Sailing the reef

In winter this year we sailed north on the trade winds, as nature intends. The humpback whales were also migrating north – from the Antarctic to warm tropical waters to have their calves in the safety of shallow waters.

We were sailing through crystal blue seas fringed with ribbons of glowing sand being continually washed by the tidal currents – serpentine rivers of silica and shells slowly forming great islands and then being washed away over time.


At midnight, Frankie and Amy were on watch, chatting excitedly under the stars as they steered past the rough waters of Breaksea spit; the northern edge of Fraser Island. The spit extends underwater for many miles like a tongue, and is alive with sharks and rays, sea birds and marine mammals – all hunting the shoals of fish that congregate along the edges of the deep. They had been listening to the sound of a whale breathing as it surfaced in the darkness every few minutes, swimming apace with the sailing boat which lit up the waves in her red, green and white sectors of the navigation lights. Suddenly, silhouetted against the sky they witnessed a full breach – the whale had dived deeply and come up fast, leaping clear of the water and landing just off the starboard bow with an enormous splash! They screamed and jumped around, sniffing the plankton fug of the whale’s breath as the rest of the crew came tumbling up to wonder at the great patch of white water receding behind us… did it mean to come so close?


At dawn the coral cay, Lady Elliot Island hove into view, and we were soon swimming among manta rays and turtles. It proved to be the best snorkeling of the trip thanks to the green zone that covers the whole island protecting the fish and other animals from fishing activities. Despite the numbers of people flying in daily to be guided in their appreciation of nature – the island itself was covered with lantana and other weeds. We set sail for Lady Musgrave Island where I remembered the larger reef as being even more diverse and spectacular… despite having a pitifully small green zone.

Lady M

Arriving at Lady Musgrave is a real highlight as the swell often booms as it breaks on the reef on the weather side, and by tucking into the lee to drop the sails, the boat passage then allows access to the shelter of the great lagoon. What a relief! It is a spectacularly beautiful place.

We picked up a mooring and excitedly jumped into the water for our first exploration. The coral was healthy and the reef sharks were circling – but it seemed the fish were absent and even the small green zone itself was ghostly quiet. Later we snorkeled the scary edges of the reef and discovered the same thing – what a disappointment, but overfishing isn’t the greatest threat we pose here.

Much of the Great Barrier Reef has been affected by bleaching as a direct result of high sea surface water temperatures which is a recent phenomenon driven in part by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.


This can obviously have catastrophic effects – not only on the coral and other life forms that live in that zone, but on all life on earth – as it has the potential to change the “life blood” of global currents and subsequent weather patterns globally.

Ironically, another result of global warming – rising sea levels, may be just what the Great Barrier Reef needs to survive. The coral bleaching is occurring in shallow water, and an increasing water depth would give it more protection from warming water and a new lease of life with room to grow! Rising sea levels are what formed most of this reef to begin with.

Ecologically speaking it is not actually the coral itself that is endangered but the habitat. Similar to many marine invertebrates and other world travellers, coral larvae live as free-swimming plankton that are carried on ocean currents until they find a good place to live. I believe that the current focus of efforts to breed coral (or worse) may be really misguided – coral animals will find suitable locations to live on this planet and I think we will see expansions of their range away from their current range as sea temperatures rise… and into deeper water at the edges of the Great Barrier Reef. Coral is not as threatened as the future existence of humans is, and to think that we must attempt to save the GBR as we know it without challenging our practices is clearly stupid. We need to act immediately on the biggest risk to our healthy future which (aside nuclear warfare) is the rate at which we are releasing carbon dioxide. Whether it is through heavy industry, deforestation, overpopulation or over-consumption, all these modern issues have the same influence on the carbon cycle. This is something we can help to change through our daily practices and choices – not only in terms of food miles, energy consumption and who we support politically and through our purchases. We can do it! Especially as an example to our young people. So I believe that with regard to Eco-tourism, Adventure and Environmental Education programs – if it isn’t primarily driven/powered/sustained primarily by sail, wind or solar; then it doesn’t meet the most basic of standards.


