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boat life by justine

2015-2016 Grade Ten

The Benefits of Being a Cruising Kid

     The cruising world is not well known. It is a life few people understand and even fewer choose to live. It is hard for many people to conceive that there are those that want to abandon the rat race that is society for a sailboat and faraway lands. One sailor once commented that somebody had asked him, “Who told you you can do this?” The other cruisers present laughed, knowing the answer: no one. People do personally choose this way of life and even enjoy it. However, while the general ignorance of the cruising lifestyle makes a good inside joke, it also breeds problems, especially when the media is involved. The Rebel Heart scandal became a disaster as that cruising family was publicly slammed for bringing kids on a boat that eventually sank. It became a common opinion at that point in time that kids should not live on sailboats because not only is it dangerous, the kids would also grow up without friends or a proper education. While I don’t know about that, I do know how a life of cruising has affected me–a cruising kid.

Before my family left the States to go sailing around the world, I was extremely shy. My teachers sometimes wondered if I could talk, and I had no close friends. That changed when we left. I was on a new adventure, traveling to the most amazing places, and I wasn’t alone. I met other kids like me–kids I could bond with through our shared adventures. We competed with our stories, trying to see who had the “biggest fish,” and got into the wildest mischief to keep ourselves entertained. We worked together regardless of age, gender, beliefs, social status, or nationality, giving me a chance to grow up without the drama of cliques. Even the adults I met treated me if not like an equal, then at least with a certain amount of respect. Living in the cruising world–living outside of society–has allowed me to overcome my shyness enough to enjoy having conversations with people. I now have friends all over the world.

If I’m not friendless, then I still must be uneducated, right? I am homeschooled, but it’s true it may not be enough. I remember one time when I was disappointed with my science book because it didn’t explain the Theory of Evolution as well as the signs on the Galapagos Islands did. There was another time when I couldn’t understand what my geography book was saying about New Zealand until I visited the country myself. This life that I’m living has shown me parts of the world I never expected to see. I have personally experienced places and cultures I didn’t know existed and, because of it, have a greater understanding of the world. Even places I haven’t visited I have learned about in great detail from cruisers from other countries, such as Australia, England, France, and the Netherlands. Cruising has given me a chance to see things from many different points of view and has taught me to stay open minded.

Staying open minded is a virtue, as is creativity. Since many places lack Internet and cell service (and I lack a phone), it is especially important as a cruising kid to know how to survive without it or risk boredom. Without having my life dictated by technology, my friends and I learned how to have fun with limited materials. Whether it was finding ways to crack open a coconut without a machete, defending forts from hungry cows, or holding a funeral service for a dead bird with pieces of driftwood, we could always find ways to keep from driving our parents crazy (unless it was by doing exactly that) without becoming absorbed by a screen. Because of finding fun in creativity, I now have many great stories to tell.

It is true that sailing a boat on the ocean is dangerous, but so is driving a car or lighting a candle. People that don’t know anything about the lifestyle shouldn’t try to “save” kids from parents that want to go cruising. The truth is that this life has had more good effects on me than bad. I believe it has changed me for the better. I’ve grown to become less reserved, more knowledgeable, and more creatively inclined. I can stand back and look at the world in my own way, not in the way American society has taught me. I love this adventure and the many great people I’ve met along the way. Still, what do I know? I’m supposed to be friendless and stupid.

2015-2016 Grade Ten

A Test of Courage

     There is a game I invented with my friends that we call Slender, named after the horror character. It is similar to a test of courage, and it is really fun to play as a group. All that’s required is a bright light or a well-lit area and a large dark area. It is best played outdoors, especially if there are lots of trees, but it can be played indoors if there is enough room (as long as the area is safe and there are no tripping hazards).

The game starts in an area of bright light. The players must stay in the light until their eyes adjust to it. Once everyone’s eyes have adjusted to the light, they must simultaneously run into the dark area for as long as their courage will let them. The last person to panic and run back to the light wins. Each round only lasts two minutes, so any players still in the dark at that time automatically win. It is perfectly alright for the faster players to hide ahead and try to scare the others, as long as everyone leaves the light at the same time and returns after two minutes.

I remember playing this game at the small atoll of Toau (population ten). After dark, we would stand in the light of a small building at the edge of the village, telling jokes and acting goofy. At the loud signal of, “Go!” we would all run laughing and screaming into the trees, our hearts pounding with first exhilaration and then terror. We quickly spread out and lost sight of each other in the dark, catching no more than glimpses of movement in the trees. After a few seconds, we would slow down, afraid to go too far from the building. The trees and bushes didn’t look solid in the darkness, and it was suddenly easy to forget that the biggest thing out there was a rat. It was then that some of us would run screaming back to the light while the rest swiftly followed them at a walk, trying in vain to maintain dignity. Back at the light, the laughing and jokes would resume, and we would start the whole thing over again.

2015-2016 Grade Ten

Action World

     When we arrived, busy sounds greeted us. There were the creak of a trampoline, the squeak of swinging bars, the smack of the Jousting Log, the hiss of the X-treme Slide, the thud of feet on grass, and the shouts and hum of voices. Excitement surrounded us, but all I could feel was relief. My relief was probably echoed as disappointment in my comrades, but I was just glad there was a chance for equality for once. The High Trapeze was closed, flat, and deflated. No one would have to worry about going on it. I wouldn’t have to worry about going on it. That’s what I had thought, anyway.

