Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Shelly Ballering Connects on Many Levels aboard the Members Only Expedition

Last August, my mother, Shelly Ballering, stepped aboard for the Members Only Expedition. She’d only sailed a handful of time on small boats, and joining me and 34 others on Adventuress was an act of love, curiosity, and apprehension. She had many of the questions that come up for first time sailors who have never seen Adventuress in the flesh. My mother lives in Portland, and her knowledge of the ship was confined to the handful of postcards I had sent. When it came to assuaging her fears, I was at a surprising disadvantage. She was my mother, after all, and she seemed to believe that I’d tell her anything to make her join me on the trip. “What would the heads be like?” She asked. Would she be able to climb into her bunk? Would she be seasick?

Mama at the Helm! My mother takes the helm
under the guidance of Chief Mate Esther.
I still remember my own highlights: porpoises past our bow as we returned to Anacortes, a blazing orange sunset, and a platter of dolma that the Galley Coordinator, Frankie, created as a last hurrah on her final trip.

My mother’s fondest memories came from Anchor Watch. Under the guidance of Drew, the shipboard Engineer, we stood Watch together, took navigational readings, listened to the breathing of an invisible harbor seal swimming somewhere nearby, and tiptoed all over the ship. Says my mother, “Anchor Watch was amazingly tranquil—a space in-between sleep and waking that puts you in a calm and centered place.”

Because the Members Only Expedition brings together Members of every stripe, the participants aboard were amazingly diverse. They included a grandmother who sailed on Adventuress many decades before and wanted to share the experience with her two young granddaughters; a long-time volunteer who brought along the friends she met on Liberty Clipper; two Sound Experience Board Members; and a young woman from an earlier teen trip who returned to sail with her father.

The full "crew" for the trip—36 wonderful individuals who
created a vibrant shipboard community in three short days.
Counting crew and participants, there were 36 people aboard. My mother, a psychologist, was impressed by the dynamic created by a relatively small number of people living and working together in such a unique environment. “I got to know fellow participants while I was on  Adventuress more deeply than I would in other circumstances,” she says. Recalling the aforementioned grandmother, my mother adds, “I met a woman, Carol, who was close to my age and who also lives in the Portland area. We connected over what we had in common—some of it having to do with recent challenges in both our lives—and ended up communicating for several months after the trip.”

My mother was also enchanted by the educational aspects of the program. On the second day, two naturalists from KwiĆ”ht, a nonprofit dedicated to tracking the human ecology of the Salish Sea, gave a detailed presentation on the structure and society of the Coast Salish people. My friend David, a meteorologist and fellow participant, spoke about barometers, drawing with chalk on deck to further illuminate his points about air pressure and high and low systems. As with all trips, we did a plankton tow and studied the contents of the water under the deckhouse microscope. Recalls my mother, “I was surprised by the sheer number of living creatures in just one bucket’s worth from the Sound… Being on Adventuress gave me a sense of all the life both in the water and along the shore. I had a sense of how essential it is to preserve the life that surrounds us.”

My mother and I gave this Adventuress quilt
to my Grandma for her 90th birthday.
When my mother and I talked recently about the trip for this story, we were sitting at a kitchen table in Wisconsin. We were visiting for my grandmother’s 90th birthday, and as one of her presents we gave her a small quilt showing an image of Adventuress rendered from one of photographer Elizabeth Becker’s stunning images. As a lifelong Wisconsinite, my grandmother loves the boat—to her it represents the beauty and promise of a place she's never known. My mother feels similarly about the ship: “I’m from Wisconsin originally and I chose to head West when I was young. Being on Adventuress reminds me of why I love living where I do… The trip offered me pure physical beauty, interest and learning, and the chance to connect with myself, with others, and with the amazing world of nature.”

The year’s Members Only Expedition is from August 26-28. I’ll be aboard again (my mother, sadly, will not) and I would love to meet you, sail and learn with you, and capture your memories of what it's like to step aboard. The Members Only Expedition is open to Sound Experience Members only; children 8 and up are welcome when accompanied by an adult.