On March 7th2016, at 1500 hours, I arrived at my home for the next 11 days - 44 meters of steel hull, 32 meters of masts holding 511 square meters of sail, a square-rigger to be shared by 23 youth crew, 3 supers (navy staff recruiting to the ship) and 9 staff.
Stepping aboard Young Endeavour, I couldn't resist looking aloft (above deck, into the rigging) to where a stunning entanglement of steel, rope and canvas hung silently. As intrigued as I was to learn the ropes and decipher the pin-rails (where the ropes are held fast) there was a pipe (a message over the loud speaker) to be at amidships for a briefing. Kenny, our soon to be Sail Master, addressed us about close quarters living, the location of our racks and separated us into our watches (red, white or blue). I was now a part of the illustrious white watch, consisting of 4 gents, 4 ladies, 1 super and our fearless watch leader, Adam.
We cast off-lines at 1600 and made way from Williams’s Town wharf to Hobson’s Bay, where we were to anchor for the night. We unpacked our one bag and surrendered our phones to be retained in the black box and returned at the end of the trip. At amidships we played some ice breaking games to get to know one another till dinner is piped - “white watch to dinner”. As we made our way into the mess area, we were greeted by the rich smells of dinner to be. Our resident chef Jenko had cooked up a storm! Sticky pork ribs, steak with a mushroom sauce and vegetarian fried rice, all served with fresh vegetables and followed with a mixture of desserts, including apple crumble, fresh fruit salad and ice cream. After having second helpings, we returned to amidships with our harnesses in hand. Kenny, accompanied by Taffy (the boat master) and Sumo (the ships bosun) briefed us about safety when laying aloft (climbing the rigging) and how to wear the harness. Shortly after, our watch leaders rocked off (a rock, paper scissors game), to see who would climb first. Finally, we climbed to the top-gallant yard (the small one at the top). Sitting on the yard feeling slightly unstable, I look around to see the city lights and the navigation markers of the port. Shortly after being back on deck after our first night climb, a pot of hot chocolate was there to warm us before bed. The gents had the 12-berth cabin in the fo’c’sle (forecastle- the forward part of a ship with the sailors' living quarters), where we slept three racks high crammed into the bow.
At 0630, Kenny wakes us with his wakey wakey pipe and a morning song to muster us on deck, where we are introduced to early morning activities to get us moving and switch our minds on. After another outstanding hot breakfast from Jenko, the youth crew mustered on the port side of the bridge, for the colours ceremony (Raising the flag and national anthem) and morning brief.
We weighed anchor (lifted) and made way towards the heads of Port Philip Bay. Shortly after, we conducted “Happy Hour”, a military grade ceiling to floor clean of the ship that opened the youth crews’ eyes to a navy run vessel.
After lunch we learnt the ropes and completed our first setting and furling drills. Given the heat and lack of wind, Captain Gav made the call for the crew to have a swim. Motors off and sails furled (packed away), the ship drifted silently as we dived off the bowsprit. Everyone splashing water everywhere cooled us down and left us refreshed. At 1800, we exit Port Philip Bay and enter Bass Strait, where the waters are known to be rough. We set a course for Wilson’s Prom.
The watches on deck have started. Some below trying to sleep for the early watch, some dreading the midnight shift, others on the gunwale (side of the ship) feeling a little queasy and a few burleying the ocean.
Following our morning routine of “Happy Hour”, Taffy introduce us to the “rules of the road” at sea, teaching the youth crew all about the different types of navigational markers, lights and how to interact with other vessels. Later that afternoon, Kyle, aka Fabio (the ships navigator), showed us the ways of navigation and how to plot our position. By the time Kyle’s presentation concluded, we had rounded Wilsons Prom. Climbing aloft and sea furling the sails, we made way into Refuge cove. Once safely at anchor, Kyle gave a short brief on safety when at anchor and how to conduct night watch.
We awoke to slightly overcast weather. Although the weather was a little miserable, we piled into the ship’s tender and went ashore. Once ashore, many of the youth crew ran to hug a tree, thankful that the ground was no longer moving beneath their feet. With the crew split into three parties, we went our own ways, walking the tracks to the lookout and other beaches. While waiting for the tender to return, we played beach games to kill the time. Once all the crew were aboard, we weighed anchor and set sail, heading north up the coast.
Throughout the night, we experienced over 30knts of breeze and some rougher seas, with many scrambling for sick bags again. After our morning regime of a brief and “happy hour”, we set sail and with the conditions easing, Kyle gave a presentation on meteorology. We learnt about highs, lows, how the weather systems move and their effect on our sailing.
