A captivating blog post from 2021-2022 student-Connor Teskey

Img 1299
Connor climbing aloft on the Alex II tallship

A sailor lives an extraordinary life, flirting with danger, utilizing it to their advantage to travel to their desired location. A sailor chooses a home isolated from the rest of the world, living in a small community travelling across a wet and unforgiving desert we call the ocean. I’m sitting here as I write this in likely the most intense weather I’ve seen in my lifetime, and I’ve been sailing since the age of 2. I’m in my bunk as the ship rolls on port side. I just want to note that once you hit what feels like 45 degrees your walls become just as much your floor as the floor becomes your walls. In this type of sea state, it’s no question to assume that simple tasks such as eating a bowl of cereal, opening doors, or even walking down a hallway becomes trivial. I look out my porthole to see the raging ocean stir and spray in the whirling gusts of 50-60kts. My view occasionally gets dunked below the sea line and fills my room with the sapphire blue hue of the North Atlantic.

Dsst Avh 2012 021 Preview
A cabin aboard the Alex II tallship

The most beautiful is at night. when my porthole goes under, I’m unable to see much, but what I am able to see is swirling blueish green light of the bioluminescence in the water. They appear as pinpoints like stars swirling in the sky. The water itself isn’t glowing, it’s these microorganisms floating about that produce such wondrous lights. The night isn’t all fun as this is your time to sleep. This is made extremely difficult by the noises so common around this ship. You will never find anywhere on this ship that’s completely silent and my room is no exception. Some sounds I don’t mind and actually quite enjoy, such as the roar of the wind, or the splashing of waves against the hull. The noises that are less than optimal would be the everlasting croak that my bunk produces in the rolls. There’s also the engine room below us which creates a slight rumble, this isn’t too bad however. Our soundscape is also filled with alarms from our neighbouring engineers who wake up throughout the night to ensure the engine is running to perfection. Some nights onboard it’s impossible to sleep, it’s inevitable. Some nights you’re rolling back and forth 30+ degrees from port to starboard, feeling like you’re getting slammed into your wall, and then the next second nearly getting thrown from your bunk. It’s these nights that I put in my earbuds, choose my favourite music (most commonly an atmospheric Pink Floyd playlist) and just roll around bracing myself when needed while watching the swirling lights just outside the glass of my porthole. 

Img 2881
Connor and fellow crewmate

This might sound like I’m complaining, but I’m really not. I actually do enjoy these sleepless nights. It’s not that often that you can say you had to grip for dear life to not get thrown from one end of your room to another while blasting Pink Floyd’s mental song bike on repeat while slowly going crazy from sleep deprivation. It may not be fun in the moment and you may have the lines “I’ve got a bike you can ride it if you like it’s got a basket, a bell, and things to make it look good” stuck in your head, but that’s what sailing is all about. It’s overcoming the challenges of daily life made more difficult by your increased isolation and environment literally moving the ground of which you walk on on a constant basis. When it’s all said and done, we get to return home to our stable ground and bring back these stories of triumph, and adventure. This is a lifestyle that constantly sends you outside your comfort zone. This lifestyle can be the source of trust in yourself to know your capable of overcoming occasionally dangerous situations. You will never truly know how you’ll act under pressure until you’ve experienced some pressure, and that is an insanely valuable experience to have.

The life of a sailor isn’t something easily conveyed to somebody who hasn’t experience the lifestyle for themselves. No matter how many stories are told, no matter how much you think you understand the life, you probably don’t know the full extent of it unless you’ve lived it yourself. It’s filled with beauty, agony, loneliness, wonder, and adventure. It’s a concoction that has somehow fueled my love for the ocean. The difficulties give you perspective of your own capabilities, and they give you challenge that feels amazing to overcome. You may be on deck on a calm day watching the flying fish pop out of the water avoiding predators, or you may be down below on a rough day preying on flying plates, catching them before they hit the ground with the all too familiar ear shattering clash of porcelain on the deck. Each day is different. Each day brings new challenges, some days more than others. It’s this freshness to each day that makes conveying the lifestyle so incredibly difficult to land lubbers. No story can perfectly capture the life a sailor lives, it can only capture moments chosen carefully to create a good narrative for the listener. These stories either leaving out most of the positives of your day focusing entirely on the negatives of your day, and the opposite. It’s this lack of ability to provide the full picture of the sailor’s experience that gives it mystical qualities, leaving the listener in needs for the missing puzzle pieces. You’ll never find the missing puzzle pieces of somebody else’s story; you can only create your own new puzzle of which only you can hold every single piece. This is what drives me to sea. The knowledge that my story is my own land that nobody can take away the challenges you’ve overcome is liberating. In this micro environment everything you do matters, and even the smallest shortcomings in your effort can be quickly seen through its effects on your small community. Your effects on your community no longer feel invisible as they so commonly do when on land. On a ship you become an important contributor to your community and that’s a great thing. The life of a sailor is many things. It’s the good the bad and the ugly, but when put together the good overcomes, and creates a beautiful way of life.

