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Be Inspired –  read Andy’s story

Being the Accounte and Journal of One who sailed aboard the British Tall Ship “Lord Nelson”. On her passage in the Southern Ocean, Tasman Sea and Bays and Waters Hitherto from Hobart towne in Van Diemen’s Landt to Port Jackson in Her Britannic Majesty’s Colony of New South Wales. As seen through the eyes of one of her Impressed crewe who saw strange Sea Monsters and survived storm, tempest, surging seas and Fysh Pye to bring this Accounte.

THERE is an old proverb that you get out what you put in.

When Lord Nelson (Nellie to her friends) sailed from Hobart to Sydney I hope I ‘put in’ as much as I could; I certainly took a lot away with me at passage end.

Something rather wonderful happened in Eden, NSW, at the end of September 2013. Five simple words, that would become their catch-cry: “We sailed across Bass Strait!” turned a disparate group of individuals who had clambered over Nellie’s gangway but a few days earlier into a hard-nosed sailing ship crew; a ship’s company bound by a common, extraordinary achievement. The ship and the team had just weathered some 24 hours of Beaufort Scale south-westerly storms on her passage from Hobart to Sydney. The equinoctial weather patterns may not have been in the brochures, but despite sea-sickness, sleep deprivation and a massive angle of heel, they had brought her through – and discovered something about themselves in the process.

How had I found myself in this illustrious company?

I could, perhaps, blame my mother. She had wanted a son who would become a doctor and go on to discovering the cure for cancer and then no doubt retire to Knightsbridge with a Knighthood, honours and, no doubt, piles of money. But one cannot really blame one’s genes. What she got was a son whose focus was on far horizons, who started sailing at eight and who, inspired by Dewey (“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead”), at his 16th birthday announced he intended enlisting in the Royal Australian Navy. What followed was some four decades at sea, almost six as a yachtsman (I am currently refitting my 32-foot yacht Odyssevs) for a multi-year circumnavigation) and a life that took me across the Seven Seas; most of ‘em – and contiguous waters – anyway. Permanent service gave way to time on the Reserves and it is at this point that my story really starts.

I was engaged in work with the Reserves in early 2013 when a colleague asked me if I knew anyone who had disabilities as Navy was looking for people to sail in a tall ship from Hobart to Sydney for the International Fleet Review. I had never heard of the Jubilee Sailing Trust (JST), but my interest was piqued. I had had a fascination with sailing ships since my father took me to see Esmeralda when she visited Sydney while I was still in Prep School and, while I had a fair idea of the theory and had done the odd day sail, I had never shipped aboard one; here was a sort of ‘bucket list’ opportunity.

A quick look on-line as to the JST, its aims and outcomes as well as the ships tied in with some ADF activities assisting its wounded, injured and ill and that alone was enough to attract my further attention; an organisation devoted to helping people. Also, apart from sailing for young folk with physical disabilities and foster children, I had almost no experience or real knowledge of ‘the disabled’; here was a chance to experience a new arena. During the conversation I mentioned jokingly I had a shortened right leg as a result of a serious accident decades ago and had osteoarthritis in both knees; perhaps I footed the bill.

I then forgot the conversation – until paperwork began to arrive from the JST.

A quick phone call. “Oh, haven’t you heard? You are sailing.”

Also sailing from Navy were Lieutenant Commander David Manolas, Lieutenant Alison Zilko and Australian Public Servant Ms Seona MacDonald.

Things picked up apace. I was in Scotland from late August until mid-September, giving me only a fortnight or so to get the final Navy admin astern and get organised (including mind-set). For this I am indebted to the JST for the excellent quality of their joining instructions, details of the ship and other relevant documentation. As entertaining in a different way was the discovery (recollection after a fruitless search) that all of my sailing gear was carefully placed aboard Odyssevs, some 600km away. Now, there is nothing wrong with having two sets of foul weather gear and to have sailed without it would not have been smart as events were to prove. In the process, however, I DID break one of the oldest sailing rules, particularly as observed by the Sydney to Hobart push; take one more sweater than you think you’ll need. I took none (late September, weather should be quite warm at night; bad call). Nevertheless, everything came together and I arrived in Hobart on the 23rd; the heavy cloud across Bass Strait and most of Tasmania and the strong winds on landing a presage of what was ahead.

