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  • Tall Ships America

Unsolicited Advice

By Susannah

Unsolicited advice from someone not qualified to offer any:

1. Make sure you know how to spell your coworker’s names. I’m mortified to admit that I spelled Candace’s name as “Candance” in my previous blog post.

2. Ask every question that pops into your mind. You can even qualify it with, “I have a stupid question” if you’re feeling insecure about it. There are two possible outcomes: that your question is, indeed, stupid and will entertain the professional crew, or it merits an explanation and you'll learn something. Either way, ask it!

3. Never kill a mayfly. It’s incredibly tempting to squash those lethargic nuisances as they swim through the air, meander over your skin. But if you kill a single mayfly, you’ll get swarmed by their brothers and sisters looking to avenge the death of one of their own. They have an evolutionary advantageous attraction to the mangled corpses of their species. Pro tip: stay in the wind. Mayflies tend to congregate between the deck boxes or hatches that impede the wind. Perhaps invest in a camping mosquito net -- I’ve had mine for years. This has allowed me to sleep comfortably under the emergency exit hatch, which has excellent air flow.

4. Find peace in the most mundane of activities -- feel the wind meander over your skin during lookout, allow your movements on a scrub brush to rattle your bones, appreciate how rope bites into your skin while hauling, watch dust scatter from under your slip of sandpaper. Some trainees lament about how boring these activities are -- be humbled by them. You’ll learn that your own head is the most interesting place you can be. It’s like meditation, or therapy, only it’s manual labor.

5. Even when you're not on watch, hang out on deck (given that you're not in the way). You'll learn via osmosis

6. Ask for the ship’s trainee manual. Take notes and copy diagrams into a notebook so you can begin to understand what the heck people are talking about. Once you’ve gleaned all the useful information from this, ask for the professional crew handbook or the rigging manual. These typically contain the commonly used terms “halyard”, “braces”, and “sheets”, which is beyond helpful to learn early on.

7. If someone is performing a task you don’t know how to do or don’t understand why they’re doing it, ask to watch and follow up with questions. If someone is going aloft, ask to tag along. Sometimes they will say yes, other times no, but it’s worth a shot. If nothing else, it will reflect your eagerness to learn.

8. Take pictures and keep a journal. The sailing community is not unlike a colony of escapists, but you have to stay connected to yourself. You'll want to remember the perigees and apogees of your trip. Aim to take this experience for what it is: not all sunshine and rainbows. Honor the obstacles you've surmounted because failing to acknowledge them is to trivialize the ancient tradition that is tall ships.

9. Appreciate and master the fundamentals. Calculate how to heave your body to achieve maximum slack when sweating lines. Learn to pass one hand over the other so that the row of rope you’re coiling lands on top of the previous one. If your flake isn’t perfect, do it again. Remember to thank yourself later.

10. Send your friends and family postcards. Your mom will probably hang it on the fridge.

11. Never wear your sunglasses on your head when down below. If you’re anything like me, you’ll bump your head on the low ceiling and scratch your lenses.

12. Sugar works better than caffeine for keeping you awake during watch. It becomes impossible for me to sleep if I’m hopped up on coffee. I time my sugar crash to coincide with bedtime. Gummy octopus and Girl Scout cookies are my drug of choice.

13. If you think Taco Tuesday is good, just wait for Breakfast Burrito Wednesday! 14. Line your plate with chips and overlay that with a tortilla. Build and eat your taco. Whatever falls out will become killer nachos!

15. On a ship, such frivolous things as modesty and pristine hygiene go by the wayside. We all sleep in a common room, use the same toilets, eat off the same ground. We’re all dirty, rocking a sweet sweat sheen, unshaven, unbrushed. But on this playing field, gender becomes obsolete. Bodies are just bodies -- empty vessels of spirit and brain and muscle. There’s nothing enticing about these bodies, we are commodified only by the strength of what our hands and characters can muster.

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