Hippo attack and other adventures inspire next-gen of Navy warfare officers

Published on LEUT Richard Farrelly (author), Mr Jason Artis (photographer)

Location(s): HMAS Watson, NSW

Topic(s): Training Authority - Maritime Warfare, Leadership

Adventurer Sarah Davis, standing left, and Lieutenant Richard Farrelly, standing right, with students of the Royal Australian Navy’s Maritime Warfare Officer Course 03 at HMAS Watson. (photo: Mr Jason Artis)
Adventurer Sarah Davis, standing left, and Lieutenant Richard Farrelly, standing right, with students of the Royal Australian Navy’s Maritime Warfare Officer Course 03 at HMAS Watson.

The Royal Australian Navy’s maritime warfare trainees were treated to an inspirational visitor and her tales of death-defying adventure during a recent leadership development activity.

The students from Maritime Warfare Officer Course 03 will graduate from the six-month course in early December, with their training having included regular leadership stand down days, allowing them to reflect on how to authentically, ethically and effectively lead their bridge team and positively contribute to their ship as a key junior leader.

As part of the leadership program, the course students and staff at the HMAS Watson Bridge Training Faculty enjoyed a presentation from Sarah Davis - an adventurer who recently became the first woman to paddle the length of the Nile River.

Sarah shared her experiences with the group, focusing on the resilience she needed, mentally and physically, both in the two-year planning period and during the gruelling seven month 4000 mile expedition.

Sarah also shared her approach to risk management, both in planning and execution, which paid dividends when she faced the numerous life-threatening events that took place during her trailblazing adventure.

She spoke of a particularly extreme moment when a hippo attacked as Sarah’s raft passed between a mother hippo and her calf. 

The mother didn’t like Sarah’s raft getting so close and tried to flip it, bit through the stern of it, and attached herself to it! 

As the raft departed from the vicinity of the calf, the hippo retreated, leaving Sarah and her team time to reflect and acknowledge that they’d probably come across hippos every day for the next two months.

She also spoke of being detained at gunpoint, “an AK-47 naturally”, for highly dubious reasons, by the Burundi Army and Police.

Sarah’s approach to risk management, looking at the most likely and most dangerous courses of action, resonated with the students and staff alike, especially how she related it to real and perilous experiences.

Sub Lieutenant Rus Pnevski said Sarah’s experiences were easy to relate to as a junior officer.

“It was quite interesting to hear about the ways in which Sarah dealt with the numerous life threatening situations that presented during her expedition in Africa, as well as the risk management techniques she implemented before her journey, in order to prepare for what might arise.

“It provided great context for an Officer of the Watch about to go to sea,” Sub Lieutenant Pnevski said.

Of particular interest to many of the audience was Sarah’s experiences leading a team of African Men, noting she was the sole woman on the expedition. 

“Women are on the absolute bottom rung of the ladder in the cultures in which I was operating,” she told the Maritime Warfare trainees and staff.

After the formal part of the presentation, Sarah spoke at length with a number of the female officers on the course, discussing strategies to combat gender issues and how she effectively modified her leadership style to keep the expedition on track.

Sub Lieutenant Tess Redshaw said this discussion was particularly valuable.

“I was particularly interested in the challenges Sarah faced in leading an all-male team, and her ability to overcome roadblocks in several countries, where her contribution as a woman was not always valued or considered equal.

“Her strategies to navigate through these challenges were awesome to hear,” Sub Lieutenant Redshaw said.

Acting Sub Lieutenant Emily Tanner described Sarah’s story as inspirational.

“It was inspirational to hear from someone who is a totally normal person, but has achieved so much - purely through hard work, dedication and resilience,” Acting Sub Lieutenant Tanner said.

Amazingly Sarah isn’t done yet. She will attempt to create a new world record for paddling the length of the Murray River over Christmas, and intends to begin planning a ‘source to sea expedition’ on every continent early next year.

She’s also about to complete her book on the expedition of the Nile, and is an active speaker at corporate events and conferences. 

The soon-to-be graduates of Maritime Warfare Officers Course 03 are excited to put to sea and wow the fleet with their resilience, skills and leadership abilities, inspired by the stories of Sarah Davis - Adventurer and Nile Paddler.

For more information about Sarah’s incredible journey along the Nile, go to www.paddlethenile.com.