Sail Melbourne & VIODA fostering Australia-Chinese friendships

Sail Melbourne 2017 might be over but some of the memories and friendships made at this year’s regatta will last forever. This is especially true for the participants of the VIODA Qingdao Optimist Exchange Program, which brought a group of Chinese Optimist sailors down to Australia to participate at this year’s Sail Melbourne International regatta (29 November to 3 December 2017).

The program has been running for five years now and gives Victorian Optimist sailors the opportunity to go on a sailing exchange to Qingdao, China and in return makes it possible for the Chinese optimist sailors to come to Melbourne.

But sailing is not the only goal of the program as Victorian International Optimist Dinghy Association (VIODA) president Kate Goss explains:

“The focus is more on cultural exchange more so than high performance sailing. It’s about learning that you can take your skill anywhere in the world and you can have a common bond with other sailors even if there is a language barrier.”

Four Chinese intermediate Optimist sailors plus a coach and team manager from Qingdao came to Sail Melbourne this year and were billeted by Victorian sailing families for a week, who also organised the boats for the sailors.  

“It’s the second time that the Chinese have come over here and it’s a lot harder for them with regards to visas and getting everything planned.  Over there they have the full support of the government so we are well taken care of in regard to accommodation, food, transport etc. Here we have a bit more of a home-grown approach. They come and live at our homes and they find it really fascinating that we have backyards and pets. And it’s a different experience for them,” Kate Goss said.

“It’s very cool and I’m so happy because everyone is so friendly,” Li Chengze (aka Adamo) said enthusiastically when asked about his views of Australia so far.

Coming to Australia and heading overseas for the first time in their life, is an experience the Chinese guests enjoy immensely and despite the fact that the Melbourne weather made sailing a challenge this year they were very enthusiastic and thankful for the experience:  “It’s my first time to Australia and I think Australia is a beautiful country,” Shu Qinuo, aka Cynthia, said. “People are very nice and friendly and they can sail very well.  I would be very happy if the Australian sailors come back to China,” she added about the opportunity of hosting the Australian sailors at her home next.  

The program started five years ago following a partnership between the then World Sailing Cup host cities Melbourne and Qingdao. Qingdao, the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games sailing venue, hosts the annual Qingdao International Sailing Week with VIODA sailors participating over the past five years.

“We offered six places for six children to go as guests and a team manager and a parent to go to Qingdao and it is absolutely mind-blowing the reception we get there. Over the five years we’ve had the program running we had an enormous number of kids that have gone through the program. We specifically target the intermediate Opti sailors and so many of the past recipients have benefited from that relationship and have been sailing at Sail Melbourne for a couple of years now. A lot of them are in the Nacra, the 420 program or the 29ers now and they have all gone on to bigger and better things,” Kate Goss said.

“When you go over there, it’s actually quite humbling. We actually get treated like royalty, even though we are just a bunch of intermediate Victorian sailors. But they treat us like we are Team Australia. When we go over there we get picked up, they do these incredible opening ceremonies, there’s press, they are on TV and it’s absolutely insane. And with Qingdao being an Olympic venue with the Olympic rings there it’s quite aspirational for a lot of the kids as well. Plus it’s just a great opportunity to open their eyes to different countries and cultures as well as to encourage them to continue with sailing. A lot of the kids are learning mandarin at school so the exchange also ties in nicely with their education,” Kate Goss added about the opportunity.  

Optimist sailor Cameron Berry, who went on the exchange in 2016 agreed: “It was a really good experience because we’ve learnt different languages, we got to try new food, and it was just great to try something new.” Mason Mahoney agreed “It was really good to go overseas and compete against different people and trying new things in a different place.”

“It was really good to learn about all the different cultures. We were there when they had a really good regatta on and it was good to see everything they did and to learn form them,” Optimist sailor Matty Goss, who went on the exchange in 2014, explained. “You only get to go once so everyone gets to have a go at participating in the program and experiencing everything. So when you later make an Australian team and go overseas you already know some cultures,” he added.

Pending the invite from China, the program is set to continue with the Victorians hoping to head over to China in August 2018 and with the Chinese sailors to be invited back for Sail Melbourne 2018.

Follow VIODA for more news and updates around the program here:

See an interview with the Chinese Opti sailors here 

Past Victorian Qingdao Exchange Sailors

2018 Tour

  • Coach: Mel Hitchen-Haw
  • Sarah Goss
  • Arabella Henderson
  • Angelique Gleeson
  • Natalie Gleeson
  • Ben Hemingway
  • Oscar Meinke
  • Oliver Beretta

2017 Tour

  • Coach: Xavier Vandame
  • Jack Italia
  • Daniel Laverty 
  • Hugo Vandame
  • Matt Purnell
  • Jarrod Jones
  • Hope Withers
  • Brooke Hutchison

2016 Tour

  • Coach: Jeni Danks
  • Scarlett Zerbe
  • Cameron Berry
  • Hamish Berry
  • David Danks
  • Mason Mahoney
  • Thomas Johnston

2015 Tour

  • Coach: Alison Dale
  • Linden Wareing
  • Michael Case
  • Zac Heyes 
  • Mackenzie Heyes
  • Lachie Weber
  • Will McKenzie

2014 Tour

  • Coach: Lloyd Collings
  • Matty Goss
  • Lily Richardson
  • Matilda Richardson
  • Patrick Distefano
  • Lachie Hughes
  • Nikki Gurr

2013 Tour

  • Coach: David White
  • Stephen Case
  • Michael Parks
  • Charlie Hiam
  • Campbell Rickard
  • Ella Sharman
  • Jess Harper


VIODA aims to promote opportunity for all Optimist sailors in Victoria to achieve their aspirations in a fun, fair and healthy environment. The Association fosters and facilitates this aim by support of training and competition at affiliated Clubs and in various State and National regattas. 

The Association seeks to foster the above, keeping the spirit of pure one design racing as a priority in a fair and sportsmanlike manner. The Association seeks to have an Opti sailor leave the Class the best sailor they could or want to be, demonstrating responsibility and respect and support for others, be they competitors, supporters or officials.