Twenty three of us stepped aboard the Robert C. Seamans in August. The high school students were from various parts of the U.S. and countries as far as Germany. Two weeks previous, we could not even pronounce each other’s names. But the past two weeks on Catalina Island studying at the Wrigley Marine Lab, in complete isolation from civilization, transformed us into a family. To each of us, home became a different place. In our three weeks together, we jumped into a new adventure together; living, working, researching, and learning to sail a 130 foot boat in the Southern California Bight.
The crew liked to say that we stepped into a ‘new world’ with a different language, new people, and strange expectations. We had 80 sail lines to memorize, daily deployments that needed to be completed and analyzed in the lab. We also had galley clean up, hourly lab reports, deck logs, boat checks, and engine room checks.
The engine room was the scariest room that I had ever seen. It was stuffed with pipes, gauges, valves, odometers, and tanks. You couldn’t even stand up straight in a majority of the room and every hour we had to venture down there to fill out a full engine room check. I was crawling around the pipes, checking gage levels and reading sight glasses. It didn’t matter how unfamiliar you were with the skills, how challenging the task was, or how out of your comfort zone you felt; there was no room for error because the safety of the entire crew was depending on you.
Towards the end, I realized that I was going to miss my new family, the people I learned from, not just our professors, but my peers as well.
We all slept less, afraid to miss something. On the boat everything was exciting and challenging. There were so many new words, terms, and vernacular that I learned.
Afterwards, it felt strange to be back on land. Even after I got my ‘land legs’ back, I still had trouble sleeping eight hours straight, being used to having a watch every couple of hours. My routine life didn’t feel right anymore. I miss the early morning watches, the random dolphin sightings and even cleaning the ship. I miss the sounds of the water breaking over a dolphin’s back and the salty spray that would never quite wash off in our few, three-minute showers. I liked the constant movements that made you notice the ocean’s power. Though, in the right company, any task can be made fun as my crew made it for me.
I learned not to do things because you will get rewarded or praised, but because it was essential for the safety of the ship and crew. There are no exceptions, no excuses, and everyone is equal. This is unlike modern society where everyone seeks special treatment; on the boat you strive for unity. Only then can you exist with the sea and truly be at home there.
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