It was a clear and sunny New Zealand day. Heat tore down from the nearly noontime sun in an attempt to scorch us through our sunscreen. My friends and I had been given a rare treat: the chance to go to Action World. Action World, a small outdoor park located in Whangarei, gives kids the chance to see what it is like to be a circus acrobat. We had oohed and ahhed over the brochure before coming. Things such as the Tightrope, the Jousting Log, the X-treme Slide, and the Waterslide caught our attention. However, nothing caught the attention of my friends more than the High Trapeze. Who wouldn’t want to climb a creaky old ladder up to about forty feet in the air and swing down on a metal bar (without a harness) before having to let go midair? This wasn’t my kind of park.

The six of us had barely walked through the front gate when a staff member ushered us to stand before a giant inflatable slide nearly as tall as the High Trapeze. She told us that we could not go on anything else in the park until we went down that slide. Despite the fact that the X-treme Slide was an almost straight drop down to a point of free fall into a cushion, I sincerely felt that it looked like fun. One by one my friends were called to take their turns on the slide. They would climb up the stairs to the top and then would shoot down to the bottom on a green mat. Afterwards, they would run away to try out the rest of the things at the park. It wasn’t until the number of my friends still with me began to dwindle that I started to panic. Finally, it was just me and Max left. I began to freak out internally. If he went before me, then he would surely leave to go join the others, and I would be left to face the slide alone. It was a stupid thought with no logic behind it (after all, only one person could go on the slide at a time), but it was my fear nonetheless. To my relief, Max, who is always the gentleman, asked me if I would like to go before him. I, the secret coward, quickly took him up on that offer.

I grabbed my mat and began my climb. After I had been climbing for a little while, I realized I still wasn’t at the top. I began to talk to myself as my heart thudded in my chest. Suddenly, the stairs ended and I was momentarily encased in darkness by a roof over my head. I had reached the top. Forced onto my hands and knees by the low roof, I crawled into position at the edge of the drop and prepared to get onto my mat. That’s when I looked down. My heart stopped thudding entirely and I began to speak encouragement faster to myself. Max and the staff member might have been beetles for all I knew, the ground was so far away. Shutting off all thoughts except those of the staff member’s instructions, I lay down on the mat and crossed my arms over my chest. I let myself drop. Wind rushed by my ears and my heart leapt into my throat. The ground was approaching faster and faster. Suddenly, there was nothing. There were no sound and no slide beneath me. I was weightless, and I was falling. There was barely enough time for me to throw my arms out in shock before there was a loud poof! and I was swallowed up. Shaking, I stumbled out of the cushions with what was probably the stupidest grin I would ever make on my face. My appearance must have looked pretty funny, for Max started laughing. I didn’t care, though. I felt like I was ready for anything. That would turn out not to be the case.

The fun continued as the day walked on. I tried the Tarzan Swings, made it halfway across the Tightrope, and learned just how painful a fight on the Jousting Log while wearing shorts can be. I even ran into some more friends. It had been turning out to be a good day. Then, I noticed a strange hissing and humming noise. Someone was inflating the cushions beneath the High Trapeze. Naturally, Max, his brother, Guillaume, and my brother, Colin, rushed over there to be first in line. I watched as they climbed the old ladder and swung down with a loud creak on the first bar to land on the cushions below. I did not get in line. “I don’t find that kind of stuff fun,” I told myself. “Why should I do something I don’t like just because my friends are doing it?”

The day continued on. I continued to try the other attractions, but my friends kept going back to the High Trapeze. Gradually, they became more daring and even began to make the transition from the first bar to the second like actual performers. Then, to the surprise of everyone watching, one of the moms made the climb to the top of the trapeze. “But she’s afraid of heights!” I exclaimed to one of the girls in my group. However, she did it. I watched as the mom swung down and landed on the cushions. I began to wonder if I wasn’t going because I was afraid. “No, I’m not afraid,” I thought. “I don’t want to do it just because everyone else is doing it. That would be peer pressure. I’ll be myself and do what I want to do. I’m not avoiding doing it because I’m scared.” The day continued on. I went on the X-treme Slide again, but I was left with a sick feeling instead of the original thrill. Eventually, I noticed one of the girls having an internal debate. She appeared to want to go on the High Trapeze, but she was scared. I told her that she didn’t have to go if she didn’t want to and then told her I was scared too to make her feel better. However, she did it. She too swung down and landed on the cushions. In an attempt to praise her, I told her she was braver than me.

That’s when I really began to doubt myself. Had I really told her a lie as I had intended to, or had I actually told her the truth? Was I really too scared to go? I know I am no coward. I have swum with sharks, spent twenty days at sea, rode along on the New Zealand crossing, and went on the X-treme slide. I am from North Carolina where I have walked with coyotes and copperheads. I am a person who can keep her cool in almost any situation, even when I am caught in a current (literally). Was I really afraid? I would never know. Before I knew it, it was time to leave. I told my mom of my turmoil and how maybe I should have tried to go on the High Trapeze like everyone else. She told me not to worry because we would go back there. However, life is crazy. We never did go back, and we’re not in New Zealand anymore.

I may never know why I didn’t go on the High Trapeze. Had I been too stubborn? Had I been too afraid? Maybe it was both. Maybe my stubbornness allowed what underlying fear I had to get the best of me. It’s also possible that I made the right decision. I’m not as athletic as my friends and don’t like the “adrenaline junkie” things that they do. Action World isn’t really my kind of place, so maybe I was right in my decision to only do what I felt comfortable with. However, that also goes against some of my ideals. I believe in trying new things and pushing boundaries. That’s what I did when I went on the X-treme Slide. That’s what I didn’t do when I avoided the High Trapeze. If I had another chance to go on the trapeze, would I take it? I believe I would. After that day, I never want to pass up an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity again. Simply stated, you’ll never get anywhere in the world if you don’t try something new. You might even find yourself liking it. As for me, I’ll never know.

