Many have suggested to me over the past few years that boat shows, in Australia at least, have been showing less and less sailing. I think we would all be lying to ourselves if we argued against that. 

Cue the inaugural Sydney International Boat Show 2023 Discover Sailing & Paddling Hub, which included not only a space to showcase sail and paddle, but a stage in public domain in front of the International Convention Centre (ICC), a demonstration pond in Darling Harbour, and what many of us have been wanting for some time, a modern version of what we all remember as kids, and an event that is excited to have us. 

“The Hub” itself around the Woodward heritage listed water feature, had on display three surf skis of varying sizes, and several different wingfoiling options and our daily demos of winging. The Hydrofoil Academy skate-winging around the Hub was incredible! There was also a Sabot, 12ft Skiff, Cherub, 18ft Skiff and a VX One, which showed a national progression if you like, or a variety of ways to be involved in sailing. 

On the stage, we had personalities talking about their incredible experiences on the water, from Lisa Blair on her records around Australia and Antarctica, to Michelle Lee, who has solo rowed the Atlantic and Pacific. Both of these amazing women had their boats on display in the marina as well before they head to the Australian National Maritime Museum. Sarah Davis spoke about her adventure being the first woman to lead an exhibition by paddle down the Nile, and joined Kathy Veel and Sarah Kenny on the main stage with Lisa and Michelle for what was a career highlight for me, the Women on Water panel. 

Women in Water Panel

We were lucky enough to have Editor-in-Chief Hillary Buckman on the stage twice, to talk about her career in the marine industry, which now spans 20 years, and sustainability which was also a big focus. Lily Peel (26) spoke with me about her career and pathway through sailing, she is now working with Hulbot, marine drones that clean hulls. We also had the winner of the Boating Industry Association’s Sustainability Award, Nick Tyrrell from GoBoat. 

Junior sailor Addison Newlan was involved everyday, celebrating her 15th birthday at the show, and was one of the lucky ones to sail in the demonstration pond, with Toby McKavanagh (13) on the Bic dinghies thanks to O’pen Skiff. Even though I am way too big for a Bic, I had a sail on the Friday and Sunday, not only because we worked so hard to get actual sailing at the show as a team, but mainly because now I can say that I have sailed on Darling Harbour! We had other youth sailors on the stage to show how easy it is to rig boats, and to talk about their pathways. From the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia – Youth Sailing Academy, celebrating their 30th year this year we had Chelsea Williams, and from Hong Kong, Molly Highfield who has moved to Australia to do a PhD in Women’s Pathways in Sailing with Australian Sailing and the University of Canberra. 

We had a range of boats not only outside in the Discover Sailing & Paddling Hub itself, but also in the ICC Foyer before the main exhibition hall. Junior classes such as the Tackers boats, PJs and the Bic were showcased alongside a face painting booth, with the hope that young kids might become interested, even in just asking about sailing. Curiosity is where it all begins. A big thanks to Lily Peel and the Drummoyne Sailing Club for their work in getting boats in the Hub and the ICC Foyer. 

The key themes of a sport for life, for all levels, genders, ages and abilities was prominent, and it was great to have our daily talk from Sailability NSW alongside their exhibition of Hanse dinghies, to hear from Making Waves, and to see the variety of ages, from the youth as mentioned above, through to those who are still taking part across their lifetime. 

John Bertrand AO visited the show to see what it was all about and to promote the Team Australia Challenge, our youth and women’s AC teams. Mat Belcher, our greatest sailing Olympian of all time and Jason Waterhouse, silver medallist and Australian SailGP flight controller both spoke about their journeys in sailing as special guests. Jason even had a go in our North Sails spinnaker packing competition, which was a hit each day with all ages and I think actually showed the general public what is going on underneath the hull of a sailing boat! We are athletes! 

All in all, we can say one thing. Having sailing and paddling showcased at the Sydney International Boat Show was a massive success, and I can’t wait to see how this grows, and I am thankful to the Boating Industry Association for giving me the opportunity, alongside the brilliant Mulpha Events for a chance to make this happen. 

We all know that we sell dreams at a Boat Show as much as reality and my hope is that many will start to see that there is an inexpensive pathway into boating that doesn’t always involve a motor so we can see more people on the water more often.

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