Expedition Log

Here is the expedition log submitted along with this video by Amy Luke-Paredi, winner of the Helen Houghton Scholarship for 2016-17!

Qualifying Expedition Report – 3/4/16 to 7/4/16


Hopes for my Expedition:

–           Enjoy the experience of a new adventure

–           Learn the technical terms of all apparatus used in the field of sailing

–           Learn more about ways to protect our local environment

–           Learn more about the tide patterns and wind patterns and there impact on sailing conditions

–           Learn some basic knot techniques and understand the purpose of each style of knot

–           Learn how to read nautical maps so that I can calculate approximate distance between destinations

–           When snorkeling have a close encounter with a sea turtle and or dugong

–           Develop new friendships and my leadership skills

Ways to maximize my hopes:

–  Maintain an open mind at all times and be being willing to listen and co-operate with all my fellow travellers.

–  Do some background research so that I am familiar with terms used to describe parts of a sailing boat.  Watch videos that show how to tie basic knot formations.

– Check for are updated weather report as the wind speed and tides will impact on the proposed navigational route.

Concerns for my Expedition:

–           That I may not be able to remember all the specific terminology used with reference to sailing.

–           That I may accidently tie the wrong style of knot, which would lead our sailing boat into danger

–           When steering the boat that I miscalculate the wind direction and cause our boat to capsize

Ways to minimize my concerns:

–    Listen intently to the knowledge of experienced crew members.  Ask for reassurance if I feel that an assigned task needs checking.

Staff and participants:  There were 21 people in total on this journey.

Vessels safety equipment lists:

 Before our departure it was crucial that all passengers be aware of the safety regulations aboard the sailing ship.  Each passenger needed to be fully aware of the location of the safety equipment (life jackets, flare, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, bailing buckets, anchor, lights, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB), Radio receiving unit (VHF)) and how to use them in case of an emergency.

Personal equipment list:

Day Pack – sunglasses, broad brim hat with cord attachment, sunglasses with strap, wet shoes, rain jacket, compact towel, non-perishable food snacks, 2 x 1L water bottles, waterproof camera,

Overnight Pack – tent, inflatable mattress, sleeping bag with inner sheet, inflatable pillow, walking shoes, thongs, towel, swimmers, long sleeve sun protection shirts, shorts, jumper, long trousers, underwear, toiletries, head torch, cup, bowl, plate, cutlery, tea-towel, several large garage bags that can be used to waterproof luggage, small bags to dispose of all rubbish, notebook and pencil.
Venue information:

Each of the campsites below had cooking circles we created to reduce potential hazards.

Blakesley’s  Slip – rubbish bin provided, no fresh water or toilets, good anchorage in the south easterly winds, no fees or bookings were required

Moreton Bay –   no readily available facilities, bookings required as it is a national park, camping fees apply, campsite located in a bush area just above the tide line, the campsite was a few hundred metres away from the sand dunes,  on high tide the boats can be dragged closer to the campsite area,  large campground allowing members to spread out and sleep in varying areas including sand dunes.

Crab Island/Kooringal – civilised areas with numerous beach houses, fencing and street signs, public toilet, restaurant, dirt roads.

Peel Island –  public toilet,  large campsite area overlooking the water’s edge, one dirt road, no rubbish bin provided, wharf,  surrounding rocks either side of the cove.

 A detailed Navigation and Communication Plan is attached 

Weather forecast:

I discovered during this expedition that sailing is very weather dependent activity.  When the winds are blowing strong it is best to shelter amongst the islands and when there is limited wind the boats motor is used as a contingency plan.

Day One – we had to sail against the wind, which proved challenging

Day Two – strong winds in the morning, indicated the wind speed would increase throughout the day, but fortunately they were blowing in a direction that proved to be favourable for sailing conditions

Day Three – we spend the day kayaking.  The morning wind made our journey more difficult however by midday the wind had eased and the afternoon was a very easy and enjoyable paddle.