October 7, 2015

Sharks

     One of my first encounters had been in the Bahamas around the Christmas of 2012. I had been sitting on the port transom (left back steps) of my family’s Privilege 48 catamaran, dangling my feet in the water. Then, they came. They were hungry and searching for the smell of blood. Sleek and graceful with slit pupils and sharp teeth, they approached our boat. My feet shot out of the water almost faster than my dad could call, “Sharks!”

At that time, my impression of the usually large cartilaginous fish was the same as a vast majority of the public’s. I imagined them to be bloodthirsty and dangerous, willing to strike without warning or reason. But are sharks really like that? Later, I would come to find out the truth.

A couple of months later, I had to do a research report for school. Intrigued by the events in the Bahamas, I chose sharks as my topic, grabbed some books from my brother’s room, and began researching. What I found amazed me! Sharks are not what most people think they are. Not only do they not want to hurt humans, but they are in danger because of us. While sharks accidentally kill a small number of people each year, humans purposely kill thousands of sharks at the same time.

Over the duration of the next few months, I would get the chance to swim with blacktips, whitetips, and gray reefs. Most times, the sharks would hover as ghosts in the distance, too afraid to come close. Other times, they would lie on the sandy bottom, gently sleeping. As I would watch these shy, calm creatures, I couldn’t help but wonder, “How can someone imagine them to be bloodthirsty?” Perhaps the aggressive acts of a few species, like white, bull, and tiger, have caused people to label all sharks the same way. There are over four hundred species of sharks, though. Why should so many be hated for the actions of a few?

I finally came to a decision during one snorkeling trip in Bora Bora in 2013. I had been watching a manta ray in a section of sapphire-blue water surrounded by rainbow-colored coral. When I turned to leave, there it was: a beautiful four foot long blacktip. It was a silver-gray with darker spots and black tipped fins. Its eyes were like a cat’s: yellow with slits for pupils. Startled by me, it spun on its tail and fled deeper into the coral. I felt a sense of loss as it left, like I was missing something. Then I remembered from my research that blacktip reef sharks are one of the species being overfished. That beautiful creature was being hunted. On that day I decided that sharks needed help, and I would aid in protecting them.

Sharks don’t like to kill people. Most attacks are accidents that happen when the animal goes after food and gets a human instead. In fact, more people die in car accidents than from shark bites. The public should know that there is no need to be afraid of sharks. My friends, family, and I have all swum with them multiple times and have never gotten bitten once. People do like to kill sharks, though, for food, money, and sport. Because of this, many species are endangered. In the future, sharks (a very important predator on the food chain) might not exist unless humans make a change. You can help out by simply spreading the word. If more people were to know that these are beautiful creatures instead of bloodthirsty, then more might be done to save them. With a helping hand, the misunderstood can be given another chance to survive.

2014-2015 Grade Nine

Journeys

     Sometimes we take journeys physically. Other times we take journeys mentally. Often, we have to take one kind of journey in order to take the other. For a girl my age, I have been on many journeys, both physically and mentally. I believe they have changed me for the better. Would they have changed you?

When I was about twelve, I moved on a sailboat with my younger brother and parents. I had only left the United States a few times before, but I barely remember the experiences. The day after the Thanksgiving of 2012, we sailed away from the U.S. for the first time. Our first destination was the Bahamas. When we reached Nassau and came ashore, we experienced narrow, dusty roads, beat-up old buildings and cars, and some people that looked a little worse for wear. Then we walked to the famous Paradise Island, a resort for foreign vacationers. There were expensive shops, neat, paved walkways, swimming pools, carefully trimmed grass, servers running about at beck and call, and people dressed in fancy clothes. I stared in awe at the large resort. My only thought was, “This is not the Bahamas.”

For the first time, I got a good look at a place outside of my home country, and it was not what I expected. Since then, I have seen the beggars and scam artists in Jamaica. I have watched the Kuna Indians in the San Blas struggle to get food and money while destroying their environment in the process. I have heard the tales of suicide and drug abuse in French Polynesia. I was there when storms and funeral processions marched through Tonga. I witnessed firsthand the looks the Maoris give in revenge for centuries of discrimination in New Zealand. Lastly, I have walked by the homeless in Hawaii as they lay sleeping in the grass. Because of my experiences, I’ve realized that what we are told isn’t always true. If you want to really see the world, then you must explore it for yourself. That doesn’t mean go to a resort like Paradise Island. Take the road less traveled (but still safe). How else would you know what a sea lion smells like, or what the view looks like from the top of a mountain? Pictures and words only tell us so much. Even then, they don’t tell us the whole story. This is the discovery of only one of my journeys through life, but it is a journey anyone can take. What would you discover if you took it?

