2016 Adventurer of the Year continues Kookaburra’s sailing legacy

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Sailing around the world is very much on the cards for Melbourne adventurer Michael Smith – he just needs to find some free time.

In 2015 the owner of former America’s Cup 12m yacht Kookaburra 1 became the first person to solo navigate the world in a single engine flying boat.

Smith made the epic adventure in a Sea-Rey Amphibian aeroplane called Southern Sun, which he says was a great way for him to do a circumnavigation in a reasonable time frame.

His extraordinary journey took seven months and he spent 480 hours in the air, visiting 80 countries along the way.

“When I decided to start flying I knew I wanted to have a seaplane because I had grown up boating. I really enjoy flying but I love sailing. Being on the water is what I love the most,” he said.

Smith, who was named 2016 Adventurer of the Year by the Australian Geographic Society, says he travelled like a yachtie, stopping for two or three days in each place, landing in the water and enjoying the destinations he visited.

Smith says there is a significant link between his love of sailing and his decision to fly around the world in a flying boat.

“No one had flown solo around the world in a flying boat before. I love that freedom of being able to land in the water. I don’t think I would have tried to fly around the world in a normal plane.”

A documentary on Smith’s plane adventure will come out in April followed by his book in October.

This week Smith and his crew have competed in the Club Marine Cruising AMS Division 1 as part of the Festival of Sails presented by Rex Gorell Land Rover. 

“I’ve been coming to the Festival of Sails for more than 20 years,” he says. “The Williamstown to Geelong Passage Race is probably our favourite race of the year.”

He says his love of sailing started when he was a youngster.

“We lived on an orchard and had a dam and I really wanted to learn to sail so I made myself a boat out of a tyre tractor tube and a sail from the material from my tent. I was maybe nine years old. After that my dad bought me a Sabot. I really wanted a Sabot because that’s what John Bertrand learned to sail in.”

Smith learned to sail around Phillip Island and then the Gippsland Lakes.


His love affair with the sport was further fueled when he read the book Dove, about American teenager Robin Lee Graham who sailed around the world solo in the 1960s.

“I was 14 when Australia won the America’s Cup.  I sat up night after night watching it on my little 5-inch black and white television. John Bertrand was my absolute childhood hero.”

Kookaburra was built in Fremantle in 1985, two years before the America’s Cup, as one of three Kookaburras built for the 1987 campaign in Perth. Smith bought it from skipper Iain Murray and it has been in Melbourne the past 21 years.

“She is still going strong and is absolutely reliable,” he says.

Smith, who formed a syndicate with five other owners in 2003, says there is an amazing sense of history around the boat.

“In Geelong so many people come up because you are wearing the Kookaburra shirt and say they love watching the boat and it brings back so many memories. We are proud of that history.”

By Jess Gabites/Festival of Sails media