Location: Charlestown, Nevis
Surrounded by sailboats, yachts, powerboats, and a sea of fiberglass in the port of Nevis, – the Ocean Star could not feel more isolated. More self-sustaining. Although Captain Nick and other members of the crew often burn off in one of our two dinghies (affectionally named Exy and Irv) for provisioning or trash runs, to the rest of us, the world has shrunk.
After only 12 days aboard the Ocean Star, its quirks and demands have become intimately familiar. We know the exact contortions needed to maneuver our way in and out of our tiny bunks. We know not to eat below ships to avoid attracting maggots or strange smells that would intensify the perfume of damp clothes and fumes from the “Head” that already permeates our sleeping and study quarters. Our bodies have adjusted to the waves – on land. We continue to sway in grocery stories of the hot, twisted streets of Charlestown. The ocean has worked its way into us.
The Skipper wakes the remainder of the crew up at 7 am each morning. Our sleep is eaten away by anchor watch, so this job is often a struggle. Luckily most are lured out of their bunks by the promise of Kiki’s pancakes, which he, alongside two sous chefs, has been frying up for the past two hours. Doran hacks at a coconut to serve with breakfast. We eat on metal plates as a rainbow forms and fades in the sky. We have become accustomed to rainbows. To the majesty of nature. The sight of Nevis’ volcano, swaddled in fog, is almost a banality. Luckily Sam, our program manager, is quick to point out the beauty of our surroundings and refresh our eyes.
She says she loves the Caribbean rain as we speed off in Exy to the beach to practice our diving skills. Although I agree, I would much rather enjoy the current overcast weather below decks with the certified divers, who are to spend their morning studying and watching a film on Coral Reefs. The rain is warm but seeps into the skin and beneath our wet suits. It stirs up the sediment at the bottom of the sea and reduces diving visibility. The grey sky somewhat mellows our mood.
But looking up from underwater, we watch the dark droplets pierce and expand silently on the surface of the oceanour very own Sistine Chapel.
We practice swimming without goggles, adjusting our buoyancy, removing our weight belts, draping them over our knees, and putting them back on while being swayed by the current. Most of all, we practice breathing. We take deep, slow breaths into our regulators that send bubbles rocketing to the surface. We constantly check our oxygen gauge. Inhaling, our bodies rise slightly to the surface – exhaling, we fall back to the sandy bottom. Who knew our breath could be so powerful?
When we return, the Ocean Star lunch is ready, and the downpour forces us to make an exception and eat below ships. We feast on chickpeas, veggies, and couscous as the sun creeps back out. Clean-up is a breeze, at least from my perspective, tucked into my bunk with the fan on writing this blog. From here, I can hear the conversations that rage as the dishes are washed in saltwater, soaked in a bucket of vinegar-scented freshwater, and passed back down the Gopher hole to be put away by the chefs. We are comfortable enough with each other and the ship to ease into our chores. Scrubbing the scuppers is but a lark as the ocean laps gently next to you – or a friend laughs in your ear. We are accustomed to plunging our hands into the murky “salty” pit to search for errant forks without fingers or to clean the “head” using just a pittance of water.
We talked last evening in the Cockpit about the frustration that has begun to corrode our spirits. Living packed together, like the maggots we discovered yesterday in the saloon, makes for a breeding ground of exhaustion and impatience with one another. Although such irritations are valid, listening to the crew laugh at clean up today, their voices fusing seamlessly together, I have a feeling we are going to be okay.
In the afternoon, we prepare for passage. Tomorrow we are embarking on a three-day sail for Grenada. I have given a list of tasks to decipher before delegating them out to the crew, tasks rich with nautical jargon such as “turn dorades aft” or “boat boom halyard removed.” Much of boating, I assumed to be standing at a rope and pulling or loosening it when told to do so. In fact, this is not the brand of sailing we will be learning on this program. As the crew of the Ocean Star, we must be familiar enough with the shop and its mechanisms to sail it, sands staff, at the end of our trip.
Thus, I spent much of passage prep looking up at the masts and intricate pulley system above, figuring out which lines connected to each other and what part of the sail they pulled at, attempting to ascertain how everything worked together to propel the Ocean Star into motion. I am still learning. I think we all are.
Our dinner deserves a whole paragraph of praise. Cheese quesadillas perfectly browned, with chicken, pico de gallo, and sweet onions, all slathered in salty guacamole. The chefs cook extra chicken thighs, and we bask for a while in the warm night air, gorged on protein. Our last supper before the sea sickness descends.
It is evening now, and there are chores left to do. Our scuba gear must be packed into the “laz,” our bunks kept 40/40, and our snacks secured in latched cupboards. We are used to the constant list of things to do and learn. We are used to a lot of things aboard the Ocean Star – the dirt, the work, the people, the learning, the stunning vistas – but newness continues to disrupt our schedule just as we are beginning to feel comfortable. Nothing stays the same at sea. But change is merely a part of the beauty of this program. I wonder what will jolt us out of comfort (in the most exciting way possible) next…
“Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning” – John O’Donohue
P.S. We’ll be going underway to Grenada tomorrow, so the blog likely won’t be updated until Sunday. But have no fear! We will just be sailing our hearts out, enjoying the best stars and bioluminescence there is! Au Revoir, Shoshalla!!!