Thursday, August 18, 2005

An education blog, of sorts...

Learning to sail through the eyes of "swabs" aboard the Coast Guard's Eagle.
I was able to climb up to the royal, which is the highest sail, 140-feet in the air, for sail stations. While climbing up, I got a little nervous when my foot got stuck while I was trying to contort myself around the lines onto the Jacob’s ladder. The view was gorgeous and the sun shining on the horizon made it one of the prettiest days of my life. I would look ahead and see the bright blue ocean that only met sky and nothing else. Last night we watched Moby Dick on the waist, under the stars, which put all the swabs in such a “salty” mood. After dinner, I attempted to work out; however, trying to ride a stationary bicycle while rocking back and forth on a sailing vessel, does not really work out too well.

On Saturday, I got to climb up in the shrouds of the Pioneer. It was unbearably hot, really calm weather, and one of the crew was practicing dropping anchor, so we weren't moving. We did a man-overboard drill with an actual person in the water - wearing a life jacket! - and after that a few other people got to go swimming (er, test the life raft), again, wearing life jackets. Those of us who did not go swimming got to climb up in the shrouds, for most of us, our first time. You wear a climbing harness, but you don't clip in to anything until you reach the top or wherever you are going to be working (assuming you climbed up for something other than sheer experience!). Basically, you are climbing a ladder with rungs made of rope - the sides are fixed and are what you hold onto - and the ladder gets narrower and narrower and closer to the mast the higher you climb. Everyone stresses the importance of having each foot on a different rope, just in case one should break or slip - unlikely, but better to be safe. If you fell, it would be fifty feet - or more, I'm a terrible estimator - to the water or the deck. Don't fall. I was really excited and confident at first, but about halfway up, I looked down instead of out at the view, and felt the precariousness of the climb. I didn't want to go farther than I felt comfortable, but I didn't want to chicken out, either! I leaned in against the shrouds so I felt more secure, took some deep breaths, and after a minute or two, kept climbing. I had to take it really slow for the rest of the climb, but I made it to the top. The last few feet, the steps are so narrow I could barely fit one foot on each, and the rungs are closer together vertically, as well. My knees are bruised and a bit scraped up from hitting these. Once up there, you clip in and then climb sort of out and over this little frame that sticks out up there, and then you can sit or stand on it. I watched another woman do this on the other side of the mast before I was able to get my head around the maneuver - but I did it! Sitting I-don't-know-how-many feet up, the others on the boat miniscule below, the city and the ocean in every direction... it was breathtaking. Someday I will do something useful up there... but for now, just arriving is enough.

And then we unclipped and climbed back down.

This picture from the Eagle is a lot higher than I went, but it will give you an idea.

A bit about teaching from the Eagle's training officer:
It is imperative that, if the swabs are taught one thing on board, it must be safety at all times. Being the training officer for 2009 also allows me to have an open communication between crew, my classmates as cadre, and the officers. We all work together until evolution is completed, and it is rewarding to watch the swabs start to apply the proper seamanship throughout the ship. They learn extremely quickly. Throughout these past few weeks, I have learned how to be more flexible. I wanted to stick too much to my personal schedule and not bend for anything new. However, flexibility has become one of my strengths, where I have different plans and can adapt to any situation that I face. I have learned about myself and about leadership throughout these past few weeks, and I look forward to my next leadership position.

I'll leave you with another quote from a swab:
Today was especially tiring because I had to wake up early for midwatch. But, it is okay because it was simply amazing to haul up the sails, to heave on the lines, and as Captain Shaw said, “to some day have the best sea stories at the nursing home.”


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