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The Things Found at Sea

Mar 2, 2014


Location: Underway to Borneo
Author: Caroline C.
Today we are officially half way done withour trip, a fact that many of us can’t begin to comprehend. Our day was spent as most are on passage, alternating between sleep, work and watch. We have been at sea for around twelve days now and have a few more to go before we reach land once again. This afternoon we finished our OCE exam just in time to experience a short and strong squall come through. The group of us stood up on deck prepared to sheet in or let out sails as needed, decked out in foul weather gear and rain dripping off our bright yellow hoods. As with many moments in the past few weeks, it was one that I will carry with me and return to often. Today, instead of describing Day 46, I am choosing instead to share with you all a piece I wrote a few days ago describing passage and everything that it contains. It is a hard experience to translate into words, but hopefully after reading you will feel a bit closer to all of us, even oceans away. ~~ When the wake-up comes, we swing our feet fast over the side of our bunk and lower ourselves to the floor. Night or day, it doesn’t matter, we barely glance at the time. We all know we have ten minutes to get ourselves ready for the next four hours on watch. Sleep filled, we step in an awkward shuffle around the cabin floor, trying to dress and tighten our PFDs (personal flotation devices) with out waking any of the others, many of whom are getting their first moments of deep sleep after hours on deck. ~~ When at sea, all of your muscles are constantly working; bracing, loosening, releasing and holding fast, trying to keep the body balanced and counteract the steady roll beneath stepping feet. Each lesson on this boat I have learned bilingual, translatable from English to action. With each wave and sideways tip, I unconsciously stick out a hand to hold myself from the nearest wall. My thighs and calves tighten, my abs contract, even my toes curl. Here, movement is balance, each effort requires strength. ~~ Come time for the first pre-watch muster, all traces of sleep must be well gone, or at least mostly hid behind soft enthusiastic voices and straightened spines. If it is dark, we clip our tethers around rails or into jack-lines, the rigging that parallels each side of the boat so that we can walk from bow to stern safely. If it is light, we pull hats down over our eyes and sunscreen coats our already darkened skin. ~~ Watch is spent mostly alternating between the stern and the bow. We alternate in a rotating system – one hour helming (steering the boat), one hour doing a boat check (running through a checklist of safety items on board and inspecting various aspects of the boat), two hours bow watch (one of which you spend sitting and talking to the other person who is standing). Four hours can go by surprisingly fast. Already, after only six days on passage, we have figured out the best watch times and the worst. Tell me I will be spending 12 am ” 4 am awake and monitoring a 112foot yacht and it’ll feel like Friday. Tell me I’m on the 8pm – 12 am watch and then the 8am – 12 pm watch and I’ll probably sink a little lower into my chair. How bizarre that we have adjusted so quickly to a schedule that revolves entirely around a wide desert of water and the forces that act upon it. The schedule works like this: four hours on, eight hours off. Unless of course you happen to be on one of the “dog watches” of the day, basically the two hour meal shifts. Or if your watch is interrupted by the only two scheduled things each day: class and showers. So really, it is a complicated turning of various wheels and systems that happen to work perfectly together — most days. In between watch, we spend our hours not in class and not showering (showering while underway is an adventure in itself) curled up in our beds to piece together sleep to get us through the next watch. That is, of course, except for when you have an assignment due. Then most of us are littered around the galley, trying to read articles and type papers on computers that keep sliding from side to side. Not to mention the fact that in addition to our normal classes we are supposed to be learning how to actually sail our current home across an ocean. ~~ There is little more overwhelmingly terrifying then the friction filled moment when someone yells, through the wind, across the deck, for you to “ease the sheet” and your brain gets stuck imagining your bed instead of the mass of running rigging your hands should be grabbing. There is no time to ask questions in the moment. That comes after. In the moment, you move. Fast. Pull hard, hang your body weight on the line, keep your fingers away from the cleat and duck your head. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t good at this, if you can’t name the part of the sail you are hauling into the sky, you just need to do it. Learn from your mistakes.I didn’t expect to find it on passage. I don’t know what “it” is yet, but I’ve found something. I didn’t expect that it would be here. That an immense calm would wash over me with the ebb and flow of each day, that I would be able to wake up at all hours of the day or night and go to work, regardless of turning stomachs and tired limbs. That I could show up, every single time. So far at least. Soon we will find our feet on land again, but for now, we still see blue in all directions.