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'Sailing mum' jumps in at the deep end

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Not much can dampen Danica Withey’s enthusiasm as she prepares for her first yacht race.

Not her lack of sailing experience. Not her recent major surgery. And certainly not her natural inclination for seasickness.

The Manly mum of three is one of several sailing newcomers who will be lining up for the Women on Water Weekend, armed with little more than a learn to sail guide and a smile.

This year's event follows on from the hugely successful Waikawa Boating Club Women’s Regatta in 2022 and is hosted by Gulf Harbour Yacht Club to provide an opportunity for women of all ages to take part in an inclusive sailing activity regardless of prior experience or expertise and

The Hauraki Gulf will be peppered with boats from Saturday, with one of those carrying Withey, who has a background in motorboats but has never sailed a yacht.

“Living in Manly means we see sailboats all the time and I’ve always thought it would be a great sport to get into,” she said.

“Both my boys started Yachting New Zealand’s learn to sail programme a couple of years ago and they enjoy it so much that my husband and I started talking about learning ourselves. But, as the parents of young children, it has just always been something that we never quite got around to.”

Danica Withey will sail for the first time during this weekend's Women on Water regatta.

Danica Withey will sail for the first time during this weekend's Women on Water regatta. 

That is until the call went out for entries for the 2023 WOWW.

“A few of us learn to sail mums decided it could be a really great way to start because as much as we help the kids with their boats we never get a chance to get out on the water ourselves."

Withey and five other rookies have spent much of the last three Wednesday evenings learning the ropes aboard GHYC Commodore Phil Shaw’s Beneteau Oceanis 54 - Satisfaction 2.

“It’s been an incredible experience already and we have even started calling ourselves the Satisfied Sisters, which Phil thought had a ring to it."

And while she doesn’t yet know exactly who she’ll be sailing with this weekend or on which boat, Withey is determined not to slow her team down.

“As much as this will be a learning experience for me, it’s not in my nature to just sit back and watch the others do all the work. I will definitely jump in and help where the captain needs me," she said.

“I’m sure the team will want to be going for the win and I want to do everything I can to help them achieve that goal."

There are some nerves, Withey admits.

“I try to keep fit but I had major surgery in September, which means I can’t do too much heavy lifting but I’ve been assured that won’t be a problem. I also sometimes get seasick but, fortunately, that hasn’t happened while we’ve been out training over these past weeks.”

The 2023 Women on Water Weekend follows on from last year's Waikawa Women's Regatta.

The 2023 Women on Water Weekend follows on from last year's Waikawa Women's Regatta.

Husband Callan and son Cayden, 11, have been supportive – even if 8-year-old Kian has a few concerns.

“It is Kian’s second term of sailing lessons and he’s quite competitive. He can’t understand how I’ll be able to sail in a regatta before he does – even though I’ve never even sailed a boat before,” Withey said.

“The team at Gulf Harbour have provided us with the first learn to sail training book which has taught us the basics and I have been paying much closer attention to the boys’ lessons and listening in on their briefings," she said.

“That is what I find so appealing about sailing, it’s not just a sport or a leisure activity – it’s mentally stimulating. I love being that close to the water and being a part of your natural environment. Hopefully, this weekend is the start for me to be able to sail long-term.”

The Melanoma NZ spot-check van will be at the Gulf Harbour Yacht Club between 10am and 12pm on Friday with free spot checks provided on a first-come-first-serve basis. A collection box will be available and cash donations in support of the service is encouraged.