"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

Placencia, Belize

>> Tuesday, April 13, 2010

 Our short passage from Guanaja was important step in our students' roles aboard the ship and as a crew; it was their first passage standing as Junior Watch Officers (JWOs), running the watch by themselves under the vigilant, but mostly silent, care of the professional crew. This means our students were navigating, leading the watch, shipboard daily routine, and sail evolutions by themselves... no small feat. This is an enormous undertaking, as the weight of responsibility and stress can seem daunting.

The highlight came in the early hours last Friday morning, just after rounding the reef 30nm from Placencia, a port none of our professional crew have sailed into before. Chris was JWO, and Trey below navigating.  Together they led all hands in bringing the ship into port, navigating the shallows and reefs, striking sails, and setting the anchor. Captain Flansburg was elated at their performance and that of the entire student crew.

Once snug, and after playing the customs and immigration game with local officials, we were able to go ashore to explore. Our first day in Belize was spent biking the Placencia Peninsula, which is becoming a popular spot with tourists, ex-patriots, and real estate agents. But it is also the home of Seine Bight, a Garinagu Village a few miles to the north. The Garinagu (also often called Garifuna, the name of their language, or Black Caribs, an antiquated term from the Colonial era) are a people whose history has traversed the Caribbean from east to west, much like our own voyage. Their descendants read like the syllabus to a class in Caribbean history--West African, Carib, Arawak. A mixture of shipwrecked African slaves and Carib Amerindians on the island of St. Vincent in the Eastern Caribbean, then known as the Black Caribs, were fierce adversaries to the French and English trying to colonize the island for sugar production. They were also a dangerous symbol of resistance to enslaved Africans, many of which ran away from their colonial masters to live with the Caribs. Eventually, the English forcibly migrated nearly the entire population to the Western Caribbean island of Roatan. From there the Garinagu spread throughout the region.

We were lucky enough to bring a group of Garinagu drummers, dancers, and singers to the ship, where they were eager to tell us about their heritage and ways of life. They sang songs, in Garifuna, about the independence, love, and hardship. They even sang some popular American songs in English, to our delight, and let us try the drums out. The drums are handmade out of hollowed mahogany trunks, deer skin (jaguar skin was more desirable until the animal became protected in the 80s), and rope. Drum makers and musicians are important figures in Garinagu culture, and are central in ceremonies and festivals.

We've also visited the Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve, where we hiked a trail into one of the largest rainforest preserves in Central America and the first jaguar preserve in the world. While we didn't see any jaguars (they usually hunt at night) we did see an array of wildlife and plants, and swam in yet another idyllic waterfall and swimming hole. We also got to stop in Maya Center, the village where those Mayan families displaced by the reserve sell crafts and offer guide services to tourists.

The Mayan ruins were a highlight of the trip, as well, and offered a glimpse into a culture so different, and mysterious, than we have seen so far. The Maya of the Classic period had mastered astronomy, developed agriculture, and organized an intricate government. But around 900 a.d. that highly developed culture mysteriously disappeared, and their temples abandoned. Their Mayan descendants still live in the area today, but completely disparate from that past.

All hands are well and aboard doing ship's work today, with the plan to get underway tomorrow morning for our longest passage of the trip, bound for the US. 



Guanaja, Honduras

>> Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I've never seen a place like Guanaja, not in eight years sailing the Caribbean.

For one, "town" is not even on the island proper. Its on a smaller Cay offshore, originally to get away from the mosquitoes, and it has evolved and grown into a town built on pilings and concrete extending beyond the original land of the small Cay. It has become so compact that small alleyways and passages are the only thoroughfares. There are no cars in town, and only seven on the main island, with just one road for them to roam. There is talk of building another, but it seems most people aren't that interested. The main mode of transportation is by boat, and it is common for families to stop by Gamage to check her out, to come and see what's going on aboard.

I like it very much here.

Our friend Antonio and his family have shown us around on their boat Pelican Pride and taken us through the canal that bisects the main island to the leeward side, where the reefs have been unharmed by hurricanes. The reefs are like enormous stands of sequoias compared to the now seemingly meager reefs of the Eastern Caribbean, and my ears are sore from constantly diving to see what's inside that crevice or under this ledge.

