Up and Over
I returned to my new home at midnight from the crew party, greeted by the hanging sleepers cast in the red glow of the DC lights. Wrapped in red incandescence, I felt as if I were entering the belly of a beast, but remained safe, protected.
I fumbled around in my sea bag and ducked between rows of hammocks, careful not to wake my twenty ish roommates. I strung up my own hammock a few hours prior but did not try it out. I learned this was a grave mistake when I attempted to hoist myself inside and immediately fell back to the floor. The hammock was slanted to the left side, so when I mounted it again, I wedged my knee between the ceiling beams and gripped the strong backs (handles) with white knuckles. As I dozed off, my grip loosened, and once again, I found myself on the floor.
My face must have been redder than the DC lights when I asked one of the crew members on watch if I could sleep on the floor -- thank God for the cover of darkness. Coccooned inside my sleeping bag, I slept below my hammock. I awoke the next morning to the thud of someone dismounting their own hammock; somehow I migrated to the other side of the cabin.
Upon examining my hammock the next day, it was observed that the nettles (ropes sticking out from the canvas like spokes on a bicycle that secure the shape) were tight on one side and lax on the other, making my falls an inevitability. One of my new friends helped me adjust them into the proper U shape and informed me that the last trainee assigned to hammock 24 slept on the floor for her entire trip because no one was made aware of this malfunction. Thus, I learned a valuable lesson: ask for help. The next night, I joined the ranks of the hanging sleepers, swaying lightly with the ship’s movements on Lake Ontario.
Above the Toronto port festival, my fellow interns and I completed our “up and over,” which seemed more like a hazing ritual than a training exercise when suspended above a sea of spectators. They snapped pictures of us climbing the shrouds of the main mast, up the starboard side and down the port side. I could feel the adrenaline pulsing through my veins as I secured my harness and carabiners, which are only marginally comforting since you cannot clip in while climbing the shrouds, only once you find a place to stop and work. I have no problem with heights -- I rock climb frequently -- but the prospect of a free climb on a moving face with hundreds of onlookers is enough to send me into a mild panic.
Nevertheless, I followed the feet in front of me, quaking ever so slightly, keenly aware of my imminent plummet to the deck if I were to falter. As we mounted the fighting top (platform formerly used to open fire on enemy ships), the view of the skyline quite literally took my breath away, as I was suffering from acute vertigo because the platform shifted under my feet.
The next day, when my AB asked me if I were willing to climb again, I didn’t think before agreeing. I clipped into the support line and shuffled out onto the jibboom, watching the water rush toward the bow of the ship just to be sliced in half and heaved behind us. And in that moment, I decided not to be inhibited by fear, but rather exhilarated by it. I have decided to have faith in my facilities, my personal gumption. I cannot cultivate confidence and competence without pouring every ounce of myself into sailing. Since then, I have visited the fighting top four times, becoming marginally less terrified with every climb
Captain Chris Cusson looks like a captain should, not to mention the pleasing alliteration in his name and title. He has an authoritative disposition countered by kind brown eyes. He smokes out of a pipe leaning back on the bow of the ship, watching the smoke curl and reach toward the twilight sky just to dissipate into thin air. Like an emperor surveying his empire, he stands on the bridge deck watching the crew scuttle about carrying out his orders. I have learned of his fondness for motivational speeches at muster. “Yesterday was about work. "Today is about glory,” he tells us on the morning of the Fourth of July. He could not have been more right. Transiting the Welland Canal was strenuous to say the least; I have blisters on my hands to prove it. But as we paraded into Buffalo Harbor toward the thousands of people here to catch a glimpse of our ships, with Captain on the helm, mates on the shrouds, and the crew on the rails, I recognized the great privilege of this experience. I felt victorious.