The first time I stepped aboard the Robert C. Seamans in Honolulu Harbor, I was surprised at how small she was, uncertain of how the miniature galley could feed 40 and how the saloon would stand up to mealtimes. A friendly crew member showed me to my bunk, a tiny hidey-hole in the wall of the ship. I remember being surprised that all of my clothes and supplies fit into a cupboard and one small drawer. The two showers seemed insufficient for the number of bodies that would soon be covered in sweat and mung. A nervous trepidation was palpable as we prepared to make way with limited knowledge of where the lines that controlled the sails were and what to do with them when we found them. When we finally did set sail, gravity and motion fought with our inner ears and threatened to throw us around the boat in unpredictable ways.
Now we are masters of our moving environment: walking down the ladder on a starboard tack means feet hard to the left and right hand braced against the opposite wall. Standing up straight usually involves leaning to one side. Five weeks later, sail-handling has become our favorite part of standing watch, especially my lovely B-watch who has an uncanny affinity for setting the Fisherman. The two showers that once seemed insufficient are never backed up, and the shower hose up on deck is more often in use. That crew member who helped me the first day turned out to be Don, our chief engineer, and a few weeks later I’d be standing on Palmyra’s North Beach with him having an intense conversation about the importance of experiential learning for conservation. I’ve discovered that my tiny bunk was too spacious at times for the rolling ship, and I had to make use of spare laundry and a rolled up sleeping bag to fill up some of the extra space. Like many other parts of the ship, the galley and saloon have both grown to enormous, well-provisioned spaces that take implausible amounts of energy to traverse.
It is impossible to believe that we are only two days away from setting our salty feet on land and keeping them there indefinitely. It simultaneously feels like we’ve been at sea forever, and like this experience has gone by like a dolphin at the bow – unexpected, thrilling, and sadly fleeting.
Before we left land, we were told that we would discover our authentic selves on this trip. If they meant we would discover what we truly smell like without showering for five days, then that discovery has certainly been made. Have I discovered my authentic self? As with any great experience, I’ve learned a little bit more about my place in the world (Seaside Sarto is definitely coming out ahead of Seasick/Sailor Sarto), but for the most part I still feel like the same person who stepped foot on the Seamans a few weeks ago.
Instead of our authentic selves, I think we have discovered an authentic community, replete with diverse and wonderful people who are eager to look out for one another, assist with trying tasks, and put the needs and comforts of others before themselves. We’ve learned how to be more genuine, aware, and considerate towards our fellow humans.
To the cast and crew of the RCS – I love all of you and treasure the personal and scientific discoveries we were so fortunate to have made together. Thank you for making it difficult to go back to “real life.” This ending is bittersweet, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.