I suppose it’s about time for an update. A very long update… A lot has happened since my adventure on the Eagle
. I’ve graduated from university (I think—still waiting on my diploma…), partially moved in on a boat, volunteered for Comic Con, taken an STCW course, and sailed Surprise
for a documentary.
While the last few weeks of school were pretty stressful, as is to be expected, once all of the work was done I realised how much fun I’d had during my last year of college. It was during that year that I discovered my love of literature and writing and was welcomed into the LTWR department and my school’s chapter of Sigma Tau Delta. I made my first college friends and was taught by my favourite professors in literature and writing classes. As much as I enjoy history, I didn’t experience the same camaraderie or passion in history as I did in the LTWR department. Perhaps it would have been different if my school had offered any British or maritime history courses, but I never felt more willing to learn than while attending a literature or writing class.
Tasty, celebratory cake.
After our last final, myself and the members of Sigma Tau Delta helped set up the LTWR graduation party. It was a great success, with book raffles, a literary quote slideshow, and plenty of food and cake. We chatted with our peers and professors about our plans after graduation, and for the first time I almost wished I wasn’t done with school. I felt so at home with people who felt the same way I did about books and writing (and the Oxford comma) that I didn’t want it to end. I had taken too long to find my niche and already it was over. While I don’t plan on it right now, if I were to go back to school for a master’s degree, it would be in Literature and Writing Studies.
I didn’t attend my commencement ceremony, despite the vast majority of my friends urging me to. Instead, I went sailing on the Californian and had a reception with friends, family, and shipmates at the Maritime Museum afterwards. There was a bar and catered tacos on the dock when we got back from the sail, and I had a great time talking with everyone in attendance. I was touched by the many gifts, cards, and congratulations I received from my friends, family, and especially my shipmates. I’ve been at the Maritime Museum since I was sixteen years old. My shipmates there have seen me through high school and now college. I’ve grown from an unsure maintenance lackey, pleased to do menial cleaning and painting, to one of the most experienced members of the sail crew and a first mate aboard Californian (still pleased to do menial cleaning and painting). I didn’t need a college degree to do that, but I was able to get one at the same time. The Maritime Museum was my stress-relief to get me through the week, and it got me through four years of college.
The question everyone asks of a college grad is, of course, “What are you going to do now?” As much as I was annoyed by the question, it was something I now had to think on. With school out of the way, I was free to do what I’ve wanted to do since joining the Maritime Museum: sign on aboard a ship and sail the world! There were a few things that I wanted to do first, though…
This year marks the Star of India's 150th birthday. While I've been working at the Maritime Museum since 2006 and sailing since 2008, I have yet to sail aboard the Star of India. I began sailing during something of a rough patch for the Star. In 2008 and 2009 she didn’t sail because of maintenance that needed to be done on her jibboom and foredeck. When she did sail again in 2011, I had become so attached to Surprise and her crew that I didn’t want to give that up. This year, though, I finally want to sail on the Star. It’s her 150th, and if I do as I plan and join a live-aboard tall ship, I won’t be able to put in the time needed to train aboard her in the future. Plus, she’s about to go through some massive rigging maintenance that may put sailing on hold for who knows how long. So this is the year, hopefully, that I will sail aboard the Star of India for the first time. That means I’m going to have to stick around San Diego until, at least, November. I’ve found a few things to keep me busy.
Home sweet boat.
One of the Museum’s skippers has graciously allowed me to live aboard his 26-foot sloop to allow me a faster commute to the Museum. She doesn’t get quite as much use now as she used to, and I spent my first few days aboard giving her a good cleaning and tidying up. She’s at Kona Kai Marina on Shelter Island, a short drive and a less-than-short 5-mile walk from the Maritime Museum. I’ve been staying aboard her when I have a few days in a row working at the Museum, and have been alternating between driving, walking, or taking the bus and/or trolley depending on the day’s circumstances. She’s quite the cosy little boat, and proved to be extremely convenient when I was volunteering for Comic-Con.
