Photo courtesy Eli Putnam.
Nautical nonsense: our eight-day sailboat journey
November 11, 2019
Making unforgettable memories on the high seas
When the final bell rang on the last day of school last year, I was ready for a low-stress, relaxing break. I had tentative plans: slog through my summer reading and math packet, volunteer at local camps and get a headstart on my ACT prep for the fall. The only activity I was sure of was baseball, and that was exactly how I wanted it to be.
But that’s not the way things turned out. I hadn’t even finished my first week of summer when my parents dropped a bomb on me: I’d be spending eight days of my precious time on a sailboat named the Sultana in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.
I was furious. This was just about the last thing I wanted to do with what limited free time I had. The only thing I was looking forward to was suffering with my close friend, Andrew. As it turned out, our parents had been planning this adventure for a long time without us knowing.
In the weeks leading up to our departure from land, I steadily became more anxious and upset. I was annoyed about leaving my friends, family and the rest of civilization—not to mention my phone and food — for over a week. I would have less time to complete my summer work and ACT prep and would have to finish everything right before school started.
Despite my frustration from the lack of communication between me and my parents, I felt a twinge of excitement building up. I thought, how bad could this really be? After all, I was going to be on a historical sailboat with one of my best friends. Maybe, just maybe, it could be a life-changing experience.
Spoiler alert: it wasn’t life-changing. But it also wasn’t the disaster I anticipated.
The Sultana itself was a marvel to behold. Its masts and rigging rose over 100 feet above the water, and the yellow paint was noticeable from a mile away. Even though this wasn’t technically a pirate ship, I was beginning to feel like a buccaneer on the boat.
First of all, the food was fantastic. The chef, Aldo Grifo-Hahn, a Whitman alumnus, cooked up delicious, hearty meals in a shockingly small kitchen — or as we sailors call it, a galley. In fact, because of this great food, I actually gained weight, the opposite of what I first expected.
Unplugging and experiencing nature was freeing. Whether it was swimming around the shallow waters of the bay in our mandatory life jackets, floating down a natural lazy river, or catching thirteen striped bass in an hour, I started to feel a new sense of independence and achievement.
Of course, the trip wasn’t all floating and fishing. The deck of the Sultana was only 50 feet long and below was even more cramped. Fitting 14 people on this ancient boat was nearly impossible and there was nowhere to sit or lie down. We slept outside, and while sleeping under the stars on a boat may sound like a dream, rain and lightning do not mix well with a good night’s rest. When we weren’t getting up in the middle of the night to make sure we were still anchored, gale-force winds, torrential downpour and blinding lightning interrupted our beauty sleep. And since the deck above us offered little protection, we often woke up to a non-stop stream of water drenching us like the showers we couldn’t take.
As it turned out, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Although I will never willingly travel on a historical pirate ship again, I’ll miss the great food and memorable times I spent with Andrew. Needless to say, I walked away from my 1700’s sailing experience with a myriad of memories that will last a lifetime, and a newfound appreciation for adventures that take me out of my comfort zone.
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Why I’ll never step foot on a sailboat again
I didn’t think I was going to be the sailing type when my parents signed me up for an eight day excursion on a historical pirate ship this past summer. And, as I expected, actually going out on the water only confirmed my original suspicions.
According to the program website, the purpose of the trip was “to give participants professional-level training in shipboard operations while exploring high-school and introductory collegiate concepts in environmental science.” But the sailing world proved to be complex, and for me, not much in this mission statement proved to be true.
Before the start of the trip, I expected to become fluent in the language of sailing by the end of the week. Little did I know that the language of sailing was much more difficult than I anticipated. I couldn’t remember the difference between bow and stern or port and starboard. If it was a sailing term, it’s a safe bet that I didn’t know what it meant.
I’ve also hated small spaces ever since I was little. Why my parents thought it would be a good idea for me to sail with 20 other people on a 50-foot boat for 10 days, I couldn’t tell you. For claustrophobes like myself, it was the opposite of an ideal situation.
One of the most awkward moments of the trip was when we were first boarding the boat. My friend Eli and I were some of the last ones on, and as we boarded, we were frantically applying sunscreen. Our fellow sailors stood, watching us cover ourselves in white cream. Needless to say, it wasn’t the best first impression.
Admittedly, my mindset coming into this trip wasn’t exactly positive. I wrote off sailing as a useless activity before I even tried it. Having a negative attitude before trying an activity will always set you up for failure — or, in my case, an unpleasant week-long boat ride.
I think that if I’d been more positive about this trip, my experience would’ve improved vastly. My parents told me that sailing would build character and give me a break from screen time for a week. But besides the many blisters, cuts, splinters and sore muscles that resulted from the voyage, I can’t pinpoint a specific way this trip changed me, largely due to my negative attitude.
Like author E.B. White said, “I cannot not sail.” I would relate to this quote entirely if the “not” was removed.
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I joined the Black & White because I have a passion for writing about sports.
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