January 11, 2007
Many of us did not know what to expect before boarding the Picton Castle in Grenada. After my first week of being on the ship, I can easily write that this experience has been much more than I could have ever anticipated. Although my initial goal was to learn how to sail a tall ship, my experience thus far has reached far beyond my own expectations.
Between the long days of sail training, domestic cleaning, ship up-keeping and the slow days of unwinding, relaxing and exploring the Caribbean islands, I have learned that there is much more to tall ships than just sailing.
As I sit here reflecting on the last week I have spent here, I can here Joe (our carpenter) singing and strumming his guitar. It is the moments like these when the work day is over and we are all together under the stars, that I tell myself to never forget this.
Although this trip has been filled with different physical and mental challenges, I have found that, in addition to learning all the “how to’s” with sailing, becoming integrated into the actual crew has been an experience all in itself. As we are all learning about the bunts and clews and braces to haul and ease, we are also gaining knowledge from each other—professional crew and sail trainees. To be on a crew is to be a part of a family. I personally sensed this almost immediately upon first boarding the ship when there was an initial reluctance from the professional crew to become close with any of the new trainees. This apparent attitude was understandably explained by the recent loss of a crew member in a man overboard incident that occurred in the North Atlantic within a few weeks before our scheduled journey through the Caribbean. However given the circumstances of long and hard working days combined with the beautiful atmosphere and vibrant cultures of the Caribbean islands, it became inevitable that the professional crew, sail trainees, and us (the Mount Holyoke students) would quickly bond. Through this, I have personally found that the professional crew has a lot of knowledge to offer that involves more than just the mechanics of a tall ship. The stories that some of the professional crew are willing to share are insightful and enlightening. As a sailor walks softly and speaks quietly, a sailor’s story is filled with volumes of journeys from the tragic to the spiritually fulfilling.
In my sail training I have felt the trust and respect that binds this crew together. I have found that my most favorite thing to do during sail training is working aloft. I never really knew if I had a fear of heights, but all of my anxieties about climbing up the ratlines and working my way across the yard standing on a line quickly diminished when I looked around and saw I was surrounded by people I trusted and respected, regardless of how long we have all known each other. Aside from learning that I am in fact not afraid of heights, I am convinced that working aloft was most comfortable for me because I knew I had been properly trained by a crew who cared about me and my safety.
Along with bonding over training, I have observed that the playing has also created a strong crew. Whether it’s swinging from the bow of the ship into the water during a group swim or jumping sixty feet off a cliff alongside a waterfall, we are all here cheering each other on and it creates a truly positive atmosphere for everyone to learn in.
The generosity and good humor of the island locals has made traveling particularly easy for all of us. I felt that the dynamic of the islands we have visited is somewhat similar to that of the ship. In a way, this ship is its own small island. On the islands, the locals take pride in their communities and are more than willing to show us around once we express interest in learning about their lives. Similarly on the ship, the crew is proud of what they are a part of and as long as we are willing to learn and see things from their perspective, they are more than happy to teach us.
A logo on a t-shirt in a stand on Paradise Beach in Carriacou read: “Live slow. Sail Fast.” We all enjoyed the logo and even talked much about it after which also lead to a quote mentioned by one of the trainees: “Lose your mind. Find your soul.” This trip so far has definitely reached beyond the academic winter term standards and entered a soul searching dynamic which often goes hand in hand with traveling.
I can’t wait to learn more. I can’t wait to see more. I can’t wait to find out more about myself with these wonderful people I have met!