He Sails Away ⛵️

My son and his shipmates walked down the plank and aboard the ship as the Indigenous girl sang a sweet sad song of good-bye. As she beat her skin drum the tears streamed down my face. ‘Come home to us’, I prayed.

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Here is the story of my son’s crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on a Tall Ship, The Gulden Leeuw (as pictured above. Photo courtesy of Google Images).  My husband, Dean, and I were ever so proud that Leo was selected to go on the ship, but I was also terrified of the whole idea.  Anything could happen while crossing the North Atlantic — it was not to be trifled with.  I was having out-of-body experiences as I imagined some of the more horrible possibilities, but, strangely, I was also very eager for him to be out there and experiencing it.  ‘He will be fine,’ I was told.  ‘That ship crosses the Atlantic all the time.’  They said.  ‘The Captain will ensure that all is well.’  Meanwhile, my eyebrows moved higher and ever higher up my forehead.  It sounds like I am foreshadowing that something bad would happen.  Well, there was one big storm in which Leo told us about working in the galley with smashing dishes and flying carrots (yes, carrots), but other than some foggy days and cool temperatures, all went smoothly on the Golden Love, which is how I renamed the ship in my mind.

The morning they cast off, they smudged all present with smoking sage.  A well-loved Mi’kmaq Chief approached me and with both hands holding the smudging bowl, kindly offered me the cleansing smoke.  I reached out hungrily and pulled it over me.  ‘This will help keep him safe, right?’  I thought. Blessings were bestowed by several Chiefs and Elders and best wishes were wished.  We were asked to go around the crowd and ensure that every one of the 45 participants were given a hug by someone so that they understood how much we love and cherish them.  It was unbelievably touching.  But, I continued to check in with myself that this was my son who we were sending off.  This was my only, cherished son who was about to sail away ACROSS THE NORTH ATLANTIC.  Was I crazy??!  Seems that way.

The time came for Leo and his shipmates to walk down the plank and to board the ship.  An Indigenous girl sang a hauntingly sweet sad song of good-bye. As she beat her skin drum the tears streamed down my face. ‘Come home to us’, I prayed.

***

So, here is Leo’s story in a paper for school regarding types of tourism and, in it, he captures the magnitude of the adventure that he successfully undertook. My first guest-writer:

This summer I was involved in a travel project entitled Msit No’Kmaq: All My Relations. It was a travel experience that I applied for in which 45 aboriginal youth sailed across the Atlantic on a tall ship, while being involved in a rigorous sail training program. This crossing took place because of the vessel’s participation in a tall ship race, in which 11 ships race from Halifax to France. A laid-back vacation this was not, as it more closely resembled a work placement at sea, and it involved some of the hardest manual labour to which I have been exposed. I am certainly not complaining, as it was clearly the best and most rewarding trip I have been on.

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The goal of the project was to transform the rag tag group of trainees into a somewhat coherent crew, and this was accomplished by putting us to work during daily “watches,” where that segment of the group would be responsible for running the ship. I absolutely loved it. I can admit that hard manual labour has never really appealed to me, and my work ethic when tackling work like that is not ideal. However, the work on the ship was certainly an exception. Although it is hard work, it is so rewarding in the way that you can immediately see the difference your hard work has made towards the betterment of the vessel or the race. In particular, I loved climbing aloft. While once again hard work, the excitement of being so high above everything really augments any feelings of boredom or longing for leisure into something closer to fulfilment and completeness. You look down to see the ship charging through the wake some 100+ feet below you as you hang on for dear life while tightly wrapping the t’gallant in gaskets.  The intense heeling of the ship interrupted with violent shaking as she smashes through waves ensures that relaxation is never achieved. But relaxation is not the goal while aloft, even if your aching muscles scream that your bunk is more comfortable. The adrenaline is ever present, even when completing such a mundane task as furling a sail.

