Jul 012012

It is nearly six months since I arrived in Tasmania. The intense and challenging voyaging season is over. The sea-sickness is but a memory, with people suddenly coming out of the woodwork assuring me that Winde in particular sends her passengers to the rail more than other ships. I am rested, encouraged, just home-sick enough, and I have a job!

ClearwaterIf you’ve been keeping up, you might remember a few posts ago, I wrote about my top choices for employment this fall. The Isaac Evans, Sultana and Clearwater were tied for first place, and I was recently hired as Bosun on the Sloop Clearwater for the fall season!

I’m really excited to be sailing on Clearwater, for many reasons. The first is its environmental mission. The Clearwater Organization was started in the mid-sixties by American folk-singer Pete Seeger in order to build environmental awareness about the Hudson River, which at the time was very polluted. The sloop was launched in ’69 as a symbol of environmental stewardship and teaching tool for young students. Clearwater continues its environmental mission today, with multi-faceted programming, not limited to the work done on the sloop. I was raised as an environmentalist, and I look forward to using my science degree to teach about something that is so important to me.

The second is the music. As I said, Pete Seeger started the organization, and continues to be involved today. For the last six months I’ve barely picked up a guitar, and it’s the longest period I’ve spent without almost daily music practice. I’m really looking forward to joining a ship whose history is intertwined with music.

The third is the Hudson River! So far I’ve sailed around the islands of Maine, some harbors in Massachusetts, the Eastern Pacific of Southern California, and now the Southern Ocean, but I have no inland experience! I’m looking forward to learning about inland rules of navigation, and putting everything I’ve learned in my Coxswain’s course to work.

Finally, I’m excited about the rig. After a square-rigger and a bunch of schooners, three sails is sure to feel sparse, but every ship has her own secrets to share, and I’ll be glad to get to know a new rig. Sometimes the simplest things in life are the most enjoyable.


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 212012

I decided yesterday not to grow up, if growing up involves not being me.

Lately my grandmother has been telling me that I act like I’m 19 (I think she only slightly intends it as a chastisement). I’m not sure what that means. Is it because I’m not married, no kids? Is it because I haven’t established my career yet? Is it because I giggle a lot and make a living climbing a giant jungle-gym? Ha, maybe. For the record, I’m 28.

I’ve struggled for a long time trying to satisfy the expectations of people in my life who find my lifestyle either incomprehensible or unacceptable, while still being true to myself. Not an easy task, let me assure you. It’s like living two lives…the one where I can relax and just be me, and the one where my clothing, appearance and choices of conversation are altered so as not to disturb. I don’t expect to be asked about the things that are important to me in that one.

Sometimes I even consider altering my choices in order to placate or preempt judgement. But I realize that acting as though someone else knows how I should live my life is the same thing as thinking that I don’t. And interestingly, after a lifetime of feeling unsure about who I am, what I should do, I suddenly find that if I put out all the rest, there is some guiding force inside of me that knows exactly how I should live.

I guess this is faith: believing in something so deeply that, without a shred of evidence that it exists outside of my heart and mind, I trust it with my most important life choices. So far that guiding force has led me to the most enriching, exciting and challenging experiences, ones that I wouldn’t trade in for anything.

So, if growing up means making my life decisions by someone else’s standards, or not making a living doing something what I love, or putting material acquisition before spiritual, social and emotional health…then it’s just not happening. If you love me, you can take me as I am, or not at all.

Post-script: Just for the record, my mother has been the most incredibly supportive person to me in this crazy life I’ve chosen to lead, even when my decisions have been scary and challenging. I’m really lucky to have her in my life. Thanks Mom, you’re the best!