Location: Civitavecchia, Italy

Hey there,

It’s me again. Did you miss me? I sure missed writing to all of you, ffamily, family, friends of my new friends, and other people who may be in the shoes I was in 6 montreallyReally thinking about doing Seamester but still unsure and trying to learn everything I can. Im sure you guys that have been living vicariously through us are basically sailing professionals yourselves now and know our schedules and daily routines even better than we do.

You all know the drill. When did my day start? That’s right, midnight- as it always seems to happen whenever I’m the day’s skipper. It was a bit of a bittersweet wake-up today. For those who are new here, we pulled into port, our final port, at around 8:30 am. That means that my midnight watch would be my last one with this crew, with this program, and on Vela. To celebrate our impending arrival to mainland Italy (mainland Rome as my poor sleep-deprived and exhausted brain called it), Watch team one, that is, Gigi, Zoe, Natalie, Jack, Kayla, and myself, all wore our bedsheets as togas underneath our PFDs. That lasted maybe an hour. We had no clue how the Romans did it, but wearing a bedsheet for outer clothes sure doesn’t keep you warm. Aside from that, we were graced with the most beautiful night sky that we’ve had since entering the Mediterranean. The Milky Way was out in all of its milky, pale glory (No, it wasn’t Max, he’s tanned up quite a bit on this trip), and we had a meteor shower giving us some amazing shooting stars to scour the night sky for. There was also very little light pollution, so all of our favorite constellations joined us for the journey too. In the water, we had beautiful bioluminescent jellyfish create an ethereal glow as we trundled along with our motor and the rumbling grumble of the prop wash thudding against Vela’s steel hull.

We weren’t the only watch team who elected to have a little fun with our late-night shenanigans. Watch Team three with Max, Daniel, Laura, Sarah, and Sydney had created a ‘helm monster’ with everybody stacked on top of each other in the cockpit aiding with the helming. While we’re all tethered in at night, it created quite the knot to untangle. After we relieved them, they were all able to head below deck to get a good night’s sleep before waking to help with the docking maneuvers. The last few hours of our passage, as I’m told, were absolutely jam-packed full of more amazing events. For starters, Tom saw another flappy devil ray flying (quite literally) and doing Annie-level backflips over the surface of the water. Laura held our course at the helm during the final sail drop of our program. Abigal, our student skipper, organized everybody on deck into our roles to dock, steered us into port, and made all of the radio calls to allow us to dock. While we were docking, Max saved the vessel hundreds of dollars by shooing away any surface support that kindly informed us that they charge by the minute. “Thanks, but I think we’ve got this.”

After my watch ended, I slept like a baby. Somehow I managed to sleep through everybody from watch teams two and three doing all of the work to dock us and put the boat to bed. Oops. I certainly needed the rest, but there is nothing quite like seeing land creep slowly over the horizon and knowing that I am actively working to pull a several hundred-ton sailing yacht into a new port, filled with new people and sights, smells, and history. So much history. We quite literally have the Michaelangelo fortress looming over us.

At this point, it’s now 10:30 am. I’m waking up at the same time that I would back at my college campus, but how much more have my friends and I accomplished since the turn of the day! Up next on our docket was an early brunch of a french toast bar cooked up by Dylan and his sous chefs and a few minutes to put the finishing touches on our final presentations for our introduction to oceanography class. After cleanup, all of the students gathered in the salon, and presentations began. Every group had a very clean, very thorough presentation, and all analyzed different trends in subjects like plankton and species diversity to dissolved levels of nitrates and oxygen from the Strait of Gibraltar to the coast of Sardinia. After the conclusion of the presentations, we all had a few hours to ‘choose our own adventures on shore.

Carolyn and Amanda took this opportunity to load up on fresh watermelon, check off a program bucket list item by grabbing bubble tea, and snag matching sunflower bucket hats. Calum was also able to head ashore for a lovely date with some Italian pizza and gelato over Frank Herbert’s DUNE. Mal, our student chief mate, enjoyed some well-earned rest and quiet time after skillfully organizing all of our deck operations for the past 24 hours, including all sail handling. She is super glad to have made it here safely and quickly.