Aloft

Although deep internal reflection sessions while staring into nothingness were never accomplished by me, I learned a great deal about myself during this crossing, and I think some personal development did indeed take place. The nature of living on a tall ship is conducive to reflective thought, the kind that makes you question the path you’ve set for yourself in life. Sailing is one of those pure pursuits. One of those passions that is enticing and exciting in its infancy, amazing and beautiful in its mastery. I feel incredibly lucky to have witnessed both ends of the spectrum of sailing while on this voyage. You have the trainees, young men and woman who are taking a leap of faith and trying something completely outside their comfort zone. The beginning of our journey as sailors was raw and unkempt. We threw ourselves into the work and hoped something good would come from it, and of course it did. We kept that ship moving in the right direction, and kept our minds on the right path. We became more and more knowledgeable, skilled, and eager. The thirst for adventure propelled us to reach new heights (literally). On the other hand, there was the crew and captain. Experienced sailors, but many not so experienced at dealing with youth. Experienced or not, they were incredible. The patience, excitement for seeing us learn and grow, the humour, and the deft skill at motivation was beyond anything we could have hoped for. They really made the experience as fantastic as it was. All those pieces fit into the puzzle that made me question what I want out of life. I can say with some certainty that the most important thing I learned about myself is that I want to sail again.  I want to be around the incredible and genuine characters that sailing attracts, and I aspire to someday be one of those characters myself.

As this was a trip for indigenous people, there were some cross-cultural difficulties that came up between crew and trainees. There were some instances when crew accidentally said something offensive or derogatory, but I was very impressed by the common understanding of everyone onboard. People were not quick to judge each other, and understood that the vast cultural differences between many people onboard were likely to result in some uncomfortable moments. It was all handled very maturely. There were also cultural differences among the trainees. Some, like me, didn’t really grow up ensconced in their native culture, and many did. I really learned that I haven’t grown up with my indigenous culture nearly as much as I’d like. That was something largely outside of my control, but it still stings. Being a part of this project has really made me appreciate the rich history that I share with these amazing people, while also helping me fill many of the gaps in my knowledge that are present because of my upbringing. I feel proud to be a part of such an incredible people, whose population has had such a rough go. It prides me to see that so many Indigenous young people are so successful.

The destinations we toured were Falmouth and Alderney, UK, plus Le Havre, France and Paris. I can say with near complete certainty that Alderney is the best place I have ever been. If I was asked to sum it up in one word it would be “authentic.” The people, the geography, the history, even the other tourists there were a breath of fresh air. It is a small island in the English Channel, just off France. With a population of only 2,000, the island has a distinct small-town feel. I have never observed a more impressive group of tourists than I saw on the island of Alderney. Because it lacks a major airport of any kind, most people who come to Alderney are sailboat owners. The demographic who sails their own boat through the English Channel are a completely different type of people than a crowd fresh off a cruise ship, or even a passenger plane. I can recount with great fondness interactions with locals and other tourists and remember always enjoying the conversation. Real, genuine people.

Alderney Island biking

I think this relates to some concepts  especially the allocentric/psychocentric disparity, as well as respecting the wishes of locals and tourism. Alderney is pushing for higher levels of tourism, and I have to wonder if the locals will be happy if many more people start flooding the gates. The laid-back atmosphere may be lost, which is part of the reason I loved it so much. I can also speak to the presence of attractions as well as hidden gems, and I can say with certainty that I experienced them both.

Ship in harbour

Of all the travelling I have done, this trip made me feel the least like a conventional tourist. I think that was due to our rather interesting story and mode of transportation, and the immediate excitement and intrigue locals showed when they learned we had just sailed the Atlantic. That feeling of respect was new, and responsible for a completely different travel experience. A generalization I can make from that experience is that the way you arrive to a new spot is somewhat responsible for the way you feel about your time there. I saw many different demographics of tourists during my time abroad, and I can say that the more allocentric crowd really appeals to me over the psychocentric. There just seems to be a greater feeling of authenticity, a feeling that I strive to exhibit myself.

Jaden on the wall

4 thoughts on “He Sails Away ⛵️

    1. Thank you ‘Adventures’! It was a fairly nerve wracking experience for me and many moments of sheer panic and worry but, always coupled with that sense of pride that my son was out on a BIG adventure. He said it was fabulous and that he learned a whole lot. Travel teaches us more than we know (as I am sure you are finding !!) Looking forward to reading your blog in depth!

      Liked by 1 person

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