Nelson Navy Officer Gets Tall-Ship Experience

18 July 2019

It has been a long month at sea for Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) Midshipman Tim Whitteker-Hobson.

Midshipman Whitteker-Hobson, from Nelson, is part-way through a Pacific voyage on the Chilean Navy’s training ship Esmeralda, a 66-year-old four-masted barquentine.

Nominated junior officers from the RNZN, as well as other international navy officers, are offered a berth each year to learn their trade with more than 200 Chilean sailors and officers.

This month TS Esmeralda stopped in Wellington, the ship’s first port of call in 30 days after leaving Valparaiso, Chile.

At the start of the year Midshipman Whitteker-Hobson, 21, had seen a notice offering places on the ship for junior RNZN officers. He had commissioned as an officer last year and had just completed his Officer of the Watch (Basic) course.

“I thought it was an awesome opportunity to go overseas, and learn from another navy,” he said.

It has not been a life of luxury on the ocean waves.

“There’s 40 officers in one cabin, three bunks high,” he said. “It’s a very old ship and it rolls a lot more, with more of the hull under the water.”

Esmeralda had stayed at about latitude 30-degrees South in the Pacific, which tends to be sub-tropical, but hit six-metre seas coming into New Zealand, he said.

“A few people get seasick, but you get over it. There’s no option. Down below, you could be eating your meal in the mess, and you, the chair and the table could be sliding around.”

Language was another challenge. Chileans speak Spanish, and very rapidly, he said.

“You’re briefed in Spanish and everyone runs to carry out the instruction, while you wait for the translation. Luckily, most of the officers speak a little bit of English.”

The entire ship has to turn out to raise the sails, which is done mostly by hand.

“You can have up to 25 people heaving on a line. They use a whistle to indicate the instruction, and you learn the different whistles.”

The coldest he had been was arriving in New Zealand, and the ship is not heated.

There’s no air conditioning either, which will provide a different challenge on the next phase of the trip, to Australia, Bali, Singapore and Hong Kong.

“I’d recommend this to anyone,” he said. “It’s different and you need to come prepared, with an open mind.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to get experience on a classic old sailing ship.”

This page was last reviewed on 18 July 2019.