Jul 262012
Day-off with crew: opening a beer the sailor way aboard Silphide, Matt's family's sloop.

Day-off with crew: opening a beer the sailor way aboard Silphide, Matt's family's sloop.

Hello out there! It’s been so long since I’ve written that I wonder how many will read this. But to those who do, thanks for continuing to tune in to my adventure!

You might have guessed that I’m home again, back in the USA. I flew out of Hobart, Tasmania at 6:30 AM on Saturday, July 14th, and arrived in Los Angeles at 6:00 AM on Saturday, July 14th. (Awesome. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that one. :) I spent a few days hanging out in LA with friends and volunteers from the American Tall Ship Institute, where I was First Mate in 2010-2011, and then continued on home to Massachusetts. In a few days I start a new job as Bosun on the Clearwater, a gaff-rigged sloop that sails the Hudson River. It will be a whole new culture and environment, and I look forward to reporting…

But for now, what things stand out to me in my first two weeks back in the country?

Cinderblock city in Guatemala

Cinderblock city in Guatemala

Re-entry shock: It’s amazing how challenging a return to home can be after an extended period of time away. I remember having reverse culture shock after just 2 1/2 weeks in Scotland when I was 17, and even more of a dramatic adjustment period in 2009 after returning from 10 weeks in Guatemala. After Guatemala, I remember noticing how all of the buildings seemed exceptionally solid — even over-built — in comparison to the flimsy-feeling cinder-block and corrugated tin structures in Central America. One would think that Australia and the USA are so similar that reverse culture shock would be almost non-existent, but I’ve learned that any change in cultural environment, no matter how subtle, can stir up emotion and reflection. We often don’t know what we’ve been through until well after, when the dust has settled.

U.S. Airport Security: Both times I went through International customs and security in Australia, I felt the process was effective, fair and efficient. Large throngs of people surged beneath signs in many languages, passed quickly through baggage checks and metal detectors, and finally several sets of  TRUE random check points which took no more than 2 minutes to complete in most cases. I actually saw grey-haired people and a business woman randomly stopped! Entering the US, even as citizen, took hours. I was shocked to see a sign at the metal detector exempting seniors from the need to remove shoes and jackets…a chivalrous gesture, but one that surely creates a weak point in our national security. Customs agents suspiciously looked back and forth between visitors’ faces and their passport photos, and one fringe-looking person after another was pulled aside for a “random” check. It’s hard to explain the perspective one has after being away, but after a six month fast from the constant fear-inducing American news landscape, my gut reaction to this inconsistent and intimidating show of muscle is that it is inefficient, flawed and disrespectful to our visitors. I was distinctly aware of America’s inflated sense of self-importance.

My first experience of Vegemite.

My first experience of Vegemite.

Re-adjustement to local customs: Some things have been easy, some difficult. The whole time I was in Australia, I constantly got mixed up about which side of the car was the passenger and driver, first thinking my instinct was wrong, and then second-guessing that. It has been a relief to be able to trust my instincts in such things again. On the other hand, I’ve caught myself pronouncing “tomato” like a Brit more than once, and taking to the left side of a foot path when meeting another walker head-on. I am a little sad to have to drop my favorite little Ozi phrases like “Rightio” and “I reckon…” People just give funny looks. Reliable internet and relatively inexpensive food are great luxuries that are a rare thing down under, so that is a nice change. Also, readily available cookie-dough ice-cream, inexpensive beer, and fresh bagels. I am not sad to say goodbye to Vegemite.

Wild Oats, Sydney-Hobart winner, with future boyfriend Iain sitting in the foreground. Taken before we met. :)
Wild Oats, Sydney-Hobart winner, with future boyfriend Iain.

Apart from this, there is a whole tide of fresh political awareness that I am subject to after being immersed in an outside perspective. And I wouldn’t be fully reporting on “my quest for a life at sea” if I didn’t summarize the last year thusly: I traveled to the other side of the world, sailed in the Southern Ocean, fell in love, got my first bit of professional licensing, and turned 30 minus 1 year. These major life events are leaving me feeling aswirl with looming life pressures and some new doubts and questions as to how I am going to make it all happen. But then, I suppose that the real reason we travel round the world is for a good mix-up so we can get to the tasty stuff at the bottom of it all. And I certainly feel mixed up at the moment.