Day Four – we experienced little to no wind, therefore we relied on the motor to assist us in arriving back to Victoria Point within the required time frame.

We had a skippers meeting each morning and night to discuss the tides and how they could be used to our advantage. Our departure time from our camp was dependent on the tide forecast.  I have begun to have a little more understanding into the fact that the rise and fall of the tide are only a small part of the plan.  The tidal stream this is the direction that the tide is flowing affects both the speed of the boat and its course. The skipper of sailing boat will plan to travel with the tide (in the same direction as the tide) rather than against it, so a departure time may be in the middle of the night or early hours of the morning as to ensure that full advantage is made of the tide.

Transport logistics:

On Monday 3rd April my mother drove me to Victoria Point boat ramp, for a 10am departure.  This is where I met my fellow travel companions.  On Thursday 7th April Jono phoned mum to let her know the approximate time of our return.  This time was very dependent on the weather conditions so the exact time could not be confirmed.

Food planning:

3 protein bars and 3 popper juices (breakfast)

Mixed dried fruit packets, (snacks)

Crackers and Muesli mix  (lunch)

On Sunday 2nd of April, the night before my departure, at home I cooked vegetarian fried rice ( rice, eggs, corn, capsicum, peas ) and froze it, so it could be just heated up over the fire on Monday night.  This meal needed to be shared between Hannah and Emma. The other two nights Hannah and Emma cooked dinner for us to share.

 Food safety, hygiene and toileting:

Before handling any food I used a liquid hand sanitizer to minimize germs.

All food that I took on the expedition was non-perishable other than the prepared meal that was frozen and heated up on the first night.

At all times I used biodegradable toilet paper, but any used paper was carried home in scented nappy bags to be appropriately disposed of.

 Daily Journal Entry

Day One –  At 10am I arrived at Victoria Point Boat ramp where I meet all my fellow travellers.  We made a group circle to introduce ourselves and discuss our hopes and concerns.  The coordinator of the expedition, Jonathon (Jono)  Goss, explained the proposed navigational path and the weather and tide conditions that would impact on our journey.  He also spoke about traditional landowners of the area and highlighted the point the importance of leaving no carbon footprint on our environment. We were requested to pick up any rubbish on our expedition regardless if it belonged to our group and responsibility dispose of it when back at the mainland. This process would ensure our journey had a minimal impact on the environment. In this circle we also talked about our communication and first aid plans. Jono shows us a document that outlined different contact details in the case of an emergency. On each sailing boat there were emergency devices, which used GPS as a way of contact. The use of the orange flag on the sailing boats would be raised if boats needed to radio each other. Each skipper had a fully equipped first aid kit, which could easily accessed at any time.  After our discussion we packed our luggage onboard the sailing boats and begun our journey towards Blaksley’s Slip.  We hoisted the main sail and unfurled the jib, however we ran aground numerous times due to the low tide and strong winds.   We put the main sail down and tacked our way out of the harbour and into the open sea.  We took turns at being the navigator, the outlooker, the skipper and crewmembers as to experience all aspects of sailing.  An emergency toilet call required me to jump overboard; my fear of sharks was slightly overcome as a result of this situation.   By late afternoon we had arrived at our final destination.  We unloaded the boat, set up our tents and made a make shift toilet construction, which was a hole in the ground surrounded by a section of tarp.  As the sun set we created a fire circle.  Bob taught us how to use the trangia’s, which was a crucial skill for me to learn, as I was responsible for cooking dinner for two fellow travel companions and myself.  After dinner we washed our dishes and cooking utensils down at the shoreline.  We walked back to camp and settled around the fire and discussed the day’s journey.  During this reflection time I was complemented on my enthusiasm and positive attitude towards learning new skills.  As the rain began to fall Emma and I headed into our tent for the perfect night sleep.

