"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines.

Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -Mark Twain

Trinidad towards the Dominican Republic

>> Saturday, March 13, 2010

So many things for the students to learn, both about the vessel and themselves; a whole new language and way of dealing with people. For instance, in my opening line, “toward” is the important word, as aboard a ship we never “go” to a place, as it is never certain we will reach that destination, as the sea and weather may not allow us to get there. So we say we are sailing toward a place.

Days ago we weighed anchor in Chaguaramus, Trinidad and ran the engine for about 15 minutes clearing the harbor. The students know the ship well by now and most are becoming fine deckhands; sails seem to set themselves as the crew comes together pulling with a will and all give a little cheer when we shut off the engine. We will always do our best to remain honest as far as sailing goes and not use any kind of power save the wind to transport us from one place to another.

On this passage, one of my favorites, we are normally assured a steady breeze out of the east… not so fast. This time a weak cold front and a giant low pressure system in the Atlantic conspired to turn us into real sailors—light and sometimes contrary winds haunted us, making us pay attention and work hard at fetching the D.R. We studied weather faxes trying to figure the best way around or through the contrary winds. But for the most part the days are full of study, quiet contemplation, and ships routine working like a well-tuned clock. The students are dropping their pretence—no more cool kids, no more tough kids. Just shipmates. There are little happenings and you are surrounded by great small events; Jessie beats Mr. Graham in a knot tying contest; Trey is noted to be one of the best helmsmen; JB learns speed-time-distance. Students correct each other so that the ship is run properly.

And then a terrible tragedy—a seabird accidentally mistakes on one of the fishing lines for food and is caught up in it. A Brown Booby. These are my favorite birds, so graceful in flight. They follow the ship and work in our wake catching flying fish that we scare up for them. I consider them a good omen, and feared that the one we accidentally hook will turn out to be the worst kind of bad luck. Then just after dinner I’m sitting on the aft cabin house talking to the cook, and Mr. Petrillo is washing my bowl because of the rare occasion of him losing at rock-paper-scissors, when I see a log lazily drifting by the ship. We are off San Juan PR so I’m not expecting any fish, but a log is a good sign. Now I should have called a student to tend the fishing line but sometimes I can be a bit selfish. I sneak back and grab the portside handline, looking around so no one will notice and Wham! A big mahi mahi is on. My heart jumps into overdrive. The next second Mr. Graham, having noticed me sneaking around the Quaterdeck, grabs the starboard line and Wham! Another mahi is on. The lines cross the stern and almost get tangled, so we dance around each other to keep everything straight. Mr Flemming helps me get across to the starboard side, and the fight is on. With a handline it is just you against the fish so it can be hard, and I’m cursing and pleading the fish to “come on girl, get in here where I can see you,” and she looks big she sure feels big. I think I’m going to lose her because of our bad luck. But when she comes to the side of the ship Jessie is ready with the gaff. I jokingly threaten him with bodily harm if he misses and he does! Twice! “Yer killing me Jessie” I shout and he handily gaffs her the next try. She comes aboard full of fight, so lovely and full of color—gold, blue, green, she changes before your eyes and everyone is going crazy, especially as the second fish is brought aboard. They are big, glorious fish. With no scale aboard we guess wildy at the weight: 20, 30 lbs.? I don’t really know but we measure the long one and she is 44” to her tail.

I consider our bad luck absolved—thank you, you beautiful fish of many names; mahi-mahi, dolphin fish, dorado.

We spend another couple of days making for Samana, Dominican Republic, and it is my first time here. I have a deckhand aloft to spy out the reefs, the Third Mate on the radar, the Chief Mate nearby to run things on deck and the Second on the anchor. We ghost in under main and forsails all ready to run, and I leave the engine off.

We come into soundings, the ship making 2-3 knots. I lay her off and start giving commands: take in your fore sheet, on the main let go! All done in a very seamanlike fashion, the students work perfectly as a unit and we settle back on the hook, the main engine switch still in the "off" position. Welcome to the Dominican Republic!

A fine passage.

Fair winds,

Capt. Flansburg


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