Location: Oranjebaai, Statia
I am drinking my coffee sprawled on the chart house, observing, for the last time, Saba. The island is of steep proportions.
So tall a perpetual cloud clings to the top. The beach is a thin strip of heavy rocks; each time the waves crash, the sound is like thunder, rolling across our peaceful anchorage.
Our mate, Sam, queried why anyone would choose to settle on such an inhospitable landscape. The people who live here must be hearty and in possession of the thickest of calves.
It is 7:30, and the crew of the ocean star oozes out from below decks, channeling the resilience of the island.
I am curious to know who first imagined a boat could be inhabitable. That a kitchen could be implanted below decks where cupboards fly open with every swell of the sea, that bunks could be carved out of a steel hull, food and supplies ferried over the steep cap rails, dishes washed in buckets of salt water that rapidly turns black.
We have lived here for 68 days, and I wonder if our cracks are starting to show. If we, too, are beginning to erode like the shoreline of Saba. We carry the sun in our faces, on the back of our knees, and on the tops of our shoulders. Our clothes are stained, and salt stiffened, our feet damp and wrinkled. Our palms are the texture of sandpaper from sweating, tailing, and coiling innumerable lines. Captain Nick said, as of today, we have manipulated every line in the ship.
This morning, we move slowly, the tiredness lodged in our bones unshakeable. I imagine the feeling will remain there for 12 more days.
After breakfast, we prepare for passage. Scraping the deck clean of dive kits, errant shampoo bottles, uncoiled ropes, and loose ratchets. Passage transforms the ship into another realm where movement is restricted, and objects have an agency of their own. Personal belongings hop from cubby to cubby, pans take flight against the galley, my clothes invariably jump from my hook to Kylies bed, and the toilet, if left on the wet bowl, dispels its contents onto the floor.
We top the booms, then meet in the cockpit to discuss our sail plan. Grace will lead the anchor team at the bow, then move on to the foresail, while Casie and Jack take charge of the mainsail, staysail, and jib.
I am on the helm. My job is to decipher Saras cryptic hand signals, denoting the angle of the anchor, and pulse forward and backward to ensure the chain does not wrap under the boat.
Suddenly we are motoring into the open ocean, and the wind blows away heat and lethargy. The bow aims towards the edge of the ocean, which rests flat against the edge of sky. I smell salt and baking beads, wafting from the galley. The beauty is palpable, as noisy as the wind whipping past my ears, as bright as the blue of the ocean. It makes perfect sense why anyone would choose to live on a sailboat. The dirty clothes, the calloused hands, and the nights in a bunk redolent of sewage are worth it for this moment suspended in the breeze.
We round the corner of Saba and maneuver Ocean Star into irons – facing the direction of the wind – allowing us to hoist the sails, which we accomplish in seventeen and a half minutes. Then we bear away, adjusting the sheets for close reach. Our destination, Statia, looms pale and faded on the port side. Captain Nick orders the crew to hoist the fishermans sail, which we must rouse from its semester-long slumber from the laz and reflake on deck.
The fishermans sail possesses a large surface area and, once up, increases our speed immensely. I use both hands and feet to prevent the Ocean star from spinning beam to the wind. Our tack grows steeper. The cap rails skim the surface of the sea. White foam collects in our wake. Captain Nick then commands our first tack. Although I am not quite sure of the intricacies of this maneuver, I am good at shouting tacking and spinning the helm very fast to propel the Ocean Star in the opposite direction. We do this several times before realizing the direction of the wind points away from Statia, and we must centerline the sails.
We motor into Statia and anchor in time to bathe in the sunset sea (see the photos above), then feast on a flavorful massaman curry as the darkness gathers softly around us. Sailing is cleansing. Although I opted not to shower this evening, I still feel purified from our day-long sail, which seemed to sweep away all the grime, grease, and stagnating frustrations with a spray of cold sea and the whip of the wind.
We celebrate Dorons 19th birthday with a chocolate honey cake (his request) and a list of Doron-related appreciations. The festive spirit bleeds into the night as we start a mandatory game of hide n seek. Unfortunately, I am an inept seeker, and although swiftly unearthing Eva squeezed into the bilge, Julia crumpled under Lulus bunk, Griffin dangling from a boom, and Katie inconspicuously tucked under a large garbage bag in the engine room, am unable to find Casey until after clean up is over. Turns out he had flaked himself into the jib, and I had trampled him several times over during my hunt.
Although I often complain about the many rules that bind us as crew onboard the Ocean Star, there are some freedoms unique to this experience. One of them is this ability to play. At sea, I am less weighted by my adult responsibility to arrange my time appropriately. Here, the scaffolding of our days is already provided, and we, as a crew, need simply to dance over this infrastructure as free as children.
Here is what the psychiatrist Brne Brown writes on play: Play helps us deal with difficulties, provides a sense of expansiveness, promotes mastery of our craft, and is an essential part of the creative process. Most important, true play that comes from our own inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work. In the long run, work does not work without play.
As we sail into the toil of classics and our daunting student-led passage, I hope we remember to always incorporate play as a core value.