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...


  1. Wow - what an amazing adventure in store for you. I'm happy to participate from afar - keep us posted.