Sailing Michael Hooper: Wallabies star dreams of competing in Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race

A stint aboard the maxiyacht Willow piqued Michael Hooper’s interest in one day sailing the Sydney To Hobart – provided the former Wallabies captain can overcome his seasickness.

Hooper was a member of Willow’s crew at the Big Boat Challenge on Sydney Harbour, the last major event on the Australian sailing calendar before the big Boxing Day race begins.

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Wallaby greats Phil Waugh and Kurtley Beale are among ex-footballers to have competed in Australia’s most famous yacht race in recent years, but Hooper was previously unavailable to follow in their footsteps.

“I’ve had a connection with a few Waratahs over the years who have sailed and worked with me,” Willow skipper Jim Cooney told AAP.

“‘Hoops’ was dying to do the Hobart tour in 2020, which got cancelled, and then last year he got very busy doing the (Wallabies) tour.”

A Willow crew member prepares for the 2022 Big Boat Challenge on Sydney Harbour. Recognition: Dan Himbrecht/AAP

But Tuesday’s race fell during Hooper’s vacation, paving the way for him to join Cooney’s 70-foot yacht, which claimed handicap honors and was only beaten to the finish by the four 100-foot supermaxis.

“Today was great,” Hooper told AAP.

“I get a little seasick so I don’t have full quota (after Hobart) yet. I build on that.

“But it was great taste today and one day I will definitely build the confidence and courage to get there.”

There are no passengers on the good ship Willow as Cooney had Hooper’s 250 lb frame at work as a grinder, manually operating the winches that help steer the sails.

The role is considered to be one of the more physically demanding duties a crew member can perform.

Michael Hooper in action against Scotland. Recognition: RossParker/SNS group via Getty Images

“It was intense. The boat is moving and things are happening,” said Hooper.

“I’m pretty broken now, I don’t need a training session.

“I was impressed with how the team worked here today and their communication and camaraderie between crews is pretty cool.”

Cooney was hoping Hooper could shake off his sea legs and go all out next year.

“We’ll try to get him on board for the big race next Christmas,” he said.

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James Brien

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