Oct 122012

One big mast, one big sailAlright, it’s time for some updates. The last two and a half months on Clearwater have been incredibly full. Lots of beautiful sailing up and down the Hudson, visits to the city, a festival here and there, and lots of teaching. I can’t believe it, but my contract is more than half over, and my planning for next steps is in full swing.

I found out while I was in Tasmania that I’m eligible for what they call a working holiday visa. I didn’t know about this visa when I went. Everyone should know about this! If I had I’m sure I would have applied for it and worked (rather than volunteered) during my time there. This 12 month visa is available to people with undergraduate degrees up to and including the age of 30, and allows them to seek temporary employment, spending no more than six months in each job. The idea is to facilitate cultural exchange between participating countries by making it easier for young people to visit.

Outboard practice in Tas.So, with a partner in Tasmania, a closing window of eligibility for this visa, and some Tasmanian qualifications, I’m planning on returning to the apple isle again in the New Year. My most exciting prospects for jobs in Hobart are working on a sight-seeing boat as a tour guide, running boats at a fish farm, and working on research vessels for UTAS or CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency. My goals for my next job are to get a lot of experience handling a small boat, or work on a boat with some scientific overlap, be it field observation or research.

Hopefully Iain and I will also have time to do some travel around the mainland, see some of the outback and the great barrier reef…maybe even another trip to New Zealand? A transit by sea is of course also in the world of possibilities. Right now I’m still in the planning stages, but I’m getting excited for a return to such a beautiful place.

Wineglass Bay, just one of the many gorgeous spots I'm looking forward to visiting again on my return to Tasmania.

Wineglass Bay, just one of the many gorgeous spots I’m looking forward to visiting again on my return to Tasmania. Photo by Iain.

Jul 292012

Having a new home every 3-6 months can be hard. The process of upheaval and resettlement is physically and emotionally tiring. I’ve been doing it for a little while now, and I thought it’s time to start taking notes to make the process as pain-free as possible. Here’s what I have this time around:

-Re-read “West with the Night” by Beryl Markham*. Whether going somewhere new and unknown, or returning home to normality, Beryl has an insight or two for you.
*This may be substituted with a memoir by any obscure and eccentric adventuring character from the early 1900′s.

-Don’t plan to drive to upstate New York the first day back after car has been sitting for six months. Oil change, fluid checks, tire pressure, deep clean inside/out, and the new alternator will require at least a day.

-No less than four days to fully rediscover and repack breadcrumb trail of belongings stored throughout New England. NO LESS THAN FOUR DAYS.

-Find yoga mat, old journals to flip through, and a pretty dress that has been packed away for a while ASAP.

-Plan for a full week for family visits, and another week for friend visits.

-Schedule a dental checkup ASAP.

-PLEASE remember that the adventure does not end when you get to New England. There WILL be a re-acclimation process, it WILL take some time, it WILL be more difficult and confusing than you expected. It WILL pass. A week of no-pressure R&R by the ocean somewhere couldn’t hurt.

-Amidst all of the little errands and visits with the people you love most, don’t forget to include a healthy dose of alone time and beer (not necessarily together). This will help you recover more quickly.

All in all, for a happy, bases-covered return home, it looks like I will require about three weeks, some plans with family and friends, some places to go for solitude, and enough money for an oil change, a dental cleaning and a bunch of gas and beer. Done, and done.

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.


Jun 172012

Here’s a little display of the many colors and textures in the rocky riverbeds and temperate rainforest leading up to the glaciers. I couldn’t stop taking photos of the beautiful quartz intrusions in the wet granite, or the bright lichens peeking out of crannies.

Jun 132012
A moment of perfect light against this cliff face, caught by Iain

A moment of perfect light against this cliff face, caught by Iain

Day two started early, leaving Hokatika just after sunrise to arrive at the Franz Josef Glacier by 9:30 AM, in time for our scheduled helicoptor ride! We got there with time to spare, but were greeted with disappointing news: the weather wasn’t good enough to make the run up. Come back in three hours?

A rainbow of lichen grows on these rocks.

A rainbow of lichen grows on these rocks.

So, we went for a nice hike along the glacial riverbed that leads up to Franz Josef, got some great shots of unique rocks, waterfalls, and cliff faces, and headed back to town with a shred of hope that the cloud cover would miraculously part in time for our flight. No such luck. The office staff suggested we book again for the following morning. Despite the predictions for worsening weather, we decided to give it another chance. We booked a reservation for 9 AM and as the raindrops started to fall, headed to some nearby glacial hot pools for the evening.

After a night of pouring rain, we awoke to our miracle: clear blue skies and the top of the glacier. Sure that we’d have our chopper ride now, we walked over to the office only to be denied once again! This time? Not enough people booked for our flight; minimum of three required. So they sent us over to another agency that has smaller helicoptors, and booked our fourth flight of the trip. Thankfully within a half hour, we were walking up to the landing pad and climbing into the front seat!

The river valley below, by Iain

The river valley below, by Iain

Unbelievably, it wasn’t until I was in the front seat of the helicoptor with a big bubble window all around me that I remembered my fear of heights. Iain gave me an “Are you okay?” look, right away realizing what was going on. Fortunately I’ve had enough anxiety-ridden bus and car rides through the highlands of Guatemala and Scotland, the French Alps, the Colorado Rockies, California’s Sierra Nevadas, and the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, that I’ve gotten pretty good at basically pretending I’m watching a video game when I get really freaked out, figuring it’s better to die a calm fiery death than a terrified fiery death.

Striations in the glaciers, by Iain.

Striations in the glaciers, by Iain.

With my fears neatly bundled away, I was free to enjoy what I can only describe as a sensory experience fit for the gods. We had a bird’s eye view of everything we’d been gazing at for the last 24 hours, and more. The boney, arthritic trees, their white bark standing stark against the many-shaded greens of the mountain forests. The wineglass stem waterfall, somehow lonier and more stoic when seen from above than when worshipping at its base. And of course, the glaciers themselves, massive beyond belief, stretching white and blue, far into the heavens, only to be out-ranked by the cold, grey, snow-streaked peaks that grow along the fault-line under our feet.

Coming back down again, I realized that I’d simply forgotten about the video camera sitting in my lap on the ride up. I was glad, though, in the end, that I’d gotten to enjoy the expereince of being wafted far up into those ice-covered mountains purely, without the distraction of a job to do.

Mountains above glaciers, by Iain.
Mountains above glaciers, by Iain.