The mangrove-lined canal runs parallel to the island's small airport, shuttling in a small number of tourists drawn by the reef and the unique culture of the Bay Islands. The official language here is Spanish, but it is much easier to find English speakers here than in the DR. It was once British Honduras, and the region had been hotly contested, like much of the region, by European powers an ocean away, then courted more recently by the U.S. and its banana industry. Centuries ago English, Dutch and French pirates would scour the area searching for Spanish treasure ships, and would actively recruit the loggers that called these islands home.

Once we were through the canal, we made our way down the beach to the trail head. 45 minutes later we stood before a towering waterfall, clear and clean. Freshwater being so scarce for our crew, we wasted no time in climbing and scaling the many levels of falls, or just simply sitting under them, letting the water fall hard on our heads.

The ship has been a hive of activity, as well. Mid-terms are in full swing, and the students have been busy writing papers, reading, and studying. We celebrated JB's birthday in style, with cake, ice-cream, and guests from the island. Easter was also a fancy affair, as neckties were uncovered and dresses dug out for our Sunday's best, and two leg-of-lambs expertly cooked by Mr. Hunter to cap off a long passage to Central America.

This morning all hands are fully immersed in their Literature exam, and after lunch will check out a reef adjacent to the ship before heading ashore to our friends Annette and Claus's restaurant "the Manati" for a supper ashore. Tomorrow we set sail bound for Belize, and follow the compass north after that. All are well and looking forward to being homeward bound!



Student Writing on Our Luperon Experience

>> Saturday, April 3, 2010

“Thoughts on Luperon” By Lee Brown

Everything happens for a reason, even if nothing is planned, everything has a meaning even if the experiences are not intentional. Everyday in Luperon was of importance to me, the similarities to my past and what we were here to do, what we did indeed do, was astounding. Every moment from our arrival to our leaving this ironically beautiful place reminded me of my childhood experiences. Seeing the children’s faces of the children we built a home for at the beginning and end of our visit, they were just as taken aback as I was at their age. I know from personal experience that when you give a helping hand to those in true need, that those people will truly be touched by your time there and your companionship. A simple thing like building a house for someone seems like just work, something most people never do, especially for someone else, especially for poor, unfortunate people of another country. Our amenities in the US are plentiful and amazing compared to theirs. They live in conditions we would consider vile and unclean, yet when that is all you have and all you have ever known, how can you grasp the fact that most other inhabitants around the world live entirely different, that their way is cleaner? The simple fact is that most of these people don’t consider any of that in their every day lives, they live where they live and thank God for having a home, not an amazing home, but a home indeed. So when some foreign group comes in, kids mostly, and wants to help build a home for them, the reaction is nothing less than that of experiencing a miracle. As a child I experienced this feeling first hand, though I do not live in a poor country, nor did I share the unimaginably poor conditions that these wonderful people of this small village have lived their entire lives. At the end of the day when all the work was done and I saw Senieda and her daughter crying and her son absent mindedly flying a kite in the yard, I saw myself at the age of seven, doing the exact same thing. I then thank God for those people who helped my family and me and I say to myself “ Everything happens for a reason, even if nothing was planned everything has a meaning¨

“Tarantula” By Jesse Prothers

The first night at our new campsite type home we came upon a tarantula the size of a small dog! This large arachnid scared the !*?! out of me. The big hairy legs, many starring eyes and unreasonably large body was just down right freaky. I was terrified, screaming along with maybe a few curse words, but I couldn’t control my fear. Just about every night after the first day we were seeing monstrous spiders and to make things worse, I had a hole in my mosquito netting big enough for an entire army of tarantulas to come charging through. So I was tweakin every night after the sun went down. A few days into the trip I found out from Mario {a member of our local host family} that in order to become a man you have to catch a live tarantula with your bare hands and deep-fry it for dinner. I’m not a man yet and never will be in this case.

“A Week in the DR” By. Ian Leavitt

We spent our week in the Dominican Republic building a house for a poor family just outside of Luperon. We learned how to lay block and mix cement, learned some local dances, and made friends with the children in the village. For the greater part of the week, though, I didn’t think of what we were doing as being anything bigger than just another part of our voyage, a short break form sailing to mix it up a bit. This all changed on our last night. After finishing the house and hosting a min-carnival for the kids, we all went out to dinner to celebrate our accomplishment. When we got back to the compound I got a chance to talk with Bill Benson, the Village Mountain Mission’s founder.
“That little girl you all just built a house for,” he said, ”asked me everyday for two years when I would build a home for her and her family. You all just changed her life with that house.”
With these few words, Mr. Benson made me realize just how amazing this trip is. We have been given the opportunity to see the world, change people’s lives, and hopefully improve our own.

