership since their debut at the Hamilton Island race in 1994, only missing a few regattas over the course of 19 years.
The McMillans have returned to Hamilton Island to mark the 30th anniversary of the event, and it’s believed they hold the title for the most Race Weeks by the same combination of boat and owner.
'We are quite lucky, we don’t have kids. So we got the boat instead!' Will McMillan said.
McMillan lives in Karachi near Lismorein northern New South Wales, which is a two-day, 1,200km trek to Hamilton Island via car. As for Nessie, her keel was lifted up and she was winched onto a trailer for the long drive, which hit a bump along the way.
Half way between the Gold Coast and Brisbane McMillan suddenly remembered he’d forgotten to pack the rudder. He did a U-Turn and made a quick dash back to Tweed Heads where he met a crew member with the vital part.
Mishaps aside, McMillan is excited to race his tiny boat against the luminous, high-tech boats parked in the marina around him. He has tasted early success in Cruising Division III this year, finishing second on handicap in Sunday’s opening island course.
'I’ve got no intention of replacing Nessie, where I sail it suits the environment. If I went for a bigger boat, I wouldn’t be able to cross the sand bars,' he said.
When McMillan moved from Scotland to Australia in 1972 he gave up sailing, instead trying his hand at motorbike racing.He was forced to abandon riding following an industrial accident that claimed his right eye, but resumed his sailing career shortly after. McMillanbegan searching for a trusty Sonata design and in 1993 came across one called Midnight Sonata, and felt an immediate connection.
Nessie in action at the 2013 Audi Hamilton Island Race Week
'I had to have her. When we bought her she was a bit of a messy wreck so we stripped her down to the bare shell and rebuilt her - that took six months.
'I thought Midnight Sonata was a pretty boring name so when I was down at the pub one night in Karachi the guys got involved in thinking of names and Nessie was the one that stuck,' he said.
McMillan and his regular crew won their division overall at Race Week2006, a worthy career highlight.
'That was a good memory winning that year. We also got a little plaque for doing 10 consecutive years so we were up on the podium a couple of times,' he said.
McMillan recalls the early sailing days at Hamilton Island, where the Barefoot Bar was the place to be and street parties were all the rage.The growth of facilities and the island’s development has blown McMillan away.
'There was only a couple of marina fingers and the first few years we anchored out in the middle here where we are right now, and had to get out to the boat in dinghies,' McMillan explained.
'The boat technology is just phenomenal- there are lots of new boats so to compensate for that I put a new odd sail on this thing now and again.
'She was bought in ’79. I try and look after her as best as I can and she looks pretty, but I am biased!' McMillan laughed.
Currently, a Scottish flag can be seen flapping in the wind on Nessie’s back stay and a Loch Ness monster head leads the way on the bow.
Audi Hamilton Island Race Week paused for lay day yesterday. Now at the half way mark, racing will continue for the next three days with more wind on the cards.
Full results here