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 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 192012

I had an exciting conversation with a sailor from Sydney today. It was a sailing day for us, and I was posted up on the wharf selling tickets until we departed. My typical opener is (big smile) “Hello there, have you ever been sailing on a tall-ship before?” You’d be surprised how well this works.

Just a pretty shot for you to look at :)

Today, one of my victims happened to have just arrived on a private yacht from Sydney. Keeping with my advice to aspiring adventurers, I decided to tell him a bit of my story, namely the fact that I hope to find a boat to sail back home on across the Pacific, to see if he might have any advice to offer.

I have to say how great it is to run into fellow sailors and explorers. They don’t look at you like you’re crazy when you tell them you want to sail across the Pacific. They understand. This man, David, didn’t even pause to give me a pat on the back when I told him my dream. He just nodded and began to tell me who to talk to.

He’d been held up on the mainland in a place called Eden waiting out a gale, and had met some Americans on another boat while he was there, who were also heading south to Hobart. Their names are Jim and Anne, and he said that they’ve been “cruising” (living/traveling on their own sailboat) for 25 years. He said that Jim has a VHF channel on which he broadcasts some kind of regular communication, and is apparently a bit of a cruiser’s hub.  Jim and Anne are hauling their boat out here in Hobart at a local yacht club, which means they’ll be here for a little while.

This is great news! My sense is that these folks don’t take crew on, but they’ll more than likely have a fair bit of advice for me, if not some valuable connections as well. I think I’ll head over to meet them tomorrow, or possibly early next week.

Since I began this journey of trying to really live my dreams, I’ve felt that I may not have all of the intelligence, experience or natural talent that some sailors do, but what I have is a bullet-proof vision of what I want, and a steadfast determination to get there. Who knows how this connection will turn out, but every time a “window” like this opens, I feel encouraged. I’ll let you know what happens!

Jan 062012

After I published my post about getting started sailing on tall-ships, my friend Jeremiah suggested that I write about how I got where I am now, aboard a boat halfway around the world. My first response was “But what got me here is networking, not a process you can really give instructions for,” but he thought this was exactly the kind of thing someone “starting out” should know. So…

041_Australia Day 2011 Flotilla & Darling FireworksNot all adventures require a purpose, but this one did. I have a Grandmother who lives in Hobart, Tasmania, and she wanted me to visit. Deciding to go wasn’t tough once the opportunity came up, and deciding to prolong my stay was easier. Why travel to the other side of the world and only stay for two weeks?

One of the great advantages to working on boats, besides the fresh salt air and gorgeous views, is the built-in flexibility in employment with regards to length, location and type. It seemed immediately obvious to me that if I wanted to stay for a few months, I should find a tall-ship to work on while I was in Tasmania. Even if I couldn’t get paid work, I’d be compensated with room and board. Fine by me.

Tall ship (1/20)I began researching tall-ships in Australia about a year ago, when I decided to take this trip. This was as simple as Googling “tall-ship Australia”, but keep in mind that many boats escape detection with these seemingly all-inclusive keywords.  If you’re looking for a boat, especially if it’s in a specific place, don’t assume your first search will turn up every single one. In fact, the boat I ultimately joined didn’t appear on any of my searches. Some other good search terms include: sailing, cruising, sail-training, schooner, square-rigger, windjammer, traditional ship, wooden boat, traditional rig, sailing crew, deckhand, etc. As well, Tall Ships America and Sail Training International have vessel member lists/databases. Be sure to check these out too, but again, don’t assume that they cover everyone.

Of course having an up-to-date resume on hand is essential, and being an obsessive The Leeuwin sailing ship, from the Endeavourresume updater myself, I have a lot of tips on that which I’ll save for another article. Go ahead and just send your resume out with a cover letter to everyone you come across, even if they’re not advertising openings. It can’t hurt. I sent off my resume to the half-dozen tall-ships I came across online, and didn’t get any replies. No worries. Not surprisingly, Captains are often offline for days or weeks at a time. If you are persistent, you’ll find your ship.

