I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea's face, and a gray dawn breaking.
It's hard to put into words, but the ocean has a power over me. I've always enjoyed the ocean in all its mystery and power and wondrous life. I grew up spending summers exploring the beaches and jetties of Cape Cod, collecting "mermaid's purses", whelk egg cases, scallop shells, and sea glass, searching for hermit and sand crabs, picking helpless periwinkles and dog whelks off the rocks, and shining flashlights into the night waters looking for blue crab and comb jellies and pipefish. I tried fishing for blues and stripers, but was never very good at that (apparently my brother, Carl, got all the fish-catching genes). Though I did catch my fair share of spider crabs.
For all that though, most of my connection to the sea was shore-based. Sure, I went out on my uncle's Boston Whaler on occasion (the best was going out to Monomoy), but really never spent that much time on the water and never more than a few miles from shore. All that changed however in my junior year at Bowdoin when I had the opportunity to take part in Sea Education Association's SEA Semester. It was during that experience that I contracted Masefield's sea fever.
Instead of going into all the salty details here, I'll send you over to the website I designed to celebrate my and my shipmates' experience. (don't laugh when you click over there - it was the first website I ever put together - 10 or so years ago - no digital cameras, no CSS, no Photoshop - and though I keep saying I am going to redo or delete it, I can't bring myself to do it).
On top of the science of the ocean and of sailing, SEA Semester teaches you more about teamwork, leadership, and your strengths and weaknesses than any other experience I've encountered - you deal with real problems in real weather in real seas. Torn mains'l in the middle of a squall in the middle of the night? Work together and deal with it. Seasick in twenty-foot seas? Help each other out and deal with it. One of your watch members not pulling their weight? Figure out how to motivate them, teach them, encourage them or deal with the fact that you're just going to have to move forward without their help.
Ever since my SEA experience, I've jumped at any feasible opportunity to get back on a sailing ship - afternoon sails at SEA alumni events, my wife's and my honeymoon on the Grace Bailey, our Galapagos adventure on the Sea Cloud. Why am I posting about all this now? Because in a couple of weeks, I'll be rejoining SEA for a 4-day cruise on the SSV Corwith Cramer and that sea fever is flaring up again.
I imagine it won't be nearly the experience my original trip was - it's only a four day "Colleagues Cruise" - but I'm counting the days till I climb aboard (even if it's not on the Westward, which was retired a few years back). I plan on bringing my camera (digital now!) and will share my photos when I get back.
Yes, I am a pirate. Born 200 years too late.