 

Get to know Class Afloat faculty and students throughout the ages in our Alumni in the Spotlight series.

What’s your name?

Celina Diaz

Celina Judith Diaz

Where are you from?

Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada

What year did you sail with Class Afloat?

I sailed with Class Afloat in 2012-13, the route was a figure eight of the North and South Atlantic on the Sørlandet of Norway.

Do you still keep in touch with your shipmates?

That’s a bit of a hard question to answer. We keep in touch, but I guess just based on geography – I see my classmates a lot less now than we did the couple of years after graduating. I’ve become closer to some after the school year than while on board, and some of by best friends are Class Afloat alumni from other years, funnily enough.

Where are you now?

Currently I am in Copenhagen, Denmark, where I have lived for the past five years.

What have you been up to following your time at sea?

What I discovered at sea that first year captivated my attention so much, that it literally has become my entire world since. Eager to keep on, in 2014 I worked as a trainee on the training ship DANMARK, and graduated with Ordinary Seaman papers.

I can’t say that there was a point where I consciously chose a career at sea, but one thing lead to another, one job to the next! I spent four years on my favourite ship Sørlandet, sailed three voyages as a quartermaster on the DANMARK and spent some time on a sailmaker’s bench in Denmark.

What impact did Class Afloat have on your life and career?

I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into when I sent an application to Class Afloat. Well, some idea I guess, but I didn’t know how it would change every decision that I’ve made in the following years.

Class Afloat made the biggest impact anything has in my life, mostly because I have made a career out of sailing tall ships and sail training. I consider myself very lucky to have been a Class Afloat student when I was, with the exceptional mix of crew and teachers that were there at the time. They inspired me to go after something very unconventional, without necessarily having the intent to do so.

What is your favourite Class Afloat memory?

It’s impossible to choose. I think one of my favourite memories was sewing bottlescrew boots. Without explaining too much, it’s just a piece of canvas that is stitched around the threads of a bottlescrew, which is used to tighten the standing rigging. In non-sailor words, sewing a piece of fabric around a fixed, cylinder-shaped object. There were hundreds to stitch, so what began as a one-man project slowly became a job that a lot of us students could do.

So over the course of a few weeks, we would get together in our free time, and stitch. It could have been on deck, in the rigging, or out on the bowsprit. It was nice to do something practical and detailed, while chatting a bit with a friend, looking at dolphins swimming alongside, or even just alone using the time to reflect on our surroundings while crossing another ocean.

If you could offer your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

If I could tell my younger self anything, I would probably say not to worry so much. I have spent a lot of time and energy being concerned about the outcome of decisions made, without necessarily having an influence on them in any way. Knowing now that most things work out, it would have been nice to have that insight sooner.

What was your biggest takeaway from your Class Afloat journey?

I can remember just after our graduation, my shipmate Blake said ‘this was the best year of our lives.’ I remember thinking how stupid that comment was. It was impossible that this was ‘it.’ I would surely go on living years that were consistently better than the lasts. But thinking back on it now, it was the perfect and possibly only time in our lives to experience something so big, so great.

There’s just something about the age group being just right. You are independent enough, yet still open, curious, trusting and without so many attachments and expectations about how things should be. So I guess Blake was right, I don’t know if it ever gets better than that, or if we ever will laugh as much as we did while taking so much pleasure in learning something new. It’s not to say that I am less happy now than I was then, but there is something so special about being that age and experiencing such a great adventure unlike anything else. So my biggest takeaway from Class Afloat is a year of irreplaceable and incomparable memories – luckily enough, shared with some of the greatest people I’ve ever met.

Get to know Class Afloat faculty and students throughout the ages in our Alumni in the Spotlight series.

Amy Russell

What’s your name?

Amy Russell

Where are you from?

I grew up in Didsbury and Calgary, Alberta.

What year did you sail with Class Afloat? 

I attended Class Afloat for the 2010-2011 year as a university student. We circumnavigated the Atlantic Ocean, including sailing on the North Sea, Baltic Sea, Mediterranean Sea, and Caribbean Sea.

Do you still keep in touch with your shipmates?

