Our last passage. Our last nine days at sea.
It started off with two Revision Days, two days that passed in a blink of an eye. We all thought we had more time, and we were all quite frenzied the night before the exams started. Late night study sessions were not uncommon during these days. Every night, after my watch from 0200-0400, I’d walk into the mess and find a determined Gabby, still studying.
On top of everything, the night before the exams started, we entered what would be our first real taste of rough weather. It was a Sunday; I remember because we were all wearing our Sunday’s best for our last Sunday Dinner at sea. At muster, it was announced that we would no longer be allowed to go outside unless we were on watch. If we were on watch, we were to make our way to the Bridge by going up through the Crew Mess rather than the main deck and then we had to immediately harness up. When moving around on deck, we were to be clipped in at all times.
First thing after muster, there was an Idle Hands Call to take down the outer jib and to set the lower topsail. A few of us cracked open the large doors at the front of the Mess and squeezed out to grab some harnesses for everyone. Harnessed up, we started moving through the familiar motions of preparing the lines, but it was anything but familiar. The deck was slippery and the ship was rocking and rolling in a way that it had never done before, suddenly lurching to one side causing us all to fall to the ground, held in place only by the clips of our harnesses. More than once did someone, myself included, slip and slide across the deck and wind up crumpled against the side of the ship in a pool of water, more shocked than anything. It was the weather that we had all secretly hoped for and our parents had successfully warded off to this point. It was time to put our knowledge and our skills to the test. After nine months, we all felt like it was due.
View of the ocean from the inside of the bridge house (photo: Captain Jeroen)
At first, it was terrifyingly fun, but then we remembered that it was our exam session and we had to study. Now, I am going to try to explain to you what it was like to study on a rolling vessel: Picture yourself sitting at your dining room table, being a good student, you have your notes laid out, you’re hooked up to your computer, listening to some tunes, your calculator on the table as well, a pencil, a pen, a highlighter, maybe an eraser if you had one. Then, out the blue, all your stuff flies across the table and slams into the wall in front of you. That was the first time. You learn from your mistakes. You pick up your stuff, and put away half. The rest you try to rearrange so that they are less likely to roll: pencil case behind your back, one pencil in hand, notes tucked under computer, arms spread wide holding it all down. And then, another, much more powerful roll, and once again your stuff is on the floor. This happens many, many more times. Each time, you learn from your mistakes and you think that you will be better prepared for the next roll: you’re not. At some point, you get fed up with this game, you pack up your stuff, head downstairs, and crawl into bed, the studying put off until later, when you’ll have hopefully regained some more patience.
Sammy and me in the bridge studying for exams.
The weather is not all bad though. We get to dress up in our complete foulies: heavy-duty rain jackets and rain pants that look something like snow pants. All of us matchy-matchy. It’s cold out. We are getting close to Canada and we feel it. Toques are back in style, so are wool socks and ratty sandals, mitts or gloves or even socks on hands. At night, we don’t even bother getting undressed; we just roll right into bed, some people still in full foulies. I’ve heard some people say that it even smells like Canada; I guess they mean that it smells like the air in your nostrils freezing while wind whips at your face until you lose sensation in most of your facial muscles. For me, it’s the ocean that reminds me of home. It’s a darker blue than it’s been all year, and slightly more gray, and because of the wind, it is decorated with thousands of huge white caps. It reminds me of the lake behind my house during a summer storm, times one hundred, and, here, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of dolphins playing in the waves.
If the cold wasn’t enough to make us feel like we are home, the Canadian Coast Guard did a fly-by for us on the last day of exams. They were out-and-about (‘oot-and-aboot’) because of the rough seas when they spotted us on the radar and decided to pop on by. Upon spotting them, Klaus and Svea, American and German, started singing “Oh Canada!” and it wasn’t long before everyone joined in. We all felt like we were being welcomed home, even the non-Canadians.
Later that night, we watched our first sunset in two and a half months where we could see the sun dip behind the horizon without clouds blocking our view! Many of us flocked to the port breezeway benches with blankets and duvets to share. We were all snuggled together nice and tight, people sitting on top of one another, and more and more people squeezing onto the two benches instead of spreading out. Needless to say, it was cozy. The sun took a lot longer to set than we had expected, as it hadn't taken this long when we were around the Equator. So we filled the time by reminiscing about the beginning of the year and by joking around in our usual way. It was like sitting around a bonfire in mid-September (if you’re from Quebec) with some friends, with some family. And when the sun did make its way close to the horizon, it was a sight worth the wait: the sky became a swirl of blues, purples, and pinks, the bottoms of the few clouds around were lit up by the last few rays of light bursting up past the horizon, and everyone was silent.
Today, after the last exam of the year, and after lunch, there was a bing-bong announcement about the exams finally being over. Immediately afterwards, there was a second bing-bong announcement inviting all student to the Galley. The last time that we heard an announcement like this one, Sue and Alysha had squeezed all 35 of us into the small Galley and served us cake and Coca-Cola, so today, we all rushed to the Galley. They wanted to celebrate the end of the year with us, as well as thank us for, and I quote, “being so awesome!” We love our cooks! Once again they made us cake with extra frosting and extra sprinkles, and they also handed out the Rice KrispieTreats that Klaus’ mom had bought us for this occasion. We also took advantage of the moment to take a final picture in the Galley (if you didn’t know, our Galley’s walls are now covered in polaroid pictures that we have been taking all year long).
The final picture of the trainees in the Galley (photo: Angelo)
Tonight, we celebrate the end of the school year with a Chocolate Night: hot chocolate and cookies for all while we watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Tomorrow, we will watch High School Musical 3, and in the days to come, we will have a flea market to exchange clothing, we will have multiple deep cleans, time for packing, debriefing, and – of course - our Grand Arrival on May 21st in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. It has been an unbelievably amazing and wonderful year, and I wish that this adventure could go on forever, but there are so many more adventures out there just waiting for us.
- Written by grade 12 student Leah Birch