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  • Tall Ships America

The Dayman Observer

By Candace

Fiji the ship cat

On Sunday night in Kenosha, Susannah, James, and I moved onto Picton Castle. Before boarding, the only thing I knew about the ship was that James had gone on a world voyage with them and that they had an adorable calico ship cat named Fiji. Picton is a deceptively enormous ship. I recognized from the outside that she was a large ship, but I didn’t realize her massive cargo and passenger potential. I also didn’t realize that there were intimate details in every nook and cranny, such as the stairs leading to the quarter deck with their copper shining in the midday sun, as well as the pin rails next to the charter house with flowery curls engraved in the dark wood. She is painted in a multitude of domineering colors that would traditionally seem to clash- blue, yellow, white, red, green, and black- but somehow complement each other, adding to the overall character of Picton Castle.

Picton is a home with plenty of space to enjoy time alone and to appreciate the complexities of water and the numerous forms clouds assume when the land is nowhere to be found. I took refuge in the bench behind the scullery at the stern of the ship. The bench is grated and doesn’t seem comfortable in the slightest, but the ship rail curves behind your back offering a palm of support, almost as if the ship is cupping you to prevent you from meeting the water ten feet below. It was where I did most of my writing and where I sneakily ate the bread that Donald, the cook, baked fresh every day.

When we stepped onboard on Sunday night, Susannah and I stowed our belongings in the “Bat Cave”. The Bat Cave is an eight-person cabin for women at the bow of the ship, originally built to separate frisky young boys in the “Bro Cave” at the stern of the ship. Never have I had separate quarters from men while on tall ships but it was phenomenal. A quiet space where I had a temporary solace from the overwhelming amount of testosterone on the ship. Susannah and I calculated that it was a ratio of seven men to one woman on the ship, which was different compared to the evenly gendered crews I have experienced of Niagara, Pride of Baltimore, and Denis Sullivan.

About ten minutes after boarding, the chief mate told us that we were going to be passengers and not standing a watch. At first, I was overjoyed by the idea of being a dayman, not having to wake up in the middle of the night and only being crew when I wasn’t working on content creation. I soon discovered, however, that being a passenger is often an uncomfortable position. I was not assigned tasks and when I asked the crew if they needed help the answer was typically no. There were a lot of people aboard and frankly there were too many cooks in the kitchen, as my mom always said. Too many people working on a single task can often be counterproductive, and thus I wound up watching the trainees and the crew work while I awkwardly shuffled to stay out of the way. The first day sailing was disorienting since for the first time in over a month no one needed me to work. I was uncomfortable with this freedom, and I hid in the “Bat Cave” trying to be innocuous.

The first night we were aboard there was a squall and it started pouring rain, but thankfully I was snuggled in my bunk at nine P.M. The best thing that happened to me the first day was that I met a completely random man from Kansas City who had read my blog about my time sailing Denis Sullivan. He said that he loved the poem that I had written about my experience going under the Mackinac Bridge. It was so bizarre that a stranger was following my story, and even more so that he had enjoyed reading about my experience.

When I climbed out of the Bat Cave the next morning, I was greeted with the sight of the Manitou Islands and told that we were going to be anchoring on Beaver Island, Michigan, later that day. The full night of sleep made me excited about the journey and ready to engage with people and my environment. I was asked to help set sails and it was like I was being called home. Scrambling around deck, hauling, easing and sweating lines, and coiling down the deck, was normal to me and it made me feel the inclusion that I desperately needed. The sails were wet from the squall which I discovered firsthand when we loosed the jib. I got a power shower from the rainwater trapped in the sail. Later that day, I lead a small yoga class with Susannah and Kurt, an older white gentleman who owned a rum distillery in Wisconsin, on the main hatch. I was in my element; it was a true moment of joy for me. The watches that day consisted of domestics (cleaning all living spaces), scraping, painting, and manning the helm, none of which I was asked to do. Instead, I spent my time reading, talking to trainees and crew, and writing poetry. A month ago, this would have been my dream, but now I desperately wanted to be crew and to serve a role on the ship.

