Why did you decide to migrate from China to Australia in 1998?

The catalyst was the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. I was in my second year of university and we slept there for many nights. A classmate later went to Australia as an overseas student and I decided to go too, after finishing my studies. It took me five years to get a skilled visa and I knew very little about the country because there was limited access to information in China. I found out on my first day that I couldn’t understand a word of Aussie English, despite having a high mark in my ELS (English as a Second Language) test, as I’d only learnt American English!

Were you caught up in the 4 June violence in Tiananmen Square?

On 3 June, I left the protest with a good friend because she asked me to accompany her to see her mum, who was hospitalised in our hometown, and we planned to return in a week. I didn’t have any clue what was going to happen the next day. It was quite naïve of us young students to believe we would make changes, but we definitely made history.

You went on to marry Captain Dick Gandy, the creator of the Australian Boating Manual. What attracted you to him?

My first impression of Dick was that I felt I had known him for a long time –it was an instant connection. He was infatuated with me, his eyes sparkled when he saw me. My Captain was older and wiser, larger than life, charming and charismatic, and a great storyteller. Most of all, he had a big heart. I became his first mate after we met each other.

How important is the manual in the industry?

First published in 1996, the Australian Boating Manual has become an invaluable resource for both amateur and professional mariners alike. It continues to be the go-to book for anyone studying for any kind of marine certificate. It is regarded as the “Boating Bible” in the community.

Captain Gandy sadly passed away in 2018. Had you talked about continuing his work?

Dick was diagnosed with motor neurone disease 20 days before his passing. About two years earlier, he asked me if something happened to him, would I want to continue his business? I joked that the maritime industry was too dry and boring for me! I had no interest at that time, and I didn’t think I was capable of doing it anyway.

What changed your mind?

After Dick passed, my family and Dick’s close friends suggested in good faith that I should sell his business. At the time, our daughter was only seven years old, the community language school I started in2015 was expanding, and the pain and grief of losing my Captain unexpectedly was unbearable. But no-one could feel how I felt about Dick’s book after his sudden death. To me, Dick’s spirit lives in every page and I could not bear to part with it. I had to do it, even though I had no idea how.

How difficult was taking over the business?

In my wildest dreams, I never thought that one day I would publish a thousand-page boating manual. I didn’t have any maritime knowledge, hardly knew anyone in the industry, and had zero experience in book publishing. It all seemed like a mission impossible. The fact that English is my second language added another layer of difficulty. I found myself floundering in uncharted waters and the fear of failure was suffocating – I was literally shaking everyday. Thankfully, when I threw myself into the maritime world, I received help and support from many people. They kept me afloat as I navigated the many challenges.

You’ve said you’d like to get more women involved with the manual. How is that going?

I’ve connected with many female maritime experts who have given me valuable guidance. I hope there will be female mariners who are interested in becoming our next edition’s editorial consultants.

Tell us about your passion for ceramic art.

I feel most relaxed when playing with clay. Throwing on a potter’s wheel is meditating for me. My mind concentrates on the clay gently coming to life beneath my fingers. You also love singing.

What’s your favourite song to perform?

“Sailing” by Rod Stewart, which I recently recorded. You can listen to my singing on most music streaming services and YouTube. Why this song? Because I’m passionate about anything that’s related to a boat. And it conjures up wonderful memories of my time with my Captain.

This article appeared in the April 2024 edition of DCN Magazine