Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Unexpected Adventures: A Day in the City

I think sometimes the best adventures are the ones I never planned for. Maybe it's because I don't have such high expectations for them - or any at all - but they can be surprisingly great. Yesterday, I spent the day in New York City by myself. I didn't actually really want to go to the city but I am applying for my French visa and they require you to apply in person at the consulate for your region. Since I'm from Connecticut, I had to go to New York and since I hadn't been in a while, I figured I'd make a day of it. 
Looking out at the city from Central Park

Since my appointment was at 10:30 and it takes two and a half to three hours by train to get there, I figured I'd leave myself plenty of time and take the 6:24 train from New London. Due to a combination of not leaving the house early enough, missing the turn for the station, and traffic, I got to the station just minutes before the train was scheduled to arrive. I hurried up to the counter, asked for a ticket and was filled with increasing horror as the attendant explained that the 6:24 was the high-speed, business-class train, which required reservations and didn't normally sell single-trip tickets and that if I wanted to buy a ticket it would cost about four times the amount of a regular ticket. He informed me that the next regular train would leave at 6:50 and would arrived in Grand Central Terminal at 10:13 which would give me 15 minutes to find a connecting train, go the thirty blocks down to the consulate, and find the office, and I knew that if I was late I would not only be late for my appointment but I wouldn't be let into the building until 11 (if at all) since they only open the doors every half hour "for security reasons". So I decided to suck it up and pay the ghastly sum. 

The train would have been quite nice with its deluxe seats and free wifi if I hadn't spent the entire trip in shock from what I had just spent on a two-hour train ride. I did get into the city in record time - 2 hours and 20 minutes to be exact - which meant that I had over an hour to get from Penn Station on W 31st Street to the consulate on E 74th Street. I started out in the direction of the consulate thinking I would find a subway station soon but between not seeing one nearby and not wanting to spend any more money, I decided to just walk. An hour and twenty minutes and a small detour later (I had to find my own way since the directions on my phone weren't working and I ended up walking up and down one street twice because I second guessed myself), I arrived, sweating and tired, at what looked like an apartment building flying a French flag. 

The appointment itself went quite smoothly and was over pretty quickly. Afterwards, I walked across the street to Central Park and wandered at a much slower pace. It is amazing the difference between the city outside and the park within. It was so quiet and peaceful in the park. People walked quietly and the loudest sounds were the sounds of the birds. It didn't even feel right to talk on the phone while walking through. I know from having been there that it is much busier in the summer but yesterday must have been a nearly perfect day in Central Park - not too hot or too cold and quiet enough that it feels like an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. 
Walking through Central Park

Once I felt sufficiently relaxed, I walked back into city center and admired the bright lights of the billboards in Times Square and on Broadway. As I walked, I people-watched and listened to all the different accents and languages being spoken and wondered about all the stories of the people in New York and what brought them there. To some it's a chance for a fresh start, to others it's the daily grind, and to others it's a spectacle and a wonder of the world. I feel like I'm pretty familiar with New York but I definitely saw it differently than I have before. It didn't feel as big or as foreign as it used to. Maybe it's because I've spent a lot more time in different cities and had to find my way around foreign cities but I didn't feel as out of place and overwhelmed as I remembered feeling there before. I've also found that I'm much better at navigating cities and unfamiliar places than I used to be and it's kind of a fun challenge figuring out how to get around in a new place!
Some of the older buildings past the consulate

Walking on Broadway

By mid afternoon I had had enough of walking and decided to make my way towards Grand Central Station. Grand Central is an attraction in itself with a plethora of shops, cafés, a food court, and even a mini upscale market. I bought a coffee and sat for a while and then perused a few shops and eyed the delicious-looking produce, chocolates, and baked goods at the market longingly before taking the last train out before peak hour. Despite not especially wanting to go to New York, it turned out to be a pretty nice day!
The Main Lobby

Grand Central Terminal



Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Living In The Moment

I'm sure we're all guilty of it, perhaps those of us who travel more so than others, but so often I find myself caught up in longing for the past or dreaming of the future. I forget to enjoy the place I'm in and, instead, wish I was somewhere else. Not that it's bad to be excited about the future or miss people or places from the past but if you are constantly somewhere else you are never truly present and you miss out on so many good things where you are.