I managed to finagle my way onto the Talent Relations Team for my second year at Comic-Con International, which I’ve found is the best way to attend the Con. For only a couple days’ work I received a full weekend staff badge, enough single-day comps for a good chunk of my friends to attend, and the privilege of accessing areas of the convention centre closed to the public. I assisted in escorting talent to and from holding rooms for panels, the exhibit hall for signings, and the Hilton for press. Along the way I glimpsed many recognisable faces, and while I was forbidden from gawping or asking for pictures or autographs, I’ll at least have the memories. The most vivid of which was making up the tail end of a caravan of golf carts whisking the entire X-Men cast from the Hilton to the convention centre through walls of screaming fans along the sidewalks on either side. While I knew they weren’t screaming for me, it was a pretty epic feeling (made even more exciting by a friend of mine in the crowd shouting, “Katherine?!” as we whizzed past).
After a welcomed week of sailing on Californian and Medea, I was busy again, this time with an STCW course. The Basic Safety Training course offered by the Maritime Institute in Point Loma lasted five days, from 0800 to 1700.
Monday was spent learning basic first aid and CPR. We covered textbook stuff in the morning then had practical demonstrations of dressing various wounds and performing CPR in the afternoon. The day was concluded with jury-rigging a “spinal injury victim” to a table and carrying him out of the room, down the hall, and back in. We didn’t perform terribly well, and were denied the use of the spine board hanging on the wall, but it was a good introduction to the situations one should expect while at sea.
On Tuesday we learned basic firefighting in the classroom, including types of fires and extinguishers, and were prepped for our practical firefighting lesson the next day. We headed down to the Navy’s Damage Control and Firefighting school on Wednesday, where we donned turnouts and SCBAs and fought actual fires. While the initial walk-through and explanation of what we were to do was rather intimidating, when it came around to attacking the fires, we worked as a team and received instruction every step of the way. It was a long and hot day, but I didn’t feel as if I was going to die at any point. Always a good thing.
We practiced donning immersion suits and jumped into a pool on Thursday. I got the defective gumby suit with a broken zipper, so as soon as I hit the water it started filling up. It kept me afloat, though, and I was able to swim across the pool and jump in and out of a life raft with relative ease, though a bit soggy. Then we put on PFDs and practiced righting an upside-down life raft and climbing in. We ended the day by throwing life rings and heaving lines.
Friday was a half-day spent going over personal safety and social responsibility (which I still don’t quite know the meaning of), reviewing what we’d learned so far, and receiving our certificates. In the afternoon I walked down to Shelter Island and watched the Californian sail past and out to sea. I then caught the bus down to the Maritime Museum, had a sandwich, read a book, then caught lines for Californian upon her return. I joined the crew at the pub afterwards and shared my recent achievements and new-found knowledge. While I learned a lot, there is much more to learn, and I’m anxious to get started.
By far, the most exciting thing to happen yet this summer was sailing Surprise for a documentary filming. We were fitted for costumes Wednesday evening, did some dockside filming on Thursday, and filmed at sea on Friday.
I spent much of Thursday hanging over Surprise's taffrail and taping diffusion paper to the stern windows so that an anachronistic Soviet submarine wouldn't be visible in shots filmed in the great cabin. Gaff tape is a wonderful thing, and infinitely superior to duct tape. Though I did have to keep adding more tape as the wind came up throughout the day. Those of the crew selected to be officers spent a lot of time in the great cabin making charts and writing in logbooks. One oft-repeated entry was, “Mr. Keeton punished for drunkenness — twelve lashes.” Other Jack Tar-attired shipmates (including said Mr. Keeton) got to eat roasted chicken (while sitting next to live chickens—and a goat), sauerkraut, and beef jerky for a scene. In the afternoon it was all hands to the longboat, and they paddled around Chowder Cover outside of the Museum. During all this I was kept busy with fetching things, fixing things, and making sure the longboat got on and off of the dock with minimal damage. After a very long day, we unexpectedly received $100 for our work! And what do a bunch of paid-off sailors do when they make it to shore? They go to the pub, of course! We enjoyed a few drinks and dinner at the Elephant & Castle across the street (our usual watering hole) before calling it an early night in anticipation of the next day’s 0600 muster.
