It was December 2002, and I had fallen in love with tall ship sailing just 2 years before.
It was a lifestyle I never dreamed possible for myself. As I wandered the Halifax waterfront during Tall Ships 2000, I came across a ship that particularly caught my eye. Her name, Eye of the Wind. As I watched people climbing aloft, doing various tasks and maintenance, I wondered, what kind of person do you have to be to find yourself working a job like that? Surely you must have spent your childhood messing around in small boats, learning important techniques and seamanship and teamwork. And you must be strong.
Myself? Just preparing to begin my final year of a chemistry degree that saw me in the university library for 12 hrs almost daily. Not an athletic bone in my body, and never having stepped aboard a sailboat, I quickly let go of the notion of inquiring about the ‘crew wanted’ sign on the mast.
Fast forward to a year later. Having completed my chemistry degree, but with no more direction in life or thoughts of what I could do with this degree, I started some serious soul-searching. I went for a drive to the town of Lunenburg, which I had always loved, as we used to go there as a family for Sunday drives from the city. After wandering around town for a while, I took a walk down to the famous Bluenose II, the successor to Bluenose, the ship on the Canadian dime. It is an ambassador for the province of Nova Scotia, and each year they take on a crew of 12 deckhands, many of whom have no sailing experience. This was news to me. Learning this fact from a crew member that afternoon on the dock suddenly opened a whole other world of opportunity. Unfortunately, I was much too late to apply that season, but this deckhand encouraged me to try my luck with a boat about ½ a mile down the road. The boat was in re-fit, being built entirely of wood in 1924. They needed laborers, to paint, sand, varnish… to do whatever needed doing. She was to set sail in a month, and perhaps this would be a foot in the door.
I’ll admit there was much hesitation on my part as I walked down the docks. What would I say to the captain? I had no experience and this was something I had barely considered or ever dreamed I was capable of doing. How could I exude confidence and enthusiasm about a world I knew nothing about?
But when I found the ship, an original Grand Banks schooner, not much different from the Bluenose herself, I was in love. Next thing I knew, I was hired. Her name was Highlander Sea.
Over the next year, I jumped from ship to ship, traveling from Nova Scotia, to the Great Lakes, to the eastern United States, then eventually found myself Caribbean bound!
At this point in my life, free and single and no debts or responsibilities back home, it was by far the best way to travel. Most tall ships take care of food and board, and normally pay a small weekly stipend to allow you to enjoy the odd night ashore.
Upon arrival in the U.S. Virgin Islands, I was required to leave my ship, as they had new crew arriving, and really had only been doing me a favor by permitting me to take part in the passage. I hitched a ride to Antigua aboard an 80-ft ketch, where my research had informed me that a tall ship, Stad Amsterdam, was to be attending the yacht broker show. I was absolutely determined to angle my way into a position aboard this ship.
We arrived early on a December morning in Falmouth Harbor, Antigua. I quickly eyed the docks for the square-rigged masts I had come in search of. To my surprise, there were two such ships meeting that criteria. Upon rowing ashore, I discovered that one was indeed Stad Amsterdam. The other? Eye of the Wind!
Suddenly my desires had changed drastically. Stad Amsterdam had beckoned me there, but now Eye of the Wind is where I knew I belonged. It had to be fate, I told myself.
My first day aboard as hired crew, shining the brass, helping to load provisions, then going aloft to unfurl the sails as we prepared to sail to St Martin, it struck me how everything had come full circle. I had become one of those people, and was now on the inside looking out.