To Sea or Not to Sea
I have learned to take commands and give them, to be tolerant and intolerant, and to appreciate good weather and good crew when you've got them. I know what hard work is and I'm not afraid of it. And I know that a team is only as strong as its weakest member and that morale is more important than anything."
by Diane Morgan
As much as I hate the idea of it, I may be settling down. I know, I know – I should resist, but I've fallen in love with a great guy and we're moving to New Zealand. And I'm going to get one of those cushy, clean, nine to five, office-type "real jobs."
I must say, after six or so years on and off boats,
I find this term amusingly ironic. As if ensuring the safety of thirty-five people aboard a 110-foot ship with over seventy running lines and thirteen sails didn't qualify as "real"! Mom, Dad, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, jealous friends! Wake up and smell the salt air! Just because I don't commute every day doesn't mean I don't have a "real job." But if you remain unconvinced, let's go furl the topgallant in forty knots of breeze, shall we?
In all seriousness, I got my first taste of tall ship sailing as a student at the Sea Education Association (SEA) in 2000. Compared with my often abstract liberal arts education, Corwith Cramer's intensely tangible learning environment was a refreshing change. Indeed, the hands-on nature of sail handling, scientific sampling and navigating provided a deep sense of satisfaction. And so, like many college students that leave SEA's tall ship sailor spawning ground, I was thirsty for more.
I got my fix when I joined the Dutch Bark Europa in Seattle for the 2002 West Coast TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE® Races. Looking back on it now, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But before I knew it, we were in San Diego stowing endless amounts of food, toilet paper, and fuel for voyages to places I had previously considered lunar. Antarctica? Were they nuts? As far as I was concerned, the continent only existed in National Geographic Specials.
Soon we were casting off our dock lines and kissing land goodbye. You want to talk "real"? Well, it really took forty-one days to reach Easter Island, and we only saw terra firma on the first and last days of the trip. I can tell you the crew really got to know one another during that time and we were really excited to see those bizarre statues on the shore line.
Yes, sailing on Europa brought figments of my imagination to life. Penguins did look as if they ready for prom. Albatrosses had amazingly wide wingspans. And icebergs could sink ships – in fact, they could even stretch a mile wide.
As a deckhand aboard Europa, I did the dirty work, side by side with my shipmates. We took turns steering, furling, cleaning, baking bread, and standing bow watch. Not one of us left the ship without hands that had hardened to leather from the rigors of sailing in the Southern Ocean. You want "real"? We slathered our fingers in cow udder gel between watches so our knuckles didn't crack. And we kept each other company on the helm even when snow was blowing sideways.
Only a couple of years later, after studying for my first US Coast Guard license, I was hired to work as the first mate aboard the Los Angeles Maritime Institute's (LAMI's) only floating brigantine, the Exy Johnson. Within days, I was operating that scary monster the anchor windlass, untangling the octopus that was the bilge pumping system, and jumping in the small boat to rescue pesky basketballs in man overboard drills. (Couldn't I just be in charge of the Jacob's ladder?)
And in the meantime, I was trying to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of every one of my deckhands, including those of LAMI's seemingly endless supply of energetic and enthusiastic volunteers. I was also considering how to approach a demographic I had never before encountered: inner-city kids from less fortunate neighborhoods. You want "real"? Graffiti in bunks was a problem.
As I begin to think about what sort of jobs I will apply for when I arrive in New Zealand, I know that my experiences aboard tall ships have prepared me for just about anything. I have learned to take commands and give them, to be tolerant and intolerant, and to appreciate good weather and good crew when you've got them. I know what hard work is and I'm not afraid of it. And I know that a team is only as strong as its weakest member and that morale is more important than anything.
So if you're up for a fun, eye-opening challenge, get on a tall ship. Just be aware that it might change your entire outlook on life. For the better!