I keep in touch with, and get to see, a few of my shipmates regularly, and others not as often as I’d like. But with Floaties, no matter how much time has passed, we always seem to pick up again easily.

Where are you now?

I am living in Nova Scotia (currently near Lunenburg).

What have you been up to following your time at sea?

After Class Afloat I went to Acadia University and completed my degree in biology, which I began on the ship, then my BASc in ecosystem management at Lethbridge College.

I have been working in various areas of field biology (fisheries, bird studies, land management/conservation), except in the last couple of years, when I was a deckhand on the Bluenose II for 8 months and then completed a 5 month sail making apprenticeship, making four new sails for the Bluenose ll.

What impact did Class Afloat have on your life and career?

Class Afloat solidified my passion for travelling and nature, and made me more confident and self-reliant. The following summer, I was part of a crew of three that sailed from Hawaii to Vancouver in a 44 ft. vessel, an opportunity that would not have presented itself without my Class Afloat background.

What is your favourite Class Afloat memory?

It’s hard to pick an absolute favourite memory from my year at sea, but one of them is when we sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar, which lies between Europe and Africa, connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. This relatively narrow passage creates a ‘pinch point’ of marine life.

I remember being in biology class and our professor decided that it was too great of an opportunity to pass up, so we went aloft. It was a beautiful clear day and for miles I could see pods upon pods of dolphins, whales, and sunfish.

If you could offer your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

I could never have imagined where I have ended up and all the things that I have have been able to do in my life so far. I would advise my younger self to step outside my comfort zone and to take advantage of every opportunity. You are only young once. That sounds so cliche, but it is true.

Being able to challenge yourself and see the world from the safety of Class Afloat affords more adventures than you could ever accomplish, or even imagine, on your own. I could not have imagined that I would be trekking across the Sahara desert on camels and sleeping in a Bedouin tent village.

What’s was your biggest takeaway from your Class Afloat journey?

Being able to explore many countries and cultures is so valuable in ways that are hard to describe. One of my biggest takeaways is that no matter how different a culture is, at their core, people are the same. Even with language barriers, we can share the same sense of humour and acknowledge our shared interests. It made me realize that we really are part of a global community.

Ever wonder what it’s like to teach math on board a tall ship? Enjoy this guest blog from Class Afloat faculty alumni, Kyle O’Donnell.

As a math teacher, I often found it difficult to make experiential connections to my curricula. However, one experience that sticks with me involved a small favour for the Captain.

As it went, the boat’s deck needed a fresh coat of paint, so the Captain checked his records to see how much they ordered the previous time. In doing so, he remembered that the order was much too big and they were left with a surplus of paint. The Captain decided to reevaluate the area of the deck in order to determine a more accurate number for the subsequent order of paint.

Meanwhile, my Math 11 at Work class was working through a unit on surface area and volume and had previously done work with scale diagrams. I took the opportunity to take the Captain’s task and turn it into a learning experience. I had my class work together to create scale diagrams for the ship’s decks and to calculate the area of both the main deck and the bridge deck. In doing so, students had the opportunity to apply their knowledge in a hands-on way that also served the ship community.

Relation-Ships Matter Most

Beyond this small connection between the curriculum and ship life, the aspect of teaching with Class Afloat that resonated with me the most were the relationships formed with the students on board. Taking part in this program as a faculty member is much different from teaching in a traditional school. You are still an educator, mentor, and leader in the community, but on top of that, you spend almost every waking moment with your students for nine months.

Kyle O'Donnell - Class Afloat

This might frighten some teachers out there, but trust me, it is an incredibly rewarding experience. With such a tight knit community on board, you get a chance to learn so much about all of the students and see just how unique and impressive they are. You work with them in the classroom, eat meals with them, guide them through the experience as a Watch Dog, haul lines together on deck, explore different countries with them, watch them perform (or perform with them) at Coffee Houses, and much much more. These are the moments and the bonds that make being a faculty member with Class Afloat so special. These are the moments and the bonds that I’ll never forget.

Learn more about Kyle and his experience teaching on board Class Afloat in this Alumni in the Spotlight feature.

Get to know Class Afloat faculty and students throughout the ages in our Alumni in the Spotlight series.

Class Afloat Alumni

What’s your name?

Kyle O’Donnell

Where are you from?

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

What year did you sail with Class Afloat? 

I joined the Gulden Leeuw in March of 2015 to finish out the 2014-15 school year. I then returned for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years. We sailed on the Atlantic.

What did you teach on board the ship?

Mathematics (Math 10, Pre-Calc 12, Calc 12, Math 12, Math at Work 11)

Where are you now?

