The first thing most people think of when I tell them I’m sailing around the world on a tall ship is “Oh what a great adventure” or “you’re so brave to be doing this without knowing anyone beforehand”. Yes, this is all true, but no one really thinks about the bond or community that the whole crew shares; nobody would understand this except for the people who have been in the same situation.

When we are sailing in the middle of the Atlantic on the Gulden Leeuw, we are together 24/7, and it’s hard to have a time when you are by yourself. I started to become really close with some of the people on board. Everyone sleeps in really tight quarters; the aisles between the bunks are around two or two and half feet apart. This makes us get to know each other really well.

When we go to port though, it’s different. In port we go off in groups of four. I went out with Alice, Anastasia, Mairead, and Julia exploring the city of Horta, Failal. The first day in port I went to the beach; the sand and water was cold, but refreshing. The breeze smelled of salty ocean water. The sea was a light marine blue. I only got to experience this with three other people instead of fifty-nine other people. Once I got back to the ship it was like coming home; everyone shared what they did that day and suggests where to go and what to do.

After being in port for three days, I went hiking with a group doing the Duke of Edinburgh Award. The Duke of Edinburgh is an award that anyone can receive. This award is mostly worked on in the Commonwealth countries. One of the parts you need to do to receive the award is to plan and do an adventurous journey. My journey was hiking Mount Pico and camping on the island of Pico. I was really slow because the terrain was really steep and had a lot of loose rock. The air was cool, fresh, and clean. The reason why it was so steep was because we were climbing up a mountain called Mount Pico, which is the tallest mountain in Portugal and an inactive volcano.

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This is the view above the clouds from on top of the mountain. In the distance is the city of Horta below the clouds across the water. It was bright and sunny up high.

The rocks on Pico were really rough and a dark greyish black. I was sweating so much because of the heavy bag I had on my back. The bag also slowed me down a lot. As we hiked up the mountain, we passed through a cloud, which got me a little damp. Everyone in our group had to break into smaller groups. I was in the last and slowest group. It was okay because I got to hang out with Emma and Lloyd, one of the teachers on board. Not only did I get to know Emma better as well, but she really encouraged me to climb higher and do more. Unfortunately, we didn’t reach the summit but I felt a strong sense of friendship, understanding, and motivation.

After our Duke of Edinburgh camping trip; I went off with some friends and went around town one last time before leaving; walking into stores and spending most of our time in Peter’s Café. On the way back to the ship, the kids on the German ship offered us a tour of their ship. The German ship was also a sail training vessel for kids in grade 11 and they were in port at the same time as us. I find that there is a community not only within our own ship community, but also within the sailing community.

I was so amazed at how similarly the Gulden Leeuw and the Thor Heyerdral are run. It was also really different in a way. The German students have classes every other day and we have classes every day. A lot of the Class Afloat students connected with the other students on the German Class. Anastasia and I connected with the students on the “Thor Heyerdral” because we are doing some of the same things they are doing and we understand what they’re going through and the vocabulary they use to describe their ship. Thor Heyerdral is entirely made out of wood. This is what I’ll remember the most. I feel a real sense of community and family here; this is something that will always be irreplaceable to me.

Featured image: These are the friends I went hiking with on top of Mount Pico for the Duke of Edinburgh hike; This is near the summit. From left to right (Aiga, Alice, Ingrid, Myriam and in the middle at the bottom is Faren)

Sail Ship Training
Our new crew member and classmate, Cor, at helm for the first time. We were passing through a huge patch of sargassum seaweed, where we often catch large fish.

Excitement for Season 2 of Class Afloat was shown with cheek-to-cheek smiles and many hugs, as if it had been months since we had seen each other. Everybody seemed refreshed from their time spent at home and ready to live countless more amazing experiences together.

(I write this as we sail swiftly towards Dominica, shamefully finger-scooping peanut butter into my mouth as we do here on the Gulden Leeuw.)

The Gulden Leeuw didn’t change while we were gone (although it did seem considerably cleaner). One change however was the lack of many students from semester 1 and the addition of new students and crew to our community. This considerably shifted the dynamic. We all miss those who have left us and it’s definitely not the same without them. Surely we will see them again soon. While it was strange at first to have new crew members and students living with us, soon enough the newcomers became more comfortable and we’re quickly learning that each and every one of them is bringing something great to our seafaring community. I’m impressed about how much they’ve learned already in so little time. They bravely climbed aloft, enjoying their first birds-eyed view of their new welcoming home and participated actively in our departure sail setting.

