Sailing Through Life: Helane


I wish to highlight the depth, diversity and capabillity of three incredible sailing women. I have chosen three women from across the lifespan. All of whom I deeply admire and inspire to be like. I asked all three the same questions and I so look forward to sharing their responses. I would first like to introduce Helane:


What brought you to the sailing lifestyle? How did you end up on a boat?

I’ve recently turned 75 and Peter 84

1971: A fellow teacher, trying to establish a yacht delivery business asked if I would like to crew on a delivery from Sydney to Melbourne. Never having sailed, nor even been on a boat of course I said yes. Once the violent seasickness abated, about Eden, I decided sailing was for me. The next year, 7 of us bought an 80 year old timber Fyfe design, Logan Bros built metre boat.

1972 Having sailed the leaking, borderline unseaworthy, boat as far as Lizard Island (from Melbourne) I knew my limits.

1973 I sailed to Bali on a 28' boat, from where I land and plane travelled as far as Nepal. 1974 Peter, whom I later married, convinced me to share his tiny mud brick house in Warrandyte, and his 2 young boys from a previous marriage...and how did I feel if he built a yacht? 'How long will it take?' I asked. 'Oh..about a year' 'That sounds long as it doesn't take over our lives' I replied.

DIONYSUS took 7 years to build (I now know to multiply everything by 7 when time is involved), we married, I had a child.

1982 to 1987 Dionysus launched. We circumnavigated via Suez and Panama, working when possible. Our son was 5 when we left, almost 10 on our return.

Struggling financially, we put a deposit on land in goat country outside Melbourne and built a mudbrick house around ourselves as we lived in parts of it, and I had baby Xan.

1992 Dionysus was sold. Bereft.

1994 We bought back our original home, same dirt track, same goat country, but it had a flat area to build a boat on; bought the steel for the next boat, 2 tons of scrap lead and a compass. Peter lofted the boat under a temporary shelter on form ply that could later be incorporated into house building - and the rest is history. VELELLA emerged in the bush, on the same site DIONYSUS had been built on.

What appeals to you about the sailing lifestyle?

I sail for the freedom, the love of the deep ocean, the independence, the self sufficiency, the finding of self, the losing of self; to engage with the night, the weather, the sea; to explore different countries, cultures, and meet people. Oh sailing? You mean pulling up sails, tweaking, adjusting, deciding, managing…. Yes, all that too.

What are you most proud of with your sailing?

Safely sailing with children. Circumnavigating while educating Dyon from 5-10 years old. Safely introducing 12-14 year old Xan to sailing (South Pacific / Fiji Vanuatu Solomons)

What are your personal achievements?

I assisted Peter build DIONYSUS.

I personally designed and built the timber interior of VELELLA 111 (steel multichine Michel Franceville design). I redesigned the centre cockpit to an aft cockpit, designed the interior to suit our family of 4; built the interior timber work.

Sailing Circumnavigation via the Red Sea / Panama.

2001 to current (VELELLA 111) Melbourne. Fiji. Vanuatu. Solomons. Indonesia. Malaysia. Thailand. North PNG. >40,000nm

SHARED RESPONSIBILITY for sailing On passages Peter and I do 3 hour watches. When on watch that person takes full responsibility for decisions - though we require the off-watch person to be present in the cockpit for sail or major course changes. Would usually try to time that work for change of watch. On occasions I have taken responsibility for big passages. Twice sailing Vanuatu-Australia with Peter incapacitated due to torn Achilles’ tendon - he could keep watches and navigate; and 400nm Banda- Wanci and 300nm Buton- Labuan Bajo passages, Indonesia, when Peter was incapacitated by a severely infected tropical ulcer, again he could keep watches and navigate. I can’t claim single-handing! SHARED RESPONSIBILITY for maintenance antifoul, chip, treat, paint steel. Uuggh! AND THE REST!

BOOKS I’ve recorded our journeys in 16 books. Blurb self publishing. Available online. Including WHERE BIRDS BREED (Chesterfield Reefs bird rookeries and Lady Musgrave observations), WORKING BOATS (covering canoes of the Pacific, boats of West Africa, to the colourful fishing craft of SE Asia), VELELLA BUILD and annual photo records SAILING SE ASIA, SAILING S PACIFIC (including anchorage charts of Velella’s recent journeys)

What is the good/bad/ugly of sailing at this stage in your life?


Our bodies are slowing and failing even faster than boat maintenance. Damn it!!


We’re still managing to do most of our own boat maintenance, live aboard and do slow exploring. Moreton Bay - Great Keppel so far this year. We are making use of the Milwaukee right-angled drill with winch bit to power our winches, for sailing, dinghy lifting and taking Peter to the masthead. We recently added a second furler (inner stay) to eliminate foredeck / hanked on sail work.

What are your plans for the future?

Undecided due to Covid We had planned to return the boat to Malaysia, base it there, more thoroughly explore Indonesia; cheap flights to Australia. Covid, our age and finances have paused that idea. Our plans are in limbo.

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