For now, this is Stephanie’s blog, signing off.


May 152012

Well once again it’s been a bit since I’ve written. I definitely overestimated the amount of time, energy and internet access I would have during this voyage season. We’ve got about another three weeks to go before it ends. In the meantime, a little bit from my life:

These last two voyages were the most difficult for me, and I suppose it comes down to the intensity of the schedule, and my propensity for sea-sickness. The experience of sea-sickness just cannot be described in any decent way to anyone who has not been sea-sick. You can list the symptoms (headache, nausea, vertigo, lethargy, painful awareness of the impossibility of escape) but the sum is equal to more than its parts.

Some sunrise or sunset, somewhere...

Some sunrise or sunset, somewhere...these pretty sights help with the recovery process quite a bit.

My latest source of hope in the face of this brutal disease is the thought that I am not allergic to the sea as a whole, but maybe just to the Southern Ocean, or Windeward Bound, specifically. I’d experienced mild, passing nausea in the Pacific Ocean before coming to Tasmania, but I’d never been so constantly and severely sea-sick as I’ve been here. I refuse to believe it’s a permanent change…

But such an experience does lead a little adventurer like myself to ask some pretty confronting questions during those wee morning hour watches. What will I do if I never overcome my sea-sickness? What will I do with all of my dreams of world travel across oceans on sailboats? How stubborn am I really? Stubborn enough to live permanently in the world of dizzying, miserable, punishing sea-sickness?

The real answer, much as I hate to admit it, is no. I’ve lived a good portion of the last two months in that state, and I have finally reached my limit. My plan now is to tie up my commitments here in Tasmania, go home, get myself back on a schooner, and enjoy some coastal sailing for a little while.

Then, when I’m ready, I will get myself back out into the open ocean, and before giving up on blue water entirely, I will try one ocean crossing. If my brain and my inner ear don’t start playing nice after that, then I will just have to content myself with quiet and comfortable coastal sailing. Not the worst thing in the world, at least until I’ve had time to get antsy for travel, and forget just how awful it is to be sea-sick…


Apr 292012
Sunrise at sea

Sunrise at sea

I can’t believe it’s been two full months since our voyages began. This was a sunrise photo I took during the first one in February, so long ago! It was a fantastic trip with a group of adult MBA students from Deakin University in Melbourne. As part of their studies, they have to take a course called “Audacious Leadership” which they can complete either in a usual semester, or in a week on Windeward Bound. Here is an excerpt from my journal, same day this photo was taken.

Sunday February 26, 2012, Afternoon of day two

Four bunks packed into one cabin...not a bit of space wasted!

Four bunks packed into about a 6'x8' cabin. Mine is behind the red curtain at the top. Photo by Lauren Elliott.

The boat is rocking gently as I write this, tucked down below, all dark and quiet in my bunk. The bunk I got placed in this voyage is possible the smallest I’ve ever had. There is about a foot and a half of head room above where my butt sits. When I first saw it I groaned inside, but as I always say, humans are very adaptable. Already I’ve tied and stowed things here and there, enough to make it comfortable and feel like mine.

Last night my watch was on 4AM – 8AM. The sky was brilliant – the Milky Way stretched across as bright as I’ve ever seen it. No moon, so the dimmest stars seemed to twinkle brightly. Glowing globes that I can only guess were phosphorescent jelly fish bobbed by us in the night.

Sailing was nice but steering was challenging. We were almost directly down wind, and somehow no matter how slight my corrections were, the boat would veer off course. Eventually the watch officer turned the engine on and we took in all sail so that we could navigate around some reefs. There was a fair bit of wind, and even with the sails in, I was still struggling to stay on course, so I handed the wheel to Alex. It was good to see that he was finding it a bit challenging as well, but I also picked up some things watching how he steered and corrected.

Now we’re at anchor, taking a little rest before heading out into the Tasman Sea. We’ll be heading up the East Coast and perhaps even crossing Moitessier’s 1969 route past Tasmania! It’s exciting to be heading out into open ocean, but I also know the sea-sickness will be rough.  I’ll just have to toughen up, as they say…

Apr 282012

After so long away from this thing, it’s hard to know where to pick back up. Where I left off, or where I am now? Perhaps a bit of both.

