I first heard about Class Afloat when I was 12 from a distant relative, Amy Russell.
I am now at the end of my first year of university and accomplishing my dream. I have always been a sailor: lessons since the age of 7, racing since 13 and coaching since 15, and sailing is my passion. I applied to Class Afloat, mainly for the sailing experience and maritime lifestyle. Since day one, September 9th 2016, my interest has been to be on deck and learn all that I can about tall ship sailing.
Aside from the required daily 2 hour day watch and 2 hour night watch, I spent anywhere from a few extra hours to all of my spare time helping out on deck, and loving it. I started out working with one of the maritime crew members and a few students, just learning the lines and doing small jobs that could have easily been done quicker by one maritime crew, and grew to being confident of working on my own and even helping teach other trainees.
When on watch, every one has a roll to fill, such as watch leader, helmsmen, lookouts, deck leader and navigator. There is always a work list and night jobs getting done and more than that on day watch. Jobs can include anything from repairing torn sails to replacing the course clew, but mostly it's rust busting, priming and painting to keep this ship in good shape.
For me, personally, after spending so much of my time with crew and taking all the opportunities to learn more, I often did different jobs on my spare time. Throughout the year some things I have worked on are: running and standing rigging inspections, and fixing anything there that needs it; doing many whippings, splices, seizings and services; bending on and off sails and of course all the sail calls. This year has been absolutely extraordinary - the school, travel, people and adventure, but most of all the sailing, have given me experiences that will never take me off the ocean.
At sea, your life revolves around napping and napping revolves around life, but overall weather controls everything. For the whole sail, whether it's a 5 day voyage or a 35 day voyage, there are no days off and no weekends. Sleeping a maximum of 4 or 5 hours at a time, whether it's before night watch or after, or between classes and watch, sleeping little bits at a time has become normal to us.
To some of us, every little change in weather can wake us up. I can tell from my bunk when a quiet alarm is going off in the bridge, or when wind direction or force changes, when that constant hum of the generator becomes so normal you don’t hear it anymore; even the slightest change brings my attention. I’ve come to realize that ship life and my life is one in the same. Traveling and hanging out is great - don’t get me wrong - but waking up for a 4-6am watch, climbing aloft to unfurl sails and seeing the sunrise and dolphins and feeling the fresh morning breeze has to better than anything I have ever experienced before. How could you not enjoy going to work any hour when you have a beautiful sunrise or sunset and a fantastic ocean surrounding you.
Some people may find it hard to be in a place where you live in the same small area that you work, study and hangout in 24/7. Quickly, one may need a change of scenery or people, but for me, being here and being able to spend time on deck working at any given time with all of these amazing people makes living in my workplace and school so great.
Before this year started, everyone who knew my passion for sailing always asked me, “If you like sailing so much, why don’t you do it for a living?” and I was always so confident with my answer; I had a solid 10-year plan. Well, this year with Class Afloat has changed all of that. I used to answer that question with this exact answer: “Sailing is my passion, I never want to wake up and say ‘urgh I have to go sailing today’”. Now I am answering that question with all of my options, such as working on another tall ship this summer and applying to the Canadian Coast Guard. This ship has taught me that in the best of moods and the worst of moods, waking up and knowing that I'll be spending that day at sea, even after a month long voyage, can still put a smile on my face and make me work the extra mile. Ship life is my life.
The maritime crew on board have been some of the best mentors to me: Grant, Corey, Mark, Lukas, Angelo, Sarah, Conor and Josefine have all contributed more than they know to my life. Since day 1, having deck crew around literally 24/7 has allowed me to work and to be interested at all times of day. Since our stop in Barbados, I have been doing a Bosun's Mate apprenticeship with our new bosun Jo.
For the last 6 weeks of this program, being Bosun's Mate has put all of my knowledge to the test. Working with Jo after cleaning stations from 0900hrs to 1600hrs on a typical day, plus any other hours I am feeling keen to complete, feels like I am truly getting the most out of this program as I can. Getting the taste of the maritime side of things has really shown me who I am. From the ‘fun’ jobs like making new jib sheet pennants to the nasty ones like a couple hours in deep storage cleaning pools of mold, I will always be one of the first volunteers because I want to dive into every aspect of this experience.
I've been looking forward to this year since I was 12, and I’m turning 19 in less than 10 days; having this year come to an end feels like the ending of a 6 year chapter that I am ever so grateful happened. The days and nights I spent exhausted and happy will never be forgotten. All of the days in the rigging and doing maintenance will always be remembered. The ship life is my life and the maritime side of things is the best, in my opinion.
- Written by Marlee Kuchma