Day Two –

My morning consisted of a conversation with Jono to discuss todays navigational plan.  We were currently situated at Blakesleys Slip, with a longitude position of -27.574767 and latitude position of 153.409873     It was 5 nautical miles and 354 degrees to our next destination of Dunwich.  There was a forecast for a  southeasterly wind of 15-20 knots blowing, which would slowly decrease and swing further easterly.  We had an early departure and smooth sailing trip, as Rob was our experienced skipper whilst Kelsey, a young boy who was qualifying for his gold level DoE was in charge of steering our boat.  We stopped at Dunwich to replenish our water tanks with fresh water.  Our final destination of the day was to a campsite called Big Sand Hills with a longitude position of -27.284878 and latitude position of 153.401993   Several hours later after encountering numerous turtles swimming near our boat we experienced a small challenge.  Our failed attempt to tack results in us running aground.  We were forced to jump overboard and push our way out of the seaweed-infested water.    By 2pm we had reached our proposed destination.   As I placed the anchor into the sand I nearly stepped on a stingray.  My initial reaction was fear however after watching many other stingrays sweep past my feet I began to enjoy the experience of being so close to the marine life.  In the distance we spotted a cast of solider crabs.  We enjoyed chasing them across the shoreline.  We then all participated in a fun team game of “Fresher” which was a wonderful way to further learn about each other before exploring the surrounding sand dunes by climbing to the top and rolling our way back down again.  Tom, Daniel, Kelsey Emma and I spend the afternoon watching a picturesque sun set from the top of a sand dune.  We headed back to camp and set up our tents however Tom, Jono, Eva, Frankie, Basil and I decided to not sleep inside the tent, instead we would enjoy the experience of sleeping on the sand dunes outside under the stars.

Day Three –

Today I joined the kayaking group.  Bob was in charge of leading our group of kayaks to crab island. We left before the sailing group, as we needed to leave on high tide.  The sun shone on the crystal clear water making this paddling journey very enjoyable.  We managed to see several turtles and I even spotted a shark.  My instant reaction to the figure was that of fear, however that night when we arrived on land I searched through Jono marine wildlife book and identified the shape as a reef shark.   When we arrived at crab island Tom and I attempted to catch the small fish with our bare hands.  This proved to be a futile endeavour.   By 3pm the tide had finally dropped so the current was in our favour therefore, we began our kayaking journey towards Peel Island.  Several dolphins frolicked beside our kayak.  The magical sunset completed a perfect day. By the time we arrived at the campsite it was pitch black and we were wet and cold. This problem was intensified with the biting horse flies.  However I refused to let these discomforts dull my sparkle.  That night around the fire circle Jono talked to us about the history of the island.  In 1907 to 1959, the island was a leper colony. Since arriving home I have further researched into this topic.  I was devastated to discover that this disease still affects people in many third world countries today, as it has the misconception that it is an infectious disease.  I was responsible for conducting the debriefing session that evening.  I began by asking everyone about their experiences that day and if they had any information they would like to share.  I was very conscious of the importance of inviting all fellow travellers the opportunity to participate in sharing and reflecting about their day’s experience. I made sure that I responded to all discussions in a respectful and supportive manner.  Knowing the joy I had experienced from sleeping in the open air the night before,  I made a decision to relive this freedom and sleep outside under the stars again.

Day Four –

As it was our last day of our expedition it was essential that all equipment was thoroughly cleaned and dried.  We spend a long time scrubbing the trangia’ s and packing away the camping equipment.  We discussed our navigational plan and set sail.  A requirement for me to achieve a bronze level Duke of Edinburgh award meant that during this expedition I would need to fulfill the role of a skipper.  This involved me having to become a team facilitator and display some leadership skills.  I openly communicated with my crewmembers to ensure that all participants were ready to hoist the sails and furl the jib. I managed to successfully steer us through the open water passage before an experienced skipper named Sally safely steered us back to Victoria Point Boat Ramp.

