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  • Tall Ships America

Being Present

By Candace

On Sunday, I moved on the Pride of Baltimore II. I almost cried when I saw the ceilings were about 7 feet tall. No more shameful concussions like I had on Niagara! When they told me there was a working shower I almost started clapping and considered hugging the engineer, James, for blessing me with such a luxury. The showers had to be military (only turning the water on to rinse), but I wasn’t complaining.

On Monday morning, I went provisioning with the cook of Pride, Phil. He wanted to make sure that I had enough to eat on my vegan diet which I really appreciated. I was assigned the role of cart pusher, which became a challenge after Phil piled on mountains of food for the crew. We filled up three whole carts over the brim. The total for one weeks’ worth of provisions on the Pride of Baltimore II was $1,230. Phil explained to me that was a typical amount to spend, and that finding a close grocery store to provision the ship was particularly challenging. I hadn’t really considered how difficult or expensive it’d be to feed that many people. Phil worked for hours preparing meals and making sure everyone was accommodated. He told me that while on Pride, “No one will be losing any weight.” After seeing the enormous array of snacks, I would have to agree with him.

We left for Cleveland on Tuesday. When I was leaving Buffalo and saying goodbye to Susannah, a vibrant orange butterfly with black details landed softly on my shoulder. I took it as a good omen for the rest of my journey. This omen was validated in the peaceful retrograde of my environment on Lake Erie. Compared to my experience on Niagara, I felt like I was a queen in a floating castle. I had my own cabin with one other person; his name was Jay. He was a quiet, but friendly older gentleman with a grey speckled beard and a bald spot. Jay came to sail from Buffalo to Cleveland to spend time with his daughter, the ship’s bosun. I was perpetually saying “aww” whenever Sarah and Jay were together. The best interaction I witnessed between them was when Sarah was climbing up the shrouds and Jay’s eyes never left her. There was a subtle smile on his face, his eyes holding a mixture of pride and fear. Sarah never looked back- her actions purposeful, her determination visible.

The crew consisted of about fifteen close and affectionate friends, which often made me feel like an observer. I fell into this role naturally, as I am not an extrovert until I am comfortable with the people around me. Thankfully, the crew seemed to respect my need to be quiet. During these quiet moments, I was able to learn more about the structure of command, rendering it a lot less intimidating. There were still orders and division of labor delivered by the bosun during the watch, but it felt more communal. At times, I felt like I was watching an educational documentary. The crew on my watch instructed me on new types of coiling, better stances for hauling lines, different types of knots, and how to cope with life at sea with a sense of humor. When annoyances occurred, like a lack of wind or biting flies with a vendetta against humankind, they joked and maintained positive attitudes.

Once, Rory and Ken, crew members on my watch, had a competition to see who could kill the most Lake Erie biting flies. There was another time when the wind was entirely absent and we weren’t moving, so Natalie (also on my watch) suggested we go swimming. After some persuasion with the captain, we were given permission to go in. At first, I was reluctant to jump in. In my self-imposed role as observer, I almost felt as if I wasn’t allowed to have fun and interact. In this instant though, I knew that if I didn’t jump in, I’d regret it. Even though I’m intimidated socially and worried about how I will appear to others, I know that opportunities like that don’t come up often. I ran down below, slipped on my swimsuit, ran back on deck, hoisted myself up by the shrouds, and plummeted into the waters of Lake Erie. It was everything I needed- a reminder to stop rendering myself insignificant and to not take myself so seriously. And in that moment, I gave myself permission to take up space and be authentic in my own experience.

I am happy to report that I very much enjoyed sailing on Pride of Baltimore II. I tried to fully immerse myself in this foreign environment. Each sunset I was lucky enough to encounter was unique in their ephemeral nature. If you shift your line of sight for even a single moment you will be greeted by a view you hadn’t expected. The beauty of the sky and sea will always be surprising. The gentle call of loons resounded every so often, reminding me of the first time I ever heard their poignant cry in Pellston, Michigan two months ago. I had been sitting on a small pontoon boat with my Great Lakes Arts, Culture, and Environment class trying to understand the rich environmental and cultural history of Michigan. I’m not entirely sure why, but loons now remind me of nonbinary spaces- spaces which are neither one thing nor another. Shores are nonbinary, unsure whether they will associate with the land or the sea. I like spaces without definition; they remind me to pay attention, to appreciate things that are beyond my understanding.

The last day of our journey I was painfully seasick. The water was angry from an emerging storm, no longer calm like it had been for several days. I was forced into the moment. It made me painfully present. I couldn’t ignore the fact that nothing was stable, and everything was moving. I told everyone how seasick I was, and they were all very understanding. I forced myself to eat a bit of oatmeal and drink water, but it didn’t really help. Sarah had Natalie bring me ginger tea and ginger candy, and I was told to stare into the horizon. My sea sickness went away as soon as we came into the harbor and the captain put me to work. I was proud of myself for not throwing up. In those moments of nausea, I was frustrated with myself because the movement of the waves moved was vi, but all that I could focus on was finding balance. I think chaos is beautiful, and I wish that I was more comfortable appreciating its beauty.

I suppose its apt that the coffee cup I was assigned on Pride was an anchor. An anchor craves land, seeks it out even, yet is made for adventures of the sea. I want to learn what lesson the sea has to offer, even though I am learning how painfully I love the land. Or perhaps what I truthfully love is being in control and knowing what to expect. I want to learn from the sea and to do so I must step away from my conventions and embrace whatever unknown lies ahead.


When the mated loons begin their symphony,

And the sun reminds the water to smile

I remember my origins.

Like the bulbous anchor sinking deep

I will always find what I seek.

Butterflies are messenger of the divine.

The winged ones follow me now,

Leading me toward my personal legend.

Dominion over fate is a choice.

I choose to listen.