by Barbara Cox
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has endorsed an enthusiastic challenge by wounded, injured and ill Defence personnel crewing for the first time in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
PM and yacht crew, plus a couple of RSL Queensland reps on the right (CEO Chris McHugh in red shoes and State President Terry Meehan)
The Prime Minister joined the crew and supporters at Darling Harbour, Sydney today for the official naming of the Volvo Ocean 60 Spirit of Mateship.
The yacht was bought by RSL (Queensland Branch) to provide sailing rehabilitation programs for wounded, injured and ill Defence personnel through the charitable organisation Mates4Mates.
Mates4Mates COO Michael Quinn said the Rolex Sydney Hobart challenge was a great opportunity for the crew to develop the skills and fortitude needed to recover from physical, emotional and psychosocial issues unique to those who have served in the military.
'One of life’s great tests has always been man versus the elements,' Mr Quinn said.
'Competing in this iconic race is a terrific opportunity for our Brave Mates to get outside their comfort zone, rebuild confidence and engage with people who best understand what they’re going through.
'It won’t be easy but they’ll get there with the support of all Australians.'
Craig McCarthy, a wounded veteran on the Spirit of Mateship
One of those ready to set sail on Boxing Day is Craig McCarthy who served in the Navy and Army for more than 20 years and has physical and psychological injuries.
'It’s fair to say I’ve been pretty down since I was discharged in 2006, so I grabbed this opportunity to push myself and develop a new sense of direction; at the moment that’s south to Hobart,' Mr McCarthy said.
Lance Corporal Prue Sanson and the PM
The only woman in the crew, Lance Corporal Prue Sanson, is recovering from a leg injury suffered in her role as an Emergency Responder with third Combat Engineer Regiment based in Townsville.
Lance Corporal Sanson said the yacht race would be the experience of a lifetime and a long way from Army fire-fighting in north Queensland.
'The prospect of crossing freezing Bass Strait is a bit daunting but this is a great boost for my recovery, so bring it on,' Lance Corporal Sanson said.
'I’ve been office bound during my rehab and working as part of a small team again is really important to me.'
Spirit of Mateship has previously entered the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race as Djuice and Southern Excellence, and was a Norwegian flagged competitor in the 2001-02 Volvo Round the World Ocean Race.
It has been repainted, rebadged and extensively refurbished including a new sail wardrobe.
Skipper Russell McCart has finished 12 Rolex Sydney Hobart campaigns and said the Brave Mates would be supported by an experienced crew.
'The Mates4Mates contingent is getting full training but we’ll support them to be really competitive,' Mr McCart said.
'If determination is anything to go by, you’ll see them on the leader board.'
PM and Mates4Mates Chairman Peter Davies
Mates4Mates Chairman Peter Davies said the sailing program, which includes the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, is one of several practical ways the organisation supports wounded, injured and ill Defence personnel.
'Mates4Mates harnesses the strength of an iconic Australian trait – mateship - to help current and ex-service personnel rebuild their life skills and emotional resilience,' Mr Davies said.
'Every Defence operation is unique but Mates4Mates provides a bond between servicemen and women from different deployments or different wars.
'We offer health care and welfare including confidential counselling, physical rehabilitation, employment support and mentorship.
'We also make a concerted effort to reach out to their loved ones because we know how testing and lonely it can be on the home front.'