Discovering the joy of learning at sea
Having enjoyed only a taste of the Seychelles, it was time to head to sea again, bound for South Africa 2,300 miles away. Getting back into the groove of life at sea took no time at all, but studying was not as easy. The school work piled on and our already limited free time practically disappeared. New watch teams formed stronger friendships among the crew. Now having our own snacks aboard, many of us began trading snacks or using them to get out of small tasks around the boat. Spirits were high, and our caffeine intake before watch was even higher.
I knew that sailing in foul weather is no easy task, but sailing through the Agulhas current is an entirely different beast. We started eating below deck for the first time because nothing could stay put, including the crew. The weather while in the Agulhas was also an adjustment for us. We had seen rain and some squalls during the journey thus far. With 15-foot seas, surfing waves and a lot of weather helm, all of us were wearing our foul weather gear whenever on deck. These conditions, even for some of the staff, were tricky to helm in. Thankfully, we were all taught well, knew how to handle the boat, and we got through the toughest bits of it. When it got really bad, a select few of the students, mostly those who had previous sailing experience, were allowed to take the helm as well. Our watch leaders always believed in us and were always there to back us up or take over when we needed it.
After a brief but delightful stop in Richard’s Bay that included a surprise safari, we sailed the quick hop to Cape Town. Still in the Agulhas current, the waves were as big and rolling as we had seen them, the weather came with equal intensity. Sealife of all kinds escorted us around the Cape of Good Hope toward Vela’s home for the next month and a half. Whales breaching past the cape, seals obliviously swimming all around and a pod of what seemed like hundreds of dolphins playfully jumping and singing next to us all the way to our anchorage. We enjoyed our final days together and then most of the students dispersed for home.
But there was more sailing in my plan. With the pandemic disrupting Seamester’s itinerary, the boat was headed to Antigua and a handful of students were selected as crew for the transatlantic passage. We set sail a couple days after Christmas 2020. I noticed right away, there was a different feel while sailing the Atlantic, less energy than the Indian Ocean maybe. Squalls seemed to last a bit longer on this crossing. We saw a pretty big squall coming our way, with little rain but a lot of wind. Sailing in 40 to 45 knots of wind was not something I had seen much of before this trip. Helming through the squall reminded me that one of the reasons I set off on this journey was to sail as much as I could and learn as much as I could. Sailing is a lifelong passion of mine, and this trip was just the beginning for me.
Since Seamester, the author earned a bachelor’s degree in applied physics, got her Master of Yachts 200-Ton License in St. Maarten and raced the length of Lake Superior for the second time.