James sets benchmark for solo Tasman sail crossing

James Prascevic is a classic example of how a burgeoning Army career can quickly turn around, and of how that unfortunate twist has led to the conquering of some extraordinary challenges.

9 July 2020

Mr Prascevic served with 1 Royal Australian Regiment from 2002 to 2008. He had three deployments, East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq, and was at the School of Infantry on the point of selection for the 2nd Commando Regiment when he broke an ankle in a bad parachuting landing.

The injury put him out of action for six months. The down time led to a lot of introspection, some selfmedication with alcohol, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), ultimately leading to his medical discharge in November 2011.

With DVA’s assistance he accessed psychiatric and psychological help to manage his conditions and take some training courses when he moved back to Lorne, Victoria, his home town.

‘DVA were fantastic,’ Mr Prascevic said.

Fishing off the Victorian coast had become part of his therapy and it was there that he conceived the idea to take his 4.45 metre ‘tinny’ — aluminium dinghy — across Bass Strait to Tasmania. The trip between Lorne and Smithton skirting King Island one November took 10 hours and the return, 12 hours.

‘I hoped to raise a bit of money and awareness for the Black Dog Institute,’ James said. ‘And then I got thinking if I could do something like this in a tinny, what could I do using only the wind.’

DVA supported him to get the appropriate Yachtmasters certificates and he bought a yacht, an Adams Traditional.

‘I looked around for challenges,’ he said, saying that a solo lap of the globe probably was not good for someone ‘with the pressure of PTSD.’

He discovered the World Speed Sailing Record Council (WSSRC).

‘They have a number of ocean crossings on their books, including Sydney to Auckland, which had been done in about three days in a fully-crewed trimaran, but no record had been established for a solo crossing,’ he said. ‘So I thought I would give it a go.’

He spent around 21/2 years preparing to cross the Tasman, which is notorious for its weather, often either savage or calm.

And he competed in a Sydney to Hobart race, but he says he was unwell at the time and didn’t really appreciate the experience fully.

The crossing in February went well until he was becalmed.

‘I lost the wind for four days, in one 24-hour period I travelled only 100 metres, and I don’t know whether it might have been backwards (to Australia),’ Mr Prascevic said. ‘I was really bored. You can’t start the engine on a trip like this, except to charge the batteries.’

The crossing has been ratified by the WSSRC as a new record for a solo Sydney to Auckland voyage, averaging 4.18 knots (7.74 km/h) for the 1,265 nautical mile (2,343 kilometre) journey.

Rising to the Pacific swell, through Sydney Heads, next stop Auckland.

Ironically, because everyone Mr Prascevic knew was working at the time, he turned around and sailed back to Australia on his own after a week’s rest — in ten days — and then from Sydney back to Geelong, again solo.

He says sailing, in fact, just being on the water fishing, is therapeutic: ‘I feel comfortable on the water and by the water.’

And his next challenge? Joining a racing crew to sail in the Ocean Racing Club of Victoria offshore season when racing is permitted again, and either the forthcoming Sydney-Hobart or Melbourne-Hobart.

You can watch a YouTube video about Mr Prascevic’s Trans-Tasman trip.

James Prascevic, standing at the helm, in the cockpit of his sailing yacht.

James Prascevic in the cockpit.