While explorer Matthew Flinders had the tiny 2.5m whaleboat Tom Thumb to navigate the Bass Strait in the late 1700s with his friend, ship’s surgeon George Bass, Matthew Flinders Anglican College students Bonnie Lanham and Lachlan Southern have just returned from sailing this often treacherous stretch of water in the 44m long tall ship, the STS Young Endeavour.
Sailing 700 nautical miles from Sydney to Melbourne from January 4 to 14, the trip took the pair and their fellow crewmates to three states and a territory – down the coastline of New South Wales and Victoria, to the territory of Jervis Bay, and into Bass Strait, travelling as far south as Deal Island, Tasmania, above Flinders Island.
The Young Endeavour undertakes around 20 voyages each year, mostly along the east and south coasts of Australia, taking 16 to 23 year olds on board as the youth crew or “youthies”, under the expert eye of nine specially training Royal Australian navy crew.
While most young sailors need to apply in a ballot and, if fortunate to be selected, then pay for their berth aboard the Young Endeavour, Bonnie and Lachlan were recipients of the Matthew Flinders Anglican College Parents and Friends’ Student Development Scholarship program. At the end of each year, the P&F awards the scholarship to two Year 11 students who undertake this life-changing experience over the summer school holidays.
For Bonnie and Lachlan, sailing out of Sydney Harbour on the Young Endeavour’s first voyage for 2019, and ending their sea journey 10 days later in Port Phillip Bay – following the paths of many of the early explorers, including Flinders and Bass, and of sailors today – was a great achievement that not many are able to experience.
With 25-30 knot winds some days, sea sickness plaguing many, night watches and early morning rises, and the challenges of literally learning the ropes of sailing a brigantine in just days including climbing the riggings, setting the square sails and even taking command of the ship on one of the final days, Bonnie and Lachlan have returned with a new-found sense of determination and spirit.
Bonnie said before she embarked on the Young Endeavour she was looking forward to working as a team with new people and understood that the trip would be challenging.
Lachlan said even though they were thrown in with a whole different group of people, with lots of rules to follow, everyone got on really well and worked together to achieve their goals each day.
“I learnt to be patient and respectful of other people’s decisions and trust that they know what they are doing. The trip did help improve confidence, leadership and teamwork skills,” Bonnie said.
The pair found they soon got into the routine of daily life on board the Young Endeavour.
“I struggled with sea sickness the first day and a half but after the first couple of days I was fine,” Bonnie said.
“Every morning we would have a brief, followed by ‘happy hour’ (an hour of cleaning the ship). Watches were continual, usually in four hour blocks. When we were anchored, we would only do one-hour shifts. When we were sailing, we had to wear our harnesses at all times. If we wanted to climb or go onto the bowsprit, we had to request permission and do buddy checks.
“Getting used to having broken sleep and having to go out on watches also took time to get used to but by the end it felt natural.”
Bonnie and Lachlan said that the Young Endeavour’s Captain Gav took advantage of the weather conditions and they made good sailing time down the east coast. This gave the youth crew plenty of opportunities to anchor and go ashore.
They explored Deal Island, Tasmania, and climbed to the top of the island to look over the tallest lighthouse in the Southern Hemisphere later taking a swim in the freezing Bass Strait waters. The ship moored in Refuge Cove near Wilsons Promontory and also off Cowes on famous Phillip Island (home to motorcycle racing and penguins).
A group of keen “youthies” even swam across to the beach and sang Advance Australia Fair in full voice in front of a jetty full of bewildered onlookers. They also enjoyed the sights and smells of the Portarlington Mussel Festival.
Lachlan, who was among three “youthies” on early morning watch sitting on the bowsprit when the big swell dunked them into the icy Bass Strait waters, said visiting the secluded Refuge Cove beach which most people would never experience, was a highlight for him.
“I slept on deck the last two nights (more comment to come)
“And the food, the food from Chef Zach was amazing, I’ve never been fed so well.”
Bonnie said her highlights were “climbing the mast, going out on the bowsprit and the people”.
On the final entry into Port Phillip Bay, the three watches – Red, White and Blue – were positioned on the yard arms, Bonnie’s watch earning the honour from a team challenge win, of the very top, the T’gallant sail position.
“Sailing on the Young Endeavour is an experience of a lifetime. You make lifelong friends, you have an adventure and you should definitely apply for it!” Bonnie said.
• The Young Endeavour Scheme began when the ship was given to the people of Australia by the United Kingdom as a Bicentennial gift in 1988. Since then, the Scheme, in partnership with the Australian Government and the Royal Australian Navy, has provided challenging training voyages for more than 13,000 young Australians over three decades. Life aboard the sail training ship is designed to develop leadership and teamwork skills among the young crew, increasing their self-awareness and community responsibility.
For further information on the Young Endeavour program, visit www.youngendeavour.gov.au
By Debbie Southern