Army Gun Runners on 24-hour epic voyage

Novice sailors embarked on an epic 24-hour journey along the east coast of Australia, aboard the Army sailing training yacht ‘Gun Runner’ during Exercise Soldier Sail.

CAPTIONAn Army member navigates Army’s sailing training yacht ‘Gun Runner’ during Exercise Soldier Sail in Port Stephens, NSW. Story and photos by Corporal Luke Bellman.

Commodore of the Army Sailing Club Major Kevin O’Rourke said the purpose of the activity was to build resilience for soldiers by taking them out of their comfort zone.

“They learn how to control their reaction to the perceived risks of sailing in a very small rolling boat, in big seas and strong winds offshore,” Major O’Rourke said.

This experiential learning seeks to develop improved control of their reaction for conventional Army operations.

Major O’Rourke said offshore sailing helped to develop junior soldiers with small-team leadership and communication skills.

They are required to sail efficiently, operate harmoniously as a single unit and every team member has a defined role.

“It’s up to the leader to orchestrate roles through effective communication, mentoring and coaching,” Major O’Rourke said.

Gun Runner sailed to Port Stephens from Sydney and back multiple times throughout the months of September and October.

CAPTIONAustralian Defence Force personnel sail on Army’s training yacht ‘Gun Runner’ during Exercise Soldier Sail in Port Stephens.

Selected soldiers sailed 150 nautical miles, then handed over to another crew.

Soldiers are instructed on safety and communication systems, and basic sea navigation before being taught how to operate the boat.

Skipper Lieutenant Max Alexander started sailing when he was a boy, but didn’t progress to yachts such as Gun Runner until he joined the Navy.

“Now I’m training soldiers from across the country that have never met before to sail offshore,” Lieutenant Alexander said.

His first time sailing on Gun Runner was the furthest he had sailed, which was 680 nautical miles offshore.

During the day, the crews learnt basic boat-handling skills such as mooring and anchoring. At night, the novice sailors maintained a four-hour watch rotation.

At Port Stephens, crews travelled around Broughton Island where they completed navigational work.

Mate of the vessel Flight Lieutenant Scott Hartwich said he sailed recreationally at club races and recently completed a day skipper course.

This was his first Defence trip and he was amazed how people who didn’t know each other could come together and be taught new skills out at sea.

“I’d never been night sailing before either, so that was really cool,” Flight Lieutenant Hartwich said.

“To the people out there interested, you’ve got nothing to lose and Defence is going to pay for you to spend a week on the water and do something that you haven’t done before. You’d be crazy to pass it up.”

Private Arcadia Stevens recently finished her initial employment training before being selected to participate in Exercise Soldier Sail.

“I like to have these kinds of experiences in my job. I’m literally at the computer most days, so besides PT [personal training], I don’t really get outside much. This is awesome,” Private Stevens said.

“Keeping my calm, particularly at nighttime when we were getting big waves, was important but very scary.

“Knowing that it’s not going to tip over and having that preparedness and not freaking out. I was just maintaining my mindset and resilience.”

In November, the Army Sailing Club will prepare for the Sydney to Hobart race and will select four novices from units typically within Sydney, to train for it.


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