Wednesday, March 31, 2010

bread and water, water, everywhere...

Life on the Heraclitus continues to be full of new experiences. I relish every night I get to sleep out on deck, with the moon shining on my face, the lush air of the Caribbean rustling my sheets, and the sound of waves lapping against the sturdy ferrocement hull of the boat.

This is a view of my favorite spot on the ship, the prow. Sitting up here while sailing, whether while the moonlight is reflecting off the waves or during the heat of the day, produces a fresh sense of freedom. The island in the distant haze is Haiti, neighbor to the Dominican Republic, where we are currently staying.

The remote town we are anchored outside of is beautiful in the typical Caribbean style- palm trees, vibrant flowers, friendly people and lucent beaches.

The climate is a bit arid, but I've been told it used to be forested before the Spanish came to colonize.

The main exports here are sugar, mostly used to make rum, and salt. These mounds of rough, large crystals of salt were sitting, unguarded, near a road outside of town.

The last few days after arriving from our voyage from Puerto Rico were rest days, but today we were back to work. One of my tasks for the day was to oil the blocks, which are wood and metal pulleys for the ropes that control the sails.

The Heraclitus, with its sails down in the distance, in the bay of Salinas.

After lunch, I learned how to make bread, an important skill when you're at sea for weeks on end. My loaves got a bit burned by the ship's very rustic oven which has no temperature control, only on or off. It must have been 450 degrees today. My hand also suffered the oven's wrath- as I write, my right palm is continuing to develop a bulbous white blister over a mound of seared red flesh- a response to a bit of carelessness on my part. I was assured that as far as injuries on the ship go, this burn was pretty minimal.

Tonight marks the beginning of a three-day party in Salinas to celebrate Easter. Right now, as the sun is setting on the waves, the increasing energy in this small town is palpable. Music is beginning to filter out across the water as people begin the festivities. I'm looking forward to joining them.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Nautical Nascency

A little over a week ago, I was in the desert of Nevada, climbing rocks and enjoying my last few days on land.

On the 22nd, I departed for my nautical voyage, arriving in the night in San Juan. The balmy Puerto Rican air enveloped me with warmth as I stepped outside the airport to be greeted by the co-captain of the boat, Christine. After a short drive through the hectic traffic of San Juan, we were at the docks and I laid eyes on the RV Heraclitus for the first time. (the following photo is a view from the deck)

Docked between two massive cruise ships, the 84-foot boat was dwarfed in comparison. The black hull and red deck seemed miniscule. After meeting the crew and getting a short tour of the rig, I went to sleep in my bunk, which is a rectangular cubicle about twice as wide as me and hardly any longer. With bunks on either side of it, my bed is like a compartment in a shelf, or a cupboard for humans.

The next day we hurriedly prepared the boat for departure to the Dominican Republic. This meant getting everything in “ship shape”- tying everything and anything down that could shift while sailing. By evening, we were sailing out of the harbor of old San Juan as dolphins swam around our prow.

There was no lag-time in becoming part of the crew. That night I had my first “shift” which lasted from midnight until four in the morning. I learned how to steer the boat within the first hour, using a compass and a what looks like a quintessential pirate steering wheel. Being on the helm that first night was undoubtedly the highest stress driving I’ve ever done, with the sails whipping in the wind and my stomach dropping at the fall of every wave.
The next hour, I was on deck watch. This means monitoring the direction of the wind, keeping an eye out for the distant lights of other boats, and checking instruments, monitoring the engine, and recording data every hour.
As the clock struck two, the moon was a waxing crescent and the night grew dark while clouds began to cover the sky. Within fifteen minutes, it began to drizzle. Within another five, there was a downpour. The wind increased and the waves heaved. The words of the captain from earlier that day repeated through my head over the sound of the wind. I heard him casually say, in his German accent, “Just don’t go overboard- the statistics of survival are not that good.”
After shivering in the rain for several hours, my hands tired and sore from the death grip I had on the railing of the boat, I returned to my bunk and fell asleep until I was woken for my next watch, from noon to four in the afternoon.

Everything on the boat is far more rustic than I had expected. This partly delights my love of a challenge while simultaneously exhausting me and activating my inner five-year-old who just wants to pout and whine. Luckily, my sea-sickness has been pretty manageable and the other eight crew members are happy to teach me all I need to learn- which is a phenomenal amount. Yesterday I learned how to tie six new sailing knots, and today, I can only remember three.

Yesterday morning I was woken up by Avalon, one of my crew members, as the sun was rising. She brought me onto the deck to see a pod of dolphins racing and jumping next to the boat as the morning light reflected off the gentle waves of the Caribbean.

Later that day, we arrived in Salinas, Dominican Republic, with giant jellyfish flanking the boat on all sides. Today is my first day ashore...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Don't be timid, load the ship and set out.
No one knows for certain whether the vessel will sink or reach the harbor.
Just don't be one of those merchants who won't risk the ocean!

Don't be satisfied with poems
and stories of how things have gone with others.
Unfold your own myth, without complicated explanation,
so everyone will understand the passage."


Sunday, March 14, 2010


Hello friends and welcome to my maritime blog! For the next several months I will be journeying on the Research Vessel Heraclitus from the waters of the Caribbean across the waves of the Atlantic to Morocco. I plan on updating this blog as often as possible with photos, drawings, paintings, and stories from the sea. As a completely novice sailor, I expect to encounter a wealth of challenges and paradigm-shifting perspectives as I learn the way of the waves.

Since it was built in 1975 by the Institute of Ecotechnics, the Heraclitus has sailed over 250,000 nautical miles studying oceans, coral reefs, rivers, lakes, estuaries and exploring the origins and futures of human cultures. The 84-foot boat is a unique blend of ancient Chinese junk design and modern technology.

Please stay tuned!