Local Virginian Trades the High Life on Land for Hard Work at Sea
I was Director of White Canvas Gallery in downtown Richmond and now, I am a sailor. I traded in my second floor apartment in the Fan for bunk space aboard a 137' tall ship. I gave up dinners at Joe's Inn and Kuba Kuba for eating my meals cafeteria style at sea. I left behind the James River and tried out the Atlantic Ocean. My land legs are now sea legs.
The closing of White Canvas Gallery prompted me to seek new employment and ask a lot of questions. Should I stay in the art field or try for something else? Should I move? How long can I sustain myself on my savings? How does this unemployment thing work? I quickly found temporary administrative work with a local staffing agency but I knew my time was limited. I needed to keep searching. All my previous questions heaved themselves at me again and I couldn't come up with any answers. I felt ashamed and stressed out for not having a solution. At that point I decided to ditch the questions and started to daydream. I asked myself, "If I could do anything, what would it be?" It's a question that makes me cringe but I asked it anyway. I let my mind run free and once I had a sufficient list to work from, I tried to integrate things I enjoyed or wanted to accomplish with possible employment opportunities.
For many years I had the desire to work on boats so I began researching the marine/yachting industry. While gathering information, I came across the website for World Ocean School. I knew immediately I had found what I was looking for. The World Ocean School is a non profit organization committed to reinforcing academic and life skills to pre-teens and teenagers. The home office is based in Maine but the school operates aboard a 1925 fishing schooner named Roseway. During the winter, the boat sails from New England to St. Croix, VI and teaches 7th graders from the island's public school system. During the summer months, the boat sails back to the north-east coast of the United States and parts of Canada to conduct three, two-week summer camp sessions for teenagers. The boat takes passengers for transit, charters, and evening sails to help raise money for its programs.
Working for World Ocean School fulfilled several things on my "If I could do anything" list. I could try teaching, I could travel, I could work for a non profit organization and give back to a community, and I could sail. I wondered if the captain would hire someone whose educational background was in the arts, who had never taught anything before, and whose boating experience involved power boats and rivers? I sent World Ocean School my resume and by September First I was living aboard Roseway, learning the life of a sailor and preparing for our Boston to St. Croix transit.
The first weeks aboard were confusing. I second guessed my decision to join the crew almost daily. I questioned my commitment while crawling down the companion way ladder into sleeping quarters I shared with eight other people. I wondered what I had gotten into when the foresail line I was tending jumped the bit, luckily saved by two seasoned crew mates who gave me "the eye" at my novice accident. And the process of forming calluses on my hands was so painful at one point, I felt the need to take photos of my wounds and email them to family and friends.
My life on Roseway has been intense and very rewarding. I have been challenged physically, emotionally, and mentally; learning an entirely new way of life. I formed muscles in places that strength machines at the gym couldn't touch. My hands have turned into human vice grips and I can use nautical jargon with confidence like, "pass the jib" and "easing the horse.” I can tell stories about keeping watch from 4am to 8am, recount numerous whale sightings, and recall poetic sunsets that shot fire across the sky and moons that lit up the night. I have seen shades of blue in the sea I didn’t know existed. I will forever be in total amazement of the ocean and our ability to harness the wind to move a 260 ton boat named Roseway.
Besides the sailing experience, living and working in St. Croix has been another rewarding part of life with the World Ocean School. The people of St. Croix welcomed me into their community and shared my delight in discovering their island. Both long-time residents and Crucian newcomers greatly support the World Ocean School and its programming. By the end of our winter season, Roseway and its crew will have hosted and taught over 600 island kids; that’s hundreds of individuals enthusiastic for life that I get to smile and laugh with and share my knowledge. That’s hundreds of opportunities for me to learn, as well.
Even though being a sailor on a tall ship is probably not my calling in life, I have enjoyed being a part of World Ocean School. I am no longer confused about my decision to join the Roseway crew. It was probably one of the greatest things I’ve ever done. I sailed the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, I met people from all over the United States, and I proved I could “rough it” without a full length mirror and hairdryer. What stands out the most is my front-line involvement with an organization that is making a difference in the lives of children. I believe in World Ocean School’s mission and the ability of the people involved - board members, directors, captains, supporters, and (definitely) the crew.