Location: Five Islands, Antigua

We awoke to the wind. Ocean Star’s constant rocking had lulled us to sleep and now gently rolled us awake. Remaining secure in one’s bunks has become a core exercise as we feel the swells all night long.

Our morning rituals vary. Some brush their teeth on deck, spitting toothpaste into the turquoise waters, tripping on d-rings as they stumble bleary-eyed to put away toiletries. Others hound the coffee station, boiling water on the propane stove, awaiting patiently to prepare pour-over or steep tea. Two students took a refreshing swim.

At 7:30, we assemble at midships for breakfast. The “Gophers” pass hot frittata pans through the “Gopher Hole” (a square porthole connecting the galley to the upper deck, oft used for food, dishes, and perhaps humans).

Rest assured, parents and guardians, that the crew of the Ocean Star counts off prior to every meal, ensuring no one has been left dreaming in their bunks, fallen overboard, or been kidnapped by pirates in the night.

Then we feast in the open air. The ocean’s rhythm sloshes coffee over the rims of mugs and the stomach acid of those not quite immune to sea sickness.

Each day we are assigned different clean-up tasks and fall, with some cajoling from the Skipper (me), into our duties. A squall rolls through as we work, but we are accustomed to the rain, which is light, warm, and fleeting. We live in perpetual dampness.

The floors of the “Head” (scrubbed daily) are wet and soak our bare feet, the sea infuses our clothes (and occasionally claims errant towels or bathing suits left on deck,) and the rain falls on these pages as I draft this blog post.

But we carry on. Steadfast.

We hold our first Marine Biology class in the Saloon, a room composed of benches, tables, books, and suffocating heat. A sliding door leads to a six-person bunk room, the galley hides in a corner, and six additional bunks are built into the end of the Saloon. Quarters are tight.

After our lecture, the certified divers ascend the ladder into the cool sea breeze to discuss their impending chef-ing duties. We unfortunate, uncertified divers are condemned to the saloon to stuff our brains with hours of instructional videos. As the heat swells, delicious smells begin to emit from the galley. Our focus slides from the distinction between dry suits and wet suits and the importance of equalization to lunch.

We emerge on deck to find the ship magicked to a new anchorage, where the water is many shades of blue, the landscape richly green, and the diving visibility (hopefully) superior.

After lunch, we participated in an activity ominously dubbed “Deck Rodeo.” Rather than strip down to our bathing suits and partake in some wild and aggressive game that included the swinging of ropes, as I imagined, this activity was indeed educational. Three groups alternate through the cockpit, midships, and bow, learning to tie various knots, coil ropes, and hoist the sails through a process called sweating and trailing.

Rainbows flit through the sky. Boats gust by in a spray of salt and gaudy music. We are suspended in beauty. To appreciate our surroundings, we are gifted two hours of free time before dinner. Some soak in the sun at midships. Others soak in the sea just as a squall passes us by. The rain makes the ocean temperature equivalent to bathwater, and we do, indeed, conduct our bathing in the depthsthe studious retreat to the Salon to work on our first few assignments.

For dinner, we help ourselves to multiple servings of Tortilla Soup. We conduct clean up in the dark, accompanied by rain, and afterward complete our first lesson in seamanshipthoughts of bedtime float in the back of our minds.

Silence onboard, however, is rare. Although there are many intellectuals who enjoy reading and journalling in their downtime, a conversation (or multiple) is always occurring somewhere on the ship. Words cling to the wind, and privacy becomes a relic of the past. We are still learning about each other, although the initial awkwardness has begun to wear away. There are many hard edges to this program; our mattresses, the bite of the sea, or the rain, the deck where we unfailingly stub our toes, the crush of home-sickness. But, together, we soften these edges and adjust to the contours of our new life as a team.

Parent Shout Out Section (created because our phones have been usurped for the first seven days):

Although I am assured that every student carries their loved ones close to heart, I was only able to gather the messages of a handful of students:

Eva: Hi, Mom, Taty, and Noah; I miss you very much. Talk soon

Kylie: Hi, Mom and Tonka

Griffin: Yo, what’s good – love you

David: Mom, don’t get too friendly with Morgan

Inaki: Hi, Mom, Dad, and Mia. It’s been a tough couple of days as I am learning a lot of tough things, but I have a crew of amazing people that look out for each other. Sending love and looking forward to this adventure

Sara: Hey, y’all, just letting you know I’m alive. I love and miss you so much.

And to my own parents…although I have been tempted to shout “Banana” or “Poppy-Cock” at times, I am easing into this experience and can’t wait to tell you all my stories.

Thanks for reading as always, Ducky!