 

March 9, 2015

Proposed Cruising Kid Restrictions

     In the March of 2014, Charlotte and Eric Kaufman readied their Hans Christian 36, a sailboat, for a passage from Mexico to French Polynesia. Much to their worry, their baby daughter came down with a fever. Unsure if they should continue their plans, they took their daughter to a doctor. The doctor deemed that the baby would be fine and gave them the go ahead to leave on their passage. However, once they were out at sea the baby got worse, showing salmonella-like symptoms. Then, about 900 miles from the coast of Mexico, they lost steering and most communications. That left the exhausted parents with a decision to make. They could keep going and hope that their daughter would get better, (when the rudders or wheel fail, all you need to steer a boat are the sails and a few buckets) or they could turn around and try to make it back to Mexico. Instead, Charlotte and Eric Kaufman gave in to their exhaustion and made one of the greatest sacrifices for their daughter. They called for help, which was a death sentence for sailing vessel Rebel Heart, their home for seven years. When Charlotte, Eric, and their two daughters were safely aboard a Coast Guard cutter, Rebel Heart was purposely sunk for the safety of other boats in the area. The Kaufman’s home now rests at the bottom of the sea. Their daughter fully recovered.

As it is with any vehicle or machine, things can go wrong on a boat at any time. Just like cars can breakdown or crash, boats can have things break or can sink. It is not uncommon to hear stories such as Rebel Heart’s, though rarely are the stories considered newsworthy. However, the sinking of Rebel Heart was all over the news. Simply type the name into a search engine and plenty of results pop up without hesitation. Why is the story so popular? It is no different from other tales of things gone wrong other than the fact that a sick baby was involved. In fact, it was the detail that a baby was involved that made the story of Rebel Heart and the Kaufmans not only a source of attention, but also a major target for criticism. Large parts of the media and public began verbally attacking the two parents for taking their daughters out to sea, calling them irresponsible. Then, more reports were released, not just questioning Charlotte and Eric Kaufman’s parenting decisions, but the decisions of all cruising parents as well.

The statement that it is dangerous to take your kids out to sea on a sailboat is a well founded one. It is dangerous and things can go wrong. It is also dangerous to ride in a car or plane, cross the street, walk at night, talk to strangers, ride your bike without a helmet, and go skydiving, but people still do those things. Anything can happen that might end your life at any moment, but people don’t hide in holes, they live. Sailing is no different. In fact, driving in a car is more dangerous than sailing a fully working boat on the ocean. Despite the sick baby, the crew of Rebel Heart was not in extreme danger. They could have kept sailing if they really wanted to, but chose not to risk their daughter’s life instead. Now people want them to pay the Coast Guard for the expenses of the rescue.

Just like you don’t drive a car without a license, the majority of people do not take a boat out to sea without experienced crew onboard. Charlotte and Eric had lived aboard Rebel Heart for seven years, making them more experienced than most. To say that most people who have kids on sailboats are inexperienced and thus irresponsible isn’t true. While the attacks on Rebel Heart were going on, tweets and posts on Twitter and Facebook went flying as the cruising community went rushing to the family’s defense. Hundreds of cruisers with years of experience started sharing pictures of their own kids on their boats or of themselves as cruising kids. Most cruising kids are in very capable hands.

Even though sailing isn’t the most dangerous thing in the world and many cruisers know what they’re doing, kids can still be a danger to themselves. What’s to stop the younger ones from pushing a wrong button or drowning? In reality, that question is the same as, “What’s to stop them from getting hit by a car or kidnapped by a stranger?” Just like parents on land drill it in to kids’ minds to look both ways before crossing the road, not talk to anyone they don’t know, and run when a stranger tells them to get into a car, parents on water have their own rules. Land kids have fire and tornado drills. Cruising kids have man-overboard and abandon-ship drills.

Despite everything, the real reason the media should stop their attacks on parents of cruising kids is because growing up as a kid on a sailboat is an amazing thing. Cruising kids grow up outside of the shelter and views of society. They get to not only see the world with their own eyes, but with the eyes of people outside of their home country. No matter what age he or she is, to be a cruising kid is to laugh with his or her friends from Canada, England, France, and New Zealand. It is to feel something break inside when he or she sees trash in the water. It is to toss away his or her science books and learn about the Theory of Evolution from the Galapagos themselves. If it is believed that at least the younger kids should be stopped from living on boats, I say the younger the better. The younger they are, the more they can learn.

While the media and public might think they are protecting kids by attacking cruising parents, they are just further restricting them. Kids aren’t stopped from riding in cars because they can crash. The majority of cruising parents know exactly what they are doing and as much discipline is drilled into cruising kids as possible. In the end, the knowledge and experience gained is priceless. I say, let Rebel Heart be praised for their courage, not criticized for doing what is right.

 

March 2, 2015

Mariner’s Cave

     I’ve explored several different kinds of caves. I’ve been in caves with waterfalls crashing in them, caves filled with water and fish, caves where swallows make their homes, and caves with green glowworms hanging from the ceiling. There is one cave, however, that is unlike any other cave that I’ve seen. That cave is Mariner’s Cave.

The trip there was the worst part. I knew that Mariner’s Cave was different from any of the caves I’d previously been in, and I was more than nervous. That was because of the fact that you have to swim underwater to enter the cave, and there is a current that flows in and out of the entrance. I’d spent the trip to the cave (on my friends’ sailboat Sueño) drawing a sea snake that turned into a yellow-eyed Medusa; an exaggerated fear of what I might find in the cave. I had to fold the drawing for fear that I would turn into stone.

When the boat was anchored, most of the people in the fairly large group I was with put on their masks and fins and hopped in the water. Together we approached a considerable, smooth, grayish-brown stone wall. Dusty brown roots of plants peaked over from the edge of the top of the wall, indicating that it did indeed have a top. The wall stretched a fair distance to my left and right, and though I could not accurately judge the distance from where I was in the water, I knew I wouldn’t want to swim it. There was only one problem with the wall, as impressive as it was. It was unbroken. It was a dead end; an impenetrable wall to a fortress we weren’t allowed into. That’s what it seemed at first, but an ominous red arrow, spray painted where the wall meets the water, told us otherwise. The arrow, pointing into the depths of the water, told us of another entrance, if not to the fortress, then to the dungeon.

