What would you feel if I were to tell you that for the next 22 days you would be on an expedition that demanded you sail, navigate, live, cook, eat, sleep, learn, teach, clean, dip, swim – all the while on a 30-foot open sail boat with 11 other people? We won’t find ourselves going ashore much, maybe every 3-7 days? Have I made you feel cooped up and do you think I’m crazy for suggesting such a proposal? Well, take it from me, I am an instructor and the real credit to goes to you, the student for having the temerity to take on this wild challenge and find out how much more there is in you. Are you ready for our Maine Coast Sailing course?
It’s difficult to describe what happens in 22 days on a Pulling Boat. Oh sure, it’s easy to go through the flow of the day with you. Each morning, the captain of the day will wake up the crew at sunrise for a dip in the ocean. I hope you remembered to stuff your bathing suit into the foot of your sleeping bag to “dry” it off the night before, otherwise you could be facing a slightly damp and possibly chilled bathing suit for that very refreshing dip! You come to appreciate the beautiful sensation of crawling out of the warm cocoon of your sleeping bag and peeling back just enough of the tarp to feel the morning dew and the brisk salt air. This is my favorite part of the day, simply because you know after your whole crew dips that you are awake, alive, on an incredible adventure I a beautiful place and more simply, this is the part of the day where we get HOT DRINKS!
I will admit the iconic Maine Coast Sailing course daily dip was not my favorite part of the day when I first trained as an Outward Bound instructor 4 years ago. On this June day in Maine the 3rd day of my first course it was pretty much the nastiest weather to have to dip in, the wind was East by South and blowing 20kts with gusts to 25kts, the wind had shifted unexpectedly in the night we were no longer protected from the shore, so wide open and exposed we were and up the Mill River the wind was blowing the rain and cold 54 degree air on our bare skin, water temperature that morning was 50 degrees.
“How” I thought to myself, “how can I get in this water?” I am not this hard core. The physical challenge to submerge myself in that water was quelled by my mental ability to get through that moment un-nerved. It defined me and expanded my knowledge on how mind over matter is an essential skill to life. My mind was cleared in the icy waters that morning. The texture of the water on my skin was closer to the feeling you get when you roll a Slurpee around in your mouth, tiny grains of ice and a cool feeling nearly leading to a brain freeze, you stop the brain freeze by opening your mouth just a bit as if to cool off the ice, funny how that seems to work. I wanted to stop this feeling from going any deeper than the skin, yet as I continued to slip further into the North Atlantic waters I felt exhilarated so much so that I shot back to the surface like a torpedo back into the safety of the boat. There was something calming that had overcome my mind that morning and it extended to my body’s ability to adapt. A dip is what we call it, conditioning is its outcome.
So now, the hot drinks. Me, I drink copious amounts of coffee. Most drink hot cocoa and some partake in tea. I have even met a few who opt out of hot drinks all together, although I can’t even imagine that choice. It’s a special moment in the day to have your drink, get warm and shake off the salt water to get the day going. All around on board, there is so much going on as the entire crew is busy and buzzing with NOAA weather, tarp and lines getting stowed, the bilge is being pumped out, and breakfast is being made. As every day is part of an expedition meaning we move to a new location, our days navigation plan is laid out and the evening anchorage is chosen to reach for.
“It’s not about the destination it’s about the journey.” This is a favorite quote found in the Readings book on every course so these exact words have been read, spoken and remembered by countless Outward Bound students before me. Every expedition is different because the experience is created by the crew and no group is alike. Like lobster is the catalyst to butter, sailing is the catalyst to the adventure of an Outward Bound course.
Once the sails are set and the anchor is hauled up we fall off, find some breeze and set our course. The most incredible part of life on a Pulling Boat is that she will sail as well as we do, responding to our organized command. The dominant sense from being aboard such an open craft in all conditions is that we are always safe and on the exact type of vessel we need to explore the shallow coves and island anchorages ashore, as thousands have done for decades before us in exactly the same fashion. The privilege of having access to remote and uninhabited islands and areas not many other boats can get into. Everyday someone makes you laugh, something pushes you beyond your expectations and every day you see somewhere breathtakingly beautiful.
It makes daily dips more than worth it. Trust me.