Sailing into history

Brendan pictured alongside sons Josh, Will and Ben, and dad John. Picture: Rebecca Hosking

By Natalee Kerr

Coming face-to-face with 12 metre-high waves and 60 knot winds is a scenario Geelong sailing veteran Brendan Garner remembers all too well.

It was 2004 and the then 28-year-old sailor was competing in his debut Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.

“I remember just thinking why am I doing this?” Brendan recalls.

“At that stage of the race you very much go into survival mode. You’re just trying to make sure to keep the boat in one piece and all the crew on board.”

A total of 122 boats started the race, but only half of the fleet finished due to the rough conditions, Brendan explains.

The 60th edition was remembered as the toughest since the tragic 1998 race where six sailors died, dozens were rescued, and five boats sank.

“There were a couple of really bad waves that washed the crew out, but we were all clipped on,” Brendan recalls.

“If we weren’t, we certainly would’ve had people go overboard.”

The all-Geelong crew finished “20-something” but getting to the end was a celebration in itself.

“Being my first Sydney to Hobart, there was this real sense of achievement,” Brendan said.

“There are so many variables involved with sailing and when you get them all right it’s a great feeling.”

Sailing has occupied much of the now 44-year-old’s life.

For three decades, the father-of-three has sailed around the world.

He first learnt to sail in Corio Bay as a seven-year-old after his dad, John, became involved in the late 1970s.

But as Brendan remembers, his love for the sport started through a “strange” beginning.

“My dad was sailing a 60-foot racing yacht at the time,” he recalls. “As the boat captain he was in charge of getting it ready on a Saturday morning.

“He promised me that if I came along with him we would go to get pancakes after.

“That incentive of pancakes every Saturday morning definitely drew me in.”

Following in his father’s footsteps, Brendan sailed in his first regatta, Geelong’s Festival of Sails in 1988 at age 12.

The Leopold shipwright is now set to take on his 32nd consecutive stint at the festival this weekend.

Despite joining an “exclusive” club of consecutive participants, Brendan is reluctant to kick up a fuss.

“It’s just something I do every year, it’s always in my calendar,” he said.

“It’s the biggest keelboat regatta in the southern hemisphere – if you’re into sailing you have to be there.”

Even a move interstate could not stop him from competing in the local event.

As a 20-year-old, Brendan was living in Queensland with a group of sailing friends from Geelong.

“It was coming up to Australia Day and we were looking for something to do but there wasn’t anything on sailing-wise,” he explains.

“So we jumped in the car and drove down to Geelong for the weekend regatta.

“It was a bit of a whirlwind trip but we just couldn’t miss it.”

From dinghies to grand prix race boats, Brendan has sailed in everything throughout the years.

He recalls his first passage race on his dad’s etchell.

“I was a little bit apprehensive and nervous to get on dad’s boat,” he said.

“It was quite windy and an upwind race, so it was a wet and very uncomfortable.”

This year, Brendan is set to compete in the historic passage race from Williamstown to Geelong alongside his dad and eldest son Ben, 14.

His other sons Josh, 11, and Will, 7, are preparing to compete in the festival’s cadet racing competition.

The passage race on Saturday is set to attract more than 240 boats.

“It’s not often you get to compete in an event with three generations,” he said.

“As a kid, sailing with my dad was a big thing and now to be able to do that alongside my kids and my dad is pretty incredible.”

Brendan is hopeful his dad, who has recently been unwell, will be able to get better for the race.

“He’s very confident he will join us,” he said. “He’s super determined.”

Like his dad, Brendan is committed to continue the sport for as long as he can.

“I’ve got at least 30 years of still being able to compete at peak level,” he said.

Brendan describes getting on the water as an “escape” from everything else.

“On the ocean my phone is turned off, you’re just on the boat with your mates racing as hard as you can and then at night you’re staring at the stars in the sky,” Brendan said.

“It’s the same out on the bay – you get to let go of the day-to-day life and breathe for a little bit.”

Brendan said starting the year sailing in his hometown was a “highlight”.

“Corio Bay is definitely one of the best places for sailing,” he said.

“Every time I come back from sailing in Melbourne or Sydney, I always drive around the waterfront and just think how good is Geelong?”

Festival facts

1. The MacGlide Festival of Sails runs from 25 to 27 January

1. It is the largest keelboat regatta in the southern hemisphere

2. 245 boats are expected to sail the 56km passage race from Williamstown to Geelong on Saturday

3. There are nine boats coming from interstate – six from NSW, one from QLD, one from SA and one from ACT

4. This year marks the 177th regatta

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