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Currawong finishes in fine style

by Di Pearson/RSHYR Media 1 Jan 2023 01:50 GMT 26-31 December 2022
Kathy Veel (left) and Bridget Canham, co-skippers of Currawong - 2022 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race © Salty Dingo

The arrival of Kathy Veel and Bridget Canham in Hobart last night was like something out of a fairytale; the last arrivals in the 2022 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race slipped into the docks amid the crowds ringing in the New Year, under a sky lit up by fireworks and hooters sounding to welcome in 2023.

Sailing on the second smallest boat in the fleet, the 9.1 metre Currawong in the Two-Handed Division, the women made the finish line of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's (CYCA) race at 11:42:06pm and everyone was there waiting for them.

It was a beautiful, warm night in Hobart and a great way to end the 628 nautical mile race.

Currawong's 70-year-old owner and co-skipper, Kathy Veel, said: "Unbelievable. Overwhelming. When you have people shouting 'Curr-a-wong'... it was unbelievable, incredible.

"We've had lots of messages of encouragement and a bit of a following on our Facebook page and through crowd funding. I think a week before the race, the news got out and I've been getting messages from students I used to teach," the retired teacher said.

"I got messages from people out of the past, it's incredible. I'm really proud of what we've done."

She had bought the 48-year-old Currawong 30 and sailed it two-handed from Melbourne to Sydney in the lead-up to the race. She and 62-year-old Canham entered it in the CYCA's Bird Island Race in November and finished when others chose to pull out in the light conditions.

Veel said at the time they had been taught well by Kerry Goudge, a mentor and one of the early skippers of all women's crews in the Sydney Hobart, that to finish a race was a must. The two backed up and finished the Cabbage Tree Island Race, so there was no doubt in followers' minds they would finish the 2022 Rolex Sydney Hobart.

Back in Hobart in the early hours of the New Year, Veel said, "The boat behaved so well, I'm so in love with the boat and it's some of the best sailing I've ever enjoyed in my whole life, in the last week."

On pulling into Eden for a spell before entering Bass Strait, Veel said, "It was me who made that decision. Bridget was really keen to carry on. I was extremely tired because we had two very difficult days of flying the kite basically single-handed and we carried on for 21 hours.

"I found my limit. There was a pretty severe weather forecast for that night. There was one weather model predicting gusts in the high 40s/50s downwind.

"Heavy downwind sailing is scariest. I felt I wasn't the full quid and Bridget was the one who would be doing the sail changes. She said, 'We can put the trysail on, set the storm jib and we'll be right'.

"I thought, Bridget is the one up there and she needs me to be 100 per cent to keep her there. I had this knot of anxiety in my stomach - and you can't go into a possibly extreme situation like that."

Was there any thought of retiring?

"No, not at all. What I did feel really strongly about was 'give me some rest and I'll be happy to take whatever Bass Strait throws at us'."

Veel, who sailed on Christine Evans' all-women Belles Ranger crew in 1989 (only the second all-women crew to do the race) added, "We've had some stunning sailing. We were really sorry to miss the competition with Gun Runner and Maluka particularly, that was disappointing. But we had to do what was right for us and the situation we were in."

Canham, a retired nurse, originally met Veel sailing on Kerry Goudge's all-women's crew in the 1993 race, regarded by many as the toughest Sydney Hobart. They not only finished that race, but stood by a boat in distress.

She was just as surprised as Veel at the reception in Hobart.

"This welcome was just unbelievable and to get here before the fireworks was just the best."

Of sailing the race two-handed, Canham said, "It's very challenging. We didn't have a lot of time to train, but we certainly got a lot of training in this one.

"Our biggest challenge was getting the boat here before New Year's Day. I was saying to Kathy, 'You need to do 7 knots, otherwise it's not enough'. We've been working our butts off to get here and it's paid off."

The retired pair did the race on a string budget, mounting a crowd funding campaign to get them to the start and finish line. And make the finish line they did, to a warm welcome from family, friends and from those who were just in awe of what these two women achieved.

Like everyone else, Kerry Goudge would be proud of them.

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