Sometimes Chaos, Sometimes Harmony
Over the years I have written many articles about seamanship, adventures, crossings and the odd disaster. Behind the scene in most of the personal stories has been my co-skipper, Catherine. I think it is time to tell her backstory.
Catherine Reed grew up in the coastal town of Torquay. As a child living by the beach she spent much time exploring the coast and shared her father’s love of being on the water in boats. In 1986 the Reed family cruised their 54ft De Fever motor launch Sereki Mai from Australia to Fiji. The Reeds spent two years aboard Sereki Mai cruising New Caledonia, Fiji and Tonga. During that cruise Catherine had a brief sail on a trimaran in Vanuatu. On returning to Australia she decided to learn to sail and took up off-the-beach multihull racing on a Nacra 5.0 and then a Hobie 18, while learning more offshore skills crewing at the Royal Geelong Yacht Club. Catherine competed in many yacht races out of the Geelong and was part of the all-girl crew aboard Zululu which won the Cock of the Bay race and competed in the Melbourne to Devonport Yacht Race. Her love was cruising the islands and all her sail training was with the goal to gain experience so she could eventually head back to the islands.
In 1987 there was only one offshore racing multihull in Geelong. D Flawless was an anachronism amongst the monohull racing fleet at the Royal Geelong Yacht Club.
Helming D Flawless.
One of Catherine’s off-beach multihull friends had seen an article in the local Geelong Advertiser about ‘the doctor with big catamaran in Geelong wanting a female crew’. During a sailing Sunday at the Torquay Yacht Club, they all decided it would be a good idea for Catherine to get this position so that they could all go sailing on it. Catherine gave it some thought. It would give her the ocean sailing experience that she so desired. She phoned me the next day.
The article misquoted me. The rules did not stipulate a female crew. I had some sponsorship from Channel 9 and was good friends with the Victorian newsreader Brian Naylor. The idea of having a female crew was because I was planning on being involved in a television series called Australia from the Outside Looking in – with Brian Naylor. We all thought that having a woman sailor aboard my catamaran D Flawless (Crowther 37ft Super Shockwave catamaran) would help balance the show.
Catherine was one of the 13 women that applied. Nine were dreamers and I rejected them on the phone. I took four for a sail. Catherine was the last one. Catherine was tall, blue-eyed and blonde. My first impression was ‘she probably can’t sail’.
The first sail we did together was a Wednesday afternoon race. It was a downwind start under spinnaker amongst 14 monohulls. Two-handed and on a catamaran, we illegally joined the Royal Geelong Yacht Club fleet and were trapped in a slow sail dead downwind.
Catherine made a suggestion. “Why don’t we flog the spinnaker, pull the main in and drop out the back so we can reach off at speed.” Her Hobie skills were shining through. We did, and by the first mark we were well ahead.
Catherine got the crewing job. And before long I had decided this was the girl I wanted to marry. The relationship evolved slowly, the sailing adventures at a more rapid pace. We trained on D Flawless for many months in Geelong and then set off on some serious races. We did the 1987 Melbourne to Hobart race two handed. Then the 1988 two handed Trans-Tasman race and sailed through Cyclone Bola, hove-to for 48 hours and finishing the race under storm jib and quadruple reefed main. En route back to Australia from Auckland, we hit a humpback whale at night while surfing a wave. D Flawless did not survive the impact. Weather conditions deteriorated while we were in the life raft, capsizing it many times. Catherine was washed away at one stage but struggled her way back as we hung on for dear life. Eventually we were rescued by helicopter and deposited at the Newcastle football oval wearing our bright orange waterlogged lifesaving survival suits. No identification, no money, no other clothes and no boat.
A few days later we had a call from another competitor in the race we had previously entered. He had decided not to undertake the race and was offering us a loan of his catamaran – John West. After viewing, some challenges and lots of discussions, Catherine decided to join me aboard John West for the Bicentennial Two-handed Around Australia Yacht Race. Eight thousand nautical miles encompassing all the challenges Australia could throw at us – coastal and sextant navigation (GPS was not efficient enough for the fast multihulls at this stage of development of its development), blistering Tropics and calms and Southern Ocean storms. Just past Cape Leeuwin, tearing downwind in a gale under reefed headsail, we accidently gybed on a massive rolling comber and Catherine was flung across the small cockpit, cracking some ribs on a winch. I threw a drogue attached to a long rode off the stern to control the steering and slow us down. Catherine was bunk bound for most of the next few days, sore for a few weeks. I did not tell her she probably had a greenstick fracture (which she reminds me of regularly) for fear she would get off the boat in Adelaide. Catherine’s mother, Helen, arrived in Adelaide during our stopover and Catherine went off winery touring with her while I worked on maintenance. The wine probably helped her get the courage up to get back on board.
After two months of hard sailing Catherine was elated to be sailing into Sydney Harbour towards the finish line. She did not notice that I had hoisted a large banner saying ‘Catherine I love you. Marry me’. With a bit of encouragement, she looked up and once getting over the embarrassment and shock she said yes.
We gave John West back to her owner and the adventures continued for us. We were lent the trimaran Liberty 3 to continue helping with the Channel Nine television series. After this we needed some serious work so we went back to Torquay to assess our options. Together we established the first Medical Practice in Mallacoota, far eastern Victoria. Soon thereafter our wedding involved a champagne cruise up the Mallacoota Inlet.
John West came up of sale and, having done an 8000nm sea trial, we decided to buy her. A tradition then started. We always rename our boats with the idea of the name reflecting our life phase and the philosophy we are following. John West became Windswept. We raced her for a while then we stopped being short-handed with the arrived of our first crewmember ‘Estelle’.
Sailing is not all about trimming. Cuddles count as seamanship.
