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Spirit of NZ Competition 2015

The absolute best ten days of my life - by Verity Bennett


The ten days I spent on the voyage were ten of the absolute best days of my life and I have you, Karen, to thank for that. 


On the first day of the voyage, I got on to the plane from Auckland to Wellington, rather tired, nervous and unsure as to what I was expecting the next ten days to hold. There were a few other trainees on the same flight which meant we all got to navigate our way, whilst hauling our luggage behind us, from the airport to the boat together. We spent that day climbing the mast, learning some of the knots, raising the jib, going over safety procedures and just getting to know each other. One thing that I immediately loved about the 38 other trainees is that we were all on the same page regarding the voyage - we all wanted to get the most out of it that we could and so, made an effort to go out of our way to be friendly, as scary as it was at times. 


The second day of the voyage left me feeling rather uncertain, for a time, as to why everybody loved the Spirit of Adventure so much. It was the day we crossed the Cook Strait and although the massive waves were fun at first, 30 minutes left all of the trainees plus one crew member, in life jackets, attached to the side of the boat, vomiting. However, as we entered into the Sounds, the water began to calm down and we managed to get up on our feet again. This was my first opportunity to go up the main mast to pack away the main staysail. The view from up there was incredible. One of the things that I ended up loving about the voyage were the two night shifts we did. Each group were rostered on for two nights throughout the voyage to take shifts (in pairs) during the night to ensure the boat remained safe. My group (Port A) were on the second night and Jordan and I had the shift from 3:06 until 5:45. 


Over the next two days, we rowed ashore twice to do beach games, and then a shore clean up. We continued bonding as trainees as well as with the helping hands and crew. One of the things that really stood out to me is the effort the crew, in particular, put into learning our names. They had more or less, mastered the names of all 39 of us by Day 2, and in doing so, they made all of us feel so much at home, and a part of Spirit life. 


By Day 4, I was absolutely loving everything to do with the voyage, from the 6:30 morning swims, to the chores, to the sailing. Every evening there was an evening activity and on Day 4, we had a big sing song competition led by the cadet, in the aft cabin. Competing in our teams, we had to come up with as many songs as we could, related to a chosen word (ie fire) and then take turns, as teams, singing until you ran out of songs. It was probably one of my highlights. The fifth photo attached is of my team singing. 

Probably the day I would have to say was my absolute favourite was Day 6. We started it off like normal, with a swim, breakfast and cleanup before sailing. After sailing for a bit and going to the very end of the royal on midships, the motor was turned on and we all just lay around on the cabin roofs, sleeping in the sun. After lunch, there was a lesson in navigation which most of us fell asleep in. After that, we all had the opportunity to write ourselves a letter - which I received in the mail the other week - about what we had learnt from the Voyage so far and what we wanted to take away from it. Although this was 'quiet time,' Jess, Hannah and I (two of the girls I got on with really well) were being too noisy, laughing and taking photos, so Nic (the first mate) kept splashing us with water from the hose. Then we got the yellow rafts out and rowed to this absolutely incredible place; it was full of seals and as we hopped out of our boats to go further, one seal swam not even a metre away! As this was the last voyage before Christmas, Steve (captain) and Dave (engineer) went off to find some Christmas trees, one to put in the aft cabin, and the other for the flag pole. Port A then decorated the aft cabin with tinsel and ribbons for our Christmas dinner! After that was all over, we had Secret Santa and then, all gathered on the deck. We lit candles and sung Christmas carols. It was probably the coolest thing I've ever done - sitting under the stars, with candles as light, singing along to a guitar with some of the best people I have ever met. Port A were then on night watch again and from 23:10 until 00:06, Harry and I made sure the boat stayed safe.


On the morning of Day 9, a call from deck at 6AM woke us all up, with the alert of whales. It was the fastest we had ever jumped out of bed. As we got to the deck, we saw two orca whales swim under the boat and continue off. That evening was rather an emotional one as we gathered in our team groups one last time and were given our team photos. There was a slide show of photos after dinner, before the cadet Kaleb sung us a song and we were allowed to spend one last night together before bed. There were a lot of tears! On the very last day, we had a final clean up and breakfast before shuttling to the airport. A lot of us were on different flights and so saying goodbye was rather difficult for all of us. 


It was so so strange to think that 10 days ago we had been strangers and yet, over those 10 days we had become like family. For me, the voyage had been, hands down, one of the most incredible experiences of my life, with so many belly laughs, learning curbs and amazing, amazing people! Over the time, I learnt a great deal about leadership and myself, in particular. One thing that really stood out to me, was that leadership was less about knowing everything and being the boss, but far more about encouragement, being confident about what you were doing (even if you weren't) and working with the team to find a solution. I was also challenged - by the dynamics of Port A - that it never improved a situation by raising voices, getting annoyed or by being insulting. That never, ever helped a situation and instead, the leaders in my team I found most effective were those that refused to let stress get to them, instead remaining calm and positive. 


About myself I learnt that it doesn't matter if you don't necessarily fit into what is "cool." Everybody came on board the boat with their own insecurities and as we were thrown into situations with each other, it did not matter in the slightest the clothes people were wearing or how good their hair looked. As trainees we loved on each other for who they were and were completely okay with all the flaws they brought as well. That attitude was something I wanted to aim to continue over into my life, after the boat. Another thing I was challenged with is to come back from the voyage and be able to make the absolute most of every situation presented to me. On the Spirit, what I loved was that everybody pitched in to help each other out, regardless of whether a crew member was watching or whatever. We all pitched in together with positive attitudes and did whatever we could to make our time absolutely fantastic. One last thing that I massively appreciated was the lack of devices. We were phone-less for ten days and it was so freeing. We all spoke to each other and did things together without the distractions of social media or things that don't even really matter that much. One thing I challenged myself with was to limit the time I spend on devices now, and it is something I am working on.


All in all, though the Spirit of Adventure was absolutely amazing - I find it difficult to put into words how much I loved it. Looking through all the photos and talking to the other trainees now, makes me want to go back like nothing else! I want to thank you so so so much for investing in this because it is something that has challenged me and changed me, more than I thought possible. I also saw the change in other trainees - the leaps of confidence, growth in self esteem and it was unbelievable. 


Again, I cannot quite come up with words that are adequate to show my gratitude for you doing this for me. Thank you so so much, Karen!


Congratulations, Verity (2015 Winner) :-)


CONGRATULATIONS to Verity Bennett who won the competition this year - she wins a 10-day voyage on the Spirit of New Zealand.  This was the second year Verity had applied for it, so the moral of the story is "If at first you don't succeed, try and try again'. It was really so cool to be able to offer this amazing opportunity for a second time and I know Verity is going to have the adventure of a lifetime - you go girl! 

The staff of the Spirit of Adventure Trust helped me to judge the entries.

There'll be another chance to win a trip next year - so start thinking now !!!!!