by Laura McKee
After the devastating Bundaberg floods this year shipwrecked John Brand’s boat, Star Ferry, the skipper took a courageous leap and entered Audi Hamilton Island Race Week, the boat’s comeback though it is still undergoing repairs.
John Brand on Star Ferry.
The 39-foot, white fibre glass yacht was safely moored at the Burnett River in January before all hell broke loose. Brand, who has lived 20km out of Bundaberg for 25 years, received a call from a friend that Saturday evening with news that the weather was ‘pretty serious’.
By midnight, the marina had swept away and was smashing into the boats, the vicious current taking Star Ferry along with it.
'It got caught up in some trees, in fact the tree is what actually held it up,' recalled Brand.'It didn’t sink, but ended up in the middle of the paddock; it was pretty intense, there was a lot of damage done.'
While the storm raged, Brand desperately tried to reach Bundaberg but the river level had risen dramatically, preventing him from seeing his 34-year-old boat for eight days.
'I was getting text messages, other people saw what had happened.'
'The day I could finally get to Bundaberg a friend rang me and said ‘mate, the boat’s gone,’' Brand explained, choking back tears.
'I couldn’t tell you how upset I was. The guy who was with me said he’s never heard me so quiet. An hour and a half later we found Star Ferry still in the same spot, I was pretty happy about that.'
Returning to Hamilton Island for her eighth Race Week, Star Ferry is still sporting battle wounds and isn’t the prettiest boat on the marina. Brand says she’s a work in progress.
'I had various people repairing it and she still has to be repainted. It’s well scarred, looking pretty horrible at the moment, but it will look fine in another six months,' he added.
The Bundaberg Sailing Club member purchased Star Ferry in the mid ‘90s after it was transported to Sydney from Italy in the 80s. The 50-year-old believes the boat had done three or four Sydney Hobart races before he took over the reigns.
Brand’s love of boats began when he was a 13-year-old, this passion seeing him contest various other regattas before Audi Hamilton Island Race Week caught his eye in 2003, the year the Oatley family became custodians of Hamilton Island.
'The way the Oatleys host Race Week is just fantastic. Others I know who have done lots of other regattas around the place say this is the best one they’ve ever come to,' he said.
Brand is looking to beat his rival Peter Cox, the skipper of Valhalla, which is currently sitting in fifth spot in Non-spinnaker division 2.
'The challenge has been going on for eight years now. Peter won it one year, I won it the next, so it’s good fun,' he said.
'I’ll do the regatta every year until I die,' he laughed, now looking forward to good times ahead.