Nine Months Before the Mast
Written by Mr Peter McClelland
Sunday, 01 November 2015
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A nine-month circumnavigation of the globe in the family yacht was just “more of the same” for David Dicks OAM.  David was only 17 years-old when he set off from Fremantle in February 1996. When he sailed home nine months later he became the youngest person to sail solo non-stop around the world.

Dicks-David-Capt.-June210 David Dicks is now an accomplished helicopter pilotA life aquatic began aboard the 34 foot sloop, Seaflight, which belonged to Dr Harold Dicks, David’s father.

“It was my dad’s boat that I took on the circumnavigation. He was a well-known Como GP and a keen sailor. Sadly, he died from a heart attack when I was only nine.Jon Sanders [a renowned WA solo-yachtsman who famously became the first person to circumnavigate the globe three times] took me under his wing. We did a lot of sailing together and he inspired me to have a go at breaking the record.”

“My solo trip didn’t really feel like much of a big deal. I’d already done about 10,000 sea-miles and been half-way around the equator with John from the age of 13, so it really was just more of the same. It was pretty much one day after another and the distance to the horizon didn’t seem to change much.”

Not always plain sailing
This childhood spent bobbing up and down on the ocean meant that multiple knockdowns, a bout of food poisoning and a critical episode of gear failure didn’t faze him at all during his voyage. But the prospect of having to give himself a shot of morphine was another matter entirely.

“If I’d been facing the prospect of having to stitch myself up I would’ve been reaching for the butterfly clips first. I hate needles! Peter James, a GP who took over my dad’s patients when he died, gave me some advice on what to do if I knocked out a tooth or broke my leg. But the worst that happened was that I got pretty sick early in the trip after eating some dodgy peanut butter and later on some bad tinned pineapple.”

“Actually, in the early days I suffered from sea-sickness quite badly and I remember a trip on the Leeuwin when I was 15 that turned out to be very unpleasant. It was a different sort of motion, a lot of slow rolling from side-to-side and I was very sick.”

An episode off the Falkland Islands put paid to one record the young David Dicks had had in his sights.

“I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t claim an unassisted circumnavigation due to a broken rigging bolt near the Falkland Islands. They winched a replacement down from a helicopter and I could’ve asked for fresh supplies at the same time but I didn’t.”
Dicks-David-and-children-220 David with his young children

Shock of dry land
“It was so nice being out there and, thankfully, even though I was pretty young I did appreciate it at the time. But it was a bit of a culture shock coming back to the rat-race. Everyone wanted a piece of me and for a while it was like get me out of here!”

“I did some public speaking which gave me a bit of an income but after I while I shied away from all the media stuff. At one stage I had a gung-ho media-manager from Sydney and it was all pretty intense. I had one day with him doing the PR thing and that was more than enough!”

David is now 33, married with two young children and works as a helicopter pilot. The yacht is still in the family and he’s itching to get back on the boat.

“I don’t go sailing all that often now, I’m so busy with flying and family duties. I’ve just cracked 1000 hours on the chopper and my ultimate dream is to work in Search and Rescue. Learning to sail is a wonderful life skill and I hope to teach my kids how to sail. The family yacht will also help to keep them away from a computer screen for a while.”