Have you ever experienced a point in your life that you suddenly realised you lacked adventure and inspiration?  Have you ever had a moment when you suddenly realised that life isn’t forever and you may not get an opportunity to tick items off your “one day” list?  That moment occurred for me after a friend passed away quite young.  At that point I recalled a TV advertisement for the Young Endeavour.  As a kid I was inspired by the ad and really wanted to give it a shot, but lacked the finances to do so.  Now that I was in a much better financial position, I applied for every single voyage that I was eligible for before I became too old.

I never dreamed that I would be successful, but one day I received that beautiful official envelope offering me a berth on the ship and I promptly burst into tears of happiness.  Months later I found myself in sunny Queensland for the first time of my life, and got my first glimpse of that beautiful blue brigantine that would soon feel like a second home.

Throughout this voyage I would meet amazing new people, learn how to sail a tall ship, and ultimately challenge myself in ways I never thought possible.  One of the most terrifying and rewarding experiences on board the YE has to be climbing aloft.  Leaving the deck seems easy at first, but the higher you climb, the more you leave your little comfort bubble behind.  As scary as it sounds to climb something that sways – and it sways more the higher you climb – this is something I would never discourage anyone from doing.  Leaving that comfort bubble behind was the best thing I could do and would shape decisions years into the future.

The youth development voyage paved the way for my thirst for adventure and living life.  The voyage itself not just encourages team work and responsibility, but gently forces it on to you.  You will always have plenty of guidance, so if you’re not entirely comfortable, the staffies do an excellent job at making you comfortable.  Everything will turn out just fine and no, you won’t crash the ship into anything.

I went into the voyage with the mindset that I will only be there once, so I will do everything that I am physically capable of.  That included activities that I wouldn’t normally participate in, such as jumping off the bowsprit into the ocean, and with each new challenge, I steadily pushed my comfort bubble further away from me and I gradually came to realise that it was one of the best things I could do.

After the voyage, I came away with a sense of inspiration and direction in life, and a profound appreciation for pushing boundaries and testing my limits.  I was also hooked on tall ship sailing.

Just one short year later an opportunity arose for returnees – a tall ship race from Sydney to New Zealand.  I applied once again, and once again I never expected to get accepted.  I had forgotten about my application and was in the process of delivering goats when an unexpected phone call came through with “how would you like to go sailing again?”

Fast forward a couple of months and this time I found myself in Sydney on a cold and drizzly October day watching tall ships enter Sydney Harbour for the International Fleet Review – celebrating 100 years since the Royal Australian Navy entered Sydney Harbour.  Over the next few days I met several of my future ship-mates, who would later become some of the best friends I could ask for.  This voyage was everything the first voyage had, and more.  Whilst my first voyage consisted of so little wind that we were overtaken by a couple of whales while we were drifting, this voyage had everything my adventurous side could want.  We sailed through a small storm which included 60 knot winds and 5-6m swells.  It was cold, wet and windy, we were soaked through to the bone, and we loved every moment.  The time we spent helping each other through seasickness or simply just to stand up, were the best moments that cemented our friendship and created such strong bonds.

Arriving in New Zealand at the conclusion of the race was a bittersweet moment (ironically, the race was ended early due to a lack of wind), as it signalled a time to separate from our new found family and once again face reality.  We went our separate ways, and once again I thought my YE journey was over.  How wrong I was.

Remember that comfort bubble?  I started pushing that bubble away in other aspects of my life as well.  Employment for me became scarce so I took a risk and applied to study at uni (which I always swore I would never do).  I never thought that I would be capable of the high standards at university, so for me, the application was a huge step into not only unknown territory but also a daunting task that I wasn’t sure I was capable of.  Young Endeavour taught me that taking risks and being scared is normal, but can also be very rewarding.

Halfway through my uni degree yet another opportunity arose that would take me to a part of the world that I never thought I’d get to – Europe.  After being lucky enough to find myself with a berth for a voyage from the UK to Denmark, I embarked in Southampton with yet another bunch of soon-to-be scurvy sea dogs that would also become great friends.  Sailing in Europe was an amazing experience.  Europe has a very strong tall ship presence, and not only was I lucky to sail again, I was able to participate in another tall ship race, but of a very different magnitude.  The previous tall ship race I participated in saw less than a dozen ships.  In Denmark, at the end of the race, there were 79 vessels registered with the tall ship festival.

This voyage was once again amazing and provided us with a good bout of seasickness, incredible sunsets and of course, friendship and camaraderie.

Over my three Young Endeavour voyages, I have several moments that I treasure above all others that include: sailing through a storm, taking the helm and steering through a narrow channel, using the rule of three points of contact just to take a shower, watching the sun set from a platform on the mast, learning that being scared offers the greatest reward, and finally, I mostly treasure the friendships with the many amazing people that I met along the way.

The Young Endeavour has been an incredible experience not once, but three times in my life.  No other opportunity has allowed me to expand my horizons like the Young Endeavour can.  It has taught me the value of teamwork and communication in unfamiliar environments, and ultimately has led me to becoming a more patient and kind person who is more willing to take risks and step outside my comfort bubble.  Young Endeavour is a truly enriching experience; a memory that I will always treasure, and an opportunity that I will always recommend.

Cristy Merchant