Hunter Hero: Setting sail for Heaven Can Wait's bright future on Lake Macquarie

SAILING FORWARD: Toronto Royal Motor Yacht Club vice-commodore and committee chairman Mel Steiner is proud of the Heaven Can Wait sailing regatta.
SAILING FORWARD: Toronto Royal Motor Yacht Club vice-commodore and committee chairman Mel Steiner is proud of the Heaven Can Wait sailing regatta.

IT’S a gruelling event – said to be tougher than the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race – but at its core is soft-hearted generosity.

Lake Macquarie’s Heaven Can Wait Sailing Regatta is eyeing off new challenges, after raising more than $250,000 for the Cancer Council over 11 years and cementing its niche as Australia’s only overnight regatta on a lake.

The event was recently named the Hunter’s Volunteer Team of the Year in the NSW Volunteering Awards. 

And, buoyed by the recent success, organisers say there is something “truly magic” about “having a three-way dual between the yachts under moonlight at 2am”.

They want to build on the event and make Lake Macquarie the home of tough sailing.

Mel Steiner, vice commodore of Toronto’s Royal Motor Yacht Club and committee chairman, said in just 24 hours the yachts undergo a year’s worth of wear and tear to the sails because of the event’s course changes.

Founded by Lake Macquarie yachtsman Shaun Lewicki, the Heaven Can Wait regatta consists of three events including a one lap dash around the lake (about 13 nautical miles), a 12-hour race and the 24-hour race.

Mr Steiner said competitors often remarked the event was “tougher than the Sydney to Hobart”.

“It’s not like sailing out of Sydney heads and having the wide ocean,” he said.

“In this race you’re constantly turning, constantly setting the sails, constantly setting the spinnakers throughout the course of the lake … it’s really tough stuff, you don’t stop for 24 hours.”

Mr Lewicki said the event was “one of a kind”.

“It really is unique,” he said.

“It’s held on waterways which are non-commercial, meaning you can run around all day without the interruption of shipping, and it's pretty ideal in terms of safety.

“In this day and age the opportunity to sail at night is lost, but not here.”

Mr Lewicki started the event on the back of his own cancer diagnosis, and named it after his yacht, Heaven Can Wait, which sat in his front yard for four years as he battled the disease.

The “spark” came after he noticed a flake of paint fall off the wall at John Hunter Hospital which he said was in the shape of Lake Macquarie.

“It’s been a labour of love since then,” he said.

Mr Lewicki has stepped back from the event now, but says he “hangs around” to make sure it sticks to its core principles of helping charity.

Mr Steiner said LakeFest, a longer aquatic event which is built around Heaven Can Wait, could one day rival the best regattas in Australia if supported by the community.

“It could grow into something much bigger,” he said.