Exactly one year ago, I set off excitedly for the voyage on a lifetime sailing STS Young Endeavour from Adelaide - Hobart as an eager 23 year old. I thought I knew all about this journey as my brother, family and friends had all sailed young endeavour and I had read many a Captains Log, followed the ship religiously and heard countless stories. What I didn't know though, is just how amazing the voyage would be for me, how it would become the greatest adventure of my life and how much it would change my life moving forward! 

I should probably set the scene. I have battled anxiety and depression for a really long time and whilst I spent the year before Young Endeavour trialling medication and pyschologists (all of which helped), what I was really missing when I started this voyage was confidence. Confidence to believe in myself. Confidence in my own strength and abilities. Confidence to follow my dreams. Confidence to be okay with both my strengths and weaknesses. Confidence to be me. Confidence to truly live. I had not expected Young Endeavour would give me all of this, I had merely expected a fun adventure where I stepped outside my comfort zone and conquered some fears, but it was all that, and more! Truthfully, I believed that I wouldn't even be able to do the voyage because I had anxiety and was incredibly surprised when I was accepted. 

For me, the biggest fear and one of the biggest challenges was climbing the mast. Until Young Endeavour, I simply did not do heights when they were in my control. I panicked. It usually resulted in a full blown panic attack that took at least half an hour to resolve, and yet another "heights" activity that I could add to a long list of tasks that I just wasn't good enough for. At least, this is what it felt like for me. I had a very bad experience with abseiling in late primary school, where I felt worthless and incapable, I held that experience for years and I was still hearing those negative voices on that very first day of the voyage. 

In true Young Endeavour fashion, there was no waiting and putting off your fears. The whole voyage was an attitude of just get in and do and give it your best shot. So, we climbed the mast on the very first day of the voyage. We prepped with a number of safety talks and the whole time my nerves were building and building, I thought I might be sick. But, I had promised myself I would give everything a go and get the most out of this experience. That promise was the best decision I ever made. 

We were the last watch to climb and I was the second last person, so I watched nearly 20 people climb before me and all this time I became more and more fearful and more and more acutely aware of exactly what we were about to do. So many thoughts were running through my head, What if I fall? What if everyone sees I can't do it? What if i'm not good enough for this either? What if I ruin this before it has even started? By the time I got to climb onto the mast, I was already shaking. I was pretty convinced I wasn't going to do it. Hesitantly I began climbing and the more I climbed, the shakier and more distressed I became. Truthfully I was shaking and crying the entire way up (and down!) that mast. The ladder seemed okay, but it was manoeuvering around the platforms, when I had to completely trust my upper arms even when if felt like I was falling that got me. So much so, I thought I was never going to get down. So what changed? What got me through this experience? Two things. A determination that had never been in me before, because this time I wanted to acheive this more than anything and the people on that ship. Both staff crew and youthies. The staff crew were kind, patient, supportive and encouraging. One staff crew member sat and talked me through the platform climb for well over 15 minutes whilst I shook and cried and everything he said was positive and made me feel valued. And then there were the people in my watch, who although I had only known them all of three hours were cheering for me, were saying "you've got this", were saying "hey, it's okay. Take your time, we're enjoying the view". 

I have never experiened anything like the feeling of getting back to deck of the ship after going all the way to the very top of the ship. I balled my eyes out and shook because I was so overwhelmed. But you know what? I did it. And for me looking back, this experience not only set the seen for an amazing 12 days, but it encompassed all that Young Endeavour was for me. All of these themes continued for the entire voyage (and long after!)Achieving challenges once thought impossible. Support and encouragement. Learning and accepting strengths and weaknesses. Friendship so strong the people felt like family. Confidence. It wasn't all smooth sailing and like all of life, there were mistakes, multiple attempts and lessons - but it was all part of the experience and contributed to the change in me. That one time climbing the mast? That wasn't enough to gain confidence. I had not been able to climb the mast with high waves at sea because I was not confident in my climbing abilities. I tried again on the second last night, and I did not make it up. So I organised with my watch leader and we went for a sunsrise climb on the last day, and there I was, at the top, knowing I had now done this twice. I left that ship, a new person. I had confidence. Or, at the very least, I knew how to gain confidence. And since then, I have achieved things I never even dreamed of, and so much of that I owe to this voyage. I applied for and accepted my dream job after completing uni the year before. I moved to the country and learnt to be completely independent in daily life. I have a new attitude for adventure and I seek to challenge myself and explore the world as often as possible. This resulted in: several small weekend hikes and adventure trips, going bike riding for the first time in 10 years, a solo Europe trip and new relationships. 

So, if you are reading this and you are like I was before the voyage - thinking you can't do it, thinking you could never even get accepted into the program, let alone climb the mast, or help sail the ship, or conquer seasickness, or push through exhaustion or make new friends or just lacking confidence in any area or your life outside a tallship - I'm here to show that you CAN gain that confidence. You just have to take that first step, and what better way than the adventure of a lifetime on a tall ship? So what are you waiting for? Because I promise you nothing that held me back was better than what I acheived. So now, I leave you with one of my favourite Captain's quotes "Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone". 

Ruth Lewis