Heather Sutton will be the first woman to hold the commodore position in the history of the Whitsunday Sailing Club. Picture: Supplied
Heather Sutton will be the first woman to hold the commodore position in the history of the Whitsunday Sailing Club. Picture: Supplied

Teaching, travel fuels commodore’s love of ocean

WHEN sailors are battling high seas and tough winds, gender is the last thing on their minds.

"It's just determination," said the recently elected Whitsunday Sailing Club commodore Heather Sutton.

"Women can sail around the world single-handedly just as much as a man can, so there's no distinctions on strength or anything else."

Ms Sutton made history last week when she took on her new title as the club's first woman to hold the position of commodore.

However, she said her love of sailing overshadowed the thought of forging the path for women.

"When I actually said I'd do the position, I hadn't really related to the gender thing at all," she said.

"It's just because I'm a sailor and I love sailing and I'm part of the sailing club."

Ms Sutton started her life on the water at the age of 11, sailing Lake Tinaroo in the Atherton Tablelands.

The Whitsunday Sailing Club board (from left) Mark Beale, Terry Archer, commodore Heather Sutton, treasurer Lisa Mitchell, rear commodore offshore Kevin Foggarty and president Leo Rodriguez. Absent: Board member Clayton Matthews. Picture: Supplied
The Whitsunday Sailing Club board (from left) Mark Beale, Terry Archer, commodore Heather Sutton, treasurer Lisa Mitchell, rear commodore offshore Kevin Foggarty and president Leo Rodriguez. Absent: Board member Clayton Matthews. Picture: Supplied

Her love for the sport continued throughout university before she traded the sun for the breezes of the Isle of Wight.

"Wherever I've been I've sailed," she said.

"It's always been a part of my family."

Other career highlights include an around the world sail from England to Mackay and a charity sail in 2014.

Ms Sutton collected donations from Whitsunday residents and sailed over to Vanuatu on her yacht La Quilter to help people affected by Cyclone Pam.

She visited 20 islands and helped 25 villages accompanied by an all-women crew.

While she said the trip was one of her "pinnacles" in sailing, Ms Sutton also developed a passion for passing on her knowledge to up-and-coming sailors.

"I love teaching children how to sail because I always felt that it's been a good part of my life," she said.

La Quilta crew Sandy Pavey, Heather Sutton and Iseta Harris load up with goods for their Vanuatu voyage courtesy of Zonta Whitsunday members Dawn Green, Carole Lindsay and Judy Brown in 2014. Photo: Sharon Smallwood
La Quilta crew Sandy Pavey, Heather Sutton and Iseta Harris load up with goods for their Vanuatu voyage courtesy of Zonta Whitsunday members Dawn Green, Carole Lindsay and Judy Brown in 2014. Photo: Sharon Smallwood

"It gives them such an overview of life.

"They've got to be independent, they've got to make their own decisions, they've got to be brave and it's very much a team sport.

"It gives them excellent life skills."

Ms Sutton hoped during her time as commodore, she could encourage both seasoned sailors and those yet to find their sea legs to enjoy all that's on offer on Whitsunday waters.

"We all live in the Whitsundays, we should all have an opportunity to get out on the water and learn to sail," she said.

"You can't get a better opportunity than living in the Whitsundays, let me assure you, I've been around the world!"

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Whitsunday Sailing Club president Leo Rodriguez looked forward to a busy 2021 working alongside Ms Sutton.

"(She) brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the team and more importantly time and energy," he said.

"I look forward to working with the current board for yet another year and continuing the forward direction the club has been taking with its continuing upgrades and refurbishments."

April 2 next year marks the 50th birthday of the club with celebrations set to coincide with the Easter Regatta.

The construction of the North Australian Maritime Training Academy will also begin next year.



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