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Trip of a Lifetime Aboard Voyage 823

by Sophie Sumner

I’m anxious waiting to board the ship. I feel my heart beating, trying to explode through my chest. Have I made the right decision? Should I turn back? As I’m waiting, Mum is taking sooooo many photos of me for all her Facebook friends, you know how that goes. Another girl was having photos taken by her dad, so I introduce myself to her. Her name was Georgia from Christchurch, she was the first ever friend I made on the Spirit. We are both so anxious and excited all at the same time, for 10 days full of many unknowns. The group swelled in numbers on the dock until finally we were asked to board.

I carry all my stuff on the ship, it was heavy! Of course, I had packed the whole house! I was shown my bed. It was a tiny narrow stretcher with barely enough room to lie down, let alone stretch out! I thought to myself, how are 19 other girls going to fit into this tiny cabin space with just one tiny, small drawer each. Kimberly was our leading hand which meant she had once been in the same shoes we were in. Groups were formed. There was port A, port B, starboard A, starboard B. I was in port B with Daniel, Ben, Luke, Fletcher, Lucy, Journey, Eimh and Zoe. They proved to be the best bunch of people to be stuck on a boat with for 10 days. Our first job was to load the boat with food and all the essentials we needed.

Those of you who know me, know I like to talk to everyone, and aboard the Spirit it was no different. In the time it took to load the boat, I got to know everyone in port B. One Girl, Eimh and I clicked almost instantly, she was so awesome. Once we had loaded the boat, we set sail. Sailing away from Auckland was like a dream, a movie scene I tell you, I can’t even describe the feeling it was so unreal and amazing. Once we were out at sea and had got a little used to the swell of the boat as it sailed across what was a very calm, millpond like sea we were assigned more jobs!

Port B was assigned night watch. Which pretty much means you watch over the ship as the crew sleeps. Eric who was second mate on the boat taught us how to do everything and what to look out for. He was super scary! He had a very gruff manner and was a stickler for the rules and we just knew we had to do what he said or there would be trouble. We had different time slots, me Journey and Eimh rostered for the last one which was 4am until 6:30 am. I had never ever done anything like that before, it was so early! I was so cold and I was tired and I kept thinking to myself, 10 days with these people, oh no, how will I survive! But night watch was honestly probably one of the highlights from my trip. I got to know my group so much better with the stories we all shared. It was very hard to keep our volume down. 6:30am came around quickly. It was still pitch black, everyone if they were not already was made to wake up and don their togs. Yes, the dreaded morning swim exists, and everyone had to do it! I take a huge deep breathe to conjure up some courage from somewhere and dive into the icy black abyss that is the ocean below me. Splash! my toes are numb, the breath leaves my body, everyone is screaming with excitement and the quiet eyrie calm is shattered by the noise of everyone in and out of the water very quickly!

Next up, learning to paddle a dinghy to get to shore and do a beach clean. Now, trying to paddle with strangers you have never worked with before is a challenge! but Daniel our leader for the day had no trouble telling everyone what to do, let me tell you.We were halfway to the beach and he told us all to stop paddling for a bit and I was the only one still paddling. He turns to me looks me dead in the eyes and says “Sophie, stop paddling!” That’s when I thought to myself, have I made an enemy already or a best friend for life?

We arrive at the beach and start the clean-up. One of our fellow trainees Fletcher in port B was extremely seasick so a fellow trainee and I looked after him. We gave him oranges, water and buttered bread, strange combo but there is no dairy or supermarket when you are out at sea, so you have to make do!

Highlight – Dolphins! We saw Dolphins that day, they swam by the boat and it seemed as if they had come to check out the new crew aboard a ship that they saw often, hopefully to give their approval! They were so majestic and graceful; I had never seen a Dolphin in real life before.

The next night Ben and I served dinner. He turned out to be pretty cool. He was one of the closest people I got to on the boat. We had good banter and a lot of inside jokes. Sadly, we had to say goodbye to our fellow trainee Fletcher that night. He was extremely affected with sea sickness and nothing was helping it disappear. He just couldn’t stay on the boat. That was quite a sad moment for me since he was the first person I became friends with in my group.

After we said our goodbyes, we set sail to Great Barrier, it was so rough and rocky I, and most of the others were extremely seasick. Like power chucking every 5 minutes, vomiting, strapped to the side, we all helped each other keeping hair out of the way!

The next few days were a blast, full of challenges, fun, friendship and discoveries that were out of this world. It truly was a trip of a lifetime.

Everyone who goes on the Spirit says it is a trip of a lifetime. Everyone takes something different from their time aboard the ship. My time ended abruptly with a missed step on the 5th night. I rolled my ankle going back into the cabins planning for an epic talent quest. All I heard was a snap and fell to the ground. It happened so quickly; I didn’t know what had happened. Ella came rushing over asking if I was okay; she could tell by my scrunched-up face and the swelling that was starting already that I wasn’t. She found first mate Andrea, who iced my foot for the night. I missed participating in the Talent Show, the pain was excruciating. Pain Killers made little different. Little did I know then that I had a grade 3 tear of my ligaments. Ben and Daniel helped me to my bed, telling jokes like be careful don’t break your other ankle. Daniel, Ben and the third mate Callum and I had formed a group called the three musketeers and I was D’artanyan it was like our little inside joke. Callum read us a bedtime story then lights out. That night as I was lying in bed struggling to sleep due to the pain, I just knew I was going home. I was so gutted and disappointed. It was probably one of the worst sleeps I’ve ever had my ankle was in so much pain.

Next morning, roll calls, then morning debrief. My ankle was the size of my thigh, and I couldn’t put ANY pressure on it. The captain calls the Doctor on great barrier at around nine o’clock and third mate Callum, first Mate Andrea and the CEO of the Spirit took me in a little tinny boat with an engine; thank goodness we didn’t have to paddle this one! to the great barrier doctors. Once we arrive at great barrier Callum and Bruce gallantly take turns carrying me and then I hopped up the stairs into the Great Barrier doctors. He took one look at my ankle and said you are not fit to stay on the boat. Whilst deep down, I already knew that the reality was hard. My time of great adventures had come to an end. Bruce the CEO booked me a ticket back to Auckland on the teeny tiny Great Barrier plane on the first available flight at 5pm. First mate Andrea rang my Mum to tell her what had happened and then she stayed with me until I left at 5 pm.

Andrea and I got to know each other a lot better during this time, by the end of it I reckon she would’ve been all talked out because I talked the whole day even though I was so very sore. 5pm came around and it was time to say goodbye. Using my newfound skill of using crutches, I stumble to the plane and wave goodbye.

I learned a lot on the spirt of adventure, how to talk to different types of people, how to work in a team with strangers, to have to trust people even though you had only just met. I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved who made me time memorable, those who supported me in my fundraising to get here. My fellow trainees aboard voyage 823, especially members of Port B, the Crew, who do an amazing job, especially Callum and Andrea and Eric, who wasn’t that scary after all! In fact, we became besties! The staff at the medical centre at Great Barrier Island and Bruce and his team who are involved with the Spirit. You were incredible. And lastly the Spirit of Adventure Trust set up in 1972 by Aucklander Lou Fisher to empower young New Zealanders to reach their full potential through the challenge of the sea. They helped me with a partial scholarship, and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity. The upside is that once we return to levels that allow me to get my ankle medically cleared, I will get a chance to go back and I for one can’t wait to FINISH my trip of a lifetime.