Location: St. Helena

There are only two words needed to describe Argo’s first full day off the shore of St. Helena: Whale. Sharks.

The day started off pretty normal, for life on a sailboat. Some of us, given the calmness of being anchored after nearly two weeks at sea, had decided to spend the night sleeping in hammocks on deck instead of in our bunks below. Because of this, we awoke earlier than usual to the sound of a rooster crowing and the light of the rising sun. Everyone else got to wake up to the smell of pancakes–Marissa was Head Chef today (the first student to be Head Chef!), and she started the day with a bang with homemade pancakes, complete with fruit and yogurt on the side.

After breakfast, the crew split into groups–some stayed on the boat to help with chores, some had to go into town to clear customs, and the rest were sent on a morning tour in search of whale sharks. Those at customs and on the boat were kind enough to help transport the ship’s laundry, something that was greatly appreciated after fourteen days of cleaning underwear in the head sinks. As for the rest of us, we climbed aboard Egalit, a small fishing boat owned by two St. Helenians, and started the 40-minute ride to the whale sharks.

Aboard Egalit, we learned about whale sharks from Keith and Graham, two St. Helenians who have lived on the island their whole lives. We also saw dolphins, jumping and spinning out of the water near the horizon, and hammerhead sharks, whose dorsal fins poked out of the water as they swam around the boat. Some students climbed to the top of the boat, where they could search more easily for approaching marine life, and others climbed out to the bow, where they held on tight, watching the island fly past and trying not to get sprayed by saltwater.

After nearly two hours of searching, the morning group finally found the elusive whale shark. Seven people jumped in the water, and the rest of us watched as they spotted the whale shark underwater and then returned to the surface with wide eyes and mouths agape. Everyone was stunned by the fish’s size, beauty, and its eyes–which seemed more like cute puppy dog eyes than scary shark eyes.

Unfortunately, the whale shark was scared away, and no one else was able to get in the water that morning. We returned to Argo for a quick lunch of chili and bread rolls, and then those who had stayed behind in the morning and those who hadn’t gotten to swim earlier got back on Egalit, hoping that in the afternoon there would be even more whale sharks to see and swim with.

That afternoon, we weren’t disappointed at all. After only thirty minutes, Egalit happened across what seemed to be St. Helena’s friendliest whale shark. The shark swam directly up to the boat, bobbing its head out of the water as if to say hello. And the friendliness didn’t stop there–once in the water, we struggled to keep a respectful distance from the whale shark, because it kept swimming right up to us. And after a life ring was thrown into the water, we learned that white was its favorite color–anyone holding the bright white life ring soon found themselves getting chased (and usually bumped) by the eager whale shark.

After several rounds in the water, and swimming with two more whale sharks, we made our way back to Argo. The morning of chores and elusive whale sharks was completely forgotten, as on Egalit, all that could be seen was beaming smiles, and all that could be heard was loud laughter. During Squeeze that evening, almost every single person had the same exact appreciation for the day–whale sharks, whale sharks, and whale sharks.