As I sat quietly on my bench at the stern of the ship feeling the rumbling of the engine, I realized how important silence is on a ship. When the sails are set, and the engines extinguished, time is suspended. Are you a sailor from 2019 or 1819? There is no way to prove your temporal position, thus you may live in an imaginative space where you can define what it means to be in the present. Modern conveniences, such as cell phones, don’t work. When you climb down below, you leave the lights off, as to not disturb your fellow ship mates who are trying to sleep after a long night watch. Instead, sunlight seeps in through ports in the ceiling above, forcing your eyes to adjust to the partial illumination. Electricity is a limited resource used sparingly, adding to this suspension of time. It is not a perfect replication, but the bones of authenticity shine through. You are wherever and whenever you want to be when you sail on a tall ship.

I Am Certain

The happiest people have nowhere to go,

Just as silent water still speaks.

Monarchs in Michigan

Tell truths if you listen.

Ships in manmade canals

Under the dominion of innovation

Feel the limitation of freedom.

On stormy afternoons

When the squalls pillage

Surfaces of formally dormant lakes,

And the biting flies feast

On exposed flesh

I am certain, the sun will still set.

When my eyes have been sealed

By the impermanent death of sand

I am certain, the sun will still rise.

On day two, I also began to recognize that my journey with tall ships was ending soon, which is a bittersweet truth for me. I have gained so much from my time sailing, but I crave structure more than Great Lakes biting flies crave chewing the skin around my ankles. Having a normal schedule again sounds like a gift from Santa himself after so much jumping around. More than anything else, I will miss James, Susannah, and Erin. We’ve become a little family. Even when we get frustrated with each other, which happens when you’re simultaneously coworkers, friends, and roommates, we always work it out. We depend on each other and I know that there is no way I could have gotten through everything if they hadn’t been there for me when I needed them. Often, I feel like James and Susannah are my younger siblings and I am their awkward and somehow more organized older sister. Saying goodbye to them is going to be no easy feat.

White Caps

Determine, if you must, if the height

Of my crest is hazardous

For the more I grow

The more I am certain

You will tremble before me.

My intentions are unclear to you

Because you believe that I am to blame,

But I am just a conduit of the wind

And the wind is a servant of the gods

Whom control the helm of the world.

The officer of the omnipotent helm

Orders a call of midships

Together the wind and I steer the course

Of the sea.

After a trip to Beaver Island, we did aloft training. Even though I’ve climbed aloft on Niagara several times, I anxiously awaited my turn. We had to demonstrate we were strong enough to catch ourselves if we fell by completing a thirty second “dead hang”. My grip started to give near the end of the test but I passed, reminding myself that every day I get stronger on the tall ships, both mentally and physically. After waiting for all the new trainees to complete their up and over, I started climbing up to the fighting top. The shrouds are a little more difficult to climb on Picton than Niagara because when you’re climbing down you must angle your body over a platform, and you can’t see where you’re placing your feet. The crew helped me position my feet going down but, other than that, I had no problems with my up and over. I’m still a little worried about my climbing ability. When you’re going aloft the best security measure you have is surety of yourself. If you are not confident, do not go aloft. You are responsible for your own safety and only you can make sure you don’t fall.

Day four on Picton Castle I finally had a job. One of the guest crew named Drea was sewing an enormous Cook Islands flag for the ship. She need an assistant and I happily took the job. We worked from 9am to 2pm to finish the flag before our arrival into Sarnia. The process was meticulous and involved a lot of pinning and flaking to get the twenty feet of material through the machine. I picked up a thing or two about sewing and felt ecstatic to serve a purpose on the ship other than impromptu yoga instructor. Later that day we sailed for the first time and it was a perfect way to end the journey to Sarnia.