Heaven can Wait Sailing Regatta

21st March 2016

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) [6.04 p.m.]: My electorate of Lake Macquarie has a rich diversity of people who, for the greatest part, are ready and willing to go above and beyond to lend a helping hand, to look after each other or in some way to do good things for their community, and that is invariably without too much fuss or desire for some sort of public recognition. Our community is blessed with people who just dig in when the chips are down and do the things that create the sort of community we feel proud to be a part of. An example of such people is those associated with an event called Heaven Can Wait, an annual sailing regatta on our lake, which is not just a wondrous display of human spirit but also a fascinating display of human endurance.

The tenth Heaven Can Wait charity event was held several weeks ago and was once again hosted by the Royal Motor Yacht Club at Toronto, as it has been for the past decade. Heaven Can Wait was conceived by local resident and keen sailor Shaun Lewicki, who has in the past battled cancer. Shaun is a survivor, but he has been touched by the beast and was not going to move on without doing something to help. Shaun is an extraordinary man who has done extraordinary things for his community. It should be said that Shaun initially established the event to promote sailing and to shine a spotlight on our region's spectacular aquatic assets, but also to raise a few dollars for cancer research along the way. The event, however, had a life of its own and has now raised about a quarter of a million dollars for cancer-related charities and, more specifically, the Domestic Support Services Program run by the Hunter branch of the Cancer Council.

The regatta itself is quite remarkable. Four races are run in parallel and include two short races as well as a 12-hour event and a 24-hour event that traverse the length and breadth of beautiful Lake Macquarie. Those events are complemented by a charity dinner that precedes all the racing. This year's event attracted about 70 sailing vessels, including a few boats from neighbouring regions, with one notably coming from as far away as Geelong in Victoria. While it is a bit of a side note, there is no doubt that uncertainty around the ability to access Swansea Channel would impact on the number of yachts willing to visit Lake Macquarie to participate. This issue is commonly raised with me, but it is a side issue that cannot overshadow the wonderful Heaven Can Wait regatta. The event used to be held on the October long weekend, but it now forms part of the broader Lakefest event, which combines Heaven Can Wait with other events such as Paddlefest and even a kiteboard competition. All these events raise money for charity, with about $50,000 being collected this year.

As is the case with many of these community festivals, a team of volunteers forms the backbone of its success. In this case they are led by the tireless Mel Steiner and the Royal Motor Yacht Club at Toronto, which have garnered the support of the local community and are ably backed by the local business community. Not only does Heaven Can Wait do an extraordinary thing for cancer research; it also does a wonderful job of promoting our region to domestic and international tourists. Lake Macquarie is often referred to as Australia's largest coastal saltwater lake, but, pedantically, I must once again point out that it is technically an estuarine lagoon and is one of the best sailing venues in the world.

Mel Steiner and Shaun Lewicki will this week be handing over another cheque to the Hunter branch of the Cancer Council of NSW for $35,000. As I indicated earlier, it brings the total amount donated over the past decade to more than a quarter of a million dollars. That money goes to the Cancer Council's Home Help Program, which provides domestic help to terminal cancer patients as well as those who are recovering. It provides the simple things, such as someone to do the domestic chores, which these people are unable to do because of their ill health.

It would be completely remiss of me not to recognise also the contribution that Heaven Can Wait makes to another worthy organisation, an organisation that is particularly relevant to all lake users—Marine Rescue NSW. I know that every dollar that Marine Rescue receives is greatly appreciated and is well used. My electorate would be a much poorer place without the likes of community leaders and volunteers such as those involved with Heaven Can Wait. I am pleased to be able to support them where I can, including by recognising in this House the remarkable work they do for the Lake Macquarie community. I am sure I speak on behalf of the entire community when I thank Shaun Lewicki, Mel Steiner, the Commodore and the board of the Royal Motor Yacht Club, and all those who in any way helped organise, run and participated in Heaven Can Wait, not only this year but in all those events since 2007.

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