College trio on crest of life-changing wave

07 Feb 2023

Three College boys have weighed anchor and set sail on the Spirit of New Zealand.

For Year 12 students Sam Hales and James Burt, and Year 13 Ben Donaldson, the daunting journey from 7–17 January has proved to be the trip of a lifetime.

Despite having to shelter from a cyclone, dive into chilly waters at 6.30am daily and being “packed into bunk beds”, all three have relished their time at sea and the enduring friendships that are the legacy of their voyage.

The 10-day Spirit of Adventure Trust development voyage for students aged 16–18 aims to unlock individual potential and develop leaderships skills while the young trainees tackle a range of challenges. In tandem, their ocean-based adventures have contributed to their Duke of Edinburgh Hillary Award.

For Sam, it has been a great opportunity to literally follow in his father’s wake.

“My Dad did the trip at 17 and valued his time on board so much, he signed me up,” Sam says. “The prospect of the journey seems daunting but once you get over that period of awkwardness and get to know the other students on board, you realise you have lots of things in common.

“It is important not to be judgmental of people at first and realise that we are all thinking the same thing. Only two students had some sailing experience. From being 40 strangers, we soon became 40 lifelong friends.”

The Spirit of New Zealand sailed from Opua in the Bay of Islands before having to take shelter in a bay. Despite the bad weather, the journey on the purpose-built three-masted barquentine has opened the boys’ eyes to the wealth of opportunities on the horizon.

“We were separated into four watches, with each watch allocated to a sailing station and being responsible for all the duties for that station,” Sam says. “We sailed around the northernmost point and down to Coromandel and near Waiheke Island.

“We were only allowed to land onshore twice in 10 days. We had to raft our way to the shore, soon learning that we had to work as a team and be very adaptable to reach land, and then return to the Spirit of New Zealand. It was amazing to see how quickly everyone came together to achieve those goals.”

For the final 24 hours on board, the trainees took control, with Sam filling the navigator role and James elected as the ship’s chef.

“On the final day, everyone said it was one of the best things they had ever done,” Sam says. “You grow incredibly close to your fellow trainees, who are true friends for life. While the first three days were tough, as you do all these tasks and team activities you grow closer and work better together.”

Sam believes the experience has “made me more confident and ready to take on – and overcome – challenges”.

“To any boy considering applying, definitely do it. It is the greatest experience and you cannot underestimate what you can get out of it. It actually is life-changing. I hope to return as a leading hand crew member to support other young people on their journey.”