Watching dolphins ride the bow beneath you. The soothing sounds of little waves crashing ever so gently against the boat in the middle of the night. Drifting in twilight as I'm so benevolently rocked to and fro in this cradle of wood and rope. 9am zombie gatherings disguised as crew calls, after which we assemble in the galley to enjoy the morning's precious first cup of fair trade Colombian coffee (mine always spiked with chocolate). Slowly we come to life and meander around to complete our designated tasks before the students arrive. Checking the engine, testing the small boat, climbing aloft to unfurl the t'gallant, followed by the lower then upper tops'ls.
The kids arrive, and we all gather in the "jacuzzi" to listen to Captain John's speech; a speech we've heard enough times to recite without a second thought. The most important component of this speech being the proper way to use a marine head. ("The pressure's gonna build up, and it's gonna come shooting back at you!").
Some of us take this opportunity to eat bagels with cream cheese, or granola and rice milk in the galley until we hear a resounding "Hands to dock lines!" We take 1, relead 4, take 2 and 3, take 4. Once on deck, each dock line is neatly coiled (ideally), and heaved on top of the nearest deck house. If we're lucky, there's enough wind that we may sail off the dock without starting the engine.
"All hands to sail stations!" Each student is designated a number indicating whether they will be on the foredeck, port, or starboard braces. The crew takes time to learn the name of each student in their group, some of which have sailed before, so much of what we tell them is review. "Hands to set the mains'l," and just like that a handful of kids and crew alike are stationed at the peak and throat halyards to haul up this beast of wood and sail. "2-6-heave! 2-6-heave!" "That's well!" The stopper knot is tied, "up behind," and the line is belayed. This dance continues with the main and fore stays'ls, the inner and outer jib, hands to set the squares. Hands to set the braces. Bracing on a port tack. Let go and haul. Pass your headsl's. It's a struggle getting these novice sailors to understand when to haul and when to ease, which line will control which sail in what fashion. But by the end of the afternoon, after six or seven sessions of bracing back and forth, we hand the boat over to them and they understand what they're to do.
At around noon we break for lunch. The crew convenes in the galley for sandwiches, banter, and a few "your mom" jokes. Some of us take time to interact with the kids, and we can't help but pick our favorites. Often those who remind us of ourselves; those who don't quite fit in; those eager to learn and be a part of something bigger than themselves.
Lunch is over, hands to sail stations, bracing on a starboard tack, bracing on a port tack, wash, rinse, repeat until it's time to get the kids back on their bus. Passing through Angel's Gate, given enough crew, we take the kids aloft and teach them how to furl. Many climb the shrouds and stand with hearts racing on the platform, some climb back down, and some muster the courage to trust that little black rope to keep them aloft. It's simple; don't let go and you won't fall. A crew member climbs to the yard arm to tie the clew lashing, then together we lift up the sails for harbor furls (not to be confused with sea furls), tucking each handful beneath our bellies.
“Hands to dock lines!” We drag the dock lines off the deck houses and prepare to heave them on to the floating dock. If we’re lucky, each line makes it to the dock, to its designated cleat, and is hauled in before we drift too far from the dock. Fenders are hung from the port pinrail to ensure the safety of this vessel we all love so dearly. We muster aft, say our goodbyes and good jobs to the kids, and send them on their way, hoping maybe this adventure has stirred in them the same wonder and inspiration it stirs in us.
The kids are gone, we meet in the nav to discuss the day’s sail, how to improve our program, and address issues regarding boat maintenance. The globe is struck, Captain John goes home to his wife, and we continue to furl and wash the deck. Matt and Laura find their way to Exy, maybe to help them with their chores or steal kisses from significant others. Sometimes we all go out for dinner after chores and deck washes, maybe for “cheap ass Chinese” or falafel at the family owned Lebanese restaurant on Pacific. Our boisterous laughs and sailor-speak raises eyebrows of fellow patrons, and it’s not uncommon for us to find the restaurant far emptier after our meal than when we arrived.
Eventually the volunteers go home, and the deckhands return to their respective boats. I often steal away for the B-compartment shower, our Mate to the office to read status updates, Laura to climb telephone poles in the alley and get splinters in her thighs, and Matt to A-compartment to canoodle.
Sometime around 9pm, we may run into each other in the galley looking for a late snack in the form of cookies and Nutella, and these are the times I look forward to most. Not for the ambrosia that is hazelnut spread, but for the conversation. You never know in which direction these late night conversations will go. Sometimes they are personal, often they are silly, always they make me feel that I’ve found my place in the world. Life, love, death, health, sailing, passion, books, poetry, adversity, your mom, travels, hopes, dreams, aspirations...
I’ve never felt such infinite trust in anyone as I do my crewmates. We have to trust in each other, depend on each other, and likewise be trustworthy and dependable, if we want to keep the ship afloat.
I’ve never felt so at ease with a group of strangers in my life. The journalist turned sailor (and my new favorite writer), the sheltered adventurer with a heart of gold, the misfit humanitarian. We’re all misfits, really. Each of us unique, with a relentless desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, to be an integral component of something bold and beautiful while still maintaining our independence and self-reliance. We’re here because society couldn’t live up to what we wanted it to be, or maybe we didn’t live up to what society wanted us to be, so we founded our own society and instead live by the ocean’s rules. And we are lucky, so lucky, that we may survive in this world with our dreams in hand.
Yes, we need to shower, and we’re crude, yes we need to do laundry and yes I know I’m developing dreadlocks and need to shave my legs. But dammit, I’m doing what I love.
Happiness is being a tall ship sailor.