Sailing Women ... Carmen’s Story!
By Carmen Walker

There are many stories of sailing women this is one that will tug at your heart strings...

'A niggling thought crossed my mind.....

What if I had to do this on my own, would I cope?

How do other sailing women cope?'

“Colin and I started talking about our life dreams and aspirations. Colin was an old salty from way back and sailed the good ship 'Different Drummer' solo from Papua Guinea to Australia about 10 odd years ago.

I would often listen to his tails of the sea with interest and his stories of his adventures filled me with a longing to fulfil a dream of mine ... sailing the Whitsundays So began a plan for Colin, myself and my son Jason to experience a trip of a life time sailing the Whitsundays in a charter Catamaran.

Charter Round the Whitsunday Islands:

For 8 months Colin and I planned the trip down to the very last detail and in Oct 2005 we spent a magical week cruising around the islands in a 35foot sailing catamaran called Sea Dream.

We decided to get married on the boat with our children as witnesses. Colin’s children (James 27 and partner, Carissa, Alicia 26) came from England and Japan. Jamie (my daughter) flew in from England as well and Jason (my son) joined us.

It all went so fast that it almost seemed like a sea dream but it did happen and it remained one of the best adventures of my life.

We Found Our Boat:

Some months later while out walking back at Bribie Island we spotted a catamaran, Colin remarked “It looks like a Cloud 9”. This had been the type of sailing catamaran that Colin had sailed, 10-12 yr previously and suddenly all the tails and stories that I had listened to over the past 2yrs or so came to life.

As we ventured further we noticed that the vessel had a for sale sign. I was even more curious to explore. A friendly face in the name of John Oliver welcomed us aboard for “a look” and the rest “my dear is history”. 

Both Colin and myself, at that moment decided we were definitely interested in a sea change and so began a radical move to simplify our lifestyle. After taking possession of “Dream Weaver” and starting a life living on the sea. I was filled with a mixture of anxiety and excitement like many sailing women 1st experience.

To say that life aboard has its moments when the wind is howling, the rain is pouring and you feel like you are being thrown around the mooring like a washing machine is an understatement. Ask any sailing women!

Life on the Ocean:

But those days are quickly replaced with moments of being gently rocked to sleep and waking up to dolphins at play, sitting on the deck with the man you love, watching the sunset and sipping on a nice glass of red is my idea of paradise on earth.

I would often say to Colin, “I don’t want to be a boat that goes nowhere”, before we finally made the decision (3 months later) to leave our safe little Bribie mooring and venture out of our (my) comfort zone and head north.  Now I really joined the ranks of other sailing women.

The time had finally arrived and we were ready to depart. We said our goodbyes to family and friends and sailed to Mooloolaba arriving 6 hours later.

The next day we awoke at 5.00am and made sail for Double Island Pt, the plan being to anchor overnight and cross the Wide Bay bar early morning with the outgoing tide. This was always going to be the most challenging part of the trip, both of us a little apprehensive about a bar crossing.

All was going well, the sun was shining, the seas were a gentle swell, good weather reports and Dream Weaver was performing beautifully. It was very exciting seeing my first whales only 50metres away. They surfaced and disappeared.

Not All Fair Weather Sailing:

By 11.00am the coast guard put out a say-cure-e-tay warning for all ships. Bad weather was coming. Rain and gale force winds for late afternoon and the next day.

Up ahead Double Island Pt loomed, grey skies, thunder and lightening. By 1.00pm we entered our first rain squall. A quick radio call confirmed our decision to cross the bar that afternoon. It was a tense time as we waited outside the bar waiting for the tide to turn so we could cross safely.

Colin later said that I had a look of absolute fear on my face just before we changed directions and headed with the waves ( instead of against them) and decided to go for it. I'm sure I was no different from other sailing women!

Looking back I must admit I was scared, and wondered if I must have been crazy to give up our safe little Bribie unit to buy this boat but this was mixed with a feeling of exhilaration. (This is a common sentiment of sailing women at some time or another.)

For the next 2 days we hunkered up just inside Pelican Bay. As the rain hammered down and the gale force winds howled outside our little boat I was mindful of what might have been a completely different outcome had we been ignorant of our circumstances.

Finally the skies cleared and weather reports were a little more favourable. We made sail for Kingfisher Bay resort on Frazer Island. Another rain squall just before South White Cliffs (about 15 mile from Kingfisher Bay) hit us before we could get the headsail down. Autopilot took control as we battled to get the sail down just in time before the ends started to fray.

Niggling Thought Crossed My Mind:

Once again this niggling thought crossed my mind. What if I had to do this on my own, would I cope? How do other sailing women cope?

On the move again, after a few days rest at Fraser Is, we headed further north towards Bundaberg, Gladstone, and then Roselyn Bay.