Ottawa, ON

What have you been up to following your time at sea?

After Class Afloat, I moved to Kingston, ON to pursue a Master of Education at Queen’s University. During that time I married my beautiful best friend Liz and we welcomed our son Joël into the world. We maintained our love of travel and the outdoors with camping trips throughout North America and visits to friends and family in the States.

What impact did Class Afloat have on your life and career?

It’s impossible to measure the impact Class Afloat has had on my life. I met my now wife, Liz, onboard the Gulden Leeuw during the 2014-15 year. We developed a strong relationship that continued off the boat and has grown into starting a family of our own! Beyond that, the interpersonal relationships formed through the program feel endless. I still keep in touch with students, fellow faculty, and maritime crew from all of my years onboard.

In terms of teaching, Class Afloat gave me the opportunity to work with intelligent, highly motivated, and interesting students which I appreciate immensely. The experience also helped me develop my flexibility and creativity as a teacher.

How would you describe your experience working as a faculty member with Class Afloat?

Working as a faculty member with Class Afloat is one of the most unique opportunities in the world for educators. You are a part of a small, collaborative team that is responsible for educating, mentoring, and leading a group of remarkable and diverse young adults in an intensely unique environment. It is difficult to describe the experience in words, which I believe is a testament to its impact.

What’s your favourite Class Afloat memory?

There are many to choose from, but a few that come to mind include watching the sun rise from the sand dunes in Morocco, exploring Fernando de Noronha, and furling the t’gallant during a storm in the South Atlantic.

If you could offer your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Every time life gives you an opportunity to step outside your comfort zone, take it.

Read more from Kyle in his blog about the Creative Classroom!

Class Afloat 2019-2020: Navigating COVID-19

Every school year comes with its own set of challenges and our community does everything possible to turn these challenges into learning moments. In 2020, we have found ourselves navigating the uncharted waters of a global pandemic that forced us to bring our sailing journey to an abrupt halt in Mexico this week.

As we have witnessed the COVID-19 pandemic evolve over the past month, our primary objective at Class Afloat has been to allow our students to safely complete their Tall Ship sailing program and academic school year.

From early days, the introduction of a comprehensive COVID-19 prevention plan on board our Tall Ship, Gulden Leeuw, allowed us to continue the experiential component of our program without disruption. Isolation being a key asset in the prevention of COVID-19, few environments would have afforded our students the same protection as remaining on board the majestic Tall Ship they called home.

In contrast, changing policies at various ports presented a unique challenge to our program, forcing us to cancel our port visit to Cuba and our long-awaited parent port in Bermuda, where over 100 family members were expected to greet our student crew. To protect our community from contact in ports, we decided to sail directly from Progreso, Mexico to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, a relatively isolated community on the Canadian coast and home to Class Afloat Head Office.

The Canadian Government announcement on March 16th that closed borders to non-Canadian/Americans, posed new risks to our 28 international crew members. To ensure that every member could make their way home, we made the difficult decision to end the ship-based component of our program at the port of Progreso on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. Arrangements have been made that will enable Class Afloat students to finish up their course work online, thereby completing the academic school year.

Yesterday, our 2019-2020 class disembarked the Gulden Leeuw, marking an end to their incredible 7-month sailing adventure, one that carried them to 17 ports in Europe, Africa, South America, the Caribbean and Latin America covering 11,500nm (21,300km) (13,300 miles) – half the distance around the equator.

Our team of professional mariner crew have remained on board to sail the ship back to the Netherlands. The Gulden Leeuw is fully fuelled and stocked with provisions for a 35-day non-stop sail from Progreso to Amsterdam.

Tears were shed as our students said farewell to their classmates, professional crew mates, faculty and their ship. While their time at sea was cut short, students left for home on land feeling pride in what they have accomplished and gratitude for life-long friendships forged along the way. Their Class Afloat voyage has been one of discovery, exploration and reflection but as we know from experience, their real journey has only begun.

We would like to thank our families in Mexico, who showed great initiative, hospitality and generosity towards our students during this time. The sense of community that bonds each member of the Class Afloat family is a true testament to the values upon which Class Afloat was established over 35 years ago.

Looking forward, we are excited about the exceptional group of students that have been accepted for admission to join next year’s student crew. While spots remain, our Admission’s Team continues to accept and process applications for our 2020-2021 school year. Please note that we will be monitoring the situation as in unfolds and, if required, will communicate any changes to next year’s journey.

If you have any questions during this time, please do not hesitate to contact us via email or by phone at 902-634-1895. We are available to answer any questions you might have.

Sincerely yours,
David Jones
President, Class Afloat