A 21st birthday celebration on land is deceivingly similar to that underway. Full of well wishes, tasty cakes, reflection, and likely some vomiting. I began my morning with a watch shift, where we made sure the boat was safe and secure and that all was well as the sun rose. Following some coffee on the quarterdeck prior to breakfast, all hands prepared for departure. Lines were stripped of chafe gear, loose gear stowed, fenders deployed, and exit strategies mapped. Finally, it was time to put our plan into motion. With a tradesman aboard (who we lovingly referred to as “Compass Man”), we pushed off the dock like a toddler taking their first few steps: a bit unsure, definitely not quick, but grinning from ear to ear. We motored into Auckland Harbour and spun what felt like a hundred slow circles as the magical Compass Man calibrated the onboard navigation in order to determine the degrees of magnetic deviation.
With the deviation determined, our guest returned to the dock and we were alone and truly underway. After motoring for a few hours out of the harbor, some frantic attempts to memorize the ship’s pin rail diagram, and with plenty of layers of sunscreen applied and reapplied, our eager hands slowly began to take over. The wheel was given to a student, who at the Captain’s orders guided the vessel along course. Other students began raising sails under the instruction of the crew: hauling, coiling, and trimming until she truly looked like a proper sailing vessel. The decks were a flurry with students and crew practicing, trying, and testing various skills and techniques for both sailing and science. There were surprisingly occasional moments for reflection and observation, and watching the small islands and eccentric coastline slip by was not to be missed. Every vessel we passed sped up to get a closer look as on this gorgeous New Zealand day we truly were a sight to see.
A few more hours of sweating and sailing under the beating sun, and many more layers of sunscreen later, we approached the planned anchor location for the evening. As Lily and I were studying the wave crests to determine the sea and wind direction for our 15:00 weather check, the entire crew came on the quarterdeck to sing happy birthday with an afternoon treat. As the frosting melted and mixed with the sweat, dirt, and sunscreen on my skin, I couldn’t help but laugh when I thought of the parallels between how I came into this world 21 years ago and the beginnings of our little voyage—sticky, exhausted, confused, and desperate to know more of what the future may hold. We anchored at 18:00 alongside some wooded cliffs and rolling hillsides, and the sun-baked crew sat for dinner to laugh about our long day of “firsts”, and at how distant our time in Auckland now seemed. Tonight we will stand anchor watch, and try to get some rest before we see what we are up against tomorrow. Happy belated Valentine’s Day to all those with love aboard the Robert C. Seamans and thank you to all for the birthday wishes and (hopefully more to come) fishes.
- Ruby Dener, A Watch, Cornell University