Creative expression:  An IMovie of my expedition (see link)

Assessors Report:

Amy has completed all the requirements for her practice and qualifying expeditions by participating in the online training session, applying herself to planning the trip, and undertaking the various tasks and roles on the expedition with enthusiasm.

We all appreciated her joyful approach – being a quick learner, Amy was able to take the helm on the way home to qualify – with very positive feedback from all skippers and crew.

Amy has written an excellent Expedition Report and produced a fun movie of the experience. Congratulations Amy!


Quandamooka country

DSCF6861         Teerk – Roo – Ra         quarantine-nautical-flag

Acknowledging and paying respect to the traditional custodians and the elders of Quandamooka country, is an important part of our expedition process – introducing themes of remembrance, respect, gratitude, belonging and a sense of place. It is also an opportunity to ask permission to carry out our business at a spiritual level (and of course we always notify traditional owners of our activities).

Our expeditions naturally teach us about the intricate nature, rich culture, sustainable practices and the hidden history of our area. An important outcome of expeditionary learning is connecting deeply with each other – this is enhanced by storytelling and listening to local legends such as the one that concerns the creation of the South Passage, that cartilaginous place where currents rip and stingrays leap between Minjerribah and Moorgumpin. The story reminds us that the elders of this country are always present; often they are watching us and will offer guidance – but if we are not careful, their disapproval or anger will be felt. We can benefit from reconnecting with these traditions, learning the importance of being open, present and response-able. We are supported by our wild nature and our ancestors who are watching over us.

Quandamooka country is beautiful. Many thousands of generations of people have lived along this sandy coastline, camped among the banksia, whispering casuarina and delicious pigface – traversing the windswept dunes as they retreated from rising sea levels – sheltering in the paperbark forests surrounding the freshwater lagoons perched between the sand dunes. The salt water in the bay creates a pulse of life force, flooding the seagrass beds and ebbing through the deep dark channels every day and night. This same water our ancestors used to slap with their spears to summon the dolphins, working together to catch fish that were shared between all the families. Today, we refill our water barrels from the same natural springs, and gather at the sacred meeting spaces, camping beside ancient oyster-shell middens that mark the campsites of the old people.

The Sea School seeks to grow our relationship with the Quandamooka people. We hope that although our cultural approach and philosophy (described by European educators, using training activities in traditional sailing boats) could actually be seen as a barrier to finding common ground – we imagine that our relationship will grow and evolve from our respect and care for the future, the nature of our shared experiences and time spent working together with our young people.

We are proud of our maritime heritage – honouring explorers, teaching antiquated yet practical ways of doing things. Our core values such as respect, care for country, each other and ourselves, service to the community and honouring our elders are universal, and require us to make sacrifices as both ancestors and descendants. Our programs show us that being close to nature and living in a healthy community helps us to learn about ourselves, how diversity is robust, and how interconnection is vital.

One of our important program venues is Teerk – Roo  – Ra, also known as Peel Island which relatively recently was a designated quarantine station – firstly for all ships entering the Port of Brisbane, then for the inebriates of the remote colony, and finally for people with Hansen’s disease (leprosy). The infrastructure still stands and we are interested in exploring its historic and metaphoric significance, and the potential to embark on a new phase of rehabilitation and recovery programs, with trauma informed care and empowerment as practice principles. The yellow quarantine flag is still flown by every ship that enters the country today, and we use this as a signal flag for communication between our expedition boats – assigned for our purposes as “caution, come closer, we need to talk”. I think we also need to talk about our national flag because as a symbol it is powerful. We know that the first people and sailors have long gazed at the Southern Cross, and as it begins to appear higher in our skies now, set to sparkle all through winter… I also associate it with the Eureka flag and the smell of burnt sausages and beer on Australia Day.

