Our Flying Fish yachtmaster students leave Airlie beach on a series of overnight passages towards Sydney

Our first real offshore week in Oz tested us both mentally and physically with each of us playing the role of skipper and leading a passage of between 60 and 120 miles. We had to appoint key roles within the crew, sharing out tasks like watch leader, pilotage and tidal calculations, receiving weather reports on the HF radio and organising safety briefs. Richard, our instructor, took a backseat while the skipper of the moment made decisions, right or wrong, on establishing watches, what course to steer, when to reef etc. It proved harder than expected, reminding us that we are not Yachtmasters yet. It’s one thing understanding how to do a task yourself; explaining it clearly to the rest of the crew is something else.

The weather couldn’t have been more varied: hot and windless as we left the Whitsunday’s last week becoming wet and gusty as we made our way further south. Overnight sails were the norm and it wasn’t uncommon to find me tethered to the jackstays on the bow at 2am, changing headsails in 25 knots. Some of us had a mildly queasy start to the week, unused to the longer passages, but in no time we were cooking spag bol and thai curry heeled over on a beat. We didn’t have time to get sick! We helmed and navigated through the night when all we wanted to do was go back to bed. Everything seemed so much more complicated and difficult in the dark, even walking on deck became a mission in itself.

Undoubtedly the most loathed time was the dreaded anchor watch. Being woken in the middle of the night to sit on a cold, damp deck for an hour was unpopular to say the least. We hated it with a passion and drew lots to see who would get the slots between two and four a.m. By contrast, we loved the few nights spent in marinas that allowed us to sleep through the night.

Highlights included whales, dolphins, turtles and the odd sea snake. Sailing at night under a full moon, staring up at the sky, was incredible, but best of all was the feeling of being confidently in control of a 40 foot yacht, especially since we’ve only been sailing for ten weeks. The ‘lowlights’ of cleaning heads and bilges, sleep deprivation, not showering for five days and even the growing musty smell from the boys’ cabin paled into insignificance by comparison.