New watches are even stranger than I had imagined. I couldn’t be happier with both my day and night watches, yet Watch 6 was my family within a family for 4 months. Lulu commented that although everyone in watch 2 (my new watch) are all friends, it feels awkward because we have never been in a watch situation together before. Nonetheless, I’m sure we’ll get used to it in no time.

Season 2 of Class Afloat
Marilyn struggling to open the curtain as she kindly brings our banana peels to the food waste bin.

I can’t wait for my new classes. Teachers came prepared and enthused about the curriculum they will be teaching us. Actually, maybe “teaching us” isn’t the right term. I prefer saying that they’re guiding our learning. Siobhàn once said, “We are all teachers and we are all students.” On Class Afloat, the teacher-student dynamic is nothing like I’ve ever seen before. Teachers will spend time with us joking around and talking. After all, they have to be pretty cool people to come on Class Afloat. Sorry, I digress. All in all, my classes are interesting and I’m excited!

I was surprised in the most amazing way on departure day. Our old Second Officer, Adriaan, was on a tall ship anchored beside us called The Tres Hombres. On watch, we noticed a beautiful, elegant, bearded man tendering towards our ship. It was none other than Adriaan himself. We were all incredibly happy to see him again and are looking forward to when he will be joining us again in Bermuda. As if that wasn’t enough, Hanna’s parent’s catamaran motored by with Sophie and Colin, our departing greenhand and cook’s mate standing proudly on the deck! We’re so lucky for our amazing crew this year. We’ll miss Sophie’s contagious laugh and Colin’s lack of t-shirts. It was great to see them again. Soon enough, the Gulden Leeuw raised anchor, caught steady winds in our sails and set off towards Dominica.

After spending a wonderful time in the Dominican Republic, staying with different families and doing community work such as painting houses and building a playground, we set off on an eight-day sail towards Havana. Before leaving Dominican Republic, many students did some last shopping for snacks such as chocolate and granola bars to fill up our snack bags (all students have our own snack bag, where we keep our personal snacks) for the sail.

We started off the sail with baking club’s top-secret operation circle. At night, after study hall, we met up down in galley (the kitchen) and then we started cutting out the dough, which was already prepared, for bagels. When the dough was cut, we rolled the dough up into little balls that we then pressed with our fingers to shape them like little halos. While we were doing that, we also put a big pot of water over the stove. Making bagels is an art.

When the water was hot enough, Mairead balanced the bagels on her arms and I threw them into the hot pot of water. Brie, the medical officer, stated a timer and Mauricio flipped the bagels around so that each side of the bagels got about 40 seconds in the boiling water. When the bagels had boiled for the right amount of time, we fished them out and then Ingrid and Stephanie sprinkled cheese and roasted seeds on top of them. We then put the bagels in the oven until they became a beautiful golden-brown colour. While the bagels were in the oven, the whole galley smelled like heaven. When the bagels were done, the people in baking club enjoyed having a little bagel party where we each had half a bagel to taste; they were delicious.

Class Afloat Anastasia 2

After our little bagel party, we made the last effort to clean up the galley before going to our bunks and getting some rest before getting up for watch (on the boat we have night watch where we are responsible for sailing the ship). I was extremely tired so I feel asleep immediately.

The next morning, I got up as soon as I heard the music playing in the dorms (we play music for wake ups), because I did not want to miss breakfast that day! I got dressed and ran up the stairs to join the line for food. Everyone was grateful to have homemade bagels for breakfast and people kept telling us how much they enjoyed them.

Later in the day my Global Geography class got interrupted by minke whales! We were sitting in class working on an assignment when suddenly someone shouted that there were whales outside! We all ran outside and rushed to the aft (back) of the boat where we saw a giant group of minke whales. There were whales everywhere I looked, and they were super close to the boat! They were coming from the aft and swimming under the boat. We could see the white shadow of their belly when they gracefully turned around in the water. I was speechless. We have seen whales before on Class Afloat, but never this close and so many at a time. I missed about 30min of class but it was totally worth it for this amazing experience.