In Hobart after a Three Peaks Race, Ian Johnston (of Verbatim/Bullfrog fame) helped me cut the pod off and split it in half, joining it back a bit wider and higher to help with our growing crew needs. In the newly refurbished Windswept seven-month-old Estelle did her first crossing of Bass Strait. The gale that blew outside the cabin, where the baby slept, did cause her mother some angst during that crossing.
Three years later with little Estelle and our dog Kara we left Mallacoota and sailed north. Cruising on a race boat had its challenges. Although we were not really on the lookout for a big change, we fell in love with the Tropics and Cairns. Opportunities abounded both for sailing and working. We sold Windswept, helped establish the Cairns 24 Hour Medical Centre, put a long-term locum in Mallacoota, and when the next crewmember was on the way be bought a 40ft Hitchhiker catamaran and named her Magic Happens.
With our newborn ‘Baden’ we moved aboard Magic Happens and lived at the Half Moon Bay Marina. Catherine took to motherhood with all the enthusiasm and learning skills that she had applied to sailing and racing. If there was ever a ‘professional Mum’ it is her. I remain in awe of her insight, care, compassion, guidance and common sense. All of which our children have been victims of.
Aboard Magic Happens we attempted to make magic happen. We cruised and explored the islands of the South West Pacific, our favourites being the deserted islands abound with coconuts and white sandy beaches. We spent time with Catherine’s parents at Navini Island and cruised alongside Sereki Mai in Fiji. Kids’ parties, scuba diving at age six, malaria, boils, sunsets, storms and squalls, mixing with islanders and millionaires. After three years at sea we returned to Cairns, did a stint in Mallacoota and then bought our next cat – a Catana 42’s extended to 45 – and renamed it Chaotic Harmony.
Our third and final child, Fletcher, arrived to make the chaos complete. Harmony was the goal. Sometimes it happened. We tried to settle on land, even bought a house and renovated it. But a house is just a poorly built boat. It was not too long after that we rented the house out and moved aboard Chaotic Harmony. The ocean beckoned and Catherine was keen to seriously cruise again so I left work and we headed north – this time up to the Lousiades, Solomons, Vanuatu and Fiji. Another three-year jaunt. By the third year the chaos was winning. We had a child in early primary, late primary and mid high school (the children were five years apart). The Cairns School of Distance Education were putting the pressure on us with three different curricula to teach, reports to submit and timetables to maintain. We were much more interested in exploring and adventuring and often received a reprimand. Catherine took on 90% of the teaching role. To start the day’s discipline the kids would leave the cabin, walk around the hull, come back into the cabin and greet their teacher (Catherine) with ‘Good Morning’. Then it was learning mode until a better option arose – which it did way too often.
Eventually Estelle approached the latter part of high school, so we returned to Cairns to give her the opportunity of learning with peers for the final two years. It would also be a break for Catherine from the demands of co-skippering, mothering and full-time teaching.
There was an interlude on land. After we sold Chaotic Harmony, I was able to undergo, what Catherine termed, my ‘middle age multihull crisis’ – I bought Top Gun (Crowther 50ft racing catamaran) and sailed her back from the Philippines. I put our business name on as a sponsor – ‘eDoc.net’ and did a few internal renovations. Catherine came along for the ride on numerous occasions. The sun has taken its toll on the fair skin of my blue eyed and blonde wife. Catherine now prefers a cockpit with shade (and a boat with comfortable beds and a bathroom). Cruising is more her style. Despite not showing great enthusiasm for racing, when aboard she still managed to issue orders, trim and have that competitive gleam in her eyes. It was during a race at Magnetic Island Race Week, with all the family aboard, that we flipped Top Gun. When I poked my head out of the capsize hatch, Catherine, who was standing on the upturned hull, had two comments – ‘Get the camera and you are paying for the kid’s therapy’.
Gavin and Catherine exploring isolated Vanutau.
The reason for buying Top Gun dissipated when the second Around Australia Race was cancelled. Eventually I sold her, temporarily owning the Macro 25 Beach Marine catamaran that our daughter Estelle, had owned. We sold this to make way for our next multihull Whim – a Crowther 43 catamaran. It is now how we roll. On a Whim.
We have been land bound for a few years while our youngest crewmember does his last few years of high school. Catherine keeps the cruising flame burning as we plan our next jaunt up to Micronesia. With family, extended family, friends and our dogs we sail Whim on an irregular basis – evening dinner cruises, weekend runs to the reef cays off Cairns and exploring north around Lizard Island and environs. The Coral Sea Islands beckons when we get a reasonable break from work.
Catherine remains the involved co-skipper. Every adventure is a team effort. The adventure of family continues with a nautical theme. Estelle is engaged and is studying Marine Science at Adelaide University, in her final year and following her passion. Baden runs his own Jumping Castle Business and bought back the Macro 25 that we sold. He sailed it singlehanded from Rockhampton to Cairns and currently has her parked in the front yard of his house undergoing a refit. Fletcher is kitesurfing, sails a Nacra F18 and is a sailing instructor for Cairns Yacht Club. Although each child is going in different directions, their lives are a result of the example and passion that Catherine has shown. They all live for a challenge and a life on or by the sea.
My Dad once said to me ‘If you find a good crew – marry them’.
Best thing I ever did.
Catherine is more than a co-skipper in my life and more than a mother for our crew. She is an example of a woman taking the helm and hanging on in a gale, maybe not loving the rough stuff but knowing that the effort means survival and eventually a beautiful anchorage in a unique location with fine wine, good fun and adventures.
Behind the scens of surviving the gale or having the right wine and glasses is a huge amount of thought and effort. For me, the sailing and lifestyle is a team effort and the shared experience invaluable.
To all the co-skippers who read this, the adventure we have would not be half as fulfilling without you. Thanks