6 Life Lessons I Learned from Sailing

6 Jun

7 weeks after I left, I’m returning to the US a little different. I’m more at ease with uncertainty, I’m looking at social scenarios with different eyes and I have a different sense of confidence when approaching life and the unknowns that come with it. Even after crossing the Mediterranean, I wouldn’t call myself a sailor, but I would say that I’ve gained some sailing experience that translates well into life lessons.

Besides the sleeping captain, notice how there's no clutter around? (FYI -- he wasn't on watch.)

Besides the sleeping captain, notice how there’s no clutter around? (FYI — he wasn’t on watch.)

A clean boat is a safe boat.

I quickly learned how to clean lines, though there’s nothing quick about how I do it. Cleaning lines is basically taking the excess from the lines (ropes) around the boat and tidying them up so that they’re out of the way and neatly bundled. When you need to adjust lines in a pinch, this also helps the rope flow smoothly instead of sitting in knots and tangles. A clean boat also means putting things in their place—so in a drawer or in a cupboard because loose items can pose a threat as they move around in poor weather. And there’s just something about looking around a clean clutter-less room that just makes you feel good. Taking this learning to land will set me up with a clean environment with fewer distractions, allowing me to be able to relax more thoroughly instead of feeling overwhelmed by a constant mess.

I definitely had the best watch schedule, but I still took a watch shift. I took this after my first shift, before I got seasick.

I definitely had the best watch schedule, but I still took a watch shift. I took this after my first shift, before I got seasick.

There’s no such thing as a free ride; everyone contributes.

Chad was the captain, Tyler was the first mate, and I was…well, I was Sejal. Though my sailing experience was limited (aka zilch), there were lots of ways for me to contribute. Whether it was making breakfast or cleaning up the galley or pulling a line when I was told to or providing entertainment through music on my phone, movies on my computer and books on my Kindle, I made contributions as well that helped us with the journey. There’s no such thing as a free ride on a boat. Everyone has a role, everyone contributes; we all work together as a team. Think about that the next time you’re in a group setting and you’re not doing something. You can help, whether it’s physical assistance or supporting the team effort. Don’t underestimate the power of a smile and enthusiasm; everyone needs support. You have a role; know it, learn it, own it.

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A Hello, A Farewell, and a Moment of Panic

1 Jun

Scarily enough, I’ve been having a hard time finding time to blog and journal–is this what the real world is all about? Oh boy, this is going to take some more work on my part. I’m a few days behind, but better late than never? Rather than feeling totally overwhelmed by being behind, I’m trying to take it for what it is and do what I can. Deal?

When’s the last time you’ve taken a bus from one country to another? For me, it was 4 days ago. Before that, never. Europe is great like that: you can take a plane, train or bus (or walk in the case of Gibraltar to Spain) from one country to another. That’s how Tyler and I found ourselves on an overnight bus from Sevilla, Spain to Lisbon, Portugal. While waiting at the bus stop, we met a couple, Johann and Rose, who were coming in from Majorca to Lisbon to see The Rolling Stones perform at Rocking Rio. (Wait, what? The Rolling Stones were going to be in Lisbon the same day we were heading there?! The wheels started spinning in our heads, but the concert was already sold out—it sold out in two days.) As we waited for our bus, we started chatting with our new friends and I think Tyler started a new bromance ;-) By the time the bus arrived and we boarded, the only two seats left were all the way in the back, smack dab in the middle. It was a tight squeeze but we settled into what would be our bed for the night and off we went to Lisbon! (Travel tip: overnight buses may be cramped and uncomfortable, but it’s not that bad. I would do it again as a solo female traveler as well—I felt pretty safe on the bus—though depending on the pair of cities you’re traveling to and from, it might be different.)

Earlier in the day, Tyler had booked a flight home for Thursday, after we got into Lisbon. Seeing as I didn’t have to rush back and given that I’ve always wanted to visit Portugal, I summoned all of my courage and made the decision to stay in Portugal for a few days and explore, solo. My immediate priority was to figure out a place to stay; enter Airbnb. I found a place in the city that had great reviews and fit my budget. Somehow through my conversation with the host I found out that he’s a surf instructor and he asked if I was interested in taking a class. UMM, HECK YEAH! Learning how to surf is on my bucket list (#45) and Portugal sounded like a great place for me get a taste and catch my first wave! Since I wasn’t sure when I was going to leave, I wanted to see if we could be flexible with my checkout date so I didn’t book the room before I boarded the bus, but was excited about the prospect!