This year, Australia Day was also marked by Google’s subtle acknowledgement or our first people, and I think this helped create some much needed dissonance in the mainstream media. Our leaders took to the stage to speak about opportunity and equality, but clearly not everyone was celebrating on Australia Day. I think we need to negotiate a new understanding of what this day represents, and what we stand for as a nation. We desperately need good leadership in this country and around the world. One small symbolic act that I think could help to promote inclusiveness, maturity and a sense of belonging, would be to change the flag, and the date for Australia day. As a nation we all need to celebrate together. recall stories from the past, and plan a strong future together.






Learning to steer


It was a magical moment. We were on an impromptu barefoot hike after dinner, in the dark, with our torches off. The moon had not yet risen, and starlight faintly lit the expanse of sand around us, from the painted sky above. We were in awe, passing through an incredible landscape of seemingly infinite depth, and as we approached the dune, it became a massive wave, looming over our heads against the sky. In that wild moment it appeared that we needed to make a choice; to run forward at great risk of being capsized, or to turn and run for safety.

Peak moments such as these are often amplified by the intensity of our activities leading up to that point.

In this case it was a four day Duke of Edinburgh Award expedition to Moreton Island… four young sailors aged 14-16 (two aiming to qualify for bronze, one for silver and one practicing at gold level) along with three skippers and two adult helpers. We had been reaching under full sail across Amity Banks at high tide, to find our next campsite tucked beneath the big sand dunes at Kounugai. Fetching the distant island we sailed across many miles of clear water, clean sand and patches of seagrass passing underneath us, as dark and mysterious as sharks.


Brahminy anchored on the beach at Moorgumpin (Moreton Island).

Occasional stingrays and groups of massive green turtles were startled by our passing. Dolphins and dugongs surfaced in the deeper water nearby while the crew were distracted from their tasks of navigating, steering and trimming the sails. Standing watch on the foredeck was the most popular duty – until we tacked towards the shore.

Bullets of wind shot across the water as we sailed into the lee of the giant sand hills, suddenly heeling the boat – requiring us to jump and sit closely together on the windward side, leaning into the wind and working to trim the sheets. There was a chance of capsize, but – despite terrifying moments of self-doubt and fear – we landed safely and secured the boats, before climbing the dunes to witness a spectacular sunset, and reflect on the day.

Important personal insights and lessons stem from what happens in stressful situations. A safe and supportive learning environment with facilitators using a strengths based approach, together with encouragement and support as group norms – can help to meet the learning needs of us all. “Mistakes” and “failure” must be redefined, for it is through these cracks that the light gets in.

Structured activities must be student centred, challenging, flexible and full of hands on experiences, relationships, metaphors and interconnectivity. Nature Play is all of those things as well. It supports us in our work; especially when we position ourselves so that wild nature surrounds and permeates us.  Unstructured time allows us the freedom to re-create, recover and have a lot more fun in a program. It also allows space for contemplation and reflection, to synthesise and create meaning. In doing all of this, I believe we can build resilience from our experiences.

Resilience is widely defined as “the capacity to cope, learn and thrive in the face of change, challenge and adversity” (Cahill et al 2015). Resilience includes the various skills that allow us to weather the storm, the inner strength to carry on despite ongoing challenges; the drive and inspiration to bounce back again!

Bernard (2004) describes resilience skills as:

  • Social competence – interacting well with others
  • Problem solving – thinking through how to manage challenges
  • Self-efficacy – autonomy, responsibility, confidence
  • Sense of purpose or meaning – including optimism and strong beliefs

These skills are certainly learned through our structured activities; but also develop through spontaneous group games, through shared stories, explorations of country, relationships and ideas, through solo time, observation, reflection and discussion; retelling our stories of triumph and hard times around the fire.

Lans et al (2014) highlights strategies for building resilience:

  • Build your self-esteem
  • Look for people who will support you
  • Use your strengths to build new strengths
  • Extend your skills

The Sea School focuses learning through the social environment of small open sailing boats and beach camping. The physical, emotional and psychological highs and lows of sail training provide many growth opportunities, along with communal living and facilitated debriefing. The synergy between structured activity and unstructured play on adventure programs can be enhanced by good sequencing and flexibility – maintaining a balance – and clearly this is more possible on extended expeditions.

