For Tauranga’s Andrea Haines, the job of first mate on board Spirit of New Zealand is more than just second in command on a traditionally-rigged youth sail training tall ship.
It’s about observing, contributing to and enjoying the personal growth young trainees on-board go through on every voyage.
“It’s just amazing,” says Andrea. “One of the key reasons why most of us work on here is seeing that growth.
“Sometimes they just get that lightbulb moment and they realise ‘oh heck, I’m actually doing this. I didn’t think I could do this - it was going to be too much’.
“But all of a sudden they just get it. They step up and you see them leading a whole team of people to do something. It’s huge. Often you hear from parents later and they say they’re a totally different person. You get that feedback all the time, so it’s really cool.”
When the ship departs Tauranga on Thursday after a rare three day visit, Andrea, along with a number of other Bay crew and volunteers, will be on-board, doing her job.
“I came on as a volunteer back about 2008,” says Andrea. “I just kept coming and coming and liked it so much I got offered an adult cadetship. I’ve worked my way up through third mate to second mate and now first mate.”
Along with her role in running the ship, Andrea is responsible for organising the training programme for the 40 youth trainees for each 10-day voyage.
It can be a daunting few days for them early on, she says.
“When you get on-board, there’s just so much to learn. I think it’s been measured at about five kilometres of rope, and they need to figure out which ropes do what. And there’s 14 sails.
“They get a bit overwhelmed to start with, but we just take them through the ropes slowly and they learn how to put the sails up. And by day nine, they actually take over the ship, and have what we call trainee day. It’s quite amazing how much they soak up.”
There’s no doubt that climbing the mast and handling the sails - standing on a rope 30-metres up with their feet dangling over the sea, often in pouring rain - is challenging for the trainees, says Andrea, but safety first is a key mantra.
“We don’t want to wrap them in bubble wrap either,” she says. “So it’s a nice balance of the two.
“They get to expose themselves to some perceived risks rather than real risks.”
It’s not necessarily comfortable, says Andrea, but at the end of each watch trainees go below with a real sense of achievement.
“It’s building up that resilience in them that they really need in those teenage years.”
The Spirit of New Zealand arrives in the Port of Tauranga at 4pm on Tuesday, departing for Napier at 8am on Thursday.
Its public day sail on Wednesday, from 9.30am to midday, is booked out but should provide a spectacular sight from onshore and on the water.