In 1974, while recovering from hepatitis and having emerged from a coma, orthopaedic surgeon Dr Malcolm Hay began pursuing a dream to help others break through their despair. An impulsive adventurer and former Australian Antarctic base doctor, Malcolm understood how the challenge of a sea voyage a new adventure brought out the best in people. He had sailed with famous adventurer Bill Tilman and Outward Bound’s founder Warwick Deacock to climb the active volcano ‘Big Ben’ on Herd Island in the South Indian Ocean.
Ten years later began his quest to secure WA’s first youth adventure tall ship.
“I remember reading that Alan Bond had been granted $62,000 from the state government to have a crack at winning the Americas cup and I thought if they have enough money to throw at something like that, they should be able to donate a similar sum for a youth adventure ship,” he recalls.
Drawing on the experience of similar training schemes in the UK, Holland and New Zealand, Malcolm put several proposals to government and private investors to raise the $3.5m construction cost. The catalyst for action came with the bicentenary celebration of the Sydney Cove founding and in March 1986, the Leeuwin was launched by the Premier Burk’s wife.
Since then, the ship has carried over 18,000 men and women (70% of these under 26 years of age) and although corporate and private function bookings keep the venture financially afloat, its most important endeavour is giving young people who are disadvantaged or at risk a crack at a life-changing experience.
“Right from the outset we were fortunate to obtain the services of Australia’s most experienced square rigger Captain Richard Grono, who happened to be from Perth. Over the five months of the America’s Cup defence he was able to train a professional crew and a large team of young watch leaders.”
Enjoying support from medical colleagues Dr Peter Bath and Dr Ken Whiting, who have a particular interest in voyages for disabled people, Malcolm began courting schools and the corporate sector. The Leeuwin’s popularity soared but it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
“The first voyage to Esperance was perhaps the ship’s worst and between Albany and Esperance we lost all the square sails, thousands of dollars overboard as they had not been secured. It was not a good start!”
With WA’s exposed coast, the Leeuwin runs trips from the idyllic Recherche archipelago off Esperance to Darwin, chasing fair weather.
A trip on The Leeuwin is a huge confidence and self-esteem builder for adolescents in trouble. That’s why Rotary, the Office for Youth and Children, Carers WA, Variety WA, Healthway and other community minded groups are involved with assisting young people to gain the life-changing experience of a voyage on the Leeuwin. It teaches them teamwork, self-reliance, overcoming adversity and taking control of life. A voyage is hard work but fun. It can turn heartbreak into hope. But funds are limited and bunks still go empty.