Young skipper meets oldest skipper in race at the Sydney Hobart Race 23/12/06

With just three days to go before the start of the 62nd Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, Wot’s Next crewman Will Ryan celebrated his 18th birthday today, making him formally eligible to race.

Will was presented with a birthday cake and the traditional sailors’ rum by the oldest skipper in the race, John Walker. Walker, who turned 84 this year, will skipper his yacht Impeccable for his 23rd race to Hobart and will equal the record for oldest skipper set by Alby Burgin in 2000 on Alstar.

“I don’t know whether I am more excited about, turning 18 or heading down to Hobart,” said Will, who has been offshore sailing regularly between Sydney and Port Stephens since the age of eight.

He has also just completed the NSW Higher School Certificate and is in training for the 2007 420 Worlds along with training for numerous mach racing regattas through the CYCA’s Youth Sailing Academy and within the Olympic 470 class.

Despite his sailing credentials, Will and the rest of the Wot’s Next youth crew have had to earn their place onboard by taking part in a mentoring program with students from the Blacktown Tutorial Centre and teaching them how to sail. Established by Wot’s Next owner Graeme Wood and skipper Bill Sykes earlier this year, the program is now in operation with the first group of students having already completed the mentoring experience. Will Ryan will commence his role in the mentoring program when school resumes in the New Year.

John Walker is looking forward to another race but is taking things one year at a time. “I’ve been the oldest skipper in the fleet for a number of years now but I didn’t actually realise I was equalling Alby Burgin’s record,” said Walker.

“I don’t think age makes much difference in this race, except maybe it makes you a little wiser. No matter how old you are or how many races you do, you learn something every year.

John’s advice to Will ahead of his first voyage south is simple. “I told him to enjoy being part of the team, don’t try to be heroic, do what the skipper tells you and savour every moment of the race,” smiled John.