The One to Watch: Alice Parker Making Waves in Sailing

In the fast-paced world of sailing, where precision and skill are paramount, 29-year-old Hawkesbury sailor Alice (Tarnawski) Parker is making waves. She may still be considered an “up-and-coming” talent yet her achievements in the sailing world show that she’s already a force to be reckoned with.

Alice’s latest triumph came in her fourth Rolex Sydney to Hobart Race aboard the RP72 URM. As the navigator, she played a crucial role in the success of the campaign, a journey that began a year ago with meticulous planning and numerous coastal races along the southern shores of Sydney and up to Port Stephens.

The URM team, led by skipper Marcus Ashley-Jones and owner Anthony Johnston, secured third place in line honours in the 628 nautical mile race. It was a bittersweet result for Parker with URM narrowly missing out on the winner’s handicap trophy, to come second. That was won by the 66-foot Alive navigated by Adrienne Cahalan, a woman who Parker sees as an inspiration for her own sailing and navigating.

Cahalan for her part had only praise for the 29-year old telling Sail World after the race; “She’ll be taking my job soon.”

The URM crew is a family affair, with all four Johnson brothers contributing their skills to the program, creating a tight-knit and successful crew which Parker relishes. Her journey into the crew was through word of mouth. With years of sailing experience under her belt, she was recommended as a navigator when the team was on the lookout for one. “I gave her a call and asked her a few questions about her navigation and the way she does it. It was just an instant fit. She has a great personality and as soon as we got her onboard we knew she is probably one of the best navigators certainly in Australia, if not the world sailing scene,” Ashley-Jones said.

Her expertise and passion for sailing made her a perfect fit, and over the past year she has become an integral part of the URM sailing program.

“Before you become a navigator you need to be a great sailor. She’s certainly got the tactical nouse, the natural feel of sailing and is across all the latest technology in navigation, she delivers the information in a diligent way. She’s a fantastic communicator, very smart, very intelligent, a great personality,” Ashley-Jones said.

“She’s in charge of telling 20 guys, on one of the hottest boats in Australia, where to go and she’s made, over the last couple of seasons, some incredible tactical decisions based on her research and the weather, and they’ve all come through which is showing on the results page,” he said.

Previously Parker sailed on the Farr 45 Pretty Woman and has now completed two Sydney to Hobart races on URM. Her sailing roots,remarkably, trace back to her bush upbringing in Bowen Mountain, when her parents bought a 7-metre yacht kindling her love for the sport.

“We used to go out to Pittwater and to have little weekends away on it, which was really, really cool. And then when I got a little bit older my cousin who lives in Newport was really into sailing and I got thrown in the dingy at a club called Bayview Yacht Racing Association which is just on Pittwater and I had a go at it and just loved it,” Parker recalls.

When she got a bit older, Parker joined the Youth Development Squad at the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club at Pittwater. Training was Friday night followed by a day of sailing each Saturday.

“We’d jump in a car and dad would pick me up from school. We had a music playlist that was just about the right length to get us there. I’d do Friday night and sail all day Saturday and dad would go fishing or hang out on the boat. And then we’d drive back on a Saturday night ready to do my homework on a Sunday. And that was pretty much my high school life.”

Parker’s move into navigation began around four or five years ago when veteran sailor Richard Hudson, the owner of yacht Pretty Woman, offered her the opportunity to learn the skill. Since then, she has dedicated herself to constant improvement, taking courses, practicing rigorously, and enjoying the challenges that navigation presents.

Balancing her love for sailing with a career in physiotherapy, Parker moved from the Hawkesbury to Manly, making the pursuit of her passion more accessible. Currently working for Icare, she spent the previous five years in private practice while sailing three days a week, most weekends, and any spare afternoon she can find.

When asked about the future, Parker expresses her aspirations to sail professionally. She acknowledges the challenges faced by women in the sport, especially in physically demanding roles, but points to the increasing recognition of women’s achievements in sailing, breaking down gender barriers.

“Look, it’s hard when you’re smaller than the boys are because physically it does mean it’s harder to get ropes on and you’re not going to be the brawn on the boat unless you are a particularly fit person,” Parker says.

“But if you look at where the sport is going and the achievements of women in the sport – the winning boat this year was Alive and they had a female navigator and we came second and we also had a female navigator. And then you look at things like the Sail GP which is a circuit going around the world at the moment, women in that are just as valuable, just as important as the boys onboard. It’s just about finding what your strengths are and playing to them. In the past few years the women have really stepped up in the sport and are the same as the blokes,” she adds.

Ashley-Jone has no doubt Parker’s future lies in professional sailing. “There is a huge amount of effort and research that goes into all her decisions. So when she brings an idea or a move she wants to do while we’re racing to the table, you know myself and all the afterguard on the boat back her 100%.”

“Absolutely, she will be at the top of the sport for many years to come,” he said.

Parker’s sights are set on more ocean and overseas racing, with dreams of participating in the Transpac and the Fastnet Race. As a navigator, she believes her strong work ethic, problem-solving skills, and the ability to simplify complex information make her a valuable asset to any sailing team.

Despite her busy schedule, Parker remains connected to her roots in the Hawkesbury. She got married here last April, and whenever possible she tries to visit her parents and friends. The Hawkesbury, with its scenic beauty and sentimental value, still holds a special place in her heart as she continues to navigate her way through the challenging waters of professional sailing.