The UON SB20 World Championship will not only serve as a battle arena for world champions and top-calibre sailors alike but also a training ground for aboriginal school girls, who never though they would be part of one of the biggest sailing event in the world.
L-R Dulcie Ryder, Olivia Smith, Denika Hansen, Mary-Jo Coppin
Aboriginal school girls who up until four months ago didn’t know port from starboard are competing at this week’s UON SB20 World Championships at Hamilton Island.
Recognised West Australian sailor, Paris Stowell, has coached the four Perth high school students and will take the helm of the 20-foot sports boat, Squalo Bianco, for the world title.
The envy of their classmates and families, Dulcie Ryder, Denika Hansen, Mary-Jo Coppin and Olivia Smith are preparing to head to the Queensland tropical paradise where they will join multiple world and national champions on the start line from December 14 – 20.
Ryder, Hansen and Coppin, all 17, and Smith, 13, were selected to train for the world championship as part of the Role Models and Leaders Australia (RMLA) program. UON managing director, Mark Keogh, has sponsored the initiative as well as the SB20 world title.
'Last weekend out of three starts they beat us around the weather mark, so don’t think they don’t know what they are doing,' warns Keogh. 'I think everybody will be surprised how far they have come, having never sailed in their entire life or being a one-off passenger to the competitive team they are now'.
Perth based Keogh has also entered the UON SB20 World Championships, crewing for his brother Declan Keogh on the Australian entry, Sidewinder.
When Ryder heads to Hamilton Island tomorrow she’ll be a long way from her classmates and family in the West Australian central wheat belt.
Coppin’s brothers and sisters think 'it’s weird' that she would like a sport like sailing, but they encourage her to try new things.
'My mother is very proud and happy that I'm doing something other than basketball and my father, well, he doesn't like the idea of sailing,' said Coppin, who grew up in the Pilbara.
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'When I told him that sometimes I get sea sick he told me to quit and go back to playing basketball!'
Olivia Smith is a grade eight Atwell College student; the other three girls attend Clontarf Aboriginal College. Having never sailed before, Smith is a convert, 'I would encourage other people to take up sailing because I reckon it’s fun,' she said.
The Clontarf students are being mentored and coached by the school’s Academy Program Manager, Marita Payne, who said, 'Choosing the girls for this sailing experience was relatively simple for me. I was asked to choose three girls who I believed could work well as a team and could commit to a long term sailing program.
'I thought of Denika, Dulcie and Mary-Jo as they had all been roommates in the past, were all good friends and they are all very open to trying out new things. I knew they would be keen to test their skills in this sport, knowing that it was an opportunity of a lifetime.'
'I am thankful to UON and all the effort the Fremantle Sailing Club sailing team has put into making this opportunity possible. Who knows, maybe one day a movie will be made about their experience, we believe being the first indigenous sailing team in the world!,' added Payne.
The girls began training three times weekly out of Perth’s Fremantle Sailing Club in August under Paris Stowell, a talented sailor and FSC junior committee member. Her aunty, the Australian and Olympic champion, Belinda Stowell, and London 470 gold medallist Malcolm Page have mentored the girls on and off the water.
The Squalo Bianco team will arrive at Hamilton Island tomorrow, 11 December, to prepare for six days of relentless round-the-cans action that will knock any notion of the world championship being like a vacation over early.
Mary-Jo Coppin, Olivia Smith, Dulcie Ryder, Denika Hansen, Malcolm Page
Until then the girls are dreaming of the idyllic holiday destination. 'I am expecting Hamilton Island to be very tropical, like a holiday get-away,' added Coppin.
Racing starts this Friday, December 14, for all SB20s with up to three races per day scheduled for the international fleet of 42. The young aboriginal crew will be rotated throughout the week; three will sail with Stowell, who will be helming, at any one time while the fourth will be reserve.