I recently wrote a good friend about some of the struggles I’ve been having aboard lately: loneliness, ongoing sea-sickness, blows to self-confidence and wavering determination. I received an incredible email back, funny, encouraging and honest. He wrote “I do hope you are journaling these thoughts elsewhere, because being a vagabond is having these thoughts. Servicing a block is interesting info, but lets get our teeth into something, and now is the time.” So here are the thoughts. Enough of blocks for now.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the last two months have passed like rapid fire; weeks whiz by with no more than a whoosh to let you know they’ve gone, and yet somehow days drift sluggishly on. Forty-two of the last fifty-six were spent at sea, with one day off in ten. Friendships have deepened, but they become strained as well. It’s impossible to spend so much sleep-deprived time with even the best of individuals without a little something getting under the skin.

I guess I can report without too much embellishment that I have seen both the best and worst in myself in these past few months. I have reached deep to find energy, patience and humor in the most unreasonable of circumstances, like waiting almost an hour to raise anchor in the wee hours one morning after being hurriedly shaken from my measly three hours of sleep. One becomes practiced at choosing to laugh.

A crew-member sprawled out on the deck, waiting to weigh anchor

Waiting 45 minutes to raise anchor on three hours' sleep: sometimes this is all you can do.

The most recent trip was the most challenging. It was the final voyage before our first real chunk of days off, and the longest at 11 days, so we were all already exhausted; and the youth we had were mostly strangers to one another, half Australian and half refugee. As mentors and leaders, we not only had to guide them through the normal vaults and drags of a sail-training voyage, but we had the additional hurdles of language and cultural barriers to manage.

During the trip I found myself at times unable to disguise my emotions and frustrations. A small but biting comment from a fellow crew-member brought my American sensitivity back to full swing, and I’m afraid I punished him a bit for it. But as impatient as we are with each other moment by moment, we all thankfully seem to have an equal amount of patience for the long term. We are all struggling through the same arduous schedule, with the same trip-wires and sink-holes in our way, and if we didn’t have a little understanding for each others’ humanness, I guess we wouldn’t be cut out for this job.

So this is what it sometimes is to work on a sail-training tall-ship! Not always warm breezes and sunsets. It’s hard work, long hours, little sleep, and complex social challenges. Sometimes I do actually ask myself if it’s worth it. In the toughest moments I remind myself to take a fresh look when things have eased up a bit and I’ve had some sleep. The rest of the time I remind myself that living the dream isn’t easy, but it IS living the dream, and better than a nine-to-fiver most days of the week. And so instead of giving up, I choose to laugh.

Feb 222012
David, Jack and Matt examining the yard

David, Jack and Matt examining the yard

Last night Sarah took the whole crew out to dinner to celebrate the impending end of our maintenance period, and to say goodbye to a crew-member who, after 2 years of working aboard Windeward Bound, is moving on.

I described David as “taciturn but jovial, with an endless supply of patience” in my post about the crew. He is the first person I met aboard Windeward Bound on my first or second day in Hobart, and I remember the wide, friendly smile he greeted me with. It told me I was in the right place.

It’s been a great pleasure working with David for so many reasons. David is the man we all go to with the most obscure of questions, and although we surely lean upon his store of ship’s knowledge too much, he is never stingy in sharing it.

We’ll also miss David’s quiet generosity. Many a morning we awake to fresh baked goods on the galley counter, or we find a surprise stash of chocolate suddenly appear before a cruise, courtesy of David, but you have to ask to find out it was him. Often our duty schedule has gone several weeks in a row with David on duty while the rest of us get a day off, to the point that we affectionately termed them “Dave’s Off”. But David never complains, he only says “Enjoy it while it lasts!”

Normally it’s rare to get to work with someone so kind and hardworking, although somehow this boat is flush with them. We’re all really going to miss David’s “quiet efficiency,” as Sarah put it at last night’s good-bye dinner, but we’ll mostly miss the presence and daily friendship of a crew-mate we’ve come to regard as family.