Emma Tackles High Seas in Rolex Sydney to Hobart

Lourdes Hill College Past Pupil, Emma Baillie, has always been one for adventure. So, it wasn’t surprising when she was invited to be a crew member on the yacht, Dodgeball, for the 2021 Rolex Sydney to Hobart race, that this 24-year-old jumped at the opportunity.

This is one of the most challenging races in the world and not just anyone is asked to be a crew member. You must possess exceptional personality traits and skills. Just imagine being on a sailing boat in the middle of the night. The weather is wild, and you’re being tossed around heavily. The boat creaks and bangs as it punches its way through rough seas. No land in sight, just an eerie darkness. You can hear and feel the sails straining as they push into the blustery southerlies. You need to be ready to change sails in a flash. It’s wet, windy, and cold—very cold.

Dodgeball’s navigator & campaign manager, Brian Pozzey, said that to be part of the crew in offshore sailing, you must be tough mentally and physically.

“You must be a team player, have perseverance, resilience, and a bucket load of skill and Emma is the complete package. Unlike small boat and dinghy sailing, offshore racing is much more dependent on a team effort. Any member of the team who is not 100% committed to the task has a detrimental effect on the boat and teams’ performance.

The Rolex Sydney to Hobart is a gruelling offshore sail of 628 nautical miles (1163 kilometres) down the east coast of Australia, notorious for difficult seas.

“In the 2021 race, weather and the power of the ocean forced more than a third of the fleet of more than 80 boats to retire. This year’s Sydney to Hobart has been described as the hardest and most tactical race in recent history. The whole Dodgeball crew performed incredibly well, not just to finish but achieve a very high result,” Brian said.

Emma’s place on Dodgeball didn’t come by chance. She learnt to sail dinghies in Grade 7 at Lourdes Hill College and continued sailing with the school until Grade 12. But prior to sailing dinghies, Emma’s family introduced her to windsurfing as a child, as this is what they loved doing on weekends and on holidays. Little did they know that just after graduating from Lourdes Hill in 2014, she would become the National Youth Windsurfing Champion and was welcomed into the Australian Youth Sailing team and the Queensland Academy of Sport (QAS) for the 2015 ISAF Youth Worlds in Malaysia. This is a competition that brings together the best young sailors from around the world.

When Emma returned from Malaysia, she was offered a position in the Australian Sailing Squad to sail in a 470, an Olympic Class double-handed boat. She continued to train and compete both domestically and overseas. But behind the scenes Emma was juggling studying for her Bachelor of Occupational Therapy, as well as working numerous jobs to pay for training and competing. Funding the training and competitions was difficult. So, in 2018, she decided to step away from the QAS and prioritise her study and focus on her other passion—helping others. She moved to the Gold Coast and hasn’t looked back.

She was offered a job with Southport Yacht Club coaching their Youth Performance Team as well as working with the Queensland Para-sailing Academy to support sailors with a disability train and compete. It didn’t take long before Emma’s capabilities and her sense of adventure became known. She wanted to sail on anything and everything. And over the next few years was a crew member for the Airlie Beach Race, the Hamilton Island Race Week and was also a crew member on Get It On, the winning yacht of the 2021 IRC State Championships.

In June last year, Emma’s course was set when she received her first call-up to sail on Dodgeball which she continued to sail most weekends. Her dream of sailing in the Sydney to Hobart was realised only a month before the race when she was invited to be part of the crew for one of the most difficult races in the world. To say she was ecstatic is an understatement.

Emma said the Sydney to Hobart was “pretty hairy at times”.

“But I had enormous trust in the ability of our crew and our equipment. I quietly enjoyed the challenge of sailing in some of the roughest conditions I had ever been in”, she said.

In contrast to the “hairy times”, Emma had many personal race highlights including sailing across Bass Strait for the first time, witnessing the night sky from the sea, and watching dolphins play under the boat among the bioluminescence.

But Emma points out that these highlights, “would not have held the same significance if it weren’t for the people with whom I shared these memories—nine blokes who I can happily call friends for life”.

Emma’s passions are sailing and helping others—which is not surprising for a Past Pupil of Lourdes Hill College.  She completed her Bachelor of Occupational Therapy in 2020 and continues to help others. She loves her job with Queensland Health.  But looks forward to once again tackling high seas and sailing up the Derwent.