It’s been almost two years, and I miss it every single day (VIDEO)

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Dutch TV has now aired four different video installments of the Oosterschelde’s round-the-world voyage of 2014, which I’ve been watching with awe and a little trepidation. I’ve seen most of the videos, so I figured it wouldn’t be that earth-shattering. But I was a delighted to see that a lot of this astonishing footage–of dolphin pods, of hauling lines in gales, of the beautiful sun-hardened faces of the crew–was new to me, too.

In particular, I recommend watching the last one. Not all of these people I met in person–my leg of the voyage unfortunately isn’t featured at all, because two months straight at sea proved too much for even the most intrepid documentarian. The focus here is on the shorter Antarctic  journeys and the Cape Horn voyage that took place before I boarded, as well as the trip from the Azores (where I got off) to Rotterdam. However you will see many of the crew members who were onboard my leg.

It’s also a chance for you to see some extremely familiar faces to me (without naming any names of course).

But I’m just going to say it–going back can be painful. The other day, the longing to go back was almost unbearable. Images flit through my brain: as if I were back sitting on the wooden deck box, the rain pattering on my face on midnight watch. Watching the sun rise out of the gray mist, the drowned world reformed anew each day.  Unfiltered sunlight on weathered rope. The flip of the tail of an Ascension blackfish. The drunken ecstasy of dancing in the middle of the world with people who, for that moment, at least, are beautiful, inside and out , and who think you are beautiful, too. I felt…blessed. And even though some of those good feelings eventually crumbled, as they always do, our community of pirates has dispersed and moved on, our connections broken or lost, their etchings remain on me, unerasable.

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What I’ve written on this blog and elsewhere has only scratched the surface of what it was really like. So few people get a chance to experience something that is so far removed from everday existence that it’s like almost literally traveling to another universe. I look around my house now and I have to pinch myself to remind me that it was actually real. How do you ever move on after that? How do you engage yourself in the normal rhythms of 21st century life? Honestly, I still haven’t quite figured it out. I’m not the same person as I was before that trip, and I don’t know if I ever will be.

This isn’t “an oh, wasn’t that a great trip.” It’s so far beyond that it scares me–the fact that it’s almost two years later and this longing is as powerful as ever. And the knowledge that I will never get that feeling back–and I may never do anything in my life that makes me feel that way again– sometimes scares me.  I can try to recreate it (I have tried to recreate it) but it would never be the same. I don’t want it to be the same.

All I can hope is that someday I’ll be able to do something again that will mean as much to me as this trip did, that I’ll be embraced by a group of people in the same way I was embraced by them. I had hopes that it would continue, that this could somehow be the new normal. But I was naive. But if it’s possible for anyone to simply run away to sea forever and never come back, I’ve yet to meet them. There are always obligations, always yokes, always links to land.

As 2015 comes to a close, I’m feeling reflective. The readers of this blog have helped me along the journey, and I am thankful for you, too! The chance to share my adventures with you is a true gift. I hope there are lot more adventures ahead of me, no matter what they may be, and I hope you’re along to experience them, too.

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In the New Year, I have big plans for this blog. The number one question I get when I tell people about my adventures is, how? How did you sail on a tall ship? And how can I do it too?

In 2016, I hope to do a post, or series of posts, that answers that question.

And still I keep dreaming.

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I’m never leaving home again! The perils of the cautious adventurer

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Home sweet home.

Just kidding. I think anybody who’s had an exhausting/depleting/demoralizing/expensive/unforeseen/confusing time while traveling, has had this thought. When I made it home from my sailing trip, I had missed two flights, gotten stranded in the Azores, been rerouted to Lisbon (this was a good thing in “Casablanca,” but it wasn’t for me) and exchanged what I thought would be a cozy hotel room in Boston for a hard airport floor in Toronto.

I think I slept for a week when I finally made it home, 2 days later than I was originally supposed to.

But the thing about pirates is that they go where the wind–and the treasure–takes them.

So that’s why today I’m head to the Netherlands, to reunite with some of the kindest, most generous, and most entertaining people I’ve ever known–my fellow sailors, and to see the place that gave birth to the ship I spent two months on, and maybe see what that Dutch maritime tradition is all about. I’ll be staying with Oh Captain, My Captain up north in Groningen for a few days, then going down to Amsterdam to stay with another former shipmate (one of the Estrogen Triad), to check out Anne Frank’s hideout; the Rijksmuseum; and hopefully some other things I’ve read about but never experienced (there’s a lot of those, but someday, I’ll check them all off my list).

And believe it or not, I love adventure. But I’m also an ENTJ, which means every one of “spontaneous adventures” have to be planned out two years in advance.

But that’s the thing about travel–the more you do, the more you want to do, and the more people invite you to do.

And I’m going to do it all–or attempt to do it–while working. That’s the good thing about NOT being on a ship, is that I won’t have to cut all earthly ties with the world for two months, and I won’t have to start from Square One when I get back. Of course, there’s a chance I could miss out on opportunities, or my computer could break down and I’ll go out of touch unexpectedly and make my editors mad.

I’m terrified, of course. I was born afraid, and I probably always will be.

And I don’t have a return ticket yet, and my parents don’t want me to go, and my dog will miss me.

Naturally, I’ve been drinking since 11:30.

I’m never leaving home again.

