Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Energized and Exhilarated: Elizabeth Hejtmancik on Women at the Helm

Elizabeth (right) and a crew member check the staysail.
Elizabeth Hejtmancik has a clear connection to Sound Experience: her uncle, Gordon Sims, returned a few years ago as one of Adventuress’ primary Captains. While Gordon was home visiting his mother, Elizabeth heard him mention the inaugural 4-day Women at the Helm (WATH) trip, which set out for the first time in the summer of 2015. She was hooked.

The program tempted her for many reasons. It was a chance to step aboard the ship her uncle loves; a chance to explore the wildness and beauty of the Puget Sound region alongside other women; and a chance to gain experience that would inform her trilogy of novels, the first of which deals with sailing in the 19th century. Although Adventuress belongs to a different era—she turns 104 years old this February—Elizabeth knew that living and learning aboard a tall ship would help her gain a deeper understanding of what her characters might have experienced. Says Elizabeth, “Four days is realistically not enough time to learn the language of boats and the maritime world. But it does give you a sense of how it feels. You can’t really imagine what it’s like until you’re out on the water and away from land.”

The trip was such a success that she returned for WATH in 2016, making her one of a handful of women to participate in both iterations. Says Elizabeth, “I was so happy and amazed by my first experience that I came back just to make sure that it was real.”

Elizabeth aloft!
Together, these two trip offer Elizabeth an array of firsts and favorites. Climbing aloft still stands out, but she also recalls special moments that were a bit more down-to-earth. “On my second trip,” she says, “I had one of the last Anchor Watches before Morning Wake Up. I still remember that. There was absolute peace and quiet with the sun coming up on the water and an eagle flying past.” Elizabeth now resides in Nashville; although she grew up on the Chesapeake Bay and has a sense of living on the water, she was still stunned by the beauty of Puget Sound: “Everything feels bigger and more vividly alive. The trees are bigger. The sky is bigger. The water is bigger. I just love this place so much.”

One of the things she couldn’t have imagined before WATH was the community that sprang up so quickly on Adventuress. Says Elizabeth, “Stepping aboard for the first time, you see that everyone is there for a different reason and coming from a different background. Over the course of the trip, people start to fit together. By the end, there wasn’t anyone who didn’t feel like part of the group, which is really an achievement considering the length of the trip.” She still remembers the Closing Circle on the last morning of the first trip, during which the women exchanged “blue sheets”—certificates of recognition signed by crew and participants—and shared gratitude and favorite moments. “I think we were all weeping by the end,” recalls Elizabeth.

Elizabeth (center) poses with her Watch.
Before WATH, Elizabeth had never participated in any type of women-centered trip. “It really blew my mind,” she says. “All of these outside pressures were gone—some of which I wasn’t even aware existed until we’d left the dock. Women almost always make way for the men in their lives. All of a sudden, it was just us… I would describe it as a confidence-building experience. I came away really energized and exhilarated.” After WATH, Elizabeth sees these types of programs as some of Adventuress’ most important work. “I have a personal affinity now for women and girls’ trips,” she explains.

As a writer, Elizabeth also draws a connection between the everyday work of sailing a tall ship and what it can teach us about improving our lives on land: “In some sense, being on Adventuress makes elemental forces visible. I can see the wind in the sails. I can feel the boat moving beneath my feet. In life, sometimes these big unseen forces—whether they’re natural, personal, or emotional—inevitably come up. And I feel like sometimes we’re trained to step back. On Adventuress, we’re trained to recognize and harness these forces, because when you’re out on the water you have to be strong and competent in knowing how to react correctly to your environment. The experience of sailing is a great way to come to terms with circumstances that may at first seem outside of your control.”

Of course, there is some irony in traveling from Tennessee to Washington to take part in a trip that is literally guaranteed not to include your uncle as Captain. But lest you think that Elizabeth’s time on WATH was totally Gordon-less, she has one last anecdote. On her second trip, her husband Andy joined her in the Puget Sound region and went on his own adventures with Gordon. On the first day of WATH, a sailboat buzzed past Adventuress several times. It was Gordon and Andy, cheering her on.


Women at the Helm is back! Each year we try to offer women a new experience aboard Adventuress. For our 2017 trip, June 21-25, women are invited to join us for a 5-day voyage from Seattle to Bellingham that will feature a stop in Port Townsend for a special evening reception with Catherine Collins, our very own Executive Director. In 2017, the wonderful and accomplished Rachael Slattery will also serve as Captain. We strive for a large number of female crew on WATH, but participants may also be joined by our friendly and supportive male crew members.

This trip offers women 18 and over the chance to join together with our crew of shipboard educators to sail Adventuress, explore the San Juan Islands, and learn about the marine environment. Join us for fun, camaraderie, community, and incredible learning. More information can be found by clicking here.

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