A look underwater revealed that the wall came to form a stone arch around a hole. The hole began just below the surface of the water and ended on a slab of rock about halfway to the bottom, which was maybe 30 feet down. The slab was part of another arch around a different hole that ended at the sandy bottom. Sections of coral reef sat on the bottom at the sides of the bottom hole with rainbow colored villagers going about their business outside the fortress. The upper hole was wide enough for about three people to swim through at once. I tried to see what was on the other side, but there was nothing but murkiness through the hole. I could feel waves creating a current as they pushed water in and out of the hole. We would have to time it right to enter.

My dad was swimming in front of the upper hole with a waterproof flashlight in his hand. My brother and I were on either side of him. He asked us if we were ready, and I lied and said yes. We all took several deep breaths, each one serving as a second on a timer counting down until we were to dive. Then, my dad took one final breath and dove into the hole, leaving my brother and me with no choice but to follow. My fins slapped the surface and I bit down hard on my snorkel to hold it steady as I propelled myself towards the gloom. It turned out that my dad had timed it right, for I felt no current as I swam forward. Surprised at how easy it was, I rose with my arms above my head when I felt the walls of the arch disappear from around me.

When my head broke the surface, I found myself in a roughly semispherical cave. All nervousness gone, I examined my surroundings. The cave was dark. The only light came from a faint blue glow from the entrance and the yellow-orange beam of my dad’s flashlight. The cave appeared about 20 feet in diameter, but no one dared leave the light of the entrance to measure. The walls were made of smooth, orangey-brown limestone and, in a few places, pointed stalactites hung from the ceiling like fingers. On one ledge on the wall, in the far side of the cave, were white stalagmites that, at first, I had mistaken for candles. The whole cavern had a feeling of age to it, and I wondered its history and how it came to be. The water had a creepy glow to it, and I kept looking down for fear of the sea snakes that were native to the Kingdom of Tonga. Then, something else grabbed my attention. As water came into the cave through the entrance, pressure built up with an audible hiss, causing my ears to pop with the change. Suddenly the walls disappeared in a tangible blur and all lights fell upon a ghostly fog that had appeared in their place. Just as quickly as the fog came, it vanished and I could see clearly again. Everyone continued to watch with awe and excitement as water came in and the fog appeared, and as water went out and the fog disappeared. The dungeon known as Mariner’s Cave is truly a magical place.

When it came time to leave, I attempted to try and correctly time my dive on my own. I waited, feeling the water push and pull me, until I felt the time was right to dive. I took a deep breath and kicked hard to go forward, but halfway through the hole I slowed down until I was swimming in place. I had mistimed it. A flash of fear went through me before I quickly pushed it aside. I still had plenty of air, so there was no need to panic. I continued kicking, making little progress forward, and turned on my back. I stared up at the curve of the arch, focusing on the grooves in the dark rock that gave it a smooth but wrinkled appearance. In almost no time the current released me, and the rock above my head vanished as I swam out of the hole. I calmly came up for air, happy with my time in the cave.

In the world of cruising, you make new discoveries almost every day. Mariner’s Cave was one of those discoveries for me. No two things are alike. Mariner’s Cave is certainly different from any other cave I’ve been in. Also, a lot of things seem scary at first, but often in the end they turn out to be a whole lot of fun. Someday, if I were to get the chance to go back to Mariner’s Cave, I think I would take it.

 

February 25, 2015

Manta Ray

     My brother had broken his toe. I felt bad for him and it would be strange to be without his persistent presence, but I was about to experience something I didn’t want to miss.

     The images from that day are like a faded painting in my mind, but the feelings remain stronger than the sun’s light. With those feelings some images are still attached. I remember that it was a brilliant, sunny day. The water was its usual shade of turquoise blue and the towering mountain of Bora Bora stood in the background with its three green peaks pointing towards the sky. The three sailboats Full Monty, Sueño, and Flour Girl were anchored close together like friends huddled in conversation.

I sat in Full Monty’s dinghy with my mom and a few members of Sueño. The remaining members of Sueño and Flour Girl were in a separate dinghy. My dad and brother remained back at Full Monty due to a sudden development that restricted my brother’s ability to swim. It was early morning, but, despite not being a morning person, I was wide awake as the dinghies charged towards a patch of sapphire blue that was our destination. At that moment, I had to try and hide a smile at my friend Max, who was clearly not a morning person at all, sitting in grumpy and groggy silence.

The dinghies anchored in a patch of sand some distance from the sapphire blue that marked deep water. Coral blocked the way to our goal. With well practiced movements I put on my clear, split fins and my pale pink mask with a bright yellow snorkel before slipping into the clear water. My muscles instinctively tensed from the sudden temperature change, but quickly relaxed. Looking at the wall of coral before me, its color ranging from red to gray, I noticed a path leading through it in the direction we wanted to go. The others and I swam along the path, following each other as it curved but never changed direction. Different colors flashed by as fish went about their business, but they were, for once, not the source of our attention. Then the path abruptly ended. The color of the water darkened as if it was twilight and all things in the distance became fuzzy. In a matter of seconds the depth changed from 10-15 feet to 30-40 feet. The sandy floor changed to coral of strange shimmering colors. We swam out into the middle of the dark patch and waited.