Our beautiful southernmost city was in full festive mood with the Wooden Boats Festival as well as the eight tall ships alongside and the crowds at Salamanca were impressive; every ship was packed with visitors while thousands more awaited their opportunity. Finally, I walked alongside Nellie and I think for the first time, it really struck home. This was real; I was embarking in this ship and going to sea again.

The next afternoon was the usual pre-sailing freneticism with boarding, meeting watch leaders and officers, safety briefings, making up bunks, stowing dunnage etc., followed by hours on deck endeavouring to unravel the mysteries of all that line and how the sails worked, exercising bracing the yards, followed by the first experience of going aloft. All that read-up theory proved the real deal was simple and logical.

September 25, sailing day, and the weather showed that on this occasion the forecasters had got it right. An early breakfast ashore and chance to meet folks from some of the other ships and then back to prepare for sea; excitement was high. Hobart excelled herself for the send-off with thousands braving the conditions along the foreshores and a flotilla of vessels large and small escorting us for the review and then departure, some staying with us into Storm Bay.

From my journal:

“Afternoon. Underway for sea, strong WNW. Set outer jib, main stays’l, fore course, main and foretops’ls and fore t’gallant set but just handed them. Hard work on departure, braced about eight times, but great fun. Love seatime.”

“27th. At sea again off NE Tasmania. Very heavy seas and gales Wednesday night. Last Dogwatchmen (us) handed all sails. Wineglass Bay with Tecla yesterday. Forecast was SW winds but remain from N/NW. Mess and cooking duties. Having a great time.”

“29th. Eden with Young Endeavour at anchor. Warm welcome. Contrary to reports we were not dismasted but did blow out the main course and outer jib. Conditions after clearing Eddystone on the Bass Strait transit horrific. Full storm force WNW winds (we expected Force 7), swells 6/8m-plus with opposing N seas, rolling heavily and heeled to more than 55 degrees. Almost all crew seasick and no interest in fish pie or banocchi. Watchkeeping interesting to put it mildly with sails to hand and lines on starboard side to be turned up on the pins; solid green water to thighs and buckled on.

“That aside, the ship handled sweetly and under above plus main tops’l and fore t’gallant was sailing at well over 11knots. From a seaman’s perspective that was mind-blowing, faster than many racing yachts and a hoot watching the sea hissing along the side.

“Sailing this forenoon was fabulous with calm seas, a lot of whales and dolphins and, finally, a quarterly breeze pushing us along nicely. Main course looking very sad. All fabulous.”

Endeavour sailed but Nellie was joined by Lady Nelson and Windeward Bound, the two Hobart-based tall ships. All three crews intermingled to swop notes and the Fisherman’s Club and pub did a roaring trade with long tables and tall tales. The spirit that had formed Nellies’ team into a crew was obvious and infectious.

We sailed on October 1st and had another splendid day’s sailing. On the 2nd in Jervis Bay I wrote: “Had the Middle last night, a stunning night at sea. Question, where did the days go?”

Our arrival into and stay in Jervis Bay for me was a very emotional as, for many reasons it neatly encapsulated my Navy career, starting at the college and then at sea. Also, I achieved something I thought would never happen again; I entered the bay, by ship. Also, on a more humorous note, as in Wineglass Bay, it was neat listening to the conning coming from the chartroom en route to anchor. “Two cables to run”; “Three shackles on deck”; “Weigh”, etc. This is my territory with a vengeance.

