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Full House for Wendy Tuck Talk

Above: Cruising Division Committee Chairman, David Henry and Wendy Tuck

Last night, we were very lucky to be joined by esteemed yachtswoman Wendy Tuck at this month’s Cruising Division speaker evening. We had a full house, with 111 attendees joining us in the Carabella Room.

RSYS Member Jocelyn Webb writes, “Wendy Tuck was introduced to an enthusiastic audience at the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron as having a biography that ‘sounds exhausting’ – and for good reason. You only have to google her name and pages and pages of her achievements are displayed.

Wendy learned to sail relatively late in life. Growing up in Western Sydney, she travelled to the beach to surf, and her love of the water led her to follow her heart overseas. Her first taste of sailing was in Costa del Sol (Spain) where she and her then-husband purchased a children’s book to help them learn to sail.

Fast forward to today – Wendy’s achievements in sailing are some of the most inspiring in the world.  Not only is her biography exhausting, but she will need a huge pool room to display all her awards (knowing Wendy, and her reluctance to ever sing her own praises or display evidence of success of any kind, it’s probably a sock draw!). Wendy has been recognised around the world, including the most prestigious award in sailing. She was nominated for World Sailor of the Year in 2018, and was awarded one of Australian Sailing’s highest honours:  Offshore Sailor of the Year – well deserved in a classy field of nominees!

The determination, adaptability and creativity she showed early in life was a key factor in Wendy skippering Sanya Serenity Coast to victory in the 2018 Clipper race. Wendy enthralled RSYS Members and their guests with stories from ‘that’ race:  from the euphoria of winning and fast, tactical sailing, to the depths of despair experienced with the struggles of sailing into holes, low crew motivation and seeing other yachts in the race achieving higher boat speeds, despite doing everything right.

We were entertained by the ‘Kite Rap’ – a clever ode to a common frustration when yacht racing – the dreaded ‘spinnaker wrap’. Wendy also captivated us with tales of creativity shown when, the engineer on board utilised the latent heat from the engine to cook noodles, while out of cooking gas during one of the coldest ocean crossings!

Wendy skippered Da Nang Vietnam in the 2015-16 edition of the Clipper race, being the first Australian woman to skipper in the race. Not long after finishing the race, because of a seemingly innocuous Facebook post pondering her next adventures, she received an invitation to skipper Sanya Serenity Coast in the 2017/18 edition. Thankfully for all of us, she ignored the sage and ‘polite’ advice of a friend and mentor not to embark on the race again. She chose to use the learnings from her first Clipper race experience to sail smarter, harder and hopefully to a better finishing position.

Wendy generously shared her key learnings with our engaged audience. Much of these focused on self-awareness and using that to find ways to motivate crew who became demoralised at sailing into a multi-day wind hole and, importantly, harnessing positive energy created by sailing well and finishing well, to race harder and smarter and improve their position.
  1. The key lessons could be applied to most sailing, and in fact, life, situations:
  2. Appreciate experience and utilise experienced crew to help train new crew, building bonds.
  3. The importance of a cohesive “shore crew” – in essence, creating a “shore family” to support the sailing crew and involving them in shore-based tasks such as shopping and equipment.
  4. Be self-aware to know how to deal with failure – allow yourself to be kind to yourself, allow yourself to be angry or upset, then bounce back to focus on the objective, thereby motivating the crew also with little achievable goals to reach, which has the snowball effect on motivation becoming a good contagion. Definitely share your self-awareness with the crew, building trust and promoting authenticity!
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or rely on others – they can be literally life savers.
  6. Acknowledge events in the past that have been potentially traumatic, such as the knockdown in the North Pacific Ocean injuring herself and crew members, and work out how to acknowledge that, and direct energy to positive means.
  7. Listen to your “gut feel” and speak up if you are not comfortable with decisions.
  8. Soak up the atmosphere in the ports visited & try to mingle with the locals (including attempting the language! – for example, Derry had pretty much everyone in the town out to welcome the yachts, which was pretty special.
Wendy, being humble and unpretentious, was generous in her praise of Nikki Henderson, who skippered the Clipper, Seattle, to second place. Nikki was (and still is) the youngest Clipper race skipper and Wendy enthralled us with vivid accounts of tactics and stealth as both yachts pretty much played an enthralling game of snakes and ladders the entire race.

After the Clipper win, one would understand if Wendy wanted to lead a quieter life. However, as we all saw from her presentation, Wendy is always up for a new adventure, especially if it involves the ocean and helping others. Wendy was personally invited by Tracey Edwards (of Maiden fame – please see the movie if you haven’t already!) to join the crew of Maiden on their mission to raise awareness of the fact that so many girls around the world lack opportunities for education. Wendy remains involved, including proudly mentoring the young girls – add to that two Sydney to Hobart yacht races sailing two-handed.

Wendy continues to give back to the community using her innate creativity, adaptability and skills to help disabled kids as part of the Making Waves Foundation sailing program and will embark on her 16th Sydney to Hobart as part of Jules Hall’s J99 Disko Trooper mentoring and coaching a crew of Youth sailors.

Wendy also finally answered a burning question – yes, she is a great friend of Sir Robin Knox-Johnson!

Finally, the lucky ladies of the sea will benefit from Wendy’s knowledge and experience in October’s LOTS regatta. Please keep an eye on the newsletter and socials to get your registration in early!

Thank you, Wendy, for generously enthralling, energising and entertaining us with your stories of (mostly) sheer salty joy. Your passion for the ocean and helping others shone through and we are VERY grateful that all those years ago, you read that children’s book on how to sail!
A further report by Stephen Thomas is available on the Cruising Division Webpage Archive for those who couldn’t attend, here.