On Friday we got Surprise underway for the first time in about a year. It felt so right to be on Surprise again, even though we only had one day of training to work out the kinks in the rig after bending on all of her sail.
I’ve often imagined what it would have been like to be a sailor aboard one of our ships in the time she was meant to be from. But never before now have I felt like I’d travelled back in time. We had all gotten into our costumes before getting underway. I was in the plain canvas trousers and billowy shirt, waistcoat, and blue jacket of a common seaman. Three of our crew were fitted out as officers, and two as marines. Our skipper (clothed as an ordinary sailor) backed the ship out of her dock, and we chatted on deck, laughing over our costumes. I’d mockingly salute my shipmates in their officer’s uniforms, knuckling my brow and inclining my head, an only slightly sarcastic “sir” escaping my lips. As we made our way down the channel, though, and were told to lay aloft and put the sails in their gear, I viewed the ship in a way I never had before.
I’d laid to the mizzen t’gallant, untied and coiled my starboard gasket (the sail itself was so stiff it remained in its tight furl even with no gasket to hold it in place), and began doing the same with the port gasket. As I coiled the line, I paused to glance about the ship. It was then that I felt myself hurled backwards in history. I could no longer hear the rumbling engine, nor see the populated city surrounding me. I saw only theSurprise, in all her eighteenth-century glory, manned by the officers and crew of the Royal Navy. Seamen in canvas trousers and loose shirts, some in short blue jackets, were aloft on every yard. Officers in long blue coats and bicornes, hands clasped behind their backs, calmly paced the deck below. It didn’t matter that they were my fellow Museum volunteers and not actual sailors, that the crew compliment was much too small for a frigate, that we were wearing anachronistic shoes, or that I was clipped to the yard with a safety harness. For just a moment, I was on an eighteenth century ship making preparations to set sail. It was a fleeting moment, however, and soon I was taking pictures with my phone and telling everyone around me to look at how awesome this was.
The remainder of the day was fantastic. We had just the right amount of wind to send us out of the mouth of the harbour, cut the engine, and slowly gain speed throughout the day until we peaked at about 5-6 knots. Not terribly fast, but for Surprise that’s pretty good. Surprise is known to be something of an unwieldily sailer. We endearingly call her “Our Pig” because, well, she sails like a pig. For her first couple years at the Museum she had difficulty tacking. That improved a bit when we got new ironwork on her yards, allowing us to brace farther around and thus point sharper into the wind, but it was still an occasion for celebration if she made it through a tack without having to boxhaul. Well, on Friday we did seven successful tacks out of seven attempts. We made every tack we went into. With a less-than full crew and only one day’s training, we blew our previous record of three tacks in a day out of the water (pun absolutely intended). We haven’t yet determined what was the cause of our outstanding luck on this sail. Was it the minimal practice or light crew? Was it the period costumes? Perhaps it was the goat that became the star of the show on Thursday. Whatever the reason, that day of sailing perfection was a welcome surprise.*
* Sorry, not sorry. It’s required punnage for Surprise crew.
And that has been my summer so far. I’ll be heading to Catalina on Californian this weekend for the first offshore trip of the summer (about time!). It’s only four days, but I’m anxious to get offshore and stand watch again. I haven’t been offshore since the Eagle, and being back on Californian will certainly be a treat. Next on the list of Things To Do will be the Festival of Sail at the Maritime Museum on Labor Day Weekend, then taking Californian to the Festival in Dana Point on the following weekend. Californian will be going to Catalina again in October, about a week after that I’m taking an AB course at the Maritime Institute, and in November the Star is sailing. We’ll just have to see what awaits me after that.