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)

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