A quick note about resumes: Don’t think that just because you’re applying to be a “sailor” that a well-written resume isn’t important.  Many of these boats have an educational mission, and a professional resume tells your potential captain that you can communicate well, and understand the importance of presentation. (Believe it or not this might make you stand out as an applicant…)

What finally got me my position aboard Windeward Bound was, of course, networking. Once you decide upon your adventure, don’t ever pass up an opportunity to mention it to someone who has even the slightest potential of taking an interest. You never know where the connection will come from. Mine came from my Captain on the Bill of Rights, Stephen Taylor, who just happened to have a friend that does business in Tasmania, and loves tall-ships. I sent this man my resume, and honestly within two days he’d written me that he found me my boat, and had already contacted the Captain on my behalf. From there it was just a few emails back and forth between the Captain and I, and my position was settled.

Now that I’m in Tassie, I’m beginning to work towards my new goal of finding a boat toEnterprize take me home to the States via the Pacific. This brings me to my final bit of advice for today. There are a million boats out there, and just because they’ve invited you to join, doesn’t mean you should. Different sailors have different standards for safety on the water. Find out what yours is, and don’t settle for a situation that makes you uncomfortable. When I’m looking for a boat to join, I’m evaluating the disposition and experience of the Captain and crew, the type of equipment on board, the state of the gear, and even how tidy their galley is. The smallest detail can tell you a lot about your potential crew-mates and future home. And for my first ocean crossing, I’m happy to wait until I find the right situation.

Endeavour & Sydney

Dec 212011

One of the thoughts I had when creating this blog was to make it a resource for people who are captivated by the idea of an adventuring lifestyle on the sea, and want to know how to make it happen. I did not grow up on the water, and until I was 20 had never myself experienced what has now become the predominant force in my life: the thrill of being driven through a frothy chop, sails tight against a steady breeze, with the sun happily bearing witness to this greatest of partnerships between man and nature.

And yet, HERE I AM, preparing to embark on another boat-based journey, once again following this passion to a new part of the globe. I’m not saying that this life is easy, comfortable or lucrative (although parts of the industry certainly are). It is, however, doable…if you truly want it.

I’m going to start a section called “Methodology” to address this topic. Please email me at stephanie@shesails.net or just comment on this post if you have any specific questions along these lines. Otherwise, I will answer questions that I’ve been asked in the past. Starting with…

This could be you! Photo by Matt Millar

Can I get a job on a boat without experience?

The answer, as you might expect, is absolutely yes! I got my start on Traditional Tall-Ships, and for people without any experience on the water at all, I think that this is a great place to get your start. It’s definitely not for everybody, but as a launch pad, it has a lot of advantages. Since it’s where I have almost all of my experience, I’m going to start here.

The goods: Tall ships are a great place to learn, and are a relatively easy industry in which to find work. Many are operated by non-profits that specialize in education, and thus are perfectly suited to train newbies. Plus, they often can’t pay very much, so they’re always looking for enthusiastic new recruits! Camaraderie is the name of the game on these traditional boats, not only because of the serious teamwork required to make them go, but because of the hardships you’ll certainly have to endure together. So if you’re looking for a “professional” community to welcome you with open arms, this is it.

The questionables: The pay, as mentioned, is often pretty low, although room and board is almost always covered. The culture, to some, can seem quite base (best not to be easily offended by swears or bodily functions), and, ironically, also stuck-up (try to tell a tall-ship sailor the right way to do anything!). The most important caveat that I would give anyone getting their start on tall-ships is: Don’t think that being able to crew a tall-ship means that you know how to sail. To really understand sailing, you’ll eventually have to find your way to a small boat, and sail it yourself.

The connections: Here are some websites that have become a standard part of my seasonal tall-ship job-search. My best advice at this point is to explore, inquire and check back often!

Tall Ships America Billet Bank: This is the best resource I’ve found for hunting jobs on tall-ships. When you’re in the heat of the search, check this daily!

Maine Windjammer Association: This website contains links to 13 of the almost 20 schooners (and one ketch!) that operate in mid-coast Maine June-September. Apply in January. Spring outfit usually starts in April. The Maine coast is one of the most beautiful and interesting places to sail in the world.

Sail Training International: I’ve never actually followed up on a lead from this one, but they do seem to have an active billet bank. Most of the postings are for Captains or mates, but on occasion there will be openings for volunteers with less experience. Mostly it’s just fun to imagine sailing off to exotic places…

So, that’s all I have for now. Other sailors: any thoughts to add?