“Sleeping in Hammocks” By Dylan Troy
Sleeping in hammocks, outside, under a palm frond pavilion was a new and different experience. Even though I didn’t have to wake up for watch, I still woke up a few times every night for a variety of reasons. Such as roosters crowing at random hours or screaming donkeys scarring the crap out of you. There was even a night in which we experienced a small earthquake {which most of us slept through} but it caused hordes of dogs to start barking like crazy. Trucks and motorcycles rushed by down in the village, loud music blasted from the disco club at the bottom of the hill. And of course, the hilarious, occasional flipping of your hammock just as you were getting comfortable. Although all of these distractions kept me from a full night’s sleep, building a home for the family was worth much more then a few hours of sleep.

“Leaving Lup0eron” By JB Sample

Tears rolled down my face as I left one of the most memorable places of my life. Being in Luperon, Dominican Republic, in a small village for ten days was an experience I will hold forever. Building a home for someone who was in desperate need for a more hospitable place to live was worthwhile. Watching the last sheet of zinc roofing go on the house was upsetting to watch because I knew it was time to go. We had spent eight days in a slum surrounded by more joyful people then you could imagine. Everyday as we stepped off the truck we were greeted with giddy smiles, big open armed hugs and a loud chorus of “HOLA!”s. It is hard to leave a place like that, where you feel more connected to more people then ever before. All the girls played with my hair and often put it on their heads to see what they would look like. Even though our languages differed from each others, I still felt a special connection with everyone in the village. The family we built the home for was in love with all of us. Of course the son, Antonio, favored the boys and the daughter, Medea, loved being around the girls, but all of us had an amazing relationship with the mother of the newly born home, Seneida. When it was time for our last goodbye, Seneida’s eyes filled with tears. Medea saw some of us cry and joined in. We all came to the realization that there is a slight chance we will ever see each other again. It was like leaving a best friend forever. I had made great friendships with the kids in the village, but the family connection between all of us is unimaginable.

“At Night” By Macy Lamson

Every night at 3am I woke up to the sound of a garbling crow of a fighting rooster living next door. For about another hour I’d listen to the chickens cluck, the anole lizards croak and mules bray as the welcomed the dawn of the new day.
But what would keep me awake the most were the roosters’ crow. They reminded me so much of Maine and my home that once housed many chickens and ducks. Their clucking and crowing is a lullaby of sorts. It calms me and sends me in to a Zen mode.
Anyway, many roosters in Luperon are trained to fight. This can be a very lucrative business for some, and often the roosters have better healthcare then their owners. Such roosters are trained to fight other in a rink, such matches often end in death. I may adore chickens and have them as pets, but I’m fascinated with the brutality that the roosters are trained to posses.
I used to have three Cochin roosters, they were the size of a cat with talons on the backside of their feet 3 inches long. Now I’ve seen them go at it over a hen and it wasn’t pretty. Fighting roosters are trained to fight with a flair and massive aggression, also with out talons but with spikes strapped to that part of their foot. They use little “boxing gloves” while training which I think must look pretty funny.
All in all it was an interesting education on this familiar creature.

“Luperon” By Kaitlin Orne

Back at home we have lives full of luxuries; compared to the family whom we helped build a house for, even living on Gamage is rather luxurious compared to the lifestyles of those living in this small village. Working in Luperon really helped put this into perspective for me, their houses were tiny, they had to work for every single thing they wanted. They kids were doing hard, manual work that sometimes I had trouble with, yet they never complained. Us “Gringos” were quite the attraction, not only to the kids, but also to most of the people throughout the town. It was outstanding knowing that these people who we had never met, nor couldn’t understand, put so much trust in us to help them. It was especially rewarding to change the lives of some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, for in doing that my life has changed positively as well.

“Thoughts on Luperon” By. Abi Campbell

During the ten days we were in Luperon, our group of 14 students became familiar with a town, with many new people, but more importantly, with ourselves as a unit. Seeing Seneida, the mother we built a home for, as appreciative as she was once we the last sheet of zinc to the roof put our entire time in the Dominican Republic into perspective. It saddened us all to leave the job site for the last time but each and every one of us left our mark on La Savannah. It almost seems as if we got more out of our experience, emotionally and mentally, than we gave back. We came together as a team, but more like a family to be able to give something to Seneida and her kids that will better their quality of life. This experience made our group stronger as a whole and all of us stronger as individuals.