The effortless grace and precision…of advertising

Recently, I saw press release from Star Clippers, a company I follow with some interest, given that its owner, Mikael Krafft, has managed to commodify tall ships and turn them into a viable tourist business. They already have a fleet of three, one of which, the Royal Clipper, already holds the distinction of being the largest five-masted ship in the world. Now they’re building one that’s even bigger, complete with 300 staterooms, a watersports complex and a tropical bar for “evening entertainment” that we can assume goes beyond some drunk dude strumming “Sloop John B” on the guitar.

New Building No. 4, as it’s currently being termed.

One thing, though, really gets me about Star Clippers. One of their selling points in the advertising literature to potential passengers is that they can watch the “perfectly harmonious” crew working together in the “effortless grace and precision” that you can only witness in the “timeless art” of tall ship sailing.

[Pardon me for a second.]

BWAHAHAHAH.

The most recent tall ship I sailed on dates back from the early part of the century, when it was a working cargo ship. From the outside, it’s pretty much a hunk of junk. The much-nicer interior has been completely redone, but in an old style. Someone owns it, of course; I think a couple of Dutch businessmen. But it’s more a floating museum than anything; a traveling token of history. People do pay to sail on it, but whatever cash they fork over could never, ever equal the experience they’re getting. Most importantly, onboard, no one’s a passenger. There’s guest crew and professional crew, but we’re all crew. You steer, you haul, you climb. You sail. There’s no science or art about it. Nothing exact, anyway. There are people getting hit in the head by wooden blocks, sails ripping apart, engines malfunctioning, toilets backing up and overflowing, paint cans blowing over and dripping all over the deck. Tacking (sailing into the wind) is such a labored ordeal you have to try it three times to get it right. Believe me, for lack of a better term, you see how the sausage is made.

In fact, if you tried to describe to a professional sailor that anything about what he or she does is “graceful” or “precise,” they’d just laugh in your face. An actual sailor I knew well, when I was frustrated with everybody on board telling me what do, assured me “Most of the guys on this ship don’t know shit about sailing. And neither do we.” (Meaning the professional crew, of course). I felt better after that. Because the fact is, you can sail for decades, but you’re always learning, and there’s always more to learn. That’s the sea.

It makes me kind of sad that the passengers on Star Clippers may debark at their destination and without ever really understanding that.

Meanwhile, some guy in Florida is also building the world’s largest superyacht, one that includes space for two helicopters and your own private submarine (which you have to provide yourself). He’s says $750 million is a “good negotiating point.” (LOL.) There’s room for 50 passengers and 100 crew–huh?

Artist’s rendering, apparently.

When we were in the Azores, walking back to our ship from the pub (you can guess what that means), “the boys,” i.e. the permanent crew, and I were pointing and laughing at the “yachties” who had anchored in nearby slips. One of them stole someone’s expensive sneakers sitting on deck and hurled them over the seawall.

It was almost graceful.

Into the blue

All right, you guys, this is it. On Saturday I leave to cross the Atlantic Ocean not 1, not 2, but THREE TIMES in two months. Needless to say, internet access is nonexistent at sea, but the Oosterschelde blog, via satellite, will help fill the gap left by my absence. The crew takes turns writing posts. If you’re at all interested in this pirate insanity, I urge you to follow along!

Now, deep breath. Here’s the sked. As a quirk of the flight I booked, I fly to Madrid first.

Followed by a couple days couchsurfing and tangoing in sunny Buenos Aires.

Not me (yet).

Before I jet again to the End of the World, where I’ll just have enough time to visit Tierra del Fuego. No, Dad, it’s not just a punchline.

There’s a bar here, too.

Before meeting my shipmates (I’ve already “met” one, hi Lotte!) and setting sail on the Oosterschelde.

The seas won’t always be this calm.

From there, it’s all water for a long, long time–up through the tradewinds, the horse latitudes, then the tropics, then the whole thing over again in reverse. This takes roughly 60 days.

See?

On the itinerary, I’m hoping, is a tiny little rock in the Atlantic called Ascension Island. I guess it’s controlled by the British, but I’m pretty sure they’ve forgotten it exists by now, along with its sister St. Helena, the “cursed rock” where Napoleon was marooned and eventually died. This is the kind of place you can tell people you’ve visited, and they go, “huh?” (I like that kind of thing).

No, this is not a joke. There’s really land out there.

Until we reach Horta, Faial, Azores, a port that transatlantic sailors have used for centuries, leaving murals on the sea wall. Dolphins and whales, too!

Every one of these represents a different ship!

Conveniently, I can’t catch a flight back to the states until April 18, which gives me enough time to island hop through to Pico.

and the largest island (another flight), Sao Miguel.

Before catching my ridiculously convoluted flight back to Boston, then Minneapolis via Seattle (no that’s not a typo).

Hell, yes, I’m scared. I’ve traveled a lot, but no matter what, jetting off alone (and for me, it’s almost always alone) in the great unknown never gets easier. But I won’t stop doing it.

I’m crazy like that. I’d pretty much have to be.

Through the tradewinds

The Horse Latitudes? The Roaring Forties? Ushu…usha…what? In case you were wondering exactly just where I’ll be sailing come February, here’s a helpful map from my friends at the Oosterschelde to get you started:

My route (Oosterschelde) is in purple. My leg is from Ushuaia, Argentina at the tip of South America, up through the South Atlantic and over the Equator, and debarking in Horta, Azores in the middle of the North Atlantic. (How am I getting home from there? Don’t ask).

My ports of call will span the major weather systems and the most storied trade routes, traveled from everyone from pirates and the King’s Navy. Over the next few months, my posts will take more in-depth look at some of the stops! Hop aboard!