Christian Taylor’s first 9-day voyage on the tall ship Alma Doepel, just after finishing school, gave him the opportunity to redefine himself, from an outsider with a mostly undeserved reputation for drug-taking, to a leader amongst adults.
“My parents bought me the trip as a reward for doing well in Year 12,” he said. “At the time, I didn’t know anyone else on the ship, but more importantly no one knew me.
“I found this created an opportunity to redefine myself. I didn’t have to be the person that my family or peer group previously expected me to be.”
According to Christian, this was liberating. Combined with his natural competence with sailing, he chose to “present a persona as a confident leader” who could engage with anyone.
“As a teenager, I was always annoyed by the social cliques at school. The voyage gave me a chance to be the person who speaks to everyone. This culminated in me being elected as the trainee skipper who could sail the ship home on the last day, which I was very proud of.”
One of the more difficult aspects of the voyage required that Christian push himself out of his comfort zone by overcoming some inherent shyness. He said this “wasn’t easy,” although it was helped by having mentors, and by being a mentor to others.
He said, having 36 trainees, 6 leading hands and 5 paid crew, in a pressure-cooker environment for 10-days, created a rapid evolution of teamwork, leadership and a ‘get it done’ attitude. The sail training program included a number of activities which encouraged leadership, such as sending groups of trainees out for the day in the ship’s boats, them moving the ship and seeing how long it took the trainees to find them.
“If something had to be done, from navigating the boats to cleaning the galley, it didn’t matter whose turn it was, or whether it was fair. Everyone had to focus on just getting the job done. Not arguing. Not getting angry about it. Just doing the job. I was surprised by how effective this was.”
Christian was also surprised by how well people responded to “respect”.
“It was a definite move away from the schoolyard idea that you had to put someone down to move yourself up and has defined the way I’ve operated, and raised my family, ever since.”
Christian says he left the voyage less self-focused, more team-oriented, better able to communicate across social boundaries, and more self-confident.
After that initial voyage he did two more training voyages as a leading hand, hundreds of day sails and multiple maintenance days over the next five years.
“It gave me a grounding in the maritime world and developed confidence and which has underpinned much of my personal and professional life as a coastal engineer, ever since.”
These days, Christian is sailing around the South Pacific with his family on his own 48-foot Hallberg-Rassy 46 yacht.
“We bought the yacht last year and sailed it from Pittwater Sydney to Melbourne, then I left Melbourne at the end of last year and sailed it to Picton, New Zealand where I met up with my wife and two sons aged 9 and 12. We spent four months there and then sailed as a family to Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and in three weeks we’ll be in Brisbane ready to sail back down the coast to Melbourne by Christmas.”
“It’s been an amazing year for our family, we have sailed over 2000 miles, climbed volcanoes and visited villages on remote islands. I hope this has given the kids a wider perspective on the world and an appreciation that there are many different ways of living. For me it is immensely satisfying to have years of hard work, training and planning come to fruition, a process which really started on the Alma Doepel.