I roused myself from bed at the usual time, but last Thursday did not follow my normal routine. When you know you're going to be sailing on a 133ft long, 96 year old historic schooner, you wake up smiling.
I signed up to be relief crew for a Sound Exploration trip aboard the Schooner Adventuress a few months ago. Sound Explorations are the extended versions of Sound Studies, both of which are "designed to spark the imagination and foster an interest in science, leadership and the environment."The big difference between them is that Sound Studies are three to five hours, whereas Sound Explorations are two to seven days.
The Adventuress was moored at Bainbridge Island's City Dock. When I arrived, I spent a few moments rehashing good times with the old girl, then had the pleasure of meeting the students and teachers from West Sound Academy.
West Sound Academy is in Paulsbo, which is directly north of Bainbridge. The school is a private preparatory middle and high school, and its students are fantastic. That morning, the kids made their impression on me. As our crew rustled the ship into activity, we could hear their burgeoning sixth-grade excitement carry across the water, a full Adventuress boat-length away. Needless to say, that energy was infectious.
That's how it always is: the participants are always excited for a new experience, and we're always excited to facilitate it. The excitement builds off of one another, and the atmosphere becomes electrified through our collective effervescence. A wise man once described it as "some kind of hypnotism."
However, this energy is put on hold while we go over safety. Safety and shipboard orientation is a priority. We must go over the essentials: how to don a life jacket, where to muster in an emergency, life rings, etc. But also the personal essentials: where to stow your things, how to use the bathroom, and assigning watch-groups for the remainder of the trip. It is only after, what must seem to them a vicious prolonging of their excitement, that we turn them loose upon the halyards.
The proverbial bottle is then popped and their energy surges forth. It's amazing what enthusiam and adrenaline can do for sixth graders. The sail, as a result, was set quite easily.
The rest of the trip was indescribable, though it is my charge to try an describe it. I was a Co-Watch Leader with Aubrey, who is one of the saltiest, friendliest, and cutest people the world has ever seen. We had three stellar girls in our group. They were highly energetic and very intelligent.
On that trip, we had a lot of great wind and plenty of sunshine. We saw porpoises and sea lions. We laughed and got to know each other. My favorite thing about being on board is watching the participants grow comfortable with the ship and its atmosphere.
It takes some adjusting: Not showering for three days, washing your dishes by hand, singing chanteys and hauling up sails can be overwhelming and bewildering. But the participants almost always come around.
What I've whittled it down to is awareness; Not only do participants become more aware of their immediate surroundings, i.e. they bump their heads less on the overheads, the don't stub their toes on the cleats, etc, but they become more aware of their environment: They pause to listen as the sea lions slap their flippers upon the water, or their heads snap around when they hear the spout of a porpoise.
With awareness comes respect, admiration, and passion. I can speak only for myself, but awareness is what I hope to foster through the shipboard education, and I believe that many of the crew feel similarly; We want our participants to be so inspired by their experience that they take their admiration back home. We don't expect people to leave as experts on the environment, or in sailing, but we hope to plant a seed so that, after they've left the ship, they'll nurture their awareness into a passion.