If you know me well or have talked to me recently you probably know that I really, really, REALLY, want to go to France. In fact, I've had it in the back of my mind ever since I left Australia and I even bought a plane ticket months ago in a moment of weakness. I feel like ever since I got back from New Jersey, all I've done is plan for France and work on getting everything in order for a visa and a place to stay. It turns out, it's an incredibly complicated and lengthy process to get a French visa and I'm still not entirely sure I will get one but that doesn't stop me from constantly envisioning all the things I will do in France and the incredible life I will have there. Of course it won't be perfect and there will most definitely be things that I miss about home but my imaginary life in France seems so much more attractive than my life here. I can't wait to see what the future holds and what will happen.

Yet I already miss the awesome people I worked with on the Meerwald and the all the crazy adventures and many laughable moments we had. And I still often long for the other places I have lived - especially Margaret River. I miss the friends that I had there and I miss surfing practically every day. I miss working at the restaurant there just a few hours a day and having the majority of the day free. I miss everything being within walking distance and having so many people around and things to do so often. But I forget about how I missed my family and friends, how I missed having a horse to ride and more places to go outside of where I was, and how I was so often bored with all my free time. It's so easy to only remember the good things about a place you were and forget the good things in the place you are.

Our great little house in Margs

One of the beautiful beaches near Margaret River

Meeting the baby of one of my best friends for the first time
I have amazing friends here and I have my wonderful family. I have a job and a place to live. I have a car to use (most of the time) and I have a horse to ride. It's frustrating sometimes because Connecticut isn't always the most exciting place to live and I get bored but I'm SO grateful for the time I have here and I don't want to take away from that by living in the past or the future!
Exploring Boston with a great friend

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The End of a Season

My time on the A.J. Meerwald has officially come to an end. I’m sitting alone at home back in Connecticut, grateful for unlimited French press coffee and a house to myself. Transitions are always filled with mixed emotions and I’m not even sure what I want to say in this blog. It’s sad to leave such great people but, being naturally prone to wanderlust, we were all ready for new things. It’s exciting to have your future open and unknown, but it’s also slightly unnerving to have no certain idea where you’ll be in a few months. Every time I come back home, I feel the pressure a little more to find a permanent job and live the life that it seems Americans are expected to live – go to college, find a job, buy a house, get married and have kids, etc. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with this and if that’s what you’re happy doing then you should definitely do it! But, right now, I cannot imagine that being my life. I’ve never lived in a place or worked at a job where I thought I could stay my whole life and I’m not even sure I could imagine a scenario where that would be so. Maybe I just haven’t found the right thing yet or maybe it’s just that there are too many things that I love to choose one, but after about three months in one place doing the same thing I'm nearly always ready for a change.

After returning from the schooner race, we had about a week of maintenance, public sails and education sails before heading off to our last event. We sailed back through the Delaware Bay and the Chesapeake Bay to Chestertown, Maryland on the Chester River. Chestertown is a beautiful little town with cute shops and cafés and brick-paved, tree-lined sidewalks. From the edge of town you can see the harbor and the idyllic Chester River and the center of town was a short walk from where we were docked. We were there at the perfect time for stunning fall leaves and were fortunate to have beautiful weather.

The Kalmar Nyckel on the Chester River

Walking around Chestertown on a perfect fall day off

Chestertown is the homeport of the schooner Sultana and each year they invite other tall ships on the east coast to take part in their downrigging festival. Since the northeast coast isn’t great for sailing in the winter, many of the tall ships downrig – remove sails, masts, etc. – before hauling out at the end of the season. The weekend was filled with public sails and deck tours as well as fireworks, a dinner/mingle for all the boat crews, and a costume contest (it was Halloween, after all). I'm proud to say that two of our crew members won prizes for the best costumes!
The crew in costume

Before leaving Chestertown, we took down two of our three sails and then made our way back to Bivalve for the last time. The two days after our return were spent taking pretty much everything off the boat except for the masts and stuff that would be used in yard. Even the masts will be coming off for the winter since the boat has to go up the river and under bridges that are too low for the masts. It would have been cool to see that but the crane wasn't ready before we left. 
Looking back towards the helm on our last transit to Bivalve

Sunset on the last transit!