Gigi, Zoe, and Kayla all ventured out the furthest. The three of them had a little taxi tour of the area as they searched for some specialty souvenir stores, purchased gifts for friends on board and at home (Daniel was surprised with a jumbo cup of instant ramen), and then sampled the local cuisine at the golden arches.

As for me, I strolled around the same piazza three times with Max, Natalie, and Laura before we finally realized that it was the piazza we were looking for. Navigation on the ocean? We’ve got it. On land? “Hey, Siri. Take me to…” Ah, shoot, I still can’t find it. But I’m right in front of it? No way.

Europe, ,I hear is still in a heat wave. We certainly felt it, and to cool off and refresh ourselves, we snagged some Italian pizza slices to-go from a small hole-in-the-wall shop and then had the best gelato of our lives. Their blackberry sorbet, coupled with pomegranate and yogurt gelato, changed my life. Afterward, we went back to that same piazza for a FOURTH time because they advertised free wifi. I couldn’t find heads nor tails of this aforementioned wifi, but it seemed to work well enough for Max, Laura, and Natalie. At this cafe, after grabbing a table by the window, we went up to order some coffee. The barista did not speak English. “Parli inglese?” “No.” I cannot read Italian. Do you all see where this is going?

Fortunately for Max, in the country that invented espresso, holding up two fingers and asking for an espresso gets the message across that he would like a double shot. Unfortunately for me, and this is where it gets embarrassing because I literally am employed as a barista in a coffee shop, I ordered a “latte freddo, per favore.” My thought process was that this means an iced latte. Why else would anything be written on their menu? I received… a glass of cold milk. Refreshing, but the look on Max’s face as he watched me through this ordeal had me rolling on the floor hours later. Safe to say, I learned my lesson. The kindly barista took pity on my plight and gave me a shot of espresso to go with it. After that episode and a bit of internet browsing and phone calls, we all returned to Vela for a quick dinner of bean burritos.

I learned early on in the Azores that Tom is a sucker for a good cup of ice cream, and it didn’t take much to convince him to allow ALL of us to go out for an after-dinner treat together. So under the pretext of trying to maximize our time to finish our group research papers that night (because the gelato is non-negotiable), we all hustled through cleanup, rushed out on deck, marched along the beach, and crowded into the tiny gelato shop that I had visited earlier. They were a little overwhelmed, but it seemed that they appreciate return customers. Then we all meandered and “faffed about” (In Calum’s vernacular, this means to lollygag) a few touristy open-air shops or snuck glimpses of a music festival going on on the beach right next to us before returning to Vela.

To finish our night, and prepare ourselves for a 5 am wake-up tomorrow, Max, Zoe, Natalie, and I cranked out the rest of our paper while Annie, Calum, and Daniel watched Below Deck: Sailing Yacht for their nightly dose of reality tv.

When I stop to reflect on this trip as a whole, I know that it has changed me so much in ways that I had have never expected it would. The friends I’ve made are some of the best people I’ve met, and the relationships we’ve made are things I’d only ever dreamed about previously. I’m sad that we won’t have another opportunity to set sail this summer, but I can’t wait for us to reunite in our respective worlds and continue to stay good friends after this trip is over.

This is Duncan G. signing out as skipper.
Good night!

First picture: Gelato! From left to right: Laura, Dylan, Tia (sitting), Zoe, Natalie, Abigal, Tom, Sarah, Daniel, Kayla, Duncan, Mal’s head and left arm, Max

Second picture: Chaos in the dishy pit. Super spy Natalie is ready to attach a tracking beacon shaped like a clothespin to an unsuspecting Max.

Third picture: Italian Gothic. Dylan and Zoe looking so chic in the country with the world’s fashion capital.

Fourth picture: Pre-presentation excitement! From left to right: Max, Abigal, Duncan, Zoe, Laura, Natalie, Sarah

Fifth picture: “We just docked the boat!” vibes. Left to right: Mal (Half asleep), (Zoe, just woke up), Laura (fully asleep), Annie (Had a nice nap in the engine room, perks of being student engineer), Natalie (spies operate on caffiene), and Max (zzzz)

Sixth picture: Duncan feeling on top of the world, standing on the crayon (the bowspirit)

Seventh picture: Looking stunning at the last golden hour before Rome. From left to right, Sydney, Annie, Laura, Gigi