Eliza McCraken & Phoebe Whittam - Spirit of Adventure | Faces of Auckland Sport and Recreation Volunteers

Published on Monday 19 June, 2023
Spirit Of Adventure

The distinctive Spirit of Adventure tall ship has been a regular feature in Auckland’s harbours and around the motu for decades now, carrying tens of thousands of young New Zealanders on voyages of personal discovery since the 1970s.

While the ship has a permanent crew, it relies on the efforts of many volunteers to help run the programmes it offers to help develop our rangatahi, teaching life-long skills like team work, communication and resilience for rangatahi who take part in voyages.

The Spirit of Adventure has had a profound effect on many of these volunteers. Eliza McCracken and Phobe Whittam are no exception, with each volunteering on more than 20 voyages and learning a great deal on what they both describe as a “life-changing” experience.

The Spirit of Adventure Trust has also featured on One Good Kiwi, One New Zealand’s digital giving platform.

Eliza McCraken:

Did you have any sailing experience before you became involved in the Spirit of Adventure?

No, apart from a little learn to sail course when I was a lot younger. I knew absolutely nothing about sailing; my older sister did a 10-day development voyage, and then my dad did one of the adult voyages. I heard both their stories and thought 'that sounds like a really epic adventure.

I did a 10-day youth development voyage over New Year's in 2019. I met some amazing people: it was an epic opportunity and I really enjoyed it. It was such a life changing opportunity for me; I was quite a reserved kid, and I suppose I wanted something that would push me out of my comfort zone and being a participant really did that.

You’ve since volunteered on more than 20 journeys. What does this involve?

There are two main volunteering roles. Leading hands are 17- to 20-year-olds who’ve done a training voyage already. I like to think of them as an older sibling to the participants. They've been in the same position that the participants are in, and they can teach them the way of ship life and how to fit in.

Then we have a watch assistant, who are over the age of 20. They don't have to have done a voyage before, which means you get volunteers who’ve got different life experiences. They look after a group of 10 participants and share their experience with them. 

I’ve done both roles, starting off as a leading hand, and then moving up to watch assistant when I had gained enough skill and knowledge. It was a cool experience, and definitely a change - but the change helped me to push my skills and learn so much.

I wouldn't be able to volunteer without the support of my work, which allows me the time and flexibility to give back to the community.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering?

Being involved in a programme like Spirt is so positive. When a lot of people come on board, they’re often shy, or uncomfortable in who they are as a person. We take them for 10 days and they have this experience where they increase their competence and resilience.

By the end of the voyage, they're a whole new person and they've come out of their shell. They've realised that they have potential to do whatever they want to do, and that they can make these decisions for themselves and back themselves. I really love seeing that growth and development in people over those 10 days.

Phoebe Whittam:

What's your background with Spirit of Adventure?

I did a voyage when I was 17, at the end of 2019. I had a really great experience, and nine or ten months later, I went back as a volunteer and I haven't looked back since.

Traditionally you might go out and sail by yourself, or with one other person, but sailing a tall ship is a lot more focused on teamwork. We normally have about 14 crew (half paid and half volunteers) and 40 participants all together.

Usually there's quite a few participants from Auckland, but we get people from all over; some of them have never even seen the ocean before when they come on board.

What inspired you to volunteer after completing your first participant voyage?

All the people and the other volunteers I got to meet - some of them are my best friends now. Participants learn how to sail the ship, which requires a lot of team work and getting to know each other to start with. They also learn a lot about themselves, setting goals and what they're capable of.

A lot of people say it changed their lives, and is something that they'll remember for their whole life. I think for me, that was definitely true.

I wanted to be able to give that experience to other young people from around the country. Having gone back [as a volunteer] many times now, it never gets old seeing participants have the same experience I did, and growing and learning about themselves. It's really cool to be part of.

Have you got one piece of advice for anyone who's thinking about getting involved in volunteering in sport or recreation like you have?

Just get involved, and see what it's like. I remember being quite nervous to go back as a volunteer, but once I went back it was one of the best things I've done.

Put yourself out there. Seeing the impact that you have on a rangatahi's life, and seeing them go through the experience, and what they come out the other side with, will hopefully be a really great experience for you.

Aktive and One New Zealand are thrilled to be working together to celebrate our awesome volunteers who make Auckland sport and recreation possible.

Volunteers generously give their time, knowledge, and skills to community sport and recreation, making for a happier, healthier Tāmaki Makaurau.

If you’re interested in volunteering, have a chat with your local sports club or recreation group – we’re sure your support will be hugely appreciated!