We didn’t wait long. Something came out of the distance that I had only seen once before. It came slowly and stuck close to the bottom. It was the biggest one I had ever seen; perhaps five feet wide. It was a ghost. All heads turned in its direction as the glowing white figure approached. As it came closer, less could be seen of its white belly and more of its deep black back became visible. White markings ran through the black like shooting stars frozen in place in the night sky. White fins were curled on either side of its large mouth like blunt horns. The ghost glided gracefully, every once in a while flapping its long, smooth midnight wings. It had a short, thin stick for a tail that trailed behind it. It was a manta ray, and it was one of the most beautiful creatures I had ever seen.

I watched, star-struck, as the manta ray came closer. It was then that I decided that there was no creature more graceful. It was like a giant bird flying in slow motion. Sometimes it would uncurl one of its fins to make a turn any airplane pilot would be proud of. Little blue fish darted to and fro, cleaning the manta’s skin. Once it opened its cavernous mouth, wide enough for me to see its gills from the inside, and swept the fish in so they could continue their work. The manta eventually started a pattern. It would come from the distance, swim underneath me, and leave with a trail of human followers. I stayed put, afraid to scare it. Then it would return again like a performer asked for an encore. Each time it would pass right underneath me, swimming a little higher as if trying to see how close it could get to me. I felt a connection. At that moment more than ever, I wished I could speak with it. I wanted to learn the secrets and wisdom of what I felt was a truly intelligent creature.

After a while most of my group, including my mom, had traveled back down the path to the dinghy. Among those remaining with the manta ray were me, Max, and his dad. A big group of tourists had showed up, so I decided to head back as well. I began to swim towards the path, but stopped and looked back at the manta ray. I was sad to go. When I turned around to face the path again, my heart suddenly skipped a beat. About ten feet away, swimming in my direction, was a shark. It was about four feet long and gray with darker spots and black tipped fins. I had seen sharks before but for some reason this shark felt different. The shark’s path faltered, as if it was startled that I saw it. My green eyes met its yellow before it quickly turned and darted down the path. Shocked, I looked at the group surrounding the manta ray. No one seemed to have seen a thing. I swam to Max and asked him if he had seen the shark. He responded with a surprised no. After cautiously swimming down the path to the dinghies, I asked my mom if she had seen a shark swim by, feeling certain it would have had to pass the dinghies. She, who had already been fascinated with the manta’s behavior around me, responded with a very surprised no before shaking her head and saying, “You and sharks, girl.”

I had swum with manta rays and sharks before, but that is a day that I will never forget. It is the day that I felt that I had made a connection with them. On that day, I figured out a little bit more about who I was and who I wanted to be. I vowed to make it my goal in life to fight to protect those creatures of the ocean, so that I could be among the manta rays and the sharks forever.

 

2014-2015 Grade Nine

French Polynesia

     I had never heard of French Polynesia. When I did eventually learn of its existence, it had no meaning. French Polynesia was just a name on a map. It was a short stop along the way to a bigger goal. Now, it is the place that I call home.

French Polynesia is a land of rugged green mountains arranged like ribbons waving in the wind. Silver streaks that are waterfalls hide in their valleys and yellow and red hibiscus flowers gaze at you from their chosen bushes. Star fruit, papayas, mangos, oranges, lemons, bananas, guavas, and grape fruit hang from trees along the red dirt roads, waiting to be picked by anyone who walks past. Blurry white goats scale the steep cliff faces and chickens strut freely through small towns and cities.

French Polynesia is a place to find small atolls that hug the horizon. The waving fronds of the palm trees are the only things that alert a passing ship to their presence. White coral beaches crawling with hermit crabs give way to flat, sandy land where rats hide in holes and bushes until night time. Coconuts jump from the trees to the ground without warning in an attempt to scare whoever is walking past. Clear turquoise water surrounds the land, filled with curious sharks, graceful manta rays, and millions of fish that hide among the yellow, purple, red, blue, green, and white coral. Giant clams puff out their rainbow lips to ask for a kiss.

Most of all, French Polynesia is a place of new experiences. It is a place where friends are made, crushes harbored, and hearts broken. It is a land where things are created, trouble caused, and lessons learned. It is a world of kindness, beauty, nature, and culture. It is somewhere where something new is discovered each day. It will always be a place that I consider home, and I vow to go back there again someday.

 

Tonga to New Zealand Passage ~ November 2013

We were leaving. I stood in the shade of the Pacific blue bimini that covers our large cockpit, my right hand gripping the rough wood of one of the two twin tables for balance as the floor beneath my feet started to move. I was facing the stern of my home, a sturdy Privilege 48 catamaran, watching as the turquoise water steadily darkened to the sapphire blue of the endless ocean and the white sand beaches with their green and brown palm tree hair got smaller and smaller. The engines hummed in my ears and vibrated the ground beneath my feet, while the sickly smell of exhaust activated some part of my brain that caused my heart beat to quicken and the butterflies in my stomach to flutter. We were leaving. Once again my family and I were headed out to sea. We were about to attempt the Tonga to New Zealand crossing, the passage nearly all sailors heading west dread. It was a trip that required an eye on the weather at all times, for fear of being caught in the rumored storms that could dismast a ship. It was a right of passage, and we were about to go through it.

