High School on a Ship
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Sailing the North Atlantic

By Charlotte Van Dyke-Talbot | May 23, 2018 | Shipboard Life, Students

Darkness. The biting winds. Strings of foam sputtering from waves like saliva. A misty horizon riddled with endless waves, each one unique, each one having its own shape. Thus was the north Atlantic.

Every moment, a wave would slide under the ship and rock it in a specific way. A very specific way, a way that would never be able to be recreated by any other wave. Yes, it seems as if all waves are the same. The good old back-and-forth motion of the ship becomes so repetitive that we barely notice it after a few days. But once in a while, as I lost balance and rushed abruptly into a wall, I would stop and think of the uniqueness of the single wave that just caused our ship to dip and rip the water’s surface into delicate splashes. “A wave like this will never exist again”, I told myself. All those minuscule ripples, all those uneven grooves that were shaped by the wind’s howl – they forge a wave into a precious jewel that reflects the light in a thousand different angles.  A wave that will push us forward, that will subject our ship to some sort of change in potential energy, and that will keep our ship from stalling on flat water. 

When the main deck was closed down, a new world opened up to us students: the foreign lands of the aft deck. Of course, located at the back of the ship, the aft deck was not unknown to us; We often went up to it to relieve physicals, to brace the main mast, to talk to crew members. However, we did get to know it in a very different way on that sail. 

The aft deck was no longer the wide, clean, elevated area dedicated to the crew. The aft deck was a refuge, a hideout from the danger, a new cozy camp. By day, the grey sky would reflect its dull light on the pale wood of the deck. Students on watch would sit or stand, tightly packed, overdressed and clipped-in multiple times to the safety ropes. The crew, often wearing surprisingly light clothing, would be sipping coffee and laughing heartily, their breath puffs condensing into misty clouds. All would stare out into the majestic, uneven ocean. All would rejoice and laugh when a wave would overflow from the shipside and invade the main deck. 

By night, the aft deck became a cottage, a place to sit in peace in an illusion of safety. Down in the banje, I would get woken up for night watch and slide into five layers of clothing. I would march up the indoor stairs leading to the deck, struggling to fit the harness around my thick coats. Then, entering the deck, a soft yet deadly cold breeze would stroke my cheeks, the darkness would surround me like a blanket. I would sit down and secure myself with all the others, feeling the peace of our vicinity, yet keeping aware of the storming, raging ocean miles and miles all around. 

Thus, the aft deck became a new district, “the cottage place”. A place that will not be recreated on any other sail.