Location: 35˚03.595'S 23˚47.995' E
As the familiar timelessness of passage sets in once again and the days blend together, I want to share a different kind of blog post today. Over the last 82 days, I’ve been writing a list of rules and advice for living aboard Vela in the back of my journal, my “Codex of the Sea.” They are rules I live by and do my best to never break, and should you ever come aboard; I would suggest you do the same.
Rule #1: Commit to the Little Boat
Until Richards Bay, we had never spent the night on a dock while aboard. Any time we left to go ashore, diving, or otherwise, we’d climb up and down Vela’s side. One person is always responsible for holding the dinghy against Vela so the others can climb aboard. This person should ALWAYS commit to the little boat. It is not uncommon for the dinghy to start floating away from Vela, and as strong as you think you are, you cannot always hold them together. Unless you’re looking for a wet entry, let go of Vela. I foolishly broke rule #1 while cleaning the hull with Valentina in Seychelles. Not only was I hanging from the scuppers, but she fell in too! You can always motor back over — Commit to the little boat.
Rule #2: Never Get in the Water First
Not everyone can follow rule #2. We smarties rely on brave souls like Noah or Trey to test the water first. You never know what’s down there — don’t be the first to find out. Sometimes there’s nobody to go before you. Don’t worry; it’s totally okay to throw someone in. It’s for the good of the many and my peace of mind. It’s no coincidence that I’ve never broken rule #2 OR been bit by something scary. Let the dummies be the bait — Never get in the water first.
Rule #3: Shower on the High Side
Passage gets rough, and the heads get rougher. You never want to take a tumble into the abyss that is the student heads while trying to get clean. Showering on the high side means you can lean safely against the door as your shipmates on the low side get tossed into the toilet. Anyone on Vela can tell you bracing yourself in the head is a quick-learned skill made much easier by following this special rule — Shower on the high side.
Rule #4: Poop on the Low Side
A crude rule, but just as essential, if not more, as #3. Possibly the only thing worse than falling into the toilet while showering is falling off it while doing your business. It can get messy quickly, but by sticking to the low side, you’re sure to be leaned comfortably up against the seat. Learn from my mistakes — Poop on the low side.
Rule #5: Your Tether is Your Friend
On the subject of being tossed around, your PFD tether is essential for any ocean crossing. Not only does it protect you when you get thrown against the lifelines, but it can also lock you down in the dishy pit or be the most entertaining part of watch. Personally, I’m a fan of “flying:” attaching your tether to a hard point then leaning off the rail in the cockpit to pretend you’re soaring through the wind. The same technique can be used for some pretty epic matrix moments if you lean back far enough. Two is even better — Your tether is your friend.
Rule #6: Sunglasses off for Sunset
Ocean sunsets are one of the most beautiful things to be seen. My family still won’t believe me when I tell them we saw the green flash. Some sunsets are so vibrant they’ll burn into your mind forever, don’t squander them with some cheeky filtered lens that makes it look funky, enjoy its natural fire. No matter how good they make, you look — Sunglasses off for sunset.
Rule #7: Love the Suck
I don’t know where to start on this one. How do you explain smiling in the freezing rain as you slide around the cockpit, laughing as climbing into bed gives you a bruise, or being happy to eat; another bowl of burned pasta? I don’t think I can or ever will be able to. Future students — Love every moment. The days go by fast, and the weeks go by faster. It feels like just yesterday we were meeting in the Maldives or arriving in Seychelles. I’ve laughed harder than I’ve ever laughed here and made more friends than I know what to do with, but there are some times it feels like it will never end. You’ll be barely awake with three more hours left on watch, throwing up over the side, or wet with no idea how or why. Those moments suck. Love them even more. I’d give anything to go back to when I perforated my eardrum rolling off the bow or couldn’t sleep because my sweat made my bed too wet. It sounds crazy, but any more time with these 30 people would be invaluable, even in the worst of it. It goes by faster than you can imagine. A lot of it is tough, a lot of people cry, you’ll most certainly bleed, but you’ll come out swearing by rule #7 — Love the suck.
Families — When your children or siblings get home and don’t want to talk about it, don’t blame them. It’s not because we don’t want to talk to you (we do) or that we didn’t love it (we did); we just don’t know where to start. My love letter to Vela could be a million pages long, and it would still be incomplete, but some things you just can’t put into words. Be patient with us — we’ve forgotten how to do dishes in a sink, sleep through a full night, and speak outside of our strange code of accents and sign language.
Should you ever board SY Vela, I hope my Code of the Sea will help you make the most of your time here. It’s a special place with special people, and we will miss it dearly.
2. Robbie, Cate, and Sam “flying.”