By Bianca Maher
Kevan Wolfe

'Skipper' Clare Blakebraugh (right)
and Danielle Miller prepare
Sailmaker for competition.

Ask any of Australia's champion sailors where they got their start and they will generally say it was through the junior sailing school of a yacht club.

Around Australia on most weekends the 'Mitey Mites' can be seen sailing their Cadets, Manly Juniors, Flying Ants and other junior classes in some very serious competition. While doting mums and dads, many sailors themselves, offer the usual parental advice.

This year the Sandringham Yacht Club hosted the 40th International Cadet Championships in Melbourne over the school holidays. The regatta attracted 64 entries from South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria. This was better than average for the annual championships according to regatta director, Bruce Eddington. "We generally average around 45 to 50 entries. In the past we have had a bigger numbers of entries, but we are pretty happy with this year's turnout and hopefully it will grow from here," he said.

"Christmas and New Year is always spent around sailing," says Wendy Arkey mother of three boys. Her youngest is following in his brothers' footsteps and also sailing a cadet. Wendy doesn't mind spending her Christmas holiday break away from home because they are together as a family, but admits "sometimes it would be nice to go somewhere different for the holidays - somewhere non-sailing".

Sailing is a sport that can be in the blood of families for generations. Bruce points out that there are quite a number of families who are members at Sandringham that have more than one child sailing and in some instances up to three.

For 10 years Wendy and her husband, both members at Sandringham, have watched all three of their boys progress through cadets. Now with the youngest in his last 12 months, Wendy's involvement with cadets is almost over as he currently decides whether he will join his older brothers in either the laser or 420 class. The boys' early enthusiasm did not go unnoticed - all three made it to the world cadet championships. This involved some travel and financial sacrifices. There are few sponsors for the junior sailing, clubs provide some assistance, but generally parents are often left to foot the bill for overseas travel.

But speak to any of the mums and dads and they will tell you that the time and money spent travelling to the championships is not a sacrifice, in fact they admit to having just as much fun as the kids. It's not only the youngsters that form friendships with their competitors from interstate, but the parents make longstanding friends as well.

Lyn Vaughan has been involved with the cadets for 10 years now, and sees regattas as an opportunity to catch up with other parents: "When we are interstate we try and catch up with other families."

Steve Blakebraugh is just one of the many dads hanging around making repairs to the boat and helping the kids set up before the next race. Unlike some of the others, Steve says he is not from a sailing background and only became involved when his daughter, Clare was roped into the cadets when her friend was looking for a crew. That was five years ago, since then her friend bought a new boat and Steve bought her old one for Clare to skipper. The boat was kept in storage for about three years, until about a year ago when Steve dragged it out to spend "about 100 hours" converting the cockpit from a mark 2 configuration to a mark 3 and re-decking it.

The boat is named Sailmaker and over the years it has had a chequered career with a number of owners, especially at the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria. Unbeknown to Clare and her crew, Danielle Miller, the boat was actually built by Danielle's great uncle. Both are still members of RYCV.

Sailmaker's first outing in its new guise was day one of the regatta. Clare and Danielle, were out on the race course when the first problem happened; the vang anchor point gave way and "that had them out of the race pretty quickly," Steve said. "Apparently it was dad's fault because I knew about it but couldn't rectify it in time for the race."

At the age of nine, Danielle is one of the youngest in the field. She lives a couple of streets away from Clare in Williamstown and has been in cadets for just a few months, but didn't think that she would be selected to crew just yet. "I thought no one is going to pick me, but then I was asked to sail with Clare, so I did!" However, their first practice run together as skipper and crew didn't go too well - it rained heavily so they had to head back in.

With some children as young as eight it is understandable that there would be some nervous parents watching their children compete for the first time. Lyn is now watching the youngest of her three children compete in the cadet class and although she is not anxious seeing her 15-year-old son occasionally dealing with windy conditions, she concedes "in the very beginning you do worry about the big waves. But the kids come back and say 'wow, that was fantastic'. You start to realise that you don't have to worry, and the regatta is run really well."

Although the kids charge out the gates and onto the beach eager to start, some are aware that like most sports there are inherent risks. Danielle admits to being scared out there at times, particularly of large waves, which she has had a frightening encounter with. "There were two really big waves, things went everywhere and we got really wet, so we went back."

Not only are the championships a chance to catch up with friends and have some fun, it also an opportunity for the kids to be selected to represent Australia in the world championships. From the cadet championships, seven boats are chosen to compete for Australia in the world championships held each year.

Having had two of her three children attend the world championships, Lyn Vaughan would be considered a veteran. She says that the other countries competing in the world championships are little more competitive than Australia. "The thing about world championships is that Australia is still relatively new," says Lyn. "In England, for example, they sail regularly against 100 so they have a lot more big fleet experience than our kids."

There is a large number of past cadets who return to the cadet class in a variety of roles. Bruce points out that some of the older kids that have been up through cadets return to drive rescue boats and many of the parents who help run the regatta are past cadets themselves. In addition to this, Bruce says "a majority of cadets have coaches, many of whom are past cadets".

At the end of each regatta there is what is known as the ceremonial dunking of the crew. The skipper along with a few others - should the crew try to resist - carry the crew and throw them in the water. Lyn says, "when the skipper and the crew come off the water still smiling at each other, you know the race has gone well." The 41st International Cadet Championships will be held in Adelaide next year.