“Isabella” By. Crawford Cunningham

After a thrilling motorcycle ride across the countryside we arrived in the town of Isabella, which is home to the Dominican Republic’s only national historic park. We entered the park as the educators told us a little about its history. Isabella was the first permanent European settlement in the Caribbean, founded by Columbus on his second voyage. The park had been set up around the ruins of the old settlement in an attempt to preserve the history. Ironically, the government was in such a rush to finish the job they need not allow archeologists to perform a proper excavation of the land, instead they bulldozed over the site to make way for construction. This historic site was created in 1992 directly before the 500th year anniversary of Columbus’s “discovery” of the New World to attract tourists. There is a museum with some history and artifacts from the area, a replica of Columbus’s ship and bathrooms with running water. A short walk takes you to the old site of the settlement. The site consists of an “old” cemetario dotted with aged crosses marking many “gravesites”. There is also an open grave with a body in it! The body is just a skeleton , but clearly it is not 500 years old. Beyond the cemetario are the remnants of Columbus’s house {basically just the foundation remains}. It seems has if the lay out of the settlement is a replica of how it may have been. If the government had been more patient and properly examined the land for artifacts, then maybe this historic site would attract more tourists.

“Us Gringos” By. Trey Feyler

Driving around the area of Luperon in the red truck let everyone know the gringos were coming to help. It was a wonderful feeling to receive their joyous welcome wherever we went. Whether we were arriving at the job site to work on building the house or driving home and waving to everybody and receiving waves and smiles back because they all knew we were there to help. Originally, when I thought about people in other countries, especially the Caribbean, and they way they act toward Americans; I didn’t think it would be a positive experience. In the Dominican Republic, however, there was such a sense of unity. The general vibe was that of kindness and it motivated me to help even more.

“What I realized in Luperon” By. Charlie Campbell

The chance to go to Luperon, DR to build a house and have the opportunity to experience all that I got to see in ten days was a chance of a lifetime. You know when us Americans say we have it rough, we really don’t know what rough is. The things that I have been able to see. DO you live on a dirt floor? Do you eat and drink sometimes worse then your animals? I don’t think you do. Most of the villagers’ houses are made out of scrap wood and their roof leaks on to the dirt floor. You don’t have running water and your lucky if you have power. If you do have power, it is a job you have done yourself using duck tape and mounted car batteries. So when we Americans say we have it rough, we don’t really know what rough is. You might want to rethink this a little bit.

“ Merengue” By. Dan Dickinson

I felt like a dancer, swinging my hips back and forth, shaking my butt and moving my feet to the fast passed rhythm. I was listening to the Dominican woman I was dancing with singing the song in my ear. In the beginning, I had no idea what I was doing. I was just swinging back and forth to the tune. I was physically wearing out pretty quickly, but I didn’t want to leave the dance floor. The students and guests around me were all watching and laughing at me when I was on the dance floor, but it was so much fun I didn’t care. This is the MERENGUE.

“ The Last Day” By. Chris Reynolds

The last day of building was the most exciting and saddest day of the week. It was very exciting because I was able to go to work with out having to worry about my arm, for it is healed, no more cast! I was able to go on the roof and finish putting on the zinc roofing. It was sad, however, for the reason that we would probably never see the family or all the other children again.
It did put me in a very satisfied state after having accomplished something so grand. It was a very exciting experience for me to return to the Dominican Republic for the second time in my life and do something kind for people in need. I hope I can do it again in the future.

“Horse Riding in the DR” By. Katherine Alwan

We walk into a muddy paddock, it smells like home. Horses, hay and of course manure. The horses are rather tin and a bit dusty, it is clear they are here to work. I put my foot into that first stirrup, jumped onto the horse, it felt like a new world to me. Actually, not a new world but a return to an old one. It had been over five months since I had last been on a horse {do to an injury} and I had not realized until that second how much I truly missed it.
I rode Carmello, Candy in English, he was a very pretty bray. His gate was a bit bumpy, but I got used to it quickly. We got to ride through the mountains and through town. It was very beautiful and a really cool way to experience this new place. Riding horses that afternoon made my day. I had so much fun, I couldn’t keep the smile from my face.


