From the Headrig

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Twice, I have leapt into the ocean from the boat. First, into the impossibly clear Nuku’alofa harbor with only a handful of shipmates. On the headrig, I looked down, remembered the caves, and my feet reminded me of how dearly they love the ground. Still, I jumped into the water.

“The pool” was open for maybe twenty minutes before the captain closed it. But it was twenty incredible minutes. I’d never swam in water so light blue or under the shadow of a tall ship. I had been feeling a little homesick and a lot challenged by life on the boat, but the swim re-inspired me.

It was the kind of moment that could have easily slipped past me had I returned to the Seamans just a little later that afternoon. Instead, I got to jump from the headrig (no harness needed here!), admire the light streaming through the surface of the water up close, and scull and stroke back and forth for half the length of the ship. It, I thought, was a perfect afternoon.

But the next day another unbelievable chance arrived. We left the Kingdom of Tonga on a calm day, headed to a volcanic island that had only emerged from the ocean in January of 2015. All afternoon, the skies stayed clear, the seas calm, and the wind virtually nonexistent. As we neared the volcano, class started. We debriefed about our time in Tonga. And then, our captain opened the pool again. This time the entire ship’s company had the opportunity to swim–in the open ocean no less. Mere miles from a young island, with thousands of meters of water between us and the seafloor.

I can’t quite describe to you how astonishing this swim was. The water, which looked so flat from the deck of the RCS was so not flat with your head at the surface. That afternoon, it rolled slowly and long. The waves almost looked like desert dunes, building up and away from us, mounding in our range of view.

And I think I always forget the metallic taste of saltwater. I am always surprised when I taste it again. And that afternoon, I could float in the salt so quietly, vertical, my head comfortably above the water line without needing to scull at all. I, a competitive swimmer, pretty familiar with all the ways you can float in the water and move efficiently through it, had never experienced that before.

If you lay back, immersed you ears in the water, you could hear the chirp and rumble of the Seamans. The clicking and popping of the ocean I’ve heard SCUBA diving before less evident here at the surface and at the center of all this blue.

Again, we could jump from the bowsprit or anywhere from the forward port side of the rail. Again, standing in the headrig, looking (far, far down) into the blue, I was scared. It took a few deep breaths to remind myself (as I’ve found myself remembering any number of times this trip) that I will never have another chance to do just this. What is great is not always easy. Don’t miss your shot. How else are we to grow and learn but to find ourselves facing the unfamiliar, look intently, and leap in. Continuing forward despite it all.

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