Location: Hamilton, Bermuda
As mastering navigation continues on board today, the crew finds themselves knee-deep in the Chesapeake Bay. From estimating our position to plotting our course to steer, all our efforts today are directed to chartwork. The NavMaster exam brings with it the end of seamanship and the start of the student-led passage. About a week or two ago, we had the goblet of fire to determine who, in the student crew, would be the skipper, first mate, engineer, navigator, and program manager. Now their time to shine is approaching quickly.
Though our time in Bermuda has been exciting, albeit chillier than normal, we are again excited to feel the breeze on our faces and the waves beneath the boat (and, let’s be honest, water in the anchor locker). This last passage brings with it a multitude of emotions. Most prominent being sadness. Sad because it is our final hurrah, our 3rd and final time arriving in Antigua (at this point, our second home), and the final days of the program wrapping up. It has been a wild ride these last 77 days. So far, we have sailed 2510 nautical miles, gone to Antigua (x2), Guadeloupe, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, St Barthelemy, Saba, British Virgin Islands, St Lucia, and Bermuda. We have participated in Antigua Classics Yacht Regatta, winning Most Seaworthy and second in Professionally Maintained. The students have learned everything from raising the sails/anchor, how to cook for 27 people, how to show up with a positive attitude to a 4 am watch in the wind and rain, and most importantly, how to make Vela and the people on it a home away from home. I say this every time, but our programs aren’t really about the places you go or the things you learn on the way. Seamester is about growing and expanding your ability to find joy in working as a team. The most fun we have onboard is cleaning the stuck-on cheese off the cap rail, removing the hair and scum from the bilge lips, finding how small your body can contort, and everything in between. It is about the laughs when you find a stuffed Gumby suit in your bunk. The waves wash over the deck to leave you in a saltwater bath as you puke over the side. The realization that the world is so large and we are only 112 feet of steel bobbing along in the vast ocean with only the 24 of us to talk to and enjoy. Finding joy in every aspect of life.
These 90 days are anything but easy. If you are a potential student reading this (Alastair Bisley), I warn you…But if you come aboard ready for anything, then you’ll do great. It takes a lot of mental and physical stamina, but if you give yourself fully to the experience, you will find life-long memories and friends. You’ll find where that chickpea rolled when you were green in the face with 40 knots of wind on the nose. You’ll find out that no matter where you brush your hair, it will end up everywhere. You’ll find yourself bucketing out someone else’s poo overboard at 3 am while you cry with laughter (or fright). The nights staring at the milky way or the bioluminescence, the breaching whales, the places we explore all make the odd/gross/strange times seem insignificant and even the best times aboard.