Tac Talks: Carpe Diem: A Professional Endeavour

Tac Talks No. 12
Tac Talks No. 12

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LEUT Harrison Ingham
Sailing south through the Bass Strait en route to Tasmania, 2018.
Sailing south through the Bass Strait en route to Tasmania, 2018.



“…Steering 195,” said the Watch Leader. “Very Good” I replied, trying to make out an indeterminable horizon under an inky-black sky. STS Young Endeavour was sailing into a long 5m swell, just south of Jervis Bay. Every few seconds the ship would violently shudder, the masts and rigging groaned before the bowsprit pierced the sea and fleetingly disappeared.

It was early February and the ship was en route to Tasmania after a very memorable Australia Day event. The wind at 35, gusting 45 knots, was becoming increasingly difficult. As this was only their second night at sea, the Youth crew were still gaining their sea-legs. They sat together huddled around the helm with their heads in their hands most of them looking green with sea sickness. I attempted to encourage them to ‘keep a good lookout’, sing a sea shanty, or take in the salty air to distract them though they did not seem responsive to my advice.

I looked across to the anemometer and realised the wind had intensified. Sustaining 45, it was now gusting in excess of 50 knots. I shouted down the copper voice pipe to ‘Call the Captain’ and notify him of my intention to furl the main-staysail. One of our strongest working sails, the main-staysail is usually set first, always the last to be hauled down and is employed to dampen the roll of the ship. Moments later I heard a loud crack in the rigging above, followed by another piercing echo. Then it happened again…and again. I hastily moved to the front of the Bridge, illuminated the deck lights and peered out into the semi-darkness. To my alarm I realised the main-staysail clew had parted and was flailing like a stockman’s whip. My training for this scenario immediately kicked in.

Conducting a pilotage into Brisbane River, Moreton Bay.
Conducting a pilotage into Brisbane River, Moreton Bay.

Checking my quarter, I used hard wheel (timing the turn between the swell) and then bore away to reduce the apparent wind. By this time all the staff crew had speedily mustered on deck and were hastily furling the sail.

The main-staysail continued to thrash until we wrapped it around itself like some giant fruit roll-up. Our response to this event is telling of how the maritime environment can quickly develop from benign to hazardous. Importantly though, it reminded me of the risks associated with being too comfortable in one’s environment and how quickly a situation can change.

Having got to this point in my article you may now be asking yourself “so what?” In sum, this is my why of highlighting how serving in Young Endeavour provides a unique, rewarding professional experience relevant to promoting our profession of a “thinking and fighting Australian Navy” and to the achievement of our mission of “fighting and winning at sea” - namely, the challenges associated with developing our people, our leadership, our knowledge and the understanding of our platforms and operating environment.

Platform Challenge


We have a unique maritime role. We are the only Tall Ship in Australia to conduct blue-water ocean sailing. We have over 100 lines aboard that operate our 10 sails. Each line has a very specific purpose. Our amenities are extremely basic. We do not have air conditioning - so it’s usually insufferably hot in summer and perishingly cold in winter (hence our passages North in winter and South in summer). We routinely sail on a stiff wind which presents an uncomfortable heel with a ‘pitch and roll’ characteristic quite unlike any other ship. On the Bridge or on deck our people are continuously exposed to all the elements.

Whilst the crew invariably build up increased levels of stamina our work is extremely physically, emotionally and mentally demanding. The environmental exposure and lack of “mod cons” aboard encourages a new understanding of resilience amongst the staff crew preparing them for adversity and hardship beyond the scope typically encountered in other Navy ships.

Youth Crew and Watch Leader atop Whitsunday Peak.
Youth Crew and Watch Leader atop Whitsunday Peak.

Knowledge Challenge


With only 15 full time staff crew (nine of whom are rostered at sea per voyage) there is only a short period to ‘learn the ropes’ and become proficient in sailing and competent in the delivery of the Youth Program. In the span of eight days we teach our Youths to sail the ship from scratch. The Program culminates with the Youth Crew electing their own Command team by ballot. In all of the roles from Captain to Chef they assume responsibility for sailing and operating the ship, running all the routines including cleaning and feeding the entire crew over a full 24 hour period. With a new Youth Crew embarking every 14 days, the ship does this 20 times every year. It can be seen then that a posting to Young Endeavour requires every staff member to be at the peak of their service profession.

Understanding and Experiencing the Maritime Environment


As a reader of Patrick O’Brien (and admirer of his Jack Aubrey character) and someone who greatly admires the achievements of Cook, Flinders and Bass, I get a great sense of wonder and fulfilment from experiencing the challenges of serving in a Tall Ship. There is nothing quite like it. Whilst we are a more modern version of our wooden predecessors we harness the same forces that propelled those early voyages of science and discovery. We con our ship from ‘outdoors’ up on our Flying Bridge and we still plan, plot and execute our navigation on paper. When at sea in Young Endeavour you are one with the environment. Underway on a closed bridge - hermetically sealed and detached - you do not get the same experience. You become apathetic. Recording your weather observations in the Rough log becomes a routine task rather than realising its critical to your ‘Mission’.

In Young Endeavour you quickly learn a healthy respect for the dynamic and unpredictable nature of the weather and environment. You learn to anticipate what will happen ahead of time. You cast a glance at the looming strato-form clouds and wonder if they are going to create strong down gusts. You ask yourself ‘do I need to call all hands on deck and hand in sail’. You look at the sea and swell, and are mindful that the heading should be optimised for work in the galley and those trying to snatch some brief downtime whilst off-watch. Come rain, hail or shine, you are always ‘Keeping Watch’! This sort of exposure presents the ideal learning ground for Officers and Sailors to better understand the risks of undertaking hazardous activities in a dynamic environment.

