Grace Kennedy 2553 Views

Grace Kennedy's Story

Grace Kennedy was born with Spina Bifida and has used a wheelchair for mobility all her life. In 2013, at the tender age of 19, she crewed in one of the world's toughest ocean races - the Rolex Sydney to Hobart. Here is Grace's story in her own words...

"After so much work this year and the buildup to the race, I felt pretty overwhelmed at the start line (if I'm honest). There were boats everywhere and we were racing against them! It was incredible to be part of such an iconic race at such a young age.

Once we were out of the heads and into clear water, we went a long way East before turning South. This was a great tactic because we were able to take advantage of the 'Nemo' current and some good wind pressure to gain a great position.

My job onboard is in the cockpit. I'm either pit one or two, pulling headsails and spinnakers up and down and dealing with the jib sheets when we tack. A lot of that race is a blur to me but there are standout moments that I will remember forever. 

At one stage, we ripped a headsail and I really enjoyed helping Brad repair it. We sat down below in the middle of the ocean, repairing a ripped sail - very cool! And near the end when we were coming down the Derwent River on the home stretch, David Pescud cracked open a bottle of rum. I had a glass in my hand a wave rocked the boat. There were lots of jokes cracked about "My life or my rum!"

Also, the team let me steer the boat over the finish line - that was an amazing feeling. 

The friendships I've made with the whole crew, are very special. It was lovely to know there were people out there looking after me when I was scared. You get very close to people when you spend four days at sea together. 

There were some pretty tough moments. For example, crawling around on deck on the night shift is difficult. You can't see and you're trying to feel your way around obstacles, not knowing where you are. It was freezing cold but I was well-prepared with thermals (and spares) and a great set of Helly Hansen gear. 

I had different moments. At the start, I was freaking out and getting used to the crashing of the waves, but by the third day I was watching the waves roll under the boat. When the rough seas pounded us it was very scary. The boat slides down the wave then crashes with a big bang. It was scary not knowing if the next day we would be across Bass Strait or still in the middle - sometimes wondering if we would survive it. 

It was lovely to have the sea of faces on the side of the boat - supporting me even throughout the dark, moonless nights. I knew that I was safe, and that the faces of family, friends and strangers would guide me to Hobart.

Well, I think I am a bit more assertive now. Mum asked me if I needed a hand to get ready yesterday and The New Grace replied, "Mum, I've just been at sea for four days. Do you think I need help to get ready?!"

What's next??

Well, I'd love to do more sailing but for a couple of weeks I'm going to have a rest. Then, it's back to college in February after I finish my HSC this year"

Watch this space...



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Grace Kennedy

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