Salt-water therapy keeps cancer survivor heading south to Hobart

Warwick Sherman never really wanted to do the Rolex Sydney Hobart. He’d done plenty of ocean racing, but bashing his way across Bass Strait to get to Tasmania just didn’t grab him. Perversely, all that changed when he was diagnosed with cancer. 

Of course, everything changes when you get a diagnosis like that. Yet when he steered his Ker GTS 43 Occasional Coarse Language Too across the start line of the 2012 Rolex Sydney Hobart while undergoing the often brutal rigours of chemotherapy. Sherman was unimaginably courageous.

“There’s no point in wasting your time,” Sherman says of that decision to race. “If you don’t get your full term, that’s just a fact of life. I’m a bit of a fatalist. I don’t think I’m tough. It was just something I needed to do.”

In the event, Occasional Course Language Too won her division in that 2012 race. If Sherman ever felt he had anything to prove to himself this, surely, must have wiped the slate clean. Yet two years later he is back; feeling stronger now. The chemo is past; Sherman only needs to check in with his doctors every six months.

“I don’t believe I let anyone down in 2012,” he says, “but I was very tired in the second half of the race. We take three to four days to get to Hobart and those last 24 hours are when it gets really physical demanding, everyone is tired.”

Sherman seems to be saying that, when the crew on his yacht were at their weakest he became a burden, though no-one else on board would have imagined that. “This time I’m significantly healthier.  Stronger and more mobile.

“I am proud of what I did in 2012, but this year I am doing it on my terms. Back then, not knowing what it could be like, I was more gung-ho. This time I know what to expect.”

He dismisses any suggestion that what he is about to do is special.  “A lot of people do it in lesser boats than ours.”

Sherman has a top notch crew with him, including the daredevils from Tow Truck, the Lake Macquarie gang who built their reputation improbably blasting around the ocean on what was really not much more than a 30 foot skiff.

“They are really good sailors,” says Sherman. “They push hard but they know where the line in the sand is. I’m very comfortable. I would not go to Hobart unless everyone in the crew was better than I am.

“The thing is we all get along. We play hard, race hard, but it has to be fun. We’ve had some very good sailors in the past that we’ve let go because we couldn’t get along. Even if I had the most highly skilled crew, if they were all monosyllabic I’d rather not sail.”

The preparation for the race has been meticulous. “If anything is even slightly worn it gets replaced. If something breaks on the left side we replace both sides.

“You get people who a desperate just to go to Hobart, and they will get on any boat just to do it, not knowing anything about the boat at all – unbelievable. You have to be completely confident about your boat and the guys you are sailing with in Bass Strait,” the CYCA member says. “We’ve made one change from last time, we’re accepting a rating penalty by taking an extra spinnaker. It’s just a bit extra in the armoury – if you blow all your spinnakers you’ve really lost the race.

“I don’t do anything in life without trying to be the best at it. We have really strong competition in our division. St George Midnight Rambler and Chutzpah will scream along in the right conditions, while we need some hard on the breeze stuff.

“No-one can afford to be complacent. Someone said that, after the last time, if we don’t win our division that would be an anti-climax, but if we do well and get a good result I will be happy,” Sherman finishes.

Carpe Diem, as they say.    

The start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia and webcast live to a global audience on Yahoo!7.

A Parade of Sail will take place from 10.30am to 11.30am, before a fleet of 117 will set sail from three start lines in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race on December 26 at 1.00pm AEDT.

By Jim Gale, RSHYR media 

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