Sailing couple plot their own course

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IT IS not uncommon for retirees to take off around Australia and former Sydneysiders Rob Harrison and Louise McFadden have been on the go continually since mid-April last year.

But while most travellers opt for a motorhome, caravan or camper, this couple's preferred transport is a 13.5-metre, steel- hulled yacht, Zeehaen.

And where land-bound travellers can cover 110 kilometres every hour, Mr Harrison and Ms McFadden are unlikely to manage much more than twice that in a full 24-hour day.

Ms McFadden said while living in north-eastern Victoria the couple became sick of dragging their small Hartley yacht around the country looking for water to sail on.

"We moved to Sydney which has lots of waterways and sailed there for a while before looking around for a bigger boat so we could go off-shore," she said.

"This boat came up four years ago."

"This boat" was designed by Alan Payne, designer of America's Cup challenger Gretel II, and the couple grabbed it with both hands.

"We were going to get something a bit smaller first and work up, but after some discussion we thought we might be dead next week and we had very experienced sailing friends urging us to buy Zeehaen because they knew its pedigree," Ms McFadden said. said.

"And while it doesn't have Gretel II's speed, it has the longevity and you have to weigh up what's important.

"Do you want to be able to outrun an incoming storm, or do you want to have a boat in which you know you'll still be OK if the storm hits you?

"We chose the latter."

Mr Harrison smiled.

"If we get hit by a side wind, Zeehaen just lays gently over before righting itself without going off course - it's built like a German tank and really inspires confidence," he said.

Ms McFadden said that the couple worked for a year after buying Zeehaen to pay it off, got rid of their house and all their furniture and sailed to Tasmania.

"Someone told us if we could cross Bass Strait we were ready for anything," she said.

"That was January 2012 - we just timed the crossing with the weather, sailed down the East Coast and passed Maatsuyker Island, where we were told we were going to die, but it was really quite calm."

Mr Harrison said that a lot of people failed to do what they wanted to because they "couldn't afford it".

"It's just a matter of deciding what you want and what you need," he said.

Ms McFadden said that a weekly on-board ritual kept them in touch with time.

"We make pancakes every Saturday," she said.

Follow Zeehaen's progress at http://skipr.net/trk/ index.php?id=833.

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