Back in August 2009, before beginning my first year of college, I went on a sailing trip with a small group of fellow students at College of the Atlantic. This trip is part of a program called the Outdoor Orientation Program (OOPs for short). The idea behind these trips is to build a community and team spirit among students before entering the intense (and sometimes crazy) world of college. I chose the sailing trip, but there were other ones, too, from canoeing to sea kayaking, hiking the Appalachian Trail, and even rock climbing.
I had never sailed before, and this six-day adventure gave me a crash course in basic navigation and the important skill of working with my fellow ship mates in bringing in the sails and catching the ocean breeze. The whole experience was also a great opportunity to familiarize myself with the beauty of the Maine coast.
Our first day of sailing started in Castine, Maine, a small town about an hour away from Bar Harbor. While loading the 50 foot long schooner, the Alamar, with our food provisions and miscellaneous belongings, our captain divided our group of seven students into two watches: A watch and B watch. Basically, dividing us up made it easier to run the boat.
A typical day of sailing meant that one watch stayed below deck and the other was on deck navigating and adjusting the masts. While my watch was on deck, we rotated between who took the helm, and who navigated and who sat at the bow on the lookout. I had the opportunity to take the helm several times; the feeling of being in control of such a powerful and beautiful ship was overwhelming. And the fact that we were out on the Atlantic Ocean was pretty amazing, as well.
There were times when the water shimmered so brightly under the midday sun and there would be double-crested cormorants flying right above our sails. The rocking of the boat was a neat sensation in itself. When the wind was hitting the sails in just the right angle and force, our boat seemed to glide right through the salty water. This was when we would jibe, which is a sailing mechanism that turns the stern through the wind so that the wind direction changes from one side of the boat to another. If you were to look at our path in the water, it would look like a sort of zigzag. When the sun started its descent around 6:00 p.m., our crew would steer our vessel into a harbor and lay anchor. But just because we stopped sailing for the day did not mean we were done.
A sailboat can never be left unattended while anchored. So, after dinner, each of us was assigned one hour of night watch and a boat check. I was the watchman from midnight until 1:00 a.m., and I had the task of walking around the deck, making sure all the lines were tight and tied correctly.
The major factor was the anchor; our captain told us horror stories of anchor lines that came loose, and as a result the boat literally dragged the anchor and could potentially collide with neighboring boats. But as I was mainly concerned with making sure we didn't have any seabound collisions, I took my solitary hour on deck to take in the surroundings. I would gaze up at the night sky, seeing the bright constellations and a full moon reflected in the pristine waters of Maine's unique harbors.
The first night we anchored at Hurricane Island
. Here we explored the island and found an abandoned quarry that had transformed into a freshwater lake. There was also a cluster of abandoned cottages that we had the chance to explore, and of course, we had to jump into the water! One of the last places we stopped at was Isle au Haut
, where we went walking along the shore looking for sea glass and also went to this amazing chocolate shop and had some incredible ice cream.
The nice thing about these islands was that they did not have the tourist aspect that so many Maine towns have. It was laid back, with the locals going about their daily routine, acknowledging our inquisitive attitude toward the Maine beauty of the pine trees and the seemingly endless ocean.
This trip was a time for being vulnerable — a crew of 10 strangers coming together as a sort of dysfunctional, hilarious family that worked through obstacles to get where we wanted to be. It was a time to realize how precious our resources are, particularly water. On the boat we had only a limited supply of water, and for 10 people living in close quarters that was a real life challenge. We had to ration our needs and wants and learn to reduce our waste. Believe me, when you're out at sea, out so far that you cannot even see the coast or any islands, you realize how vulnerable you are to the powers of nature.
This experience was one of the greatest times of my life — to see the innate beauty and power of nature, and the feeling of being so small on a vast expanse of ocean is something I will never forget.