Adventure puts wind in teenager’s sails

MENTION the Rolex Sydney to Hobart race to most people and they’ll think wild seas – and Wild Oats VI.

Mention it to Vincentia teenager Grace Kennedy and an unstoppable smile appears on her face.

At just 19, Grace experienced the joy and hardship of spending four days at sea in one of the world’s toughest ocean races.

And as if being one of the 15 crew members didn’t present enough challenges, the skipper of the 54-foot yacht was blind.

Grace said the race was an experience of challenges, pressure, friendships and times of fear.

“I loved it but there were some pretty tough moments,” she said.

“For example on the night shift crawling around the deck is difficult. It was freezing cold. At one stage in Bass Strait I was wearing three sets of thermals.”

For most people that alone would be challenging enough but for Grace, who was born with spina bifida and is confined to a wheelchair, it added another level to the challenges. The wheelchair did not come on board.

Grace was an integral member of the Sailors with disABILITIES yacht.

Each crewmember had some form of disability and Grace was one of the crew’s rookies.

But being a first-timer did not mean she got an easy ride.

“The first two days were what we call Champagne sailing – they were perfect nice days. As we headed south it turned into racing weather, big seas, big winds and cold conditions,” she said.

“My job on board was at the cockpit in what we call either pit one or pit two, pulling up and bringing down headsails and spinnakers and dealing with jib sheets when we tacked,” she said.

At one stage in the race the headsail tore.

“I learned how to stitch up a torn sail, so we repaired it and put it back up.

“When the rough seas pounded us it was very scary. The boat slides down the waves then crashes with a big bang.

“It was scary not knowing if the next day we would be across Bass Strait or still in the middle. Sometimes I wondered if we would survive it.”

Grace said during the race and the weeks of training leading up to it she had learned a lot.

“I’ll take that knowledge with me,” she said.

One of her most memorable moments was crossing the finish line with her crewmates, after three days and 18 hours.

“Crossing that line up the Derwent River at Hobart made me feel pretty special.”

The team had placed 31st overall and third in their division.

Grace’s family and friends were on the wharf cheering as she arrived.

He mother, Nicki Kennedy, said her daughter enjoyed the fact that people, other than her family, believed in her.

“We have always believed in her, but I think it meant a lot her for others to believe in her,” Mrs Kennedy said.

“She is a bit more assertive and has greater self-belief now.

“My husband was really relieved to see her coming up the river.

“I was never concerned for her safety.

“They really would have liked to have won, but safety was their number one priority. The whole process has been good for her.

“She’s had to do a lot of media, and talking to people.

“The community and school support has been wonderful too.

“When we drove home there was a big sign – Welcome home amazing Grace,” she said.

RIGHT: The Sailors with disABILITIES crew, who placed third in their division in the Sydney to Hobart race.

RIGHT: The Sailors with disABILITIES crew, who placed third in their division in the Sydney to Hobart race.