October 3rd and Nellie and the other 16 ships reached the rendezvous point off Sydney Heads. My journal notes that “I had the Morning Watch; my last watch and a fabulous one. Wind SW at Force 6. After arrival on deck, we and the Middle Watchmen set both tops’ls. Alison was ready by the main mast when a wall of spray came out of nowhere over the port side and drenched her. She was not wearing foul weather gear and was not happy. Hard to believe this is our final day at sea.” Unfortunately, with the SW winds, we were unable to sail up the harbour but all agreed we were part of a very special piece of history as all 17 ships formed line astern and entered Sydney. This was the largest entry by tall ships ever (including the First Fleet).

“I am not sure of the words to describe it but to be part of such a stunning event is unbelievable. The welcome from the huge crowds on the shores and water was incredible and the fleet looked magnificent.”

The spirit that had developed on the passage and with the other ships would continue for the next few days for those who remained to assist with the Open Ship visitors but that night the 38 and others came together with a vengeance. We were not invited to the official cocktail party being held nearby nor to the function for the professional crew by the Lord Nelson hotel in the Sydney Rocks area. Apart from a few with family in the city, the consensus was that “We are going anyway”. Consequently, some 40 red-shirted Nellie’s descended on the pub where memories and tales were relived over many an ale.

I noted: “The night is kind of ‘us’. We rock and rule; great ship, great crew.”

Shakespeare wrote “Parting is such sweet sorrow” and the 4th proved that. We were flat out cleaning ship, returning bedding and foul weather gear and preparing the ship for inspections prior to final debriefings and signing off.

The farewells were sad with hugs and tears all around; age etc did not count; we are, literally, ‘family’. WE CROSSED BASS STRAIT. We all pitched in and shared experiences never to be forgotten and made friendships that will last always. We are shipmates and for us there is no goodbye, merely ‘au revoir’.

I wrote: “This was a ragtag group who came aboard in Hobart, … which metamorphosed into a genuine ship’s company with pride in themselves, each and their ship, a fabulous sense of the ridiculous and a determination to help each win through.

“They have experienced some of the worst weather Australia’s waters can produce and all are taller and prouder for that. It was marvellous seeing people of all ages and walks of life don their safety harnesses and go aloft as casually as boarding a train and to see people in wheelchairs working rigging on deck with the best of them. We are all shipmates and I am proud to have sailed with every manjack of ‘em. Better, I now have a bunch of some 50 beautiful new friends. At the end of the day, can anything beat that?”

So, how did it affect or change me?

I believe:

• I learned that I still have ‘it’, passage-making, ship-handling and watch-keeping are still very much part and parcel of me and my persona.

• I have a completely different view on the so-called ‘disabled’. I suggest we ALL have disabilities, in that there are things we are unable to do. But don’t dare call anyone who sailed in Nellie disabled, they all have great abilities and character. To my mind, a disabled person is someone who has physical or other problems but is happy to do nothing about them. Or too incapable of doing anything.

• Helping other people is one of the best things one may ever do. To quote Schweitzer, “The only ones who will be truly happy are those who serve.”

• I was reminded that age or other matters is no barrier to being friends and accepted as what you are.

• I was reminded that no matter how rugged the situation people will always find a way to laugh their way through.

• I was reminded that, while there are people who see their role as being to put you down, most will respect and treat you for what you are.

• I was reminded that, no matter how bad things may seem, there are people for whom things are far worse. Also, that true heroes are those who confront and overcome their situations.

• I learned a lot about sailing tall ships, taking theory into practical levels.

For me, the challenge now is two-fold. Firstly, to build a JST Branch or branches Down Under. Secondly, to take my experience and skills as a tall ship sailor further and hopefully into professional dimensions. Age cannot stop that. Sailing again with the JST is a given; indeed, a couple of us are already looking at the 2014 program.

Finally, one thing more. While thousands have sailed Tenacious and Lord Nelson and other tall ships, our red shirted pyrates have become part of a very exclusive fraternity; those who have sailed or sail tall ships. They can stand proud that they have achieved something that has taken them right out of their comfort zones and proved to themselves they are capable of so much more. Truly, this is a life-changing experience.

So, what about you? Why don’t you join us, too? It will change your life in ways most will only ever dream about – and you will have fun, too. Isn’t that what life is all about?


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