While it may come as a shock to you, the work of a deckhand is not always glamorous and the end of the season came with a lot of mundane but necessary tasks such as cleaning, moving stuff around, and getting the boat ready for winter maintenance. It does make you especially grateful for good people with whom you can find ways to laugh with when doing even the most unpleasant tasks, such as emptying the toilet's holding tank with a manually operated pump. It is, after all, the people who make or break a place and I'm so happy to have worked with such a great captain and crew!

It's always an adjustment coming home after being away traveling or working in another state. I'm happy to be home where I can relax and spend time with family and friends, especially during the holidays, but it's easy to get bored and restless and loose motivation. Over the next couple months, I'm going to try to be better about finding new things to do around here and seeing the area I've known my whole life with the eyes of a traveler! 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race

This past week has been one of the best on the AJ Meerwald for me this season. We got back to Bivalve around five in the morning the day before yesterday after an exciting week participating in the Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race.

We left Bivalve in the wee hours of the morning on the 13th, headed for Baltimore.  Our crew of nine and our three volunteers were split into two watches with 6 hours on and 6 hours off. I was in the A watch and we were on first so we cast off docklines and got underway at 0200. With hardly any moon and very little light pollution, the stars were crystal clear in the sky and wonderfully numerous. It was surprisingly warm for the middle of October and, despite our lack of sleep, we all felt fresh and ready for the upcoming adventure. Although night watches can be stressful (it's somewhat like driving down a country road with no headlights) and bitterly cold, they are also the best. There is something so peacful and wonderful about sailing on the open water under millions of stars with nowhere to be but there. 

First light after a long, cold night on watch

While on watch, we rotate through a few different stations of an hour each. One person is always on bow watch, one is at the helm, one does boat checks and wake-ups at the end of the watch, and anyone else is on standby. Bow watch is probably my favorite, especially when there's nothing to report. On bow watch, we are on lookout for anything the person at the helm may not be able to see. During the day, we use hand signals to communicate with the helm but at night we walk back to tell them what we see. The best bow watches are when we are flying along with nothing to be seen for miles and you are occasionally weightless as the bow is lifted by a wave and sprayed by the sea as the bow plunges back down.
The best

Being at the helm can also be amazing, especially at night when it's too dark to see your heading on the compass and the best thing to steer by is the stars. Somehow it's incredibly calming, just you and the stars. The helm can be frustrating,  though, sometimes. The boat doesn't always like to stay on course and at times you are constanly fighting to stay on course - especially when under sail power and a small change could mean losing the wind and your power. One of my favorite times at the helm was on the way back from Portsmouth, VA after the schooner race. The wind had picked up right before our night watch and we were motoring right into it. The seas were swelling up to five feet and hitting the waves at the wrong angle sent the boat into a corkscrew which is very unpleasant for those below decks. When she hit the waves head-on, the boat would dive down an incredible amount so that the sea itself- not just the spray - was coming over the bow. The view from the helm, where you could see the extreme angle of the boat, was awesome and it made up for the fact that you were constantly fighting the sea and trying to avoid crashing into any buoys in the vicinity. 

Boat checks are also exciting in rough seas. They are normally just a calm check and recording of the bilge levels, navigation lights, battery levels, engine readings, course ordered, and weather conditions (and a welcome escape to the warmth below decks), but with the boat careening in every direction it becomes a test of your ability to avoid crashing into everything and waking up the entire off-watch as you check the bilge in the forepeak (the hold at the front of the boat where the crew sleeps), or to avoid dropping everything and/or falling into the engine room as you try to climb down the open hatch over the engine.

Our transit to Baltimore was relatively uneventful and took about 16 hours. After making it to Baltimore, most of us just wanted to sleep. Some of the crew went out but because we were on 24-hour dock watch and my hour on watch was in the middle of the night, I sat on deck and read for a while and went to bed early.

