Location: Richard's Bay, South Africa
Watch Team 2, an eccentric group consisting of myself, David, Spotify’s hit ukulele artist Lucia, Griffin aka Crystal when he’s in diva mode (Fergalicious is playing, a future career on the catwalk is beckoning), Christmas Island customs officer proclaimed rockstar Ruby, chronopop glasses owner and bioluminescent hair haver Ayden, resident psychic Lina, and Finnlander himself, began our day as early as we could, with the 12-4 watch. The radar was alight with cargo ships as far as the eye could see, and we continued our journey across the notorious Agulhas Current, which is capable of producing waves in excess of 20 meters, according to our chart. Luckily, our captain and navigational master, Tom, found a prime weather window. The tallest wave we battled peaked at around 5 meters, with much of the sail being rather calm, but I’m sure that five will be rounded up to 50 in the stories we tell back home, and the time passed quickly, as we have grown used to watch and the moonlit hours that it usually spans. Griffin and Lina made sugar cookies for the whole boat to enjoy on their night watches, embarrassing stories were shared, and suddenly less embarrassing 95% across the Indian Ocean surrounded by stars and once-strangers with whom we now share secrets, laughs, and a circadian rhythm.
Watch was passing as it tends to when suddenly I incited a brawl. The cause? Reminding the students that they have just over three weeks remaining of their time onboard Vela. That, despite all their best attempts, this exact group of people will probably never be together in its entirety again, and that even if we could all reunite in some far-off land in the future, it wouldn’t be the same, as we will continue to grow and change into different versions of ourselves shaped by whatever experiences we have after leaving the boat – this incubator of mutual experience. Anyway, pretty sadistic thing to bring up at 3 am, but it brought the opportunity to reflect on our favorite parts of the trip, our excitement and apprehensions of returning home or to our next adventures. We knew that later this very same day, we could say we’d sailed across the entire Indian Ocean!! An incredible feat. We’ve swam with whale sharks, other sharks, wild dolphins, wild dolphins that had recently huffed a puffer fish, octopus, sea turtles, giant puffer fish, and many other cool fish (I am no marine scientist, but I know when something looks cool, so that’s as much detail as I can offer). We’ve seen whales circle the boat and surf down the waves behind us, dolphins lit up by bioluminescence at night, shooting stars as frequent as traffic lights on a busy street, and as noteworthy of everyone turning green at just the right time. We’ve wondered just how the chef managed to use so many dishes in the galley, gotten into hose fights while deckie-ing, taken dishy pit intermissions to laugh or dance, pretended we’re the cast of The Bear whenever we step foot in the galley, taken Zumba classes with Lucia to start or end watch, seen Ava’s one-man dance parties turn into 25 man dance parties, seen Zoe’s myriad of facial expressions to react to the situation at hand paired with Daniel’s ever-poignant descriptions of the situation. We’ve dove into some of the world’s most beautiful reefs and hiked to insane vistas. We’ll go on a safari and see the vast expanse of the reserve and the animals that inhabit it. And in 22 days, we’ll leave.
Now, with my fourth trip coming to a close, I’ll say the feeling never changes. Life here is such a departure from how we tend to spend our days at home, so the thought of leaving can be haunting – taking up more space in our collective unconscious as December nears. Many students find themselves affronted by introspection, as the vast expanse of sea and sky seems to call for. Many have grown and changed so much over the course of this short trip – some in ways they know now and others in ways they may not notice for years to come and may not ever connect back to this moment. There are the things they miss from life at home (you all, cold water, usually in that order) and things they come to think about as unique to life on Vela (strong community, constant laughs, obsession with feet). For the past 70 days, the outside world has drifted just out of view without fanfare, and now it begins to emerge again – with its anticipation and trepidations. It’s true that this trip and this environment are hard to replicate anywhere else – a confined 112ft space, limited technology and more limited outside contact, a toilet that needs to be flushed 4x, a staff member to remind you that it used to need to be flushed 50x, five people sleeping within arms reach of you, a closed loop. All of those things made this experience possible – but the meat of the experience always comes from the people, and as students begin to fear leaving this community and returning to their own, I like to remind them that they can find facets of life onboard at home, and better yet they can create them. A life being lived deliberately. Building a community that you would trust to sail you through the night as you slept. Being truly present. Friends worth trading jobs with, even if the job is trashmaster.
This evening, we arrived at Richard’s Bay in South Africa — the country we will depart Vela from far too soon. To enter, most boats need to receive a pilot — who has to descend down a line from a helicopter hovering above. We watched several cargo ships receive pilots in this Kim Possible / James Bond style, but we did not require one ourselves. With our arrival tonight, we officially crossed the Indian Ocean! And we’re all a little saltier from the 6000+ miles that that entailed.
EDITOR’S NOTE – Our satellite phone was having trouble uploading the blogs while underway, but now they’re all up! Day 60-66 blogs include Ruby, Lina, Ava, Steph, and Margaret if you’re looking for those in particular 🙂 Sorry for the delay!