When you serve in a Tall Ship you learn how to handle and splice lines and become skilled at going aloft, sea-furling square sails and ‘tacking through the wind’ - learning all these timeless seamanship skills promotes teamwork and a new understanding of being a Mariner.

People Challenge


Other MWVs do not have the challenges of integrating 24 Youth crew aged 16-23 years old. Most of these Youth have never been in a boat, let alone sailed an ocean-going brigantine for 11 days. We make our Youth work in and contribute to a small, tight knit team from the first day they join. Also, we as staff crew, employ a flatter hierarchy: from Able Seaman to Captain every member of the ship’s company operates on first-name term! You cannot break down barriers and forge meaningful Instructor-Youth relationships if the barriers are present the moment they embark. As a very small team, we all need to be able to perform each other’s roles because interchangeable we all rely on each other to fill gaps when we rotate between voyages. At sea together we all have to take turns at encouraging new batches of Youth aloft for first-night climbs. Finally, in the course of the Youth Development Training we are responsible for managing a remarkable level of risk to ensure we keep our Youth Crew safe. Given these unique circumstances, it could be argued, that we undertake one of the most challenging endeavours within Navy.

Leadership Challenge


Young Endeavour is not HMS Bounty. Young Australians do not expect to spend their hard earned savings to experience naval discipline. Our Youth are inquisitive, intelligent and are seeking ‘adventure under sail’. They are usually approaching the end of their high-schooling, or taking a gap-year before they commence university. They cannot be strong-armed with orders or bludgeoned with the DFDA. This situation poses a unique challenge; staff crew invariably need to develop a direct leadership model without having to rely on rank. This approach serves to challenge them - and us as their Leaders - to ensure they have a testing but enjoyable experience throughout their 11 day voyage.

HMAS Melbourne conducting morning flyby north of Port Stephens.
HMAS Melbourne conducting morning flyby north of Port Stephens.

Empathy and Growth


Leading our Youth demands an increased level of awareness about growing and developing your own behaviour and personality. The reality of leading young Australians means you must do what you say - you must ‘walk the talk’. The Youth crew will have no confidence or respect for those leaders they doubt. Whilst they will be willing to listen to instructions, the greatest success and satisfaction is gained when learning is based on trust and a relationship built on mutual respect. Having now completed two years serving in Young Endeavour I can see this experience has caused me to become more self-aware and better attuned to the emotional needs of others. I hope I have learned to be more open, generous and tolerant in my understanding and acceptance of others, and more willing to invest in cultivating and promoting harmony in the workplace. When you lead and manage young people you have to make them key stakeholders in the decision-making and the outcome(s). To do so results in them being invested in the compromise of disagreement and the resultant failure or success of the outcome. Whilst there are times when this approach might not contextually apply within our ‘DPNU Grey Navy’ it is reflective of the training and experience that leads to a more effective Divisional System and a better supported Chain of Command. There is only so much one can learn in the classroom or simulator - and leading young Australians at sea in a Tall Ship provides a unique bridge between textbook theory and doing it properly.

LEUT Ingham and LEUT Rensford teach youth to helm in Port Jackson
LEUT Ingham and LEUT Rensford teach youth to helm in Port Jackson.

Taking on the Challenge


Serving in Young Endeavour presents a range of situations unique within Navy. Operating continually ‘in the Public Eye’, directly interacting with our Youth families and working alongside a Charity Scheme involves continuous exposure whilst presenting a range of opportunities for outreach and community engagement. Liaising with staff from the Department of Premier and Cabinet to discuss the ship’s participation in Sydney’s Australia Day celebrations or participating in the Young Endeavour Advisory Board with prominent Australian business leaders at Rothschild’s are both typical of some of the rich personal and professional development opportunities presented. Similarly, our regular hosting of VVIPs, senior officers, parliamentarians, mayors, community leaders and charity groups present other important interaction opportunities. While the adventures of climbing the Whitsunday Peak, swimming in pristine Queensland waters or sailing through the Bass Strait under square sails are all memorable moments, nothing compares to being moved to tears by the profound experience of helping those either disabled or disadvantaged experience sailing in Young Endeavour. These points should highlight that if you are looking for a challenge ‘beyond the ordinary’ then look no further!

And ‘So What’


To recap the points I have highlighted, Young Endeavour is an engine room for developing mariners and empathetic leaders. It exposes you to situations that most will unlikely ever experience. An extraordinary immersion in the maritime environment and the unique demands of managing the Youth makes for an exceptionally rewarding and enriching professional experience. You have to learn mental adaptability, thinking on your feet and being open to new experiences. Hard work and innovation become your ally and ‘better is the enemy of good enough’. Approaching the end of my time in Young Endeavour I am already reflecting fondly on the triumphs and challenges of this posting. Whilst the primary mission of Young Endeavour is to serve the Youth of Australia it also presents a remarkable opportunity for Navy. Much can be said for enjoying the present and making the most of every opportunity; however, we are all guilty of thinking about what is coming next. As we remind our Youth Crew, “the journey is more important than the destination!” And anyone who is willing to take up the challenge and serve in Young Endeavour will find themselves better prepared as a Leader and a Mariner to serve in our “Thinking Navy - A Fighting Navy - An Australian Navy”.

Lieutenant Harrison Ingham joined Navy in 2006. After graduating from ADFA and writing a thesis on military humour, he returned to Fleet in 2011 and qualified in HMAS Tobruk. He navigated ACPBs/CCPBs and has instructed at SNW. He joined STS Young Endeavour as the Navigation Officer in 2017 and was appointed Executive Officer in December 2018. Shortly he will return to ‘Grey Navy’, undertaking A/PWO training in 2019.