The Life of a Sailor

Posted on March 28, 2022 by Connor Teskey

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

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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.

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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. 

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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.