My favourite place was the Percy Islands. We discovered an anchorage called West Bay which was obviously a Mecca to Boaties. On the beach (appropriately named the Percy Hilton) was a hut with bric a brac from years and years of treasures that yachties had left as souvenirs for the island. A place that no sailing women can resist!

The Whitsundays & Airlie Beach:

I wish we could have spent a bit more time here as I would have liked to explore the island further, but alas we were keen to get to the Whitsunday’s. We set sail for Brampton Island, staying overnight and reached Able Point Marina late afternoon.

Just 3 weeks and 3 days later the good ship Dream Weaver had weaved our dreams into reality and got us safely to our destination.

Realizing that it was impossible to stay in the Marina for too long, (far too costly); after 2 nights we anchored off Airlie Beach.

Dramas When Colin's Away:

Colin finally got a great job on a boat called Reef Odessy. Only trouble is he was away a lot. It’s a tough life living alone on a boat for sailing women. Sometimes decisions have to be made and I found my self relying on other people for help.

Once when Colin was away a big northly swell came up and nearly ran the boat onto the Whitsunday Yacht Club rock wall. Dream Weaver‘s anchor had swung around onto a lee shore.

After several hours of severe yanking of the chain from huge swells, at midnight I fired up the engines, got into the tender, motored over to another boat and asked for help to move Dream Weaver.

On another occasion it was blowing a severe northerly with huge swells. I made the decision to ask for help again to move Dream Weaver over to Shute Harbour.

I was lucky and met up with a kind soul in the name of Clayton who volunteered for the job. Conditions were appalling but after 2 hours we were snuggly anchored up in Shute Harbour. I know some sailing women don't like asking for help but there are a lot of kind sailors only to glad to help.

A Sailing Women Lonely & Frustrated:

During the next month the weather slowly deteriated and so did my enthusiasm to face dealing with the constraints of living on a boat on my own. With Colin gone I became very frustrated, lonely and an angry sailing women who didn’t like what was happening.

We continued working and living in Airlie Beach for the next year, saving up hard so that we could eventually complete the next leg of our journey.  Colin had always promised me that he would take me to Michaelmas Cay off Cairns. I was going to hold him to that promise!

During this time Colin decided that he wanted a ships cat. I really didn’t like cats but we got one anyway. She is called Jinx because she stole my heart and I just love her to bits. After 2 years and much discussion and prior planning we sailed away from Airlie Beach.

Colin, Myself & Jinx left Airlie Beach:

After spending one night in the Marina in Townsville we were still keen to continue cruising. Next stop was the Palm Islands. Colin insisted that I brush up on my navigational skills.

I learned a valuable lesson here about plotting a course inside the Palm Island group and not around them. Orpheus Island was lovely although we were on a mooring here and the weather turned really bad during the night with lots of thunder and lightening.

That niggling feeling of how would I cope if I had to do this on my own returned! How do other sailing women cope?

Next stop was Fitzroy Island. Once again the weather turned foul during the night. We arrived in Cairns the next day just escaping the storm that threatened to drench the city. Soon after we took Dream Weaver and moved to the marina in Yorkeys Knob (about 15km north of Cairns).

We took this opportunity to sail up to the Low Isles, Michaelmas Cay and Green Island. Colin’s promise to show me Michaelmas Cay was finally fulfilled on 24th December 2008. We spent a wonderful Christmas day relaxing, exploring and snorkelling this wonderful and special island.

Colin was Diagnosed with Cancer:

During the 6 month stay Colin had trouble finding work so in his frustration, took a job on a Prawn trawler.

As we were safe and secure, tied up in the marina we thought it was a great opportunity for both of us to be able to really save a lot of money. Just 3 weeks into his job on the Prawn Trawler Colin started getting sick. He flew back to Cairns and had numerous tests as he was in constant pain.

It took 10 days to finally find out what the problem was. On the 19th June 09 Colin was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We found out that it was stage 4 and had spread to his lymph nodes, spleen and liver.

He spent about 7 days in hospital palliative care unit. Once pain management had been established I discharged Colin and took him home. Colin started having Chemo shortly after his discharge. We were told that there was no cure but the chemo would hopefully give him more time (at best 6 months).

During this time we were preparing to undertake our next plan, sailing down to the Gold Coast so Colin could see his grandchildren.

Unfortunately my brave sailor died on the 4th September 2009!

Those niggling thoughts that had invaded my brain on numerous occasions were now a reality!  I was a sailing women ... alone!

My self, Jason and another Yachtie (Grahame) sailed Dreamweaver back to Airlie Beach. It was a magic sail. The boat at it’s best. My ultimate goal was to be able to sail Dream solo as a lot of sailing women do but this will come later as my confidence grows.

As I sailed into Airlie Beach I stood on the foredeck with tears streaming from my face and said this one’s for you babe!

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