Our Passage to Guanaja

I believe all the sailors onboard the Gamage would unanimously agree, it was time to knock the dirt from our shoes, wash the scent of land from our skin and lay out to sea once again…when its time to go, its time to go.

It took a day or two to get back into the rhythm of the ship, once again grow accustom to our sea legs. Before too long, we fell comfortably back into our voyaging routine.
With the start of the transit the students took on greater responsibility as they transitioned into the Quartermaster phase of their Nav/Sea education. The deckhands have been stood down from watch as the students are now running the deck in their place.
There as been enormous activity during the last twelve days…

Navagation and Seamanship Classes ~ students have been reviewing for their up- coming midterm. They also picked up the sextant for the first time, Lesson # 1:How to Take a Noon Sight. It is wonderful to see them all standing at the rail with a sextant in hand, picture perfect mariners.

During Marine Science the students took a midterm reflecting their studies thus far on plate tectonics, earth structure, atmospheric circulation, ocean currents, waves, tides and water quality. They will now be {literally} diving into the topics surrounding marine ecology, beginning with coral reefs. Our next two ports of call, The Bay Islands of Honduras {Guanaja} and the waters near Placentia, Belize, offer some of the best snorkel sights in the Caribbean.

Meanwhile, in Maritime History the start of the transit was spent discussing Haitian/American politics and Haitian boat building for the immigrant trade. Unfortunately, we did not spot any of these magnificent Haitian vessels as we sailed around the north coast of Haiti. Students are also beginning research for their Maritime History projects. Each individual has chosen a topic of particular interest that they will research and design a presentation around. Some confirmed topics are: The Songs of the Sailors, Iron Clad Warships, The Lobster Industry, Tattoos, and Seafaring Cuisine. During our stay Guanaja the students will be learning about the Garifuna, a people derived from the unique cultural blend of Carib Indians, shipwrecked West Africans and Central Americans. They will also continue their non-Hollywood studies of piracy.

And last, but not least, during Maritime Literature students continued reading the novel The Farming of Bones by Edgwidge Danticat, a story surrounding the experiences of a Haitian woman during the 1937 Massacre that occurred in the Dominican Republic. Class discussions surrounded the symbolism that occurs throughout the novel as well as reflections of their experiences in the DR. These discussions have been insightful and provided significant writing material. Between discussions of the novel, students participated in a variety of writing exercises and have produced a variety of creative, humorous pieces. Students are now studying for their Lit midterm and polishing pieces for their final portfolio. As we sail north their focus will be on Travel Writing, beginning with readings by E.B. White and Joseph Conrad.

In other Gamage news…
Earlier today we introduced a new game to the students that is quite particular to sailors called ‘Chase the Buoy’. The rules are very simple, a life ring and flag is thrown over board and the students have to retrieve it using the schooner, WITH OUT the help of the crew. They may use the crew to help pull on lines, but we cannot answer questions. Of course the crew is close at hand to make sure no one hurts himself or herself, but essentially it is the students’ show. The first time it took them 52 minutes to catch the buoy, the second round… 42 minutes. They learned a lot playing this game… how important communication is, theory isn’t everything, don’t panic, the importance of repeating commands, and so on. Once we leave Guanaja the students will enter the Junior Watch Officer {JWO} phase. This is when things really come together as the students step into a leading role regarding the running of the ship. Typically, this phase begins with nervous and anxious students biting their nails and wringing their sweaty palms, but the progression is amazing! Within a week they stand as confident mate types on the quarterdeck, confidently calling sail evolutions as they organize the watch.

In other Gamage news… we have caught several more fish including Mahi Mahi and Tuna, all have been very tasty. Our fine deckhands, Devin and Jen, have been working on a variety of projects resulting in a very handsome ship. We will be celebrating the birthday of Ms. Judibrown Sample, with a proper “girls night” full of nail painting, movie watching and popcorn eating. And to celebrate Easter the students will receive the best gift of all, a morning to sleep in. This rare change of routine will be followed by snorkeling, lazy beach time, egg painting, a proper Easter meal of lamb chops and then our first night snorkel.
Today is April 2nd; we have been ten days at sea, busy with school and happy with life and looking forward to our next adventure.


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