Ready to Rally

Preparations are well underway for this year’s fleet of 36 cruising yachts ahead of the 2018 ‘Go East’ leg of the Down Under Rally, scheduled to depart Southport Yacht Club 14 May for the voyage from Australia to New Caledonia.

Founders of the Rally, “nautical nomads” for the past nine years, John and Leanne Hembrow, say they anticipate more boats will sign up during April as people organize themselves around work and family commitments.

“There are 36 yachts registered with over 120 people involved, and we anticipate more to join us,” John said. “The aim of the Go East leg of the Rally is to attract newcomers to offshore cruising and support them in realising their dream to sail to the South Pacific.

“It can be overwhelming to contemplate six days at sea by yourself for the first time,” he continues.

“We call it the acronym of ‘FEAR’ stopping us – False Expectation Appearing Real – which is all the horror stories, doubts and perceptions. Instead of figuring out how to manage them, people become paralyzed. It’s a lot to do to prepare your boat and yourselves, and even to find out where to get the right information.

“We consolidated everything into a number of guides which saves people having to gather the information themselves. Instead, they can spend the time studying our guides and getting themselves ready to sail.

“Making the first passage in the company of others more experienced, plus helping with preparing the boat and themselves, understanding the weather, and managing the paperwork to clear Customs give people the confidence to take the step and experience the adventure.”

John and Leanne, who have more than 25,000 ocean miles under their keels, founded the Down Under Rally in 2015 with the ‘Go West’ leg, attracting 25 boats, all of them international, to head from New Caledonia to Australia with the aim of showing them the incredible cruising grounds of the east coast.

“We started our cruising in 2009 and spent time in the US, Central America, then crossed the Pacific to Fiji in 2012,” explains John.

Fate in the form of a Category 5 Cyclone and lightning strike which destroyed their boat, forced John and Leanne to return to Australia.

“We bought a new 15m cruising cat called ‘Songlines’ at The Boat Works and began cruising Australian waters. We realised Australia has some of the most beautiful and exciting cruising grounds in the world, which before cruising the US and South Pacific we had taken for granted.

“During our travels, we observed that the international cruising community is not aware of the amazing cruising grounds in Australia. They have all heard of Uluru and the wonders of Sydney, and those who were attracted to sailing in Australia were deterred by the complicated Customs, immigration and biosecurity procedures.

“We wanted to promote Australia and make it a must-visit destination on the circumnavigation route.”

Based on their own experiences, John and Leanne rewrote the traditional handbooks for the international yachties, many of whom found the terminology a challenge. “We put it into a simple language, dispelled many of the myths and made it accessible.”

Leanne, a qualified yoga instructor whose program, Yoga4Yachties provides techniques on calming the mind and toning the body for women and men, offers her skills to those preparing for long ocean passages and the rigours of time at sea.

The first Go West Rally took off in 2015 with 25 boats, followed by 44 in 2016 and 42 in 2017, the same year the Down Under Rally received the AIMEX Award for Innovation in recognition of their success.

In 2016, the Go East Rally was launched as a trial. “Every year we sail to Fiji to promote the Go West Rally and because we were old hands, we attracted other people – eight boats in 2016 and then 26 boats in 2017. This year, we have 36 registrations so far and a further 82 expressions of interest.”

“People new to bluewater cruising are relieved to have the support and guidance of experienced yachties.

“The allure of sailing is the travel, new experiences and cultures, while taking all the comforts of home with you on your boat. But the longevity of sailing is the community. What lures you back every time is the camaraderie and tightknit community.

“It’s like a country town of days gone by: everybody is interested in everybody else, and if you ever call on somebody, you get more help than you could ever need!”


The fleet going both ways spends up to a month at The Boat Works carrying out repairs and general maintenance.

“The relationship with The Boat Works came about when we wanted to work with key partners who would provide the most benefit to our Rally participants, offering quality goods and services.

“The Boat Works came aboard and embraced it from day one, supporting our aims which were to encourage Aussies to take up long-range cruising and internationals to visit Australia. Tony Longhurst is a sailor, he loves his boats and he really drove the partnership.

“The Boat Works wants us here to bring business to their tenants, and they invest all their resources, assistance and funding to keep entry costs low.”

The Go East entry fee is $880, which includes preparation and cruising guides, Border Force Clearance documentation for leaving Australia, Quarantine, Customs and Immigration inward clearance in New Caledonia, Rally T shirts and flags, plus generous discounts on berthing, nav gear, insurance and safety equipment.

“The Boat Works is a convenient location for our vessels to get everything done in one place by leading marine specialists,” says John.

“But it’s the unique features of The Boat Works that make the difference. What’s unique in this day and age is that we are allowed to liveaboard while our boats are on the hardstand, and they cater for it. There are ensuites that are only accessible by boat owners with a key, not the general public, and these are literally 5-star and as good any Hotel. That is unique.

“Then there are the Bridgedeck lounge and office and the free laundry facilities for liveaboards, which are commercial grade and all in top working order. Wherever you go in the world, facilities such as these are generally another way to make money out of customers. But not at The Boat Works.

“Go East and Go West participants who arrive at The Boat Works have no transport. The Boat Works provides courtesy cars so we can go out and buy bits and pieces for our boats, provisions, or just go to the movies. You have the freedom to get some respite from the boating environment.

“They are little things, but they add up to a lot. Understanding customers’ needs and catering to them. The Boat Works is a lesson in customer service.

“Everything at The Boat Works is maintained to the highest standard. Excellence isn’t a motto, it’s a mission statement and they are constantly striving to achieve excellence in every aspect of their business.

“The Go West Rally attracts all international boats undertaking circumnavigation. Without exception, every one of them comments The Boat Works is the best boat yard they’ve been in, bar none.”

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