By Jen Borderud
Today, Friday 6/17, I woke up at 8:30 AM which is the latest I have woken up on this trip thus far. The sun usually cooks us awake by 6:30 or 7, but today, it seems we were all just exhausted enough to sleep through the heat a little longer than usual. Why were we so tired this morning? Let’s rewind a bit.
Yesterday morning we sailed from Long Bay to the Bitter End Yacht Club. The Bitter End is like a tiny piece of paradise on the north sound of Virgin Gorda. With private cabanas built along the hillside and secluded white sandy beaches, it is a popular vacation destination for the stars. We arrived in the early afternoon and spent a couple of hours on shore getting food, relaxing, swimming at the beach, and just taking in the sights. The rest of the day was devoted to preparing for our night sail from the BVI to the French/Deutsch island of St. Martin. The trip was anticipated to take 25 hours of sailing to cross the roughly 90 mile stretch of the Caribbean Sea. We planned on leaving the Bitter End in the late afternoon, so we all hustled to prepare for what would be the most challenging sail that we had done to date. We went through every inch, or centimeter for those on the metric system, of Venture III, meticulously stowing and securing every item below and above deck. The dinghy was hoisted on to the bow, we ran extra safety lines from the stern to the bow, we even picked up an extra Sail Caribbean staff member to join our crew and aid us on our journey. Every precaution was taken to ensure that the adventure would be safe and successful.
As we dropped the mooring ball at the Bitter End, we went over some final briefing details for the night sail and then sat down to a hearty and delicious dinner of burgers and potatoes, a detail that may be important later in the story. The sun was setting as excitement and a bit of tension began to mount amongst the crew members. As we sailed further and further out to sea, we all got a little quieter. It was a cloudy and windy night, and the open ocean was far more rolling and choppy than most of us had anticipated. Furthermore, it looked as though our destination was dead upwind, and in the weather with which we were dealing, the wind would add 5-10 hours to our travel time. By the time those on the first shift had donned their safety harnesses, all the nervous chatter had ceased.
As per usual, the closed windows and post-cooking heat left the cabins and the rest of the below deck area very hot and stuffy. Only 2 students and 1 staff member were scheduled to be on shift at once, but it was a hard sell to get anyone to go inside at all. The further we sailed, the larger the waves grew which made moving anywhere above and below decks very difficult. We hadn’t had a single case of seasickness thus far in our trip, but the perfect storm of rolling waves, stormy weather, and 11 tummies (8 students, 3 staff) full of burgers and potatoes would lead to the eventual demise of not one, not two, but 6 members of our crew. Yes, 6 people couldn’t quite keep those burgers down through the stormy seas…myself included. At one point, there were enough people sitting across the stern after having thrown up that as I “joined the club” if you will, I actually had a cheering section. “That’s it, girl! Just let it out! Come sit and have a ginger cookie when you’re done there.” Our shift schedule was mostly reduced to “Whoever is not sick, please take the helm/trim the jib/ease the main/etc.”
Seasickness is arguably one of the most terrible feelings one can have, but the adventure certainly wasn’t all bad. The excitement on deck was invigorating at times. The Pirates of the Caribbean theme song ran through our heads and some of the crew even sang some old sea shanties. We had some hang-ups and challenges along the way, but we met each and every one of them confidently, having faith in the competence and capability of our crew to persevere.
Ultimately, the weather and waves proved too hazardous to safely continue, so we were forced to begrudgingly abandon the sail and return to the BVI. I say we did it begrudgingly, because we all wanted to overcome the challenge. I will admit, however, that many of us were sleep-deprived, mentally fatigued, and a bit nauseous, so the thought of continuing for 20+ hours was certainly disheartening. We turned back around toward Virgin Gorda and with the wind at our backs we made it to a mooring ball at the Baths at about 4:30 AM this morning.
At some point last night or this morning, I remember thinking to myself that way too much had happened for one trip update to capture. We all learned so much during that night sail; about sailing, about navigation, about weather, and a whole lot about each other. The best thing about the whole experience wasn’t quite apparent to me until breakfast this morning when we were all recounting everything that had happened and laughing so hard that tears were streaming down faces. I don’t know if it is something that is unique to our crew or if it is a phenomenon that is fostered by living on the sea, but I am constantly amazed and encouraged by the ability of our crew to always take a chipper and jovial attitude toward the most unpleasant of circumstances. It’s not just a matter of gritting our teeth and bearing it either; we actually have fun and find humor in the challenges, even when things go awry. It’s difficult to accurately describe the intricacies of the dynamic aboard the Venture III, but I think there’s one anecdote that captures at least a glimpse of what I’m trying to say.
Every night at our boat meeting, we all go around and say our “Rose” and “Thorn” of the day. Essentially, it’s our “high” and “low”; the thing we liked most and the thing we liked least. There were various thorns from each of the crew, varying from, “feeling that hot sauce burn my esophagus on the way back up”, to “hitting my head on the door when I was trying to find out what was wrong with our rudder, only to find that someone had inadvertently hit the auto-pilot button and all my panic was for naught.” But there was a common theme in the roses for the day and a whole lot of nodding and smiling in agreement when we all realized that even in our unsuccessful journey to St. Martin, we had learned more than we probably would have had it gone without any hiccups. Furthermore, we had grown much closer and made unforgettable memories that would always make for a good story or a good laugh for the rest of our lives. And that was the greatest success we could have hoped for.