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.