FORMER Warrnambool woman Megan Watt has had lots of fantastic experiences working on tall ships around the world, but she says it’s what tall ships do for other people that’s one of the main attractions.
Ms Watt, 28, has worked on many sail training vessels that take people, especially young people on board, to teach them life skills through training.
“When people come sailing with us, we push their boundaries and build their confidence,” Ms Watt said.
“We make them realise that they can do so many amazing things, that they are capable.
“We teach them that hard work can be the most rewarding feeling, and we turn their perspective of themselves and the world around,” she said.
Ms Watt said her many years working on tall ships had also taught her a lot about herself.
“Spending long night hours sitting quietly on the deck, staring at the stars and the waves leads to a lot of introspection,” she said.
Ms Watt grew up in Warrnambool, attending Warrnambool College and studying a music industry skills course at TAFE.
She said she was always a water baby and “the water is in my blood”.
Ms Watt used to go rowing on the Hopkins River and body surfing at Lady Bay. “My father was a fisherman, and my mother used to teach swimming,” Ms Watt said.
Her sister, Tanya Jeffries, who still lives in Warrnambool with her family, is a swimming teacher.
The Duke of Edinburgh bronze award she did at Warrnambool College also helped get her interested in the natural world around her, she said.
Her maritime career began after she moved to Western Australia at the age of 20 and worked on a pearl farm at Broome.
She took part in a trip on the tall ship Leeuwin II as watch leader with a group of indigenous youth and it was a life-changing experience.
“We sailed to some beautiful, remote places, where we were met by Aboriginal elders, who told us stories about the land, showed us ancient rock art, and fed us traditional food like green sea turtle,” Ms Watt said.
Her sailing career since has taken her around most of Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific, all of Western Europe and the British Isles.
Presently she’s working on the Eye of the Wind, during the European sailing season off Germany and Denmark.
In August she will join The Stad Amsterdam as an able seaman and in November she will sail with it from Portugal for a three-week passage across the Atlantic Ocean to Martinique in the Carribean.
“One of the things I find great about sailing tall ships is the adrenalin rush you can get,” Ms Watt said.
“When you have to climb aloft, 30-odd metres up in the air, on a wildly swinging mast, to climb out on to the yards and furl a sail because you’ve just been hit by a squall in the middle of the night.
“That’s a rush, it’s addictive,” Ms Watt said.
She said her scariest moment at sea was probably on the ship Maybe sailing in the North Sea off Denmark
“I was at the helm, and the waves were huge.
“There was times I thought we were going to pitch-pole, flip over so that the stern falls over the bow, and the boat ends up upside-down.
“Once we were through the worst of it, I donned a harness and climbed out into the headrig to loosen the jibs so that we could set them for stability.
“I was getting dunked up to my chin in the ocean, and seconds later I would be 30 feet up in the air, before the bowsprit came crashing down again.
“It was great!”
Among the many other “amazing moments” sailing tall ships had given her were seeing the humpback whale migration up and down the Western Australian coast and the humpback cows teaching their calves how to breech out of the water.
“Night sailing at nine knots in perfect conditions across the Baltic with nobody on deck but me, the rest of the crew sleeping. Watching dolphins playing in bio-luminescence on a clear, calm night.
“Doing a trip on Leeuwin with disabled people, and taking a blind trainee out on to the yards to furl sails with just using my voice as a guide.
“That’s pretty humbling,” Ms Watt said.
On a voyage earlier this year in the Pacific Ocean on the Picton Castle, the ship sailed 33 days from Bay of Islands in New Zealand to Pitcairn Island.
“We didn’t see another vessel the whole time,” Ms Watt said. “Just us, the Roaring Forties and the whole big, blue South Pacific. It was the best sailing I’ve ever done.”
She said another attraction of tall ship sailing was how it focused life on the ‘here and now’.
“Days of the week mean nothing.
“Your hours of work and rest are broken up into watches, so you might have a four-hour watch in the daytime, and then eight hours off, and then another for hour watch in the middle of the night.”
Learning the real meaning of ‘shipmates’ had been another highlight.
“Shipmates are something very special,” Ms Watt said.
“You build very strong bonds with people when you live and work together in an environment without any input from the outside world.”