However, luck appeared to be against us. It was either that, or we were given an extra hard test. The day before the anchor was pulled up, I suddenly developed a fever. So, the next day, with 84 to 86 degree temperatures, a fever, a rocking boat, and the knowledge that we were heading out on what was to be most challenging passage yet, I spent most the day in my bunk. I felt as if I was burning from the inside out and the outside in at the same time. Also, as I had discovered on the Galapagos to the Marquesas crossing, fevers increase the feeling of seasickness, and I always feel seasick on the first day of a passage. I was miserable to say the least. Though, I wasn’t the only one to suffer. During one of the few times I left my cabin on that first day, I found out my brother, Colin, had come down with a fever as well. I found myself thinking, “If this is the beginning of the crossing, how is the rest of it going to turn out.” Little did I or any of my family know what was in store for us.

By the second day, things started to get interesting. That day the autopilot broke and refused to be fixed. That meant hand steering all day and all night for ten days straight. At that point my fever had lowered enough for me to help my parents by taking my turn at the helm. Colin’s fever chose to do the opposite and rose to 103 degrees. It was only day two and already we were at the crossroads. Did we want to turn the boat around and head back to where we could be near a medical center and work on the autopilot, or did we want to keep going? It was not a decision to be made lightly. In the end we chose to keep going.

On the third day at sea, my fever had completely disappeared and Colin’s had lowered. The air temperature had dropped four degrees from the first day, and continued to drop as we headed south. Despite the fact that it was summer, I was used to a steady temperature, so to me it felt as cool as the first days of autumn. Fate, however, wasn’t done testing us yet. At sometime during that day I had just entered the salon (living area) when my mom said to me, “Dad’s marbles are loose.” That’s our code for saying when my dad gets vertigo, a condition that makes him feel like the world is spinning. In a way, the world had already been spinning as the boat was tossed from side to side by the waves. The feeling of vertigo combined with a rocking boat could have only been terrible. I watched from the doorway as he sat on the wooden grate beneath the helm in his bright red foul weather gear. With his hands on the wheel, he stared fixatedly at the compass, his eyes never leaving it. One glance upward would send the world spinning again. It was going to be a very long trip indeed.

While the first three days were an unorganized blur, the last seven days were an organized blur and I noticed more. By the fourth day, the rocking and sounds of the boat had become familiar once again. There was the ever constant whoosh of the waves and the singing of the wind as the boat went up, down, and side to side like some sort of bizarre roller coaster. The tightened main sheet seemed to never stop creaking as the boom swung back and forth, waving to the waves. Bang, bang, bang went our hull as we slammed head on into the waves and beat into the wind. Salt coated everything in a blanket. Of course, everything was blue. The blue ocean and blue sky were all there was. We were just a speck of white in a world of blue. These are the things I love and hate at the same time. When I’m at sea my life is a paradox. It’s neither good or bad, but somewhere in between.

It was day five when the squalls hit. I was standing at the helm on my watch when I saw something that looked like a dark gray wall. I said to my dad, who was standing in the door to the salon, “Those are some really dark clouds.” He came to my side to look and suddenly froze before dashing back inside. He quickly returned with my mom, who relieved me of the helm. I retreated inside to avoid getting in my parent’s way and turned the watch them. They barely got the sail pulled in in time. Before I knew what was happening, the sky had turned black and the wind began screaming. Instead of just going up and down the waves, we were going up, up and down, down. Then the rain came. I’d never known it to rain so hard at sea. It hammered down on the windows as if trying to break through them. We’d had squalls before, but I couldn’t recall anything like this. Yet, for some reason, I didn’t feel afraid. The squalls continued throughout the night and the waves remained nine to fifteen feet high in the morning. It wasn’t bad, though, and we were okay. A boat was dismasted that night, however, not by the squalls, but by faulty rigging. Maybe there was nothing to fear from the NZ crossing after all.

On day ten I awoke to the sound of tapping on the hatch above my bunk. The sun had barely risen (a time much too early for me), but I climbed out of bed anyway. Still in the oversized t-shirt I was using as a nightshirt, I climbed on deck with my brother and mom to see— land! After ten days of nothing but blue, there was land at last. New Zealand was so different from what I’d expected. Instead of the green mountains of French Polynesia and Tonga, it consisted of gently rolling hills that were beautiful shades of orange, yellow, and brown. The land stretched on for miles in either direction until it faded out of sight. The smell of it was different too. After months of smelling musty tropical plants and salt, the smell of NZ took me by surprise. It smelled of animals! Not the scattered goats, pigs, and horses we’d come across in our travels, but lots and lots of animals. It wasn’t a bad smell, but rather something that reminded me of trips to my grandparents’ farm.

first sight of New Zealand’s hills

The land wasn’t the only spectacular thing. Within minutes we were surrounded by hundreds of common dolphins. They swam in front of the bow in an unorganized procession, welcoming us to their home. They smiled, whistled, flashed their yellow sides, and danced. Weaving around each other and leaping into the air, they put on a show. We cheered as they jumped and laughed as they slapped their tails on the water’s surface. Eventually, as the dolphins spread out, it truly hit me: we had done it. We had completed the New Zealand crossing. With that thought in my mind, I took the helm and steered the boat toward safe harbor.

a common dolphin swimming along side

 

 

 **************************************************************************************************

a letter from Justine

www.svfullmonty.com

Where the boat floats

August 31, 2012

Dear followers,

In the blog I didn’t tell you guys anything about the sail to Massachusetts or Maine. Not even the part about meeting our new neighbors. Why, most of them were extremely friendly and they all put on a great show! By now you’re probably thinking: “Who is she talking about?” or you’ve already guessed. Well… our “neighbors” are the creatures of the sea!

