An Atlantic crossing is a unique adventure that the majority of the world will never experience, much less on a tall ship with a crew composed largely of 16 to 18 year old students.
Our North Atlantic crossing was to prove the maritime skills, character and adversity gained since our September departure aboard the tall ship, Gulden Leeuw, as part of the Class Afloat program. Prior to our sprint to the Azores (before continuing to Dublin), our well-trained maritime staff briefed a wide-eyed student crew on what laid ahead and the preparations and safety precautions required. Once ready, we left Bermuda on a grey and gloomy day seemingly foreshadowing something ominous coming and leaving me with a level of anxiety I hadn’t experienced since our first departure of the school year 8 months prior. In preparation; safety lines were set, safety nets were tightened, harnesses became daily life and we set out to meet whatever the ocean had in store for us.
Upon departure, we were immediately struck with idle hand calls for sail maneuvers, instantly increasing our speed to 8 knots as our race to the Azores commenced. As our sail progressed, we began to get our first taste of the North Atlantic with winds getting stronger and constantly changing due to encountered squalls. With swell size increasing to 8-10m and a 25-30% heel, we increased our speed to a steady 11-13.1 knots straight for a few days.
Breezeways became danger zones as port side had waves constantly crashing into it, shaking the entire ship, whereas starboard side was completely submerged with water flowing over the railing. Needless to say, laundry was lost off our clotheslines but this was the least of anyone’s concerns. The constant roll and heel is what made all tasks in general so difficult. Daily life became a balancing act and there were no longer simple tasks like walking, brushing your teeth or even going to the bathroom. These may be events an experienced sailor can relate to, but trying to attend school as well, posed another challenge. Not only do you have to focus on class but you also need to keep “one ear open” to the conditions to be able to brace yourself from sliding benches (that you hoped were sea stowed properly so they wouldn’t crush you into the opposite wall), all the while holding and protecting your laptop at all costs. If this isn't the most challenging school in the world I don’t know what is. Although terrifying at times, this is the experience we all signed up for in learning how to deal with adversity and becoming independent young adults.
Nearing the end of this leg of our journey, watching dolphins race us in our moonlit surroundings, provided a level of calm and serenity that our arrival was near. In that moment, the realization that a crew of teenagers safely crossed the North Atlantic was an accomplishment that no one can ever take from any one of us.
Written By: Class Afloat Student, Easton Leedahl