The next day we had education programs in the morning and a parade of sail in the evening. The parade was pretty cool because we were just sailing around Baltimore harbor and got to see all the other boats in the race while also getting a look at the city. I was on bow watch for most of the sail which meant I got a lot of practice tending the jib while tacking (when we turn through the wind the sails cross over to the other side of the boat and the crew member at the bow is responsible for making sure our forward-most sail, the jib, crosses properly). This would have been fine except that our volunteer mate, Tom, was firing our mini cannon (actually pretty awesome when you have ear protection) on every boat that came near us and it was very difficult to plug my ears to avoid going deaf while also holding on to the line and maintaining control of the sail.
Parade of Sail

The race started the next day at 1:00pm and it took us about 30 hours to make it to the finish line in Norfolk/Portsmouth, Virginia. All the boats are required to sail the whole way and turning on the motor results in disqualification.  We didn't place into the top three in our class but we did finish without motoring which doesn't happen every year. Most of the way was great sailing with a top speed of 9.5 knots (about 11mph)! We crawled across the finish line going about 2.5 knots at around 8:00pm, took in sails, and motored into port around 10:30pm. Although we were exhausted, a few of us on A watch went out for a bit to celebrate the fact that we had made it and were off watch and free for the next day and a half.
Sailing to the starting line
The race is on
At the dock in Portsmouth

The next day was a day of relaxing and enjoying Portsmouth. My watch had the whole day off and we went out for brunch, enjoyed the pool and hot tub and showers in the hotel where the crew had a couple rooms booked, went to the cookout for all the boat crews, explored the town, and hung out with crew from the other schooners.

We left the next day and made our way back up the Chesapeake Bay, through the C and D canal, across the Delaware Bay and up the Maurice River back to our home port of Bivalve a day and a half later. The transit was quite exciting as we spent a good portion of the time heading straight into strong winds with relatively high seas, in the dark but we made it back safely at around 5:30 in the morning. 

It's amazing to think that we have only a couple weeks left. We'll be mostly in Bivalve with one more big adventure to Chestertown, MD for downrigging before we all go our separate ways!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Sometimes it's the little things

I wanted to write a post today but I felt like I had nothing to write about. After all, we haven't even left Bivalve since the last time I wrote. But then I realized that the little, seemingly insignificant moments are often worth remembering just as much as  -if not more than- the big events. Like sitting on the dock at the lake with a friend and reminiscing about the past, talking about life, and dreaming about the future while gazing up at millions of perfectly placed stars. Or sitting around the table with the crew and laughing over the most ridiculous things that most people probably would not even find funny. Or realizing that I have absolutely no idea where I'll be in a year and that the world is bursting with possibilities.

Even though I've only been with the Meerwald for about two months, it feels like I've been here much longer and I feel at home here. It's funny how -as a friend of mine says- "The more you travel, the less home feels like home and the more you feel at home everywhere". Sometimes I feel like a crazy hobo without a "real" job and a "real" home (try telling a bunch of fifth graders that your only home is a boat) but I wouldn't trade the life of a traveler for anything.  I may never be rich but I never worry about what I will eat or where I will sleep and I'm surrounded by wonderful people.
My bunk

Someday, I would like to get my Master's and a job that requires my hard-earned degree a little more but right now I couldn't be happier, embracing every opportunity that comes my way and learning about people and the world by spending time with real people and living in the moment and experiencing the incredible world around me!
Sunsets are amazing!

Some of my highlights of the week:

*Stargazing and talking about everything and anything
*Riding my bike to work and enjoying the peacefulness of the morning and the beauty of the sky and marshes
*Hanging out with the crew and laughing
*Teaching kids who were actually excited about what I was teaching!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

On the A.J. Meerwald

I'm on a day off from my job as a deckhand and I've been motivated to start blogging again after being interviewed by my shipmate, Erin, for her blog. I'm working on the schooner A.J. Meerwald in New Jersey and I'm loving being a tall ship sailor. We do day sails for the public, private charters, and educational sails for school groups. The Meerwald is an 85' wooden schooner (meaning we have at least two masts with the main higher than the fore) built in 1928 for oystering. As a deckhand, I do everything from raising and lowering sails, to maintaining the boat, to teaching people about local marine science and the boat's history. We often work 12 hour days and the work can be hard but I like it because it's different every day and there are few things better than sailing along with all the sails set and a good breeze and sea swell.
One of my favorite views
It's hard to summarize my time here so far. My first day on the Meerwald was August 15th but I feel like I've been here for forever. I love the crew and life on a boat. We've had some great times and awesome adventures in the past month and a half, exploring different ports and meeting lots of cool people, and we're looking forward to more in the last five weeks of the season. In particular, the Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race is coming up and we should hopefully get some good sailing in!