“Dolphin!” my dad’s deep voice called. I grabbed my bright, yellow life jacket and rushed to the bow (front of the boat), eager to see something interesting after hours of feeling seasick (this was my first day of open-ocean sailing after all). The air smelled of salt and I had trouble keeping my balance as the waves controlled the movements of the boat. My brother, in his orange-yellow life jacket, had come up to the bow to see the dolphins too. We looked around and then… THERE! They were some distance off the starboard (right) side. Every couple of seconds the distinct curved dorsal fin of a dolphin would break the water’s surface. Sometimes two or three would come up at a time. They appeared to be coming right at us. Maybe they’re coming to play at our bow, I thought. Sadly, I was wrong. Instead the dolphins passed right by us. Luckily, that wasn’t the last time we would see dolphins or any kind of ocean mammal.

“Dolphin!” the call rang out again. I went through the usual routine of getting my life jacket and rushing to the bow. Colin was with me. Again you could see the fins of the dolphins as they approached, but this time was different. Suddenly they raced to the port (left) side of our boat. There were about three. I looked down upon them and saw nearly every detail you could possibly see in the few seconds they stayed there. I could see the curve of their bodies, their eyes looking up at me, and the white spots running along their gray sides. Then suddenly the dolphins vanished…just gone. A look in the marine field guide revealed that these dolphins were possibly Atlantic Spotted dolphins. At the time I thought that was super cool, but now I realize that was nothing compared to the other creatures we are neighbors with. There were more dolphins to meet though.

Again the dolphin call continued to ring out, and this continued to happen for the next couple of days. Though, during these times the dolphins came to the bow (all the dolphins that came to the bow were Bottlenose). If you’ve ever been to the beach and have watched some dolphins from a distance, I can tell you it is way more exciting up close. First of all, DOLPHINS ARE HUGE! I might be exaggerating a little bit, but they were a lot bigger than I expected. They were probably about eight feet long (I know that doesn’t sound like much, but trust me they looked big). The calves were the size of Colin and he’s an almost eighty pound ten year old. When I looked down at them from the bow they appeared to be smiling up at me. I could see lots of scars on them, including the calves. My dad and Colin claimed they could hear clicking, but all I could hear were waves. Oh well… Still, it was a wonderful welcome.

O.K., by now you’re probably tired of talk about dolphins, but I’m almost done. It was day four of our voyage to Massachusetts, and as usual the “dolphin call” sounded. The rest of my family and I went outside to take a look, but we couldn’t see anything. The dolphins had disappeared. Then suddenly…SPLASH! Somewhere in the distance off our starboard side a dolphin had soared through the air and landed back in the water with a great splash. At first only a few were jumping, until dolphin after dolphin, pod after pod came until we were completely surrounded. There were dolphins swimming to the left and dolphins jumping to the right (fins to the left, fins to the right…), it was a dolphin show! But that’s not all! To our surprise a few white fins began to circle the boat. Were they sunfish or perhaps a couple of albinos? No, they appeared to be Risso’s dolphins. What a party! It was fun cheering on all of the dolphins. It’s too bad it didn’t last long. Eventually the dolphins began to disappear until there were no more left, but there were still more exciting things to see that day.

Not too long after the dolphin “show” (my dad and Colin had just finished unsuccessfully fishing for tuna) Colin and I went inside to watch a TV show on the computer. About halfway through the episode I heard, “Whale!” Colin paused the show and we removed our headphones. Both of us were both confused. Did we just here the word whale? Sure enough it sounded again, but this time my dad’s voice was clearly recognizable. I rushed outside with Colin right behind me. After a while of looking around I could see a white spout of water waaayy off in the distance. For a couple of minutes Colin, my dad, and I were pointing out spouts to my mom, who was driving, to tell her which way to go. Eventually the spouts became easier to see. Then, when I was looking through the binoculars, I saw a great dark shape rise up from the sea and give a mighty huff as it blew water out its blow hole and vanish back under the ocean. That was a whale. More began to arrive until we were surrounded, just like with the dolphins, but it didn’t have the same feeling. With the dolphins I felt happy to see them, though with the whales I felt honored… truly honored to be in the presence of such magnificent creatures. I don’t know how long my family and I watched them, it could have been hours. We watched as the bodies of these black whales gracefully come to the ocean’s surface, revealing a small dorsal fin, before giving a huff and disappearing again. It was a special day.

Sometime while we were looking at the whales a different species arrived. This species was tan instead of black. These whales came a little closer than the others. One whale off the port side made a sound that is nearly indescribable. It was a little bit like a moan, but it sounded beautiful to me. A beautiful moan… that doesn’t make much sense does it? Anyway, because these whales came closer I could see the shape of their ribs on their skin, their eyes gazing curiously at our boat, and their mouths that seemed to silently say hello. I would like to close off the paragraph by saying what I felt, but was at a loss for words then and I still am now.

I am telling you all these things because I want to share with you these moments that I experienced and the things that I felt. When I was with the dolphins and whales I felt a connection and I wrote this so you feel a little bit of that connection too if any. I hope you enjoyed “meeting” our new “neighbors” as much as I did.

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One Response to boat life by justine

  1. James Outland

    Great writing Justine!! I always enjoy reading life experiences from others doing what I want to do to. I am so amazed at you and your family living a dream that most of us just dream about. It was wonderful reading about the dolphins and whales. Keep up the good work. These will be memories that you can never buy and they will last you a life time. Enjoy every day of it. Just think of what a great sailor you will become. Thanks for the post, James Outland

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