Tall Ships | The Final Strike of the Sails

March 20, 2016

Being back in civilization is a bit of a shock. On our last night of our voyage we retraced our intense journey to Catalina on our first day on the boat, but returning to the mainland was much more orderly and relaxing. This time, the crew sat back and let the students take the lead of setting sails, plotting our course, and getting to Long Beach Harbor safely. Our new captain, Patrick, and our first mate, Aziz, did a stellar job calling out orders to set the sails and raise the anchor, and before long we were off. It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come in the last 11 days on board the Irving Johnson. The first night most of us could barely coil the lines, let alone know which of the 40 or so ropes to haul and at what time, but on the last night we were able to sail alone with little trouble. We rotated through setting sails, prepping and eating our meals, steering the ship, watching out for incoming vessels, and logging our course. Even in weak winds, we made 4 knots!

In the moment, it was difficult to see our improvement as sailors because there is so much about living on the water that we have yet to learn. But looking back on our voyage, it’s amazing to see how much experience and practice we’ve had the opportunity to receive. Who else knows how to tie an impeccable sheet bend or that the sheets of a square sail keep it held fast on its yard? We learned so much that by the end of the trip, almost all of us had checked off several requirements for being a Junior Crew Member, and 5 people even took an intense exam from our captains to become certified junior crew. We worked through the log books that tall ships use to determine if you’re trained enough to work on one of their vessels. If any of us had the desire, we could easily use our knowledge to work on other boats in the future, and after this trip, that option feels very appealing.
Not only did we learn about ship life, but by living in such close quarters for a week and a half, we learned about how to work effectively with each other. Having to cook and clean with help from only other students forced us to learn how to best work together as a team. As we learned in the beginning of our ECS, the best groups are those that are collectively more efficient than individuals working on their own, and a surprising number of teams are unable to do this. On our voyage we were able to discover each other’s strengths to utilize them more effectively while helping each other improve upon their weaknesses. This experience created bonds that will be incredibly difficult to break because of the roller-coaster of moments we’ve been through together. Even though we all are different ages and take different classes, I know these bonds will hold. Trying to sail through 16 foot swells or cleaning the boat’s heads (toilets) together is something we’ll never forget.
Although we certainly did not have a smooth or perfect trip, I’m going to miss the Irving Johnson. I’ll miss our wonderful crew who helped us survive some terrible weather. I’ll miss waking up at the literal break of dawn to make breakfast for over 30 people. I’ll even miss our poorly trained shipmate, Captain, who stole our food and smelled worse than us, but who reminded us of dogs at home. Soon we’ll have to return to the strict schedules of regular classes, but for now I’d just like to reflect on our countless memories of life on the sea. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to allow us to have this amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity. If you ever have the chance to drop everything and sail the seven seas, we’d all highly recommend it.