Waking to light conditions, we motor-sailed into Twofold Bay, where we set anchor for the day to explore Eden. Visiting Eden’s famous whale museum, we learned about the whaling industry and the legend of Old Tom, the killer whale that helped the whalers round up and catch the other whales within the Bay. Following dinner, we weighed anchor and set sail once again, departing Two Fold Bay and continuing our journey north. Later that night, White watch were again on duty, continuing the ship on its path north. Gliding through the sea, when we climbed aloft in the darkness to see the stars from the yards, we were fortunate to see another wonderful sight. Three dolphins swam towards the ship’s bow, illuminated by the phosphorescence and darting towards the ship like torpedos. Dancing in the bow wave, they played as we watched from aloft.
In true Navy style, our breakfast, morning brief and “Happy Hour” were all conducted on time. By now, all the youth crew had it down-pat. Each watch was called on deck to conduct Captains setting and furling drills. Captain Gav oversaw proceedings as we worked the ropes and set the sails to ensure that the watch can safely work. With all watches passing the drills, we continued motor-sailing north up the NSW coast, until we entered Jervis Bay. Taking advantage of the strong breeze and small swell, we demonstrated our skill in tacking the ship as entire crew. We set anchor again, to stay for the night just off the shore of Long Beach. Once again we piled into the tender and were taken ashore, where we all played beach games and swam. As the afternoon passed and the sun had set, we returned to the ship for another amazing dinner. After dinner, we sat on deck watching our movie for the night, “Around Cape Horn”, a film from the 1920’s about a gigantic tall ship transporting goods around Cape Horn.
We woke to an incredible sunrise on deck. Shortly after, we got under way and pointed south to Green Patch, where we anchored for the day, allowing time to fix the fridges. The youth crew were sent ashore for more team building games and on return were briefed by Capt. Gav on command day and our crew election. Later that evening, we were given an hour to conduct an election for various ship responsibilities. I was voted as Captain and although daunted by the task, was chuffed that the crew had confidence in my knowledge and skills. At 1000hrs the following day I was to be given command of the ship.
At 0930 the crew were gathered amidships for command day proceedings, where Capt. Gav handed over the command day instructions and “the telescope of challenge”. I became Captain Tobias for the next 24hrs. After reading the instructions and challenges, the youth command team (Navigator, sail master, watch officer and myself) hatched out a plan for each task. Completing as many of the tasks listed before our departure, we advised the staff that we were to weigh anchor at 1515. On time, the staff weighed anchor to military precision at 1515. With the wind in our favour, Patt, our Sail master, commanded the crew to safely sail from our anchorage and on to our first waypoint. Passing within the required distance, we changed tack and set course for the heads of Jervis Bay and before the conditions worsened, I sent Blue watch aloft to set lose the square sails, in knowledge of our course change in a few hours. Once Blue watch were safely back on deck, we heaved on the lines and pointed closer into the wind and swell, heading for waypoint 2. With a stiff breeze of 25kts and 2m of swell we pushed on to the east, losing sight of the coast for two hours. Rolling and bouncing in the swell our youth crew chefs in the galley were learning that cooking at sea is an entirely new challenge, where pots and pans jump off the stove on the larger waves. Dinner served and bellies full, we push onwards into the night to waypoint 2. Informed of our course change from my navigator Cal, we altered course and set our sails to the new wind direction. After discussing my over night plan with Meg, my Watch Officer, I retired to my rack for some shut-eye. Grabbing a few hours sleep at a time, I periodically made my way to the bridge to check our progress and tweaked the ship for maximum speed.
Watching the sunrise over the ocean, we sailed closer and closer to waypoint 3. Our chefs served another fantastic breakfast and we followed routine and conducted “Happy Hour”. As time pushed on, we grew closer to Port Hacking and passed through Waypoints 3 and 4. At 1015, I handed command back to Capt. Gav so the staff crew could safely anchor the ship in the bay. The youth crew officially handed the ship back at 1400 hours, with the telescope changing hands. We were stood down until dinner for a good afternoon nap, recuperation for those who got little sleep during the rough weather.
Our final day had arrived. The staff crew woke early to weigh anchor and make way for our 18nm journey to Sydney Harbour. After our final clean of the ship, we packed our bags, rugged up for the wet weather to come and returned to deck for a short brief on proceedings. As we entered the harbour we climbed aloft in torrential rain, manning the yards, a tradition for a square-rigger when entering port. Motoring up river we pass Garden Island and under Sydney Harbour bridge. On the loud crack of the signal gun, the ship turns and makes for Garden Island where we are to dock. After docking, the crew presented each of us with a certificate for our journey and congratulated everyone on our teamwork and spirit. Saying goodbye to the ship and crew was hard. Even though it was only 11 days we had all formed a bond, not only with each other, but with our Nation’s beautiful ship.
I strongly encourage anyone who is able to join the ship for a voyage to do so. It is a journey of a life-time. Not only do you learn to sail a square-rigger, but you learn about yourself - how to push your own limits, to work as a team, and complete goals and challenges.