This is who I got to spend 6 weeks with. I know, lucky me :-)

This is who I got to spend 6 weeks with. I know, lucky me :-)

We arrived in Lisbon just as the sun lit up the city, making for some great views as the bus pulled into the stop. After a taxi driver misunderstood our destination, we somehow made it to the hotel that Tyler’s friend, Mark, was staying at, with just enough time for the guys to catch up, room service breakfast, and showers before Tyler had to leave for the airport to catch his flight. Somehow in the excitement, his phone went missing. I’m crossing my fingers that it’s in the bottom of his bag somewhere but it might just be in the hands of a lucky cab driver instead L In the midst of the search for his phone and the clock ticking down the minutes to his flight, Tyler’s departure was a little bit chaotic, for which I’m thankful. I think if I had more time to say bye to the friend, teacher and sounding board that I had spent my entire trip, thus far, with, I probably would have cried.

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Au Revoir to the Atlantic

31 May
This picture sums up so much

This picture sums up so much

The last two days seem like two weeks–that’s how much has happened. I’m finally taking a moment to breathe and write now and I’m realizing how I’m going to need to work at finding time for rest, thought and reflection (all things that I’ve had loads of time to do when I was on the boat and I found has helped me breathe). Where should I start…

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The crew: Greg and Jorge in the back with Daniel, myself and Tyler up front.

On Wednesday we finished getting the ship ready for sail by tightening the rigging, provisioning for the cross-Atlantic journey and going through any last instructions for the new crew. We welcomed two new crew members to Tellstar: Daniel and Greg. Daniel is a Danish guy that Jorge had sailed with on other trips. He showed up with a full backpack, a yoga mat and a ton of enthusiasm. Soon after getting to Gibraltar, he had the boat washed down and him and Ty were practicing yoga on the cockpit in no time.  Greg is an American who is just coming off of vacation (a few months in Asia and a few months in the Med) and was excited about getting back on a boat and to the US. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be speaking another language or three (including a coding language) by the end of the voyage–I got to practice my French and Spanish with him in the few hours since we met.

Seeing Tellstar off (peep the background)

Seeing Tellstar off (peep the background)

Like I mentioned in my last post, I was going to re-evaluate my next steps when I got to Gibraltar, and I did. I decided to get off of the boat and not cross the Atlantic (but you already knew that because you’re a smart cookie and you know that I have no way of updating my blog if I was at sea :-)). There are lots of factors that I considered before making the decision but ultimately, I felt like the trip had fulfilled the things I had wanted to address and an additional 3 weeks at sea weren’t going to change much.  Yes, crossing the Atlantic would have been cool–REALLY cool–but just because an opportunity is a once-in-a-lifetime type of deal, doesn’t mean you should do it. Be mindful about how you spend your time and energy. My time on the boat was well spent and I have memories and stories and learnings that I’ll take with me, but I also just felt that it was time to do something different. So Tyler and I passed Tellstar over to the new crew and wished them a great (and safe) journey across the Atlantic. Maybe I’ll cross the Atlantic one day, but I crossed the Med, and that’s nothing to sneeze about :) Continue reading

Made it Across the Med!

27 May
Approaching Gibraltar by sea

Approaching Gibraltar by sea

We did it—we crossed the Mediterranean! A week after leaving Malta, we have arrived in Gibraltar. This time our voyage, surprisingly, went according to plan. With a new captain in place, things were a little different on the boat. Not necessarily bad or good, just different. Jorge has a lot of experience so it’s been really cool to listen to his stories. In his mid-twenties, him and his best friend bought a boat together and set out to sail—neither of them had ever done anything like that before. While they originally were thinking about going around the world, they realized they didn’t have the finances for such a trip and instead crossed the Atlantic, sailed around the Caribbean and South America and returned to the port they originally left from in Portugal. While their adventure lasted months, the memories are still vivid—he’s still working on a book about the trip. The best part (maybe most surprising part, of his trip?), the two friends came back with their friendship intact, actually even better, than when they left. Being on a boat is tough: you’re in an enclosed space, you’re relying on other people for your own safety and there’s no escape. The people you are with significantly influences your experience, that’s true no matter what the scenario is.

