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HOPE SETS SAIL All-woman crew taking aid to Vanuatu

By Mark Beale

WHEN 65-year-old Heather Sutton and her all-woman crew arrive in Vanuatu in a couple of weeks, they will have challenged themselves beyond belief.

But making the 1200 nautical mile voyage in a 45-foot yacht without a man in sight will be just the beginning of the hurdles they face.

Ms Sutton, Iseta Harris, Trudy Erdman and Sandy Pavey are sailing to the aid of the island nation that was devastated by Cyclone Pam on March 13.

Following a call to arms to the Whitsunday community, Ms Sutton’s yacht La Quilta is now fully laden with essential supplies and ready to hit the high seas.

The Whitsunday Sailing Club’s 2014 Yachtsperson of the Year will be untying the lines and leaving Airlie Beach this week.

The four women will start their journey with a shakedown cruise to Mackay where they will clear customs for the 10-12 day voyage.

As they loaded donations from Zonta Whitsundays at the Abell Point Marina last week, Ms Harris joked they were not averse to the idea of having a strong man aboard.

“But the way I see it is we will all learn to do things on the boat we have never been required to do on other boats… and we will all share the cooking! It won’t just be one woman in the galley,” Ms Sutton joked.

Ms Sutton said she expected the experience to be “quite empowering” but also “quite interesting to see how the locals deal with us”.

“When the chief says ‘where’s the captain?’ it won’t be a man, it’ll be a little white-haired lady. That’ll be a challenge for them and an interesting experience for us to show them we can do it,” she said.

Ms Sutton has spent $50,000 of her own money upgrading the boat so it will make the windward trip “and to make it independent so we don’t rely on the community to support us while we’re supporting them”.

After asking for donations to help the cyclone victims of Vanuatu re-build their lives, she said she was overwhelmed by the community response.

Zonta Whitsunday spokesperson Carole Lindsay said her organisation was one of the many who felt they just had to help, supplying hand-knitted and sewn blankets taking 200 hours each, plus clothing and fabrics.

It’s thanks to this and the generosity of numerous other individuals and organisations that the La Quilta crew will be able to divide their bounty between five remote villages.

With no space now left on the boat, Ms Sutton said if anyone still wondered what they could give, money was paramount.

A Westpac bank account has been established under the name Vanuatu Community Solutions, BSB 034 207, account number 220137.

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