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Whales delight English tourists sailing Sydney Harbour

by Jenifer Wells on 22 Jul 2012
Wild Rose - close encounters with whales on Sydney Harbour © Andrea Francolini Photography http://www.afrancolini.com/
Long time racing sailor Roger Hickman was playing tour guide to some English friends this week on his lovely yacht Wild Rose. Launched in 1985 as the original Wild Oats, Hickman's well known renamed boat Wild Rose was out enjoying the cold weather to entertain the visitors who thought one of the chillier Sydney days was just a normal day to be on the water.

They noticed maritime authorities leap into action while a number of other boats entered in the Gold Coast Race tried out their storm sails in the fresh westerly winds against the grey sky.

'As we motor sailed down the relatively empty harbour we realised that the rescue authorities were marking a whale in the middle of the harbour,' said Hickman.

'We couldn't believe the luck for ourselves let alone the English family with three daughters onboard who got a good sight of a whale for the first and possibly only time in their lives. In all my time of sailing on Sydney Harbour I have never seen anything like it and these kids will probably go home and tell their friends that this is what happens in Australia.'

A few fortunate ferries slowed down to let passengers see a once in a life time experience and a couple of rubber duckies appeared with long camera lenses on board to photograph the reported mother and calf.

Less fortunate was a sports boat that possibly drew attention to the presence of the giant creatures by coming into contact with them. The boat and crew ended up on South head with the authorities marshalling quickly to aid the sailors and retrieve the boat from the rocks.

Hickman and his crew love seeing the whales offshore but get a little nervous at times. On their way home from the Gold Coast last year Wild Rose unfortunately hit a young whale.

'We reckon the whale got as big a shock as we did but it certainly destroyed our theory that they can hear the motor', said Hickman. 'It was just after sunrise and we'd changed watches and even being 10 miles off shore the first thought is that we had run aground. Thankfully the boat and the whale both seemed to survive the encounter well.'

While it appeared that Sydney authorities were planning a long night or few days to warn all ships of the danger and protect the whales, boats sailing off the coast at the moment are unlikely to have such a safety net.

'Spotting them can be very difficult, especially at night when you may be lucky to hear them blowing.

'In races, competitors should be careful and certainly notify race authorities when whales are around so that the rest of the fleet is warned', Hickman suggested after dropping a thoroughly delighted English group and a few regular crew safely at the dock.
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