Saying bye to Chad in Malta

Saying bye to Chad in Malta

Saying farewell to Chad was tougher than I thought it would be, but knowing that he’ll be coming to Portland in August for a visit made it a little easier. Chad, in a way, is the catalyst to my entire adventure and leap of faith. Sure, I might have decided it was time to take a leap of faith on my own, but with Chad’s invitation to join them on this sailing trip and his unwavering support gave me the boost that I needed to make the decision there and then. Especially since he was offering me an adventure to jump straight into. Before I left, a coworker of mine was getting ready to go out on sabbatical. After working at Intel for 7 years, US employees are eligible for an 8-week sabbatical to be used within 3 years. That’s 8 weeks of paid time off to do whatever your heart pleases. Someone had shared this advice with us: plan a trip to start your sabbatical off. That way, you’re immediately disconnected and aren’t able to check your email, which apparently is something that everyone struggles with when they’re supposed to be offline. By having this sailing trip, it was my way of forcing myself off the grid and jumping into something new and exciting, headfirst. Captain Chad, what a guy.

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Making it to Malta

20 May
The view pulling into southern Malta

The view pulling into southern Malta

We made it to Malta. What a victory :-) Malta has been on our mind for weeks now and to finally make it to our first planned destination was a big moment for us. After 3 weeks of paperwork delays in Israel, a changing crew, unexpected fueling stops in Greece and days of going upwind, to say that we were elated to reach Malta would be an understatement. Right smack dab in the middle of the Mediterranean, Malta is a small island just south of Italy. Known for tourism and pastizzis, the country has character and great historical significance. For sailing vessels like ours, it means we’ve made it half-way across the Mediterranean Sea.

Jorge snapped this shot of Tell Star pulling into the Manoel Marina

Jorge snapped this shot of Tell Star pulling into the Manoel Marina

While our time in Malta is short (about 30 hours–we’re heading out to Gibraltar later today), it’s been nice. Not going to lie, getting on land had me shaking a bit. The ground keeps feeling like it’s moving, prompting me to take a seat or lean up against a structure. (I think this is the start of what they call landsickness? Guess I’m not going to catch a break–oh well.) Pulling into the marina, we were greeted by a one-man welcoming part, Jorge, our new captain.

Our new captain, Jorge, climbing the mast.

Our new captain, Jorge, climbing the mast.

My dear friend Captain Chad needs to head back to the US to prepare for upcoming charters they had booked in the Bahamas and is turning Tellstar over to a friend, Jorge from Portugal, who is a delivery captain. Yup, there’s such a thing! In Jorge’s line of work, he is hired by boat owners to sail private vessels from one port to another. Sometimes it’s a two day journey, sometimes, like in this instance, it’s a cross-Atlantic voyage. In the short time that since we’ve met Jorge, we’ve all gotten acquainted and feel comfortable in our new captain’s hands.  Continue reading

Greetings from Greece

14 May
Moonrise ahead, sunset behind. I just kept swinging my head to and fro during my first evening watch. Beautiful.

Moonrise ahead, sunset behind. I just kept swinging my head to and fro during my first evening watch. Beautiful.

Greece wasn’t part of the original sailing plan, but when you have less wind than expected, you end up using your motor more than expected. When you end up using your motor more than expected, you end up using more fuel than expected. When you’re using more fuel than expected, you need to adjust your plans to make a refueling stop, which is exactly what we planned to do. Yesterday. (Or rather, the night before that. When we got approached by the Greece Coast Guard. But that’s a different story.) Our plans of stopping in Crete for a few hours – a day to check in to the country and refuel – were quickly disbanded when we were told that we couldn’t enter Greece in Ierapetra because it wasn’t a port of entry. And we needed a transit log. And there was a system coming in and the nearest port of entry was 40 nm away. So they filled up our jerry cans with diesel (as a boat in distress, Port Police is required to help do that, at the minimum), and off we went to Sitia, where I’m writing from now. Though there was an urgency for us to get to Sitia, the sail was pleasant. I took my first early evening shift and caught the sunset and moonrise–it was incredible. Even with the changes in our plan and the roadblocks we kept encountering, there’s still this beauty to the sea, a calmness and stillness that will make even the most dire situations a tad bit better. And at this point, there really wasn’t much for us to do except embrace the moment, and laugh.

Captain Chad hanging out with one of the stowaways

Captain Chad hanging out with one of the stowaways

So, how’s sailing, you ask? Sailing is pretty cool–and complicated! I’m really lucky, insanely lucky, that I’m sailing with these guys. They are seriously amazing. Not only are they incredible sailors, but they’re patient with my million questions, stopping to teach me how things work along the way. (Often time having to do it a few times because while I like to learn, it takes me a little bit to grasp things sometimes.) They give me chances to make my own contributions, minimal ones, at best, yet make me feel like I’m part of the team. Sometimes when I ask what I can do to help, it’s simply to be supportive. When sailing, you’re sailing 24/7, which means someone always needs to be on watch. My shift is from noon-3pm every day.  Continue reading

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