Expeditionary learning (adventure based learning while on expedition) creates a natural cycle during the journey, like a spiral of activity, rest/reflection and planning/replanning – an action learning project. We must encourage times and places where our staff and participants are spending unstructured time together – playing games outside, exploring the natural world, free range discussions around the fire; or spending time apart for solo experiences, rest or reflection. These relationships are critical to deep learning, and can lead to personal insights, self-awareness, esteem and empowerment; and that is what we need to enact changes in our lives.

Let’s continue creating a healthy, diverse learning environment for our children. We need a capable, response-able and resilient community who will be able to accept the massive challenges that will face them in the future.

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Under way, lookout!  

Caitlyn skippers the passage home to qualify for her Bronze award. Kelsey can be seen kicking back – watching and planning for his qualifying Gold expedition – it’s up to you now! Alexina was testing the sleeping accommodation, while Bob is in his more serious role as chief examiner. Congratulations also to Hannah for completing Bronze, and Tahlia qualifying with Silver. Thanks also to Bev and Rob for your excellent support and guidance out there!


 Bernard, B. (2004). Resiliency: What we have learned. San Francisco CA: WestEd

 Cahill, H; Beadle, S. et al (2015). Building Resilience in Children and Young People: University of Melbourne

 Lans, R et al (2014). Resilience – Core Learning. Maroon Outdoor Education Centre: Education Queensland.

 Other relevant readings are available under the “Look here” tab above

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An historical perspective of sail training for youth development

In traditional and progressive cultures around the world, young people are guided through rites of passage, which typically take them away from their families and into a uniquely challenging environment, with elders from their community. Typically this is “mens” and “women’s” business, and intends to facilitate maturation and mark a transition into adulthood. These experiences are not just symbolic – as the adventure involves a significant process of changing perspective and relationships, the development of new skills, responsibility and awareness.

In 1861, at the age of 14 the “rather troublesome” Warington Baden Powell was sent aboard the HMS Conway – a ship established for training and accommodation of “youth at risk”. As a result of his personal transformation, and the skills he brought home to share with his siblings – his younger brother was inspired to establish the Scouting movement, which was originally a maritime program:

“Sea Scouting is not necessarily a scheme for turning out a boy as a ready-made sailor with a view to his going to sea. But rather to teach him, by means which attracts him, to be handy, quick and disciplined man, able to look after himself and to help others in danger.”

 Baden Powell referenced at accessed 18 April 2011


Sea Scouting quickly became an international movement. Meanwhile from the 1920’s, there was a “Blue Peter” magazine dedicated to celebrating the remaining industries that used working sailing ships – repeatedly noting the change in culture and capacity from “wooden ships and iron men” to “iron ships and wooden men”. By his time the marine signal flag P – “PAPA” or the “Blue Peter” (flown by ships in harbour to announce they are preparing to sail, summoning “all hands report to the ship”) had been commandeered for another purpose – signifying the style of youth development programs that flourished across the world at this time.


Kurt Hahn – now seen as the father of modern outdoor education – was in exile from Nazi Germany during the Second World War, and also adopted the use of the “Blue Peter” for his youth development programs. Detailing the “modern declines” that had been attributed to the transition from sail to steam ships, he established several schools with an experiential learning curriculum that included sail training programs. By involving young people in direct action – not “telling” what they need to do, but rather “impel them into action” by asking for their help – Hahn espoused an effective approach to youth work in that time by relating it to the community service and rescue ethic which was developing in war time Europe.


In 1941, the Merchant Navy was regularly losing ships to German U-Boat torpedoes. The loss of life among thousands of seamen who went down with their ships was horrific. But there were also hundreds of preventable deaths among survivors in lifeboats. Surprisingly it was discovered that the survival rate of young sailors in lifeboats was dramatically worse than that of the older and presumably less fit men. The Blue Funnel Line sought help from Hahn to conduct training for the young crew who had not yet developed an understanding of their own physical, emotional and psychological resources, and the Outward Bound movement was created.


