On September 4th, when students came to the wharf in Amsterdam and they could finally have their first glimpse at the tall ship they would be living on for the upcoming months, the three tall masts took the breath away from the future Floaties. When will the moment come for them to finally reach the top gallant, 40 meters above the deck? For some of us more adventurous students, this thrill was a story of the past only few days after the official departure; for others, the challenge is still alive today.
Above all, reaching the summit is a special moment for anyone having the nerves to climb all the way up. For me, after few attempts to the course, then to the lower top sail – just half way to the top gallant – I strived for the peak of the Gulden Leeuw on a sunny day of the first Atlantic crossing.
When I woke up on December 12th, I knew that day would be a great day. Maybe it had something to do with the cheerful music the galley team had put for regular wake-up, the full night of rest I had just had, the AC in the dorms finally working against the humidity of the equator, or a sudden change in this atmospheric pressure, who knows. Only, my pinky was telling me that it would be a formidable day on the ocean. Just when I was heading for my breakfast, I heard the rumour from the watch: we would see the Brazilian land today; the Atlantic crossing had come to an end. On that positive note, I went to watch as the sun was already hot, and the breeze was comfortable, the swell was in a rhythmic dance with the hull of our boat, and the ocean was bluer than ever.
On the bridge, Shaila was waiting for us with a list full of projects for the day. First things first, we had to prepare our arrival in Fernando by furling all of the square sails, beginning with the top gallant. It was my chance: today was the day I would accomplish this challenge I had been dealing with since Amsterdam. Before Shaila could even finish her sentence, I was putting my harness on, ready to go aloft. I jumped on the occasion and, with Samantha, we hopped on the foremast’s ladder, beginning to climb to reach the summit.
I was confident; in general, I am not scared of heights. I am simply uncomfortable. However, I knew I could depend on this ladder as much as I could on an old friend. It is steady, wide enough, and I knew I could rely on these three stays running from the deck to the course platform. Even though I was not the fastest to climb up, I still reached this mid-way point easily. Yet, the hardest part was still coming up. The next ladder leading directly to the top gallant is not as friendly. It is made of rope that seems to be there since the ship was built, has some random wood steps – probably where the line tore –is way less steady, and you can barely fit both your feet reaching the top of it. This wobbly ladder was dancing and twisting from left to right as the boat was fighting the waves. My heart started beating harder into my chest, my hands were holding on so tight that my nails were printed into my skin, and my fear reached the summit way before I did.
Step after step, I was holding in tears and sticking to the little energy, courage, and confidence I had left to climb those last meters. I would not go down after all the progress I had made, not today. I finally reached the summit, not only after an extensive and exhausting ascension, but after a 4-month trip sailing the oceans of the world under these yards. Of course, I clipped in as soon as I got to the yard. After a few deep breaths and a glimpse at the view from the highest point of the ship, I started furling the sail with Samantha. During an hour, we prepared the top-gallant for our arrival in port. Just before heading down, which seemed as scary – if not more – than going up, we saw a blue silhouette lying on the horizon: Fernando! The feeling of seeing land after a fifteen-day sail crossing the ocean is indescribable. We were cheerful; There was no doubt we were the first ones to see land.
When I finally stepped onto deck, covered in bruises, trembling, out of breath, dizzy, and more tired than I have ever been, my heart was filled with pride. I remember that I could not stop smiling, that feeling inside me was delightful. As we were doing the handover at the end of my watch, a few dolphins appeared on port side. They were jumping, dancing, and swimming in the water, a little bit like my mind in happiness. My eyes were wet once again, but this time they were filled with gaiety and bliss; I knew this day would be exceptional.