May 162012

It’s almost exactly two months away from my return to the States! That’s still a loooong time, but the part of me that loves to plan has already started scheming my next adventure. I’ve been haunting the sail-training and yacht crew websites for some time now, and shining up my resume.

This has been my desktop lately:

My desktop as of late

You can see my list of potential employers. Some of them are new to the list — the Oliver Hazard Perry is a new and still uncompleted build that will be Rhode Island’s flagship — and others have been on my list for years now. SEA (The Sea Education Association) does scientific research and sail-training aboard tall ships in the open ocean with college students, and have been my dream employer for a long time (although all of this sea-sickness has me second-guessing a bit). Employment with SEA is pretty competitive, but once you’re in, it seems like dependable seasonal work year after year, with good benefits. They’ll be hearing from me again this year, but until I have licensing, my chances with them are small.

My availability this season is somewhat limiting for work in New England– August 1 through the holidays — but I’m confident that something will work out. My favorite picks right now are the Isaac H. Evans in Penobscot Bay Maine, the Clearwater on the Hudson River, and Sultana in the Chesapeake Bay. And then who knows, maybe the Caribbean or back to Australia in the new year!

Jan 212012

I found this piece recently in the annals of my computer…something I wrote in 2006 about my first experience on a tall-ship, and my journey getting there.

I was an early bloomer maturity-wise. I’ve always felt socially unsatisfied around most people my age. But I’ve been a late bloomer in a lot of ways, too. Up until I was a teenager, I was the girliest girl you could imagine. As a kid I played with barbies and hated the outdoors passionately, hated sports, hated exercise, loved music and art and acting and dressing up.

It’s strange, but there was a turning point somewhere along the way where I started to change. I can’t say exactly when it happened, but I find myself regressing to the mental state of a nine-year-old boy, totally curious about gross stuff, wanting to be tough and strong, wanting to prove myself, not caring about looks a lot, wanting to learn about cars and how to build things….wanting to get dirty and have scars. It’s weird.

I think this photo might have been taken of me the day I joined my first tall-ship. Oh how sweet and innocent!

This all hit a climax two years ago when I got a job aboard an 80 foot schooner, an old working boat that takes Muscles (capital M), balls (metaphorically), and a high pain threshold (sometimes) to sail. Working on her, sanding and painting her, putting backbreaking hours upon hours into her maintenance and then learning to crew on her….it all changed me so much. I got so strong in such a short period of time, stronger than i’d ever been in my life, that it was very shocking at times. I remember this one time we were just sailing along and out of boredom I grabbed a halyard and just started climbing it, hand over hand, like a fire-pole, not using my legs at all, not even struggling with it. I just kept climbing, without getting tired, without the least bit of trouble. I finally stopped when I was scared to go any higher….NEVER had I been able to do a thing like that before. Not even close!

A view from the cross-trees of my first schooner, the Isaac H. Evans (back in my no harness days!)

Then there was the toughness aspect. The being out on deck in the rain and wind and biting cold, clothes soaked through, after you’ve already been out there for hours, working your ass off, working under dangerous—perilous even—conditions because you have to, because when you leave that dock it’s not a job anymore, it’s your life. Because if you don’t do your job, under some extreme though not uncommon circumstances, you might not get home alive. There’s the being up aloft, 80 feet off the water, without a harness because it just gets in the way, doesn’t make any kind of practical sense to wear one (Note: 8 years later, I now always wear a harness aloft!). There’s the 18-hour work days with very little real time off except for that spent in your bunk, which just happens to be about 6′ long by 3 feet wide by maybe 2-3 feet tall.

And then there’s the on-the-job injury, worn in the sailing world like a badge. I’ve become a complete loser when it comes to injuries. I love them. It’s stupid. But wait, no, I don’t love the injury. I love the challenge of working through it. Of ignoring it. Of being tough. And it IS stupid. Because I’ve definitely ignored things that could’ve become very much worse than they already were because I ignored them.

Me sitting atop the "strongback" at the stern of the Evans, playing guitar, 2004.

I loved my calloused hands, my scarred knuckles. I loved my dirty bare feet, my salty hair, my sun-tanned skin, my chiseled shoulders and arms that were larger than most of the guys’ I knew. Getting into bed at the end of the day really TIRED. Going to sleep not because I have to so I can get up in the morning, but because I’m exhausted. Especially I love knowing that I’m living a life which is very different from the lives most people live. Knowing that in fact most of them would HATE what I’m doing. But the joke’s on them because it’s the greatest life there is because I love it so.

Jan 012012

Ocean of CloudI am staring through the platter-shaped pane at the space below. There are clouds, and then between clouds, little white specks against the deep blue Atlantic. They do not move. The ocean, like time, stands still when observed from a distance.

Are these truly waves I see? From so far away?

I watch keenly for some minutes, like a child silently examining a stranger, to verify that they are not, in fact, small clouds. No, they are too evenly scattered, too distant and grounded. There must be a good bit of wind down there, to produce waves large enough Rough Sea Drake Passagefor me to see. I track what must be a single crest for a minute. Its movement is undetectable against the sea.

An hour later there are no more waves. The great blue expanse below is calm; its storm has passed, or we have passed its storm.

How odd it would be to hear the familiar echoey rumble of a jet from the cockpit of a boat sailing slowly, primitively through the middle of the Atlantic. You look up. “Here goes civilization,” the rumble proclaims, “what are you?”

In my beginning with boats, when I worked on the Isaac Evans up in Maine, I used to stare out at the water most days, with the sun spread across my shoulders and bouncing off the waves, knowing that I was discovering something great. I would think to myself, my God, there are millions of people in their homes right at this very minute, sitting on couches, watching programs on television that mostly bore them. Civilization sounded a little less cocksure in those moments.

Later in the season, we hit a memorable storm. Rain, wind, cold. Hard sailing with a double Sailingreef in the main. Water sloshes across the decks, slippery, slick. Fingers are numb, and raindrops like lead shot when they hit your face. Get those sails down, quick. There’s no time to think in moments like these, just to do. And yet I managed one thought: Millions of people, sitting at home, this very minute…

But now the sea has disappeared for me, under a velvet layer of cloud and twilight. Behind us the sun is setting, just five hours after I saw it rise: the strange time-warp produced by eastward travel during winter. The last of its light reaches up from the horizon, tinting the sky pink, a touch of shimmer across her eyelids before she disappears into the dark.