One Hahn’s students at Gordonstoun school, the Duke of Edinburgh – went on to create the International Award Scheme with similar approaches and methodology – to build physical, social, emotional and spiritual competence and resilience through community service, skill development, sequenced risk taking and adventurous expeditions.

It is an enigma that Hahn himself was largely bed ridden during his adult years due to an incident while still at school himself. While rowing an open boat in full sun, Hahn collapsed and was seriously affected by heat stroke. One of his many famous quotes is “Your disability is your opportunity”.

 Hahn’s principles of Expeditionary Learning:

 The Primacy of Self-Discovery– we can do more than we expect/is expected

The Having of Wonderful Ideas – emphasis on fostering curiosity

The Responsibility for Learning– directing your own personal and collective learning

Empathy and Caring– older students can mentor younger ones in emotional safety

Success and Failure– are both important to build confidence, capability and resilience

Collaboration and Competition– make the value of friendship, trust and group action clear

Diversity and Inclusion– increase richness (ideas, creativity, ability, and respect for others)

The Natural World– recurring cycles, cause and effect can renew and guide us as stewards

Solitude and Reflection– time alone to explore thoughts, make connections, and create ideas

Service and Compassion through acts of consequential service to others

Lately, the technological age has provided us with great opportunities such as in the areas of communication, nutrition and information. Despite this the physical, emotional and social skills of young people are still affected by Hahn’s “modern declines”.

A study (November 2012) of 11,000 primary and secondary children carried out by the University of Melbourne’s Professor Michael Bernard, notes steadily increasing symptoms of poor social and emotional skills including low self-esteem, stress, anxiety, feelings of loneliness, anger, anti-social behaviour and under-achievement at school.

By focusing almost solely on elite academic and sporting achievement in modern education, we have been raising young adults who have not had adequate opportunities to learn and grow through “real” learning experiences, and subsequently continue to make fundamental errors in adulthood. In recognition of this, many basic principles are being re-instated as a priority for our education system:

  • Ethics and social awareness
  • Empowerment and responsibility
  • Self-sufficiency and resilience
  • Co-operation and communication

Despite (or because of) our societal expectations to avoid any risk under the principle of “zero harm” – we can understand that risk is a double edged sword; in that it can both cut and heal. Instead of a simplified concept of something to be avoided – risk can be redefined as the potential to lose or to gain something. We continually risk loss something in order for gain – and it is clear that young people lose something vital if they are overly protected and told to avoid risks! We need to converse at a deeper level with young people, and take them on adventures that can build skills in risk assessment and management, and inform us about attitudes to risk taking – particularly in the context of our modern cultural issues (eg the normalcy of gender based violence, addictions etc) and the various risks these pose for our young people and wider community.

Zero harm policies and risk aversion expectations in our society and education system may, in fact, be creating a false sense of security – since we lose the competence, “response-ability” and awareness required to function autonomously or even to keep ourselves safe, let alone hold others accountable for their actions. The loss of personal responsibility in this time of need for change, is in our view the most serious risk for our collective future.

As well as this cultural issue, learning and responsibility both directly rely on encountering risks – an interplay of a “hazard” or “issue” and our personal competence. Theories of adventure based learning show that “frontier” adventure experiences result in deeper and longer lasting learning, partly because of the physical and emotional effects on our brain from significant risk taking experiences. It is clear that our competence grows with sequenced exposure – so we can undertake more “extreme” or “important” risks or learning experiences with practice.

Adventure training requires extremely well managed and facilitated programs run by highly skilled, experienced and passionate staff who are supported in their work. This is precisely the quality which we focus on – not only as our key risk management strategy – but also as a principle to carry us into the future as a training and mentoring organisation for the development of our future leaders.

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