It was the third day that we saw the dolphins. I had seen dolphins in the movies swimming next to the ships. I think they made an appearance in the film about the Titanic, another sea related movie I was unhealthily obsessed with as a young girl.
The dolphins were bouncing in and out of the waves, and I was standing on deck and they were only a few meters away from me, racing the ship towards our destination on the waves. We were crossing a wide expanse of water, the ship was so small on the sea but I didn’t feel alone. Because we weren't. They were everywhere on both sides.
The pattern of, at first feeling alone then being shown that I really wasn’t, became a trend throughout the voyage.
That day we were stationed on midships which meant we had the four sails on the biggest mast to put up. The morning went fine I managed to avoid climbing up to the middle one to prep it. I've never been fond of unsafe situations and dangling from a rope twenty meters up in the air classified it'self as an unsafe situation in my mind.
Then the end of the day came, and it was time to strike the sails. Striking the sails means taking them down. Because I hadn’t climbed in the morning it was implied that I should give it a go.
I walked over to the harness box and started harnessing myself up just like for the up and over with Quentin. There were three other trainees who were also going up from my group. They seemed to be completely unaware of what I could only say were the severe health and safety risks coming.
(The Spirit probably has the safest rigging to climb in the history of rigging, I had nothing to worry about.)
Fear was starting to boil in my stomach and it was practically choking me by the time I was climbing the lower rigging. I made it to the first platform, the one I had been to before, then it came time to climb to the next.
The ship was sailing and with the motion of the waves, the mast was swaying from side to side. I had to climb a ladder to the next platform and because the mast was leaning back slightly with the wind, I wondered if my arms would even have the strength to pull me up. But I managed and I got to the sail I needed to stow.
I clipped on to the thin wire that ran the length of the sail’s beam, it was supposed to support my weight if I fell, and stepped onto the black rope that was meant to be my footing. It wobbled under my weight. I inched my way out to the end of the beam. My arms already ached from holding onto the metal bar so tightly from fear and my legs were waltzing in and out on the rope beneath me, striking pain into my abdomen from the amount of core strength it was taking to stand.
At the end of the beam, there was a rope that you were supposed to pull up over the beam before you could start stowing the sail. I tugged at it, wondering how I was supposed to hold onto the metal bar with both hands and still pull on the rope.
I realized that they probably wanted you to let go of the metal bar with one hand, letting go, the footrope beneath me swung wildly and I wondered if today was the day I died. I tuggged at the rope. It didn’t move. Tugging again the panic that had been waiting not so paitently in my throat flooded my mind. I tugged again and again frantically, all sense and tactic had gone from my mind.
I wanted the whole ordeal to be over so that I could be back on solid ground again. Well, as solid as a ship is. I somehow managed to pull the rope over the beam and by now my nose was running freely and the panic that was flooding my mind was causing my eyes to leak silent tears.
The snot from my nose was running down my face and onto my hands and the metal bar I was gripping onto, making it slippery and hard to hold. I started to freeze up, every muscle in my body felt like it was contracting, I couldn’t move, not even to get back to the mast.
I would like to mention that most climbs the trainees are accompanied by an experienced crew member in between each trainee. We had the third mate watching from the middle and I was quite safe looking back on it.
Then the last person I expected, came to my rescue. I’m not really someone who likes the idea of being ‘rescued’ especially by a guy, especially because of my own weakness and vulnerability. Anyone who knows me can confirm I resist the idea greatly.
However, I can say with complete confidence that if he hadn’t stepped in I don’t know what would have happened on that mast.
He was next to me on the sail and noticed that I was freaking out. I don’t know how he would have ever been able to tell, maybe it was the look of terror on my face, the snot, the shaking (that was so bad that it may have been contributing to the swaying of the mast) or the tears that were also adding to the slipperiness of the metal bar, but he inched out along the bar beside me.
Calmly starting to walk me through stowing the rest of the sail. I was out the far end, there was no way we could switch over or anything, it was something that I just had to do, I just couldn’t do it alone.
I pulled up the end of the sail somehow, even though I didn't think my arms had literally any strength left in them. He didn’t stop talking, nor did he draw attention to the fact I was literally breaking down in front of him. Instead, he commented on the view and made a few jokes, which I laughed at weakly, glad of the distraction.
Sense started to find it's way back into my mind which until then had been blank with panic. I stopped crying although my nose was still running quite drastically and I was shaking so much he nervously told me to stop because he might lose his footing.
I was still twenty meters up in the air, out on the end of a beam, on a windy day, on a mast that was bouncing with the waves and a thin metal wire connected to my harness was the only thing that would keep me alive if my arms gave way. I just was no longer alone. It was one of those little moments in life that restore all faith in humanities kindness and goodness.
We made our way back, tying up the sail as we went and somehow I made it back down to the deck of the ship. Collapsing to the ground, my body too weak to hold me up. We laughed and skipped briskly over the fact he’d completely saved my bacon, but it was one of those moments that I’ll always remember and be grateful for.
The fact that I’d not been as successful as I would have liked haunted me for the next few days. Up until then, I’d been enjoying the trip enough to have been considering coming back as a helping hand. But I woefully dismissed the idea, due to the fact that helping hands had to be able to climb the rigging to help trainees.
That night as our group debriefed we had an exercise to write ourselves a private goal for the voyage. I stared at my piece of paper for a long time, debating the day. Then, I quietly wrote ‘Say yes to every opportunity, no matter how scary.’ And folded it up...
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