OPINION | Banding together so Lane Cove can rise from the ashes

By Harry Fisher

A fire at Lane Cove 12ft Skiff Sailing Club last night destroyed about 40 boats.

Sailing clubs are incredibly resilient – I think that much has always been clear. It seems no matter what obstacles clubs face, members, officials and supporters always find a way to rally around each other and rebuild, regrow or reshape their futures for the better.

Last night’s fire at the Lane Cove 12ft Skiff Sailing Club in Sydney, which destroyed the club’s western boat shed and about 40 boats made up of Cherubs, Lasers, Sabots and Flying 11s, has shaken local members and seized the attention of Australia’s sailing community.

Lane Cove members at a recent working bee. The western shed that was burnt down is pictured in the background.

You can never be prepared for something like that, but the resilience and fast action of the club’s committee will ensure the fire is only a temporary setback.

“Our club is a remarkable community of people, whatever setbacks we have I’m sure it will only be temporary,” the club’s secretary Rolf Lunsmann said.

Following an emergency meeting of the club’s committee this morning, everyone sprang into action to work out the next steps. A GoFundMe page was also started, which had received more than $5000 by 6pm local time.

But while boats and infrastructure can be replaced, the true loss for members of Lane Cove and the sailors of the burnt boats is the impact on junior development and the tragic destruction of family legacies that have lived within the stories of these boats. So I guess that while boats can be replaced, sometimes they are simply just irreplaceable.

Everyone that has ever owned a dinghy knows the pride you feel from it – for many it’s basically part of the family – and there is no class that represents that mantra more than the Cherubs. A class with a strong culture of passing boats through generations, and memorable names that are known across the country, the Cherubs lost a total of eight boats in the fire.

Lane Cove juniors will be some of the most affected by the fire.

Among them were Kiss and Alchemy, two boats that Lane Cove club secretary Rolf Lunsmann says were “irreplaceable”.

“Our boat (Alchemy) was built in Adelaide in 2002 and we have sailed the last 15 consecutive national championships and 122 consecutive state championship races in New South Wales,” Rolf said.

“Both of the boats are irreplaceable. Fiona and I have had so much fun in Alchemy over the 12 years we have owned it.”

Australian Cherub Association secretary Lily Peel, who grew up learning to sail at Lane Cove, said the club was “a true community club” and that it would be able to come out of this horrible situation even stronger because of the quality of people involved.

Some of the Sabots raced at Lane Cove have been there for generations.

“It’s a club where all the members really are like family – everyone always pulls together whether it is to cook sausages on the BBQ after sailing, or help out on rescue boats, whenever someone needs help the club always comes together,” she said

Many club members have taken to social media to post tributes for their lost boats, and have shared a number of heartfelt recounts of how this fire has affected them. It makes it clear how tight-knit the club community at Lane Cove really is.

“Kiss had her final outing yesterday. Going to miss you and Alchemy. So many memories have been made,” Cherub sailor Claire Lunsmann said in a Facebook post.

“Sad day! Goodbye Pearl! Thoughts to all others involved!” Samy Michelle said in a Facebook post about the family’s Sabot ‘Pearl’, which also showed several pictures of the boat from years gone by.

“Exclamation Mark! This boat was my way into Lasers. I don’t know how many kilometres we travelled with that boat on the trailer behind us, but it was more than a few. Dad and I would take our Lasers to nationals, to interclubs, and everything in between. I guess the thing is that it was more than just a shed and more than just boats. They were what brought people together to do something they loved. They will surely be missed,” Laser sailor Jack Moran said about his family’s Lasers that they’d raced for years.

Jack Moran’s Lasers that were burnt in the fire.

Lily said losing 40 boats at a grass roots club like Lane Cove would have a major impact on the upcoming season as well as the boats looking to travel to national championships at Christmas time and that it was crucial for all clubs, classes and people involved to throw their support behind Lane Cove.

We always have sympathy for situations like this when we aren’t directly affected by them, however our sport at the grass roots level can only be as strong collectively as the individual clubs and classes it is made up of.

It is easy to simply pass on “thoughts and prayers” in situations like this and continue to carry on with our day to day lives, but the importance a tragedy like this teaches us is that the entire sailing community needs to band together and offer genuine, honest support, either financially or by getting your hands dirty.

If there’s nothing else you can do today, donate something to this cause, because it is the clubs like the Lane Cove 12ft Skiff Sailing Club, as well as many many others like it, that are the backbone of grass roots sailing – and with them thriving, the sport is significantly richer for it.

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