We are currently in our home port of Bivalve, NJ which is not even really a town with  its population of 6 people, a clam plant, an oyster plant, a Rutgers University research station, and our Bayshore Center. We do have a crew house here where we often sleep or spend days off when we're in Bivalve and the marshes and woods are beautiful so it's not a bad place to be.
Lake Audrey near Bivalve

We are all waiting see what happens with hurricane Joaquin. It's been cold and rainy and windy and we've had some seriously high tides but no one seems to know whether or not the storm will actually hit. We may sail to another port up the Delaware River to wait out the potential storm or just anchor out here. Either way, I'm pretty excited about the prospect of hunkering down and hanging out if we do get a big storm!

Our flooded dock

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Back to Australia

I'm in Australia once again. I arrived in Melbourne the night before last after two very long days of travelling. Instead of flying through L.A. like before, this time I went east, stopping in Abu Dhabi. I had about a twelve hour layover there and I decided to go out and explore the city. It's very much like I imagined the middle east to be - hot and deserty with big palm trees - but I was surprised at how rich it is. The houses are huge and the cars are nice and the city is clean.

I admit I was a little nervous to go out on my own in middle-eastern country but everyone I met was very friendly and helpful and they all spoke English. All the signs were in English as well as Arabic and the public transportation is good so it was easy to get around. On the bus into the city, I met a Polish lady who had arrived the day before so I walked around with her for a bit since she knew her way around a little. Most of the shops were closed for New Year's (even though it was the second...) so there wasn't much to see but we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant and I got falafel and Greek salad, which was delicious and cheap, too! Actually, everything is cheap there. I spent about 80 dirhams (about 21 USD) all day on buses, food, and a taxi!

After lunch, we parted ways and I took a bus to see the Sheik Zayed Mosque or the "Grand Mosque". It is seriously one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen.

Inside the mosque

Pools surrounding the mosque

After seeing the mosque, I took a taxi back to the airport. My flight boarded a little before 9pm and I was asleep before we even took off since I hadn't been able to sleep at all on the first, 14-hour-long flight and I'd been awake for over 36 hours at that point. The flight was supposed to be about 13 hours long but when we approached Melbourne we were put in holding pattern for about 30 minutes before we began to descend for landing. As we descended, we flew into a black cloud and experienced some of the worst turbulence I've ever felt and it was obvious that the wind was pretty strong. Instead of landing, we went back up and circled around again. This happened several times and it felt as if the turbulence got worse every time. The crew gave us very few updates on what was going on which made things even worse, and at one point they even reminded us over the P.A. to "stay in our seats, with our seat belts fastened, and keep in mind where the nearest emergency exit was"! Eventually we flew out of the storm system and circled around for a while longer and although I would have rather been safely on the ground, the view below was pretty great and it was cool to be able to see the storm from the outside. Finally, the captain announced that the weather was too bad for us to land and we would be flying to Sydney. We flew to Sydney and then returned to Melbourne, more than 5 hours later than scheduled. 

I got a hostel for the night and then met up with a friend for coffee in the city. A friend from college had put me in touch with one of her friends and I was able to arrange to stay with them for my time in Melbourne so yesterday I took the train to a place called Mont Albert in the suburbs of Melbourne. It's a beautiful area and the weather has been perfect! I went to church with one of the girls from the house last night, which was great, and it was cool to see what church is like here. It was an Anglican church but it actually wasn't much different from churches I've been to and I really enjoyed the service. 

Today I haven't done much, except go for a run in the morning and then out with a couple of the girls to check out some local shops. The rest of the day, I've just been trying to figure out what I'm going to be doing here. I still don't have definite plans for any of my time here but I might do some traveling on the east coast before I go back to Margaret River and get a job for the summer. I've never not planned so much before and it's kind of exciting!