I joined the ship with much excitement in Cairns after flying north from Sydney. My Dad and I were eager to see what had changed since we said farewell to the vessel and crew at the start of the voyage - unfortunately, the cabins were the same small size with cramped bunks! We both settled in quickly and were lucky enough to have a few days in port to adjust to the new environment, meet and make friends with the crew, and do some work on the ship’s computers.
Everyone who visited the ship while we were in Cairns was very excited to see the different cabins, the galley (kitchen) and especially the masts and rigging. They wished us all well and wanted to come with us, but could see that there was very little spare room on board!
Our first day was fantastic - we had some extra passengers on board who were only going as far as Port Douglas, so the ship was even more crowded than usual! The wind was blowing strongly and we set a lot of sail and the ship scudded across the water at high speed. It’s amazing how far the ship leans over (called the “heel” of the ship) when she speeds up; I got very wet because the water was spraying over the capping rail as I was working on the lines. Ropes on a ship are called “lines” if they are used in the rigging, which was something my Dad had taught me years ago. I had great fun, even when the sea grew very rough and I was sick over the side.
Although I felt sick, by lying down I was able to recover, and so I went below decks to my cabin to rest until we reached Port Douglas. I missed all of the excitement when a member of the crew, Nikki, reached for a line and found that it was a python that had crawled up the side of the ship and into the rigging! The captain decided it was an unwelcome passenger and the snake was dispatched quickly back into the water.
That night the captain decided to lower the motor boat, or “tender,” so that those who wanted to could make a trip up the river to look for crocodiles. I was on the first trip and didn’t see any, but those on the second trip saw two large crocs and took some photos of them. They saw the eyes first, and said that it looked like red lights in the water.
We left Port Douglas late the next day and this was when all of us passengers got to know each other, and the various parts of the ship started to stick in our minds. It was also the time when we had to adjust to the concept of watches. Because a ship can be sailing 24 hours a day, there have to be enough of the crew active at any given time to be able to control it. To do this, the crew is organised into teams. Each team is known as a “watch” and is under the command of a Watch Leader. I was in Blue watch and that meant that my Watch Leader was Mike, who really taught us well and wasn’t too unkind when he woke us up for the midnight watch. I got to know Leisa, Tom, Vicky and Toby really well, as they were the other members of my watch.
We had four days until the next port (Cooktown), so the art of sailing was drummed into us really well. One night our watch would be working from 8pm to midnight, the next we’d be working 4am to 8am, and following that, midnight to 4am (a very difficult watch). While on watch, we had to check the bilge (the level of waste water in the bottom of the ship), maintain a lookout to ensure that other ships were spotted before a collision occurred, and steering the ship to the course specified by the Officer of the Watch. The day watches were much easier, because we could see a little further and talk to people who weren’t in our watch.
From Cooktown we went to Thursday Island, which was lovely, and from T.I. to Seisia (near Bamaga), and from there we travelled to Weipa. Along the way we were taught more about how to handle the ship, we stopped off at some small islands to look for turtle nesting sites and collect samples of rubbish and some vegetation - one of my cabin-mates, Nick, was a biologist, so he showed everybody how to collect and preserve the leaves, weeds and plants that were brought back to the ship. We also stopped at one of the islands that Matthew Flinders visited, and saw a few more crocodiles.
Everywhere we went, the locals made us feel very welcome and were quite keen to explore the ship and see how we existed while at sea. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, although a stronger wind would have been nice, and I learned much more about sailing than I had expected to. The crew helped us, befriended us and became an incredibly important part of our lives. I shall miss them all very much and fondly treasure my time aboard.
from Nowra, NSW