Written by Scott Alle
05 July 2019
Why do we feel the passing of a fellow sailor so very deeply?
It’s a question the crew and extended family of Wine Dark Sea, a well-known Lyons 49 based in Sydney, have been struggling with as we try to reconcile the wrenching loss of two of our own.
In late May we heard our good friend and WDS trimmer Ruth McCance had been caught in an avalanche while attempting to scale an unclimbed satellite peak in the Indian Himalaya, simply referred to by its elevation as Peak 6477.
We immediately felt a hot knife of loss for Ruth’s husband, Trent Goldsack, also one of us, and as the days wore inexorably on and the prospects of Ruth’s return faded, the Wine Dark Sea support network was there as the darkest of times closed in.
In the midst of our grieving for Ruth, came the near incomprehensible news that there had been a diving accident near South-West Rocks, and Sarah Goddard-Jones, Wine Dark Sea’s vivacious co-owner and co-skipper was on life support in intensive care at a local hospital.
Sarah, and her partner in sailing, life and love Peter Lowndes were in a group tackling Australia’s only true ocean cave dive. Fish Rock is effectively a 125 metre tunnel through the middle of the rock which involves negotiating tight sections known as ‘chimneys’, a narrow cleft not much wider than a diver.
A moment of panic in the black recesses of the cave was all it took for Sarah to lose her rhythm and confidence and given the nature of the dive and despite the herculean efforts of qualified rescuers, and later medical professionals, she slipped from us.
We gathered at St James church in Sydney’s CBD to farewell Ruth on a crisp morning when the south-westerly puffs were rippling across a near deserted harbour, bearing a melancholy which matched the void in our hearts.
In one of the most poignant eulogies I have heard we realised the true depth of Ruth’s spiritual connection with the natural world, which manifested in her love of mountaineering and sailing. Among the images of her bold life; Ruth pressed-up against a vertical wall falling away to a chasm far below, on stage wowing an audience of jazz lovers with her undeniable talent, and enjoying the simple pleasures of an afternoon twilight with WDS crewmates.
A passionate Yngling sailor, Ruth sailed with skipper and three-time olympian Karyn Goijnich out of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron for the last seven years.
“We loved our time in the boat,” Karyn recalls. “I will miss her keen eye assessing our opposition, calling the next shift, her ability to stay calm no matter what the situation, her desire to continuously educate our chocolate palate on the way back to the dock and no matter what the result celebrate with a glass of bubbles at the end of the day.
“Our regatta in Lake Garda last year was a special adventure. As always it is not just about the sailing. We collected our hire car and charter boat north of Amsterdam, drove 1200 kilometres through Germany and Austria to Riva del Garda. We had two amazing weeks in one of the world’s sailing meccas Lake Garda, with challenging racing in an international fleet and a daily digest over a well earned gelato. Our appetite for international competition was reinvigorated and we were making plans to head to the Berlin Worlds in 2020,” Karen recounted.
According to Jocelyn Webb, another WDS regular, Ruth also possessed a way of earning people’s trust, through her authenticity and genuine desire to learn about people – her business card was “corporate confidante” for a reason.
Both Ruth and Sarah had an enduring interest in people, an ability to inspire confidence, and the knack of making friends regardless of age or station in life.
At Sarah’s equally moving memorial service we were reminded of her infectious enthusiasm for whatever venture was at hand, her loyalty to her friends, interestingly many bearing the “superior” name of Sarah, her love of family, along with her pride in, and dedication to all things Welsh. Naturally that included Tom Jones.
Many of us dream, some plan but relatively few have the courage to actually break the shackles of adherence to conventional careers, homes and dare I say, expectations.
But Sarah did, and in April 2017 she and Pete embarked on an epic two-year circumnavigation of Australia. Sarah took a break from her senior role at CBA and fully embraced the cruising lifestyle and all that entails. Her blogs are full of accounts of the beauty they encountered every day, in wind and wave and sky, as well as in the creatures and people they encountered.
They didn’t complete the trip, having discovered like Moitessier that the goal was less important than the discoveries about themselves and each other along the journey.
Wine Dark Sea came back to Sydney after some 7,000 nautical miles under her keel, and with Sarah and Pete alternatively at the helm, scooped the honours in Division B of the CYCA’s prestigious 2018 Winter Series point score. Both were stoked about the win, but it was just one of string of impressive results for WDS.
Returning to the original question, and why our bonds to our sailing friends are so strong. Often, they are forged in intense and on-the edge moments; when we are absorbed in a struggle against seemingly overwhelming odds and an implacable enemy in the ocean. But those bonds are also nurtured in conversations between true friends, as a warm breeze whispers over the deck and pushes us over a silver sea.
We will once again don our trademark Hawaiian shirts and guide Wine Dark Sea back out to her element, and while we will mourn our missing shipmates, we will also be immensely grateful of having shared Ruth and Sarah’s extraordinary lives.
Fair winds to you both.
A concert will be held in Ruth’s honour on 14 July at Abraham Mott Hall. Tickets $40 with all proceeds to St Laurence House Youth Service. All enquiries 0406 512 162.
Sarah’s family have requested any In Memoriam donations be made to Marine Rescue NSW.