As you’re tucking into the leftover Christmas ham, wearing your favourite new t-shirt and settling in for a day of sport (which includes second Test match against the West Indies, and Fox Sports Channel 502 replaying The Rugby Championship and Rugby World Cup Semi Finals and Final from 9am onwards), you’ll be a world away from Waratahs props Paddy Ryan and Jeremy Tilse.
After more than two years learning how to sail on board Brindabella, Tilse and Wallaby Number 866 Ryan will be on board the 1997 Sydney to Hobart winner for the 70th running of the famous yacht race.
“My dad’s cousin Jim Cooney bought Brindabella in 2010,” Ryan explained. “He invited me on it, I went on a couple of times, and then the crew decided that they liked having big blokes on there and asked me to bring another bloke. The choice was pretty easy, because Jeremy Tilse is an adventure addict and loves trying new stuff, and we were both instantly hooked!”
“My job is to move sails around the boat and grind them up in the air, and Tilsey’s job is similar but he pulls the sails up from the masthead and also does a bit of stuff on the bow (front of the boat) which is pretty crazy stuff with all of the waves! We’ve had to qualify through off-shore races and spending enough time on the boat so we can provide strong service, but now it’s all happening!”
Competing in an event which takes in 630 nautical miles and has seen nine yachts sink in its’ history is a fairly intimidating challenge for most, and Ryan admits it was never the original intention when he and Tilse started spending time on the maxi.
“I wanted to try my hand at something different, and I didn’t really want to take up any more subjects at Uni,” he laughs. “I never started doing it thinking I would do the Sydney to Hobart; I was just doing it for fun, but then I realised how much harder it would be to be out at sea for an extended period of time and that convinced me to have a crack. The challenge is going to be doing it for three or four days, when the longest Tilsey and I have done it for previously is 24 hours out on the boat.”
Having become accustomed to going into battle alongside 22 like-minded individuals on the Rugby field, it will come as no surprise that Ryan loves the team element of sailing.
“For me it’s a challenge an opportunity to test yourself when the going gets tough,” he says. “My favourite thing about it is the teamwork.
“I have been really surprised by how much of a team sport it is; you have a massive crack, but ultimately everybody needs to do their job to get the boat going as fast as we can and if you’re not playing your part, you let the team down.
“It’s also been great to meet so many great people, and in terms of team sports you won’t get a bigger variation in terms of the types of people you have on board. We’ve got Jim’s daughter on the boat who is a medical student in her late teens and she’s one of the main trimmers, and then you’ve got our navigator who is going on his 41st Sydney to Hobart and works in the mailing industry. That diversity of people within the team is pretty crazy, and there’s so much about it that I really do enjoy.”
New Waratahs’ Head Coach Daryl Gibson has been most accommodating with allowing Ryan and Tilse the necessary time to qualify to be on board.
“Daryl has been really understanding, and hopefully we’ve repaid that,” Ryan says. “We made sure we came back for pre-season in good nick so that we could justify missing a couple of training sessions, and we’ve only missed three sessions in total to be out on the boat. He’s very supportive of it.
“Pre-season has been tough physically, but it’s actually been really good in terms of helping us to recover and look after ourselves. The performance staff at the Waratahs have been great in treating our bodies and helping us to get the best of ourselves with sailing on the weekend and training on Monday.”
Ryan and Tilse aren’t the only Waratahs taking part in the Sydney to Hobart in 2016; their teammate Kurtley Beale will be on board Loyal, along with former Waratah and Wallaby Phil Waugh, former Australian Test Captain Michael Clarke and former Sydney Roosters star Anthony Minichello.
You can watch the Sydney to Hobart kick off on Boxing Day live on Channel Seven from 12:30pm AEDT, and you can follow the race live on Twitter here.