Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Million Ways to Find Meaning Aboard

At the end of this month, after three wonderful years at Sound Experience, I will leave my position as Membership and Public Programs Coordinator to go on to grad school. That’s why I’m stealing this space—where thousands of people could rightfully share their experiences aboard—to talk about what Adventuress has meant to me.

The first time I sailed on Adventuress was in May of 2014, two months after I was hired—and in spite of the fact that I mispronounced the word “schooner” in my initial job interview (I was qualified in other ways, I promise). I had no experience on ships of any type; as a recent transplant to the Puget Sound region, I was still in awe of ferries.

During evening program on the first night, Wiley, the Chief Mate, gave a delightfully unhinged presentation about Anchor Watch. The gist—simply—was that those standing Anchor Watch should be as quiet and respectful as possible. To impart this, Wiley turned off the lights and held a flashlight underneath his chin as if he were telling a ghost story. He whispered. He sang. He used the built-in handholds, designed for getting in and out of tricky upper bunks, to perform an acrobatics routine. Everyone listened, everyone learned, and everyone sat rapt.

On the last day of the trip, I had the chance to interview students after they came down from the rigging. One of my standard questions—“What was your favorite moment aboard?”—was met by a barrage of similar answers.

“Climbing aloft.”
“Climbing aloft.”
“Climbing aloft.”

This was valid—nothing can compare to looking down upon Adventuress and seeing her tiny deck in the vast sweep of water and land—but I began to despair of having any worthwhile material for a story. Finally, I interviewed a notorious clown, one of those mischievous and intelligent classroom disruptors. He was the type of young man that teachers are secretly fond of and openly fear.

“What was your favorite moment aboard?” I asked.

“I really loved the Chief Mate’s presentation about Anchor Watch,” he answered. “I think it’s so cool that he can be such a good leader and have such an important job on the ship, but also be so much fun.”

And that’s when I knew—despite only recently learning how to pronounce the word schooner—that I had found a home. What I value most about Adventuress is that there isn’t one right story; there isn’t one right way to find meaning aboard. There are many reasons that Adventuress is special, and they are indivisible from one another. Community, history, leadership, pure physical beauty, and a desire to protect the natural world. We pick what means the most to us, but Adventuress unites all these elements aboard. 

Since then, I’ve taken to sailing each year on the 3-day Members Only Expedition. I’ve watched a compass adjuster use an analogue device that looked straight out of Harry Potter to true the ship’s compass. I’ve helped to haul up the mainsail beside my mother. I’ve eaten dolmas, watched sunsets, and listened to harbor seals breathing in the dark. I’ve witnessed a Party Piece in which a group of crew members assumed Irish brogues and substituted the word “Ireland” for the word “West Virginia” in the classic John Denver song “Country Roads.” It was inexplicable, and I laughed so hard that I cried.

When I solicit other people’s stories, I often receive the same response:

“You had to be there.”

The whole point of writing, which will be my field of study in grad school, is that you don’t have to be there. Writing is capable of reproducing emotion and experience. And this is true, and it’s the reason that I value writing above all else, but—look—this is my last chance to tell you this:

Some aspect of that refrain is true. You do have to be there. 

And so, as I head out to explore the world, this is my last request: that you step onto Adventuress. 

(Photo 1: The author holding a very unimpressed baby; Photo 2: The view from above, courtesy of Laura Barclay; Photo 3: My shipmates from the 2015 Members Only Expedition)

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

From Fantastic Voyage to Future Crew, Emma Gregory Looks Ahead to Work, Fun, and Family Aboard

Emma's "Shipboard Family" on FV 2.
Emma Gregory is a perfect example of the shipboard progression available to teen participants who are committed to developing their knowledge of the marine environment and their skill as mariners: she came aboard for Fantastic Voyage (FV) in 2012 and 2013 and returned last year as a high school senior for our first annual Level 2 program.

Now a first-year student at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, Emma will serve this summer for a two-month stint on crew—including time as an Educator/Deckhand on our 2017 FV trips. Explaining why she chose to return in this role, Emma shares the importance of guiding teen participants through the same progression: “I want others to have the same experience I had aboard the ship.”

When she stepped onto Adventuress for the first time in 2012, Emma had almost no experience on the water. The thought of spending time with strangers in a strange environment made her understandably nervous. But, she explains, everything changed once the ship started moving: “I experienced that classic ‘wind through the hair’ sensation and it sparked something in me. Pretty soon, those strangers had become my family… Every time I go back there’s a different group dynamic, but Adventuress always feels like home.”

Seeing a humpback.
Returning for FV Level 2 in 2016, her sailing skills were a little rusty—it had, after all, been three years since she was last aboard. Says Emma, “The first few days, I felt like I could maybe pass a pop quiz about line handling. By the end of the trip, we were running the boat with almost no intervention from the crew. It was an amazing transformation.”

Her favorite memory comes from sailing alongside a humpback on FV 2: “It was so unique to be up close to an animal like that.” But it wasn’t just the sighting—it was also sharing the experience with the shipboard community. One of the crew members invented a song for the participants to sing—a three part round in which each line ended with either “hump” “back” or “whale.” “When we were singing in time all together,” says Emma, “It would sound at certain points like we were saying ‘humpback whale.’” The whale must have liked their singing, too—they crossed paths with the same humpback later in the trip.

At Eckerd College—where the motto, aptly, is “ThinkOutside”—Emma is studying Biology and Visual Arts. Although science has been a long-running interest for Emma, she credits Adventuress with introducing her to the concept of fieldwork: “The science aspects of Adventuress, things like the plankton tow, were some of my first experiences ‘in the field’ and not just learning concepts from a book.” 

Emma climbing aloft on FV 2.
For Emma, part of the power of returning is Adventuress’ unparalleled ability to connect participants to the environment around them. Says Emma, “The water is such an incredible resource. It’s essential to our world, to our communities, to our continued existence. On Adventuress, you can really show young people the impact of their actions and why Puget Sound is worth protecting.”

Serving as crew is incredibly hard work. Although it’s difficult to imagine before the experience itself, time as a participant has given Emma a taste of what it may be like. Reflects Emma, “On Adventuress, you learn a lot and you do a lot of work, but in the moment it doesn’t feel that way. Everything you do has a purpose. Everything has a relationship to the real world. To have that experience, to have so much fun, and to leave the ship having developed a family aboard—there’s nothing else like it.” 

Would you like to encourage your teen's involvement with Adventuress and the maritime world? We recommend starting with Girls at the Helm or Fantastic Voyage Level 1. After an introduction to the ship, teens are encouraged to return for FV 2 and apply for our Apprenticeship program... and maybe even someday serve as crew!