Justin's story

Justin Whiting is one of our 2014 graduates and is a member of our new The Helmsman Project Youth Board. Here is his story about his experience on the sailing adventure...

"At first, I didn’t know what to expect on The Helmsman Project. We were only the second group to go on the program at our school, so I had no idea what it would really be like. But it sounded like a cool experience, a good opportunity for me to take on board, so I decided to give it a go.

It was really during the coaching sessions that I first understood what it was all about. The coaches asked us what we wanted to get out of the experience and I was thinking, “Wow, there’s nothing holding us back here. We can challenge ourselves as much as we want.” And that’s what we did. The coaches let us decide on our own goals. They helped us relate these to other aspects of our lives and work towards them.

My first goal was to get involved in as much as possible on our sailing trips. I wanted to take on everything, climbing the mast, navigating, cooking for everyone on the boat. And after the first day I realised it was going to be more challenging than I thought. It’s really physically demanding, especially working all the ropes. But it was more than that.

There were times when the whole team was sick. The boat was tilted sideways, on a crazy angle, and no one wanted to do anything but lie down. One of the crew members and I decided to get up and try help the team feel better by making everyone lunch. We went down below and made up some great sandwiches and, after eating, the whole team did feel better. It showed us how we have to work together for the benefit of the team.

We really bonded as a team over our two sailing trips. We learnt how to cooperate, make decisions together and communicate as a team. It’s an interesting experience being out on a small boat with a bunch of kids from school, some are your friends, some you don’t know too well. You get to have those conversations you wouldn’t have in any normal circumstance. 

We didn’t hang out as a group at school but on the trips we got to understand more about each other, where we each were coming from. One of the nights we were up until midnight talking about our backgrounds and histories. Some of the boys used to be troublemakers but the boat helped me see they were really genuine people and I think that was a good experience. You may be different from some people and not know them well, but when you are put in such a challenging, foreign environment, you’re able to learn new things about each other. You have to make those connections to work together for a safe, and fun, sailing trip.

I know I’ll never forget the morning after that late talk with the team. We had to get up at 3:00am to navigate our way home in time. It was complete darkness around us, fog on the harbour, but we had to get going. And as the sun was rising while we worked, I thought, “We did something really great here, something amazing we will never do again.” It put into perspective the whole idea of not being afraid of going for what you want to achieve. I felt like a new person, ready for anything. On the boat, you’ve challenged yourself, been at the mercy of nature, been able to work as a team and make decisions. And if you can do that in such a challenging environment, you can do that anywhere."


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