Dean Maddick lives and breathes the ocean. He grew up in Cronulla, surfing, sailing and doing anything water related. “I started sailing dinghies as a kid. Then I moved on to yachts and bigger boats, then went into sailing. I was racing yachts, doing a lot of deliveries (of boats), teaching sailing and working as a skipper at one of the sailing companies on the harbour for a number of years. Then I started at the ferries.” Dean was one of the Ferries’ intakes around the 2000 Sydney Olympics, starting as a deckhand and engineer, now acting up as a Master. The day we chat, he is filling in on the Louise Savage on the Watsons Bay route.
Almost inevitably, Dean’s love of sailing led him to competing in the Sydney to Hobart on multiple occasions, starting in the year 2000 and crewing on boats such Abracadabra and Mad Max. “It’s a slow way to get to a good party”, he smiles. “It’s a lot of fun, but you have to count on two-thirds to three-quarters of the crew being sea-sick. They’re not much help when they’re sea-sick, especially when the weather turns nasty.” He tells me that a lot of people get sea sick below deck and when I ask why, Dean laughs, “I don’t know, I don’t get sea sick! That’s an advantage to me.”
As to who is on board these 40-50 ft boats, I learn, “Crews tend to have more experienced people. A lot of crews are trained through the summer at the race series and that sort of thing. The big maxis who take a lot of people have a couple of celebrities just to get the media involved. They wouldn’t be involved in any of the running of the boat or anything.” The training beforehand is fairly rigourous with crews sailing in all sorts of conditions, including practicing when the weather turns bad. “Everyone’s got jobs, they’ve got to know their jobs and be able to do them in any conditions.”
I ask if previous races such as the tragedy in 1998 have put him off racing. “No!”, he laughs. “That’s a freak occurrence. You could get killed crossing a road.” Even so, the Sydney to Hobart is a challenging experience. “There’s not much sleep. You tend to do four hour shifts. Four on, four off. Four on, four off. If the weather gets bad, you don’t want the full crew on deck either. That’s too many people exposed to being washed over. Safety is paramount. Same as here at the ferries. The food is usually… hopefully pre-prepared. You just have to heat it and eat it and hope that you’ve got enough on board. You usually do, because the sick people don’t want to eat theirs”, he laughs.
When crossing Bass Strait, it’s not out of question to experience 6 and a half metre swells and 50-60 knot breezes. Most of the vessels are going to get hit by a storm at some stage. So what’s going through Dean’s head when there is a storm approaching? “You’re hoping it can give you an advantage over the other boats in the fleet! You can possibly get a little bit of a jump if the other boats are struggling. It is a race, so you try and take advantage of those situations. You can also tear sails, so you’ve got to be careful to not hinder your performance in the race. You see how many pull out every year because they’ve broken gear.”
What are some of the best things about sailing to Hobart? “The challenge. The party at the end! The satisfaction of getting there. I just like offshore sailing.”
And the biggest disappointment you can have? “Well I sailed down and the radio fell off. We lost the radio. You can’t proceed in the race if you can’t relay your position. We were instantly disqualified. That was the biggest disappointment you can go through. To go through the race and not get there.”
Dean says his experiences have been varied. “Sometimes it’s been very pleasant sailing down. Other times I’ve been sailing, you know, it’s just after Christmas and you get snow and sleet – it’s freezing! Off the coast of Tasmania is freezing cold. This is in December!” As for sleep deprivation, “You get good at sleeping on the spot. It takes a day or two to get into that routine, but after that, you can sleep on command. Everything on the boat gets wet, it’s not comfortable.”
In describing first leaving the heads of Sydney Harbour, he says, “There’s a lot of boats around you. It’s kind of funny, because you look on your radar and you can’t see any of the other boats once you leave the heads and get down the coast. You tend not to see other boats much at all. You don’t see very much land either. It can be a little weird the first few times.”
The Sydney to Hobart is a race that will continue on without a doubt, Dean says, and he’ll be watching it this year too. “I’ve got friends in it this year. The CYCA (Cruising Yacht Club of Australia) website puts a race tracker up which tells you all about the yachts and the crews that are on it.”
As for continuing with his sailing, he says, “I try to keep up with it, I’ve got a yacht. My wife’s Canadian, so we try and spend every second Christmas over there. While it allows you to do a Hobart every second year, it is hard to get the time off.” Now living on the Central Coast, the Maddick family are involved in surfing and sailing, with his kids involved in a Surf Club and are learning to sail skiffs. “Any Saturdays I get off, I spend a bit of time with the boys sailing dinghies and teaching them how to sail.”
Tickets to watch the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race aboard a ferry are selling out fast. Grab your tickets here.
Words by Jayne Cheeseman