Townsville siblings on mission at Magnetic Island Race Week

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Jurss Graham

A Townsville brother and sister competing at the 10th anniversary Sealink Magnetic Island Race Week have their sights on a much tougher goal – the 628 nautical mile Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. 

Simon Graham 40, and his 34 year-old sister, Jenifer Jurss, lost their father David Graham in January 1995 when he was swept off the yacht Impetuous while returning from the 50th Sydney Hobart. Graham had taken part in the race on Impetuous without incident, but fate stepped in on the return journey.

Despite an intense three-day air and sea search, the 40 year-old husband and father was never found. Simon was nearly 18 and Jenifer just 12 at the time.

Simon points out, “I am almost the same age Dad was when he lost his life.”

Fast forward nearly 20 years, and the cards dealt the pair another cruel blow, when their father’s brother, Andrew, disappeared in mysterious circumstances after the social worker left his workplace at the Christmas Island Detention Centre. 

In September 2014, Andrew, in his mid-50’s, finished work on a Friday, telling colleagues he was going for a swim at Winifred Beach. He was supposed to return to his workplace on Tuesday, but failed to arrive. It was three days before the alarm was raised and authorities spent a further three days searching the jungle and sea. The ruling was death by misadventure.

“It was like living through losing Dad again. I was 12 when Dad died, Simon was turning 18 two weeks after he died," says Jurss who is married with two children, 5 and nearly 3.

“We were kids when Dad died, but adults when Andrew died. Adults deal with this sort of scenario very differently to kids who have a greater capacity to move on with things,” she says, admitting she has little knowledge of the father who left them prematurely.

This week the two are competing at Sealink Magnetic Island Race Week aboard Boadicca, owned by Townsville Yacht Club director Mike Steel, who is also Event Chairman for Race Week. Steel is teaching them the ropes for the much harder voyage ahead.

“This came about because, in my mind, I always wanted to learn about Dad. After losing Andrew, it solidified that fact. I’ve been thinking about it a lot more since Andrew - so I started sailing. Mike has been very good to us.

“We want to do the Sydney Hobart in Dad’s memory, to honour Dad and our uncle,” Jurss says. “And to raise awareness for the Missing Persons ­Advocacy Network. They provide support and guidance to loved ones and family members of those who goes missing. They’re great for guidance and assistance. 

“I sent them an email back in June to say I am planning on doing the Sydney Hobart. I plan to fundraise and at the same time I can help lift their profile.”

Jurss adds: “I thought doing it (the Sydney Hobart) would be easy. I didn’t realise it’s a little like climbing Everest; you need to prepare and train. You need to know people to get on a boat.” 

Although they have no offshore experience, the two are not novice sailors. Simon sailed at Westernport in Victoria when he was very young: “The waves were high, I was terrified and I threw up, sick as a dog,” he said, smiling at the memory. 

“I bought a Nacra (multihull) in the late 90’s after Dad died, so we sailed a little bit. We also sailed in Burnie (Tasmania) and now here.”

“We always had an interest,” adds Jurss.

Simon admits: “It’s hard up here to get offshore experience, and hard to go south to get it.  Ever since Dad went missing, I decided I wanted to do the race. I think I would have done it anyway, but life got in the way. And we know it’s a big ask for someone like us to come in from outside after a crew has trained together for a long time.”

Jurss is now looking at paying her way, as there are commercial yacht charterers who take a mix of experienced and paying crew: “That’s Plan B, because it costs $8,000 – quite a bit of money. I have $4,000 now, so I still need to fund raise for the rest,” she says.

“Our hope has always been that we could find someone, somewhere, who would take us offshore sailing and in the Sydney Hobart. We would love to come to Sydney and get some experience if someone would take us,” Jurss ends.

By Di Pearson/SMIRW media

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