This is a guest post by Jasmin Gebauer-Barrett, a student aboard Class Afloat. This experiential education program through Canada’s West Island College International takes high school, university and gap year students around the world on a tall ship. They not only live aboard, study at sea and visit over 20 ports of call, they actually take the helm, hoist sails, stand watch and sail the vessel under the guidance of the captain and crew. This post focuses on Jasmin’s recent visit to Tristan da Cahuna, a British colony in the south Atlantic that is know as the most remote inhabited island in the world.
Over the Horizon and Beyond
by Jasmin Gebauer-Barrett
As the cloud ceiling parted, the sun cast shredded beams of light upon the dormant volcano. To any normal eye it would appear as nothing more than an island, but to us it was a success to even lay eyes upon it. This was the first time anyone from Class Afloat within the last few years has had the lucky opportunity to sail past the most remote inhabited island in the world. 18 days before reaching this magnificent British colony of Tristan da Cunha, we had departed from Buenos Aires, Argentina. While sailing across the Atlantic Ocean for the second time onboard the Dutch vessel, the Gulden Leeuw, we were never quite sure if we would miss this island completely due to unfavourable winds. Without Neptune on our side, it would have been a month-long passage to Cape Town, South Africa with only the unobscured horizon of the ocean to console us.
To say the least, it was a relief to see land after such a rough sail. Once we neared the island, set anchor, and the organized chaos of coming into port had died down, I was finally able to study the geography. I couldn’t marvel at the sight any sooner because a spastic, synthetic polyester beast had to be tamed. My crew mates and I fought a tough battle laying on the flakes of the main staysail to prevent the strong winds from erasing our hard work. Eventually it was under control and my attention could be diverted to the underwater cliffs that broke the ocean’s surface and continued to soar upwards all around. There was one exception where the land sloped to a near horizontal meadow and stretched out before plummeting into the unknown depths of the ocean yet again. This plateau of land was the only location suitable to grow food and build houses where the small population of 267 people lived.
The waves were relentless the day we anchored, so passage onto the island wasn’t possible. It didn’t matter though. We had made it; anything else would just be extra whipped cream on top of the best hot fudge sundae ever. I felt accomplished. I realized sailing was something I couldn’t live without; it meant I could become the adventurer I’ve always wanted to be. The kind of adventurer that is continuously amazed by sights that take a great deal of effort to be discovered.
My adventure continued the next morning when the ocean showed no signs of the stormy weather we’d had the day before. The reality of exploring Tristan da Cunha was just a short dingy ride away. Entering the little port was still dangerous on such a calm day. The local boat driver timed the swell, revved the engine, and “let ‘er rip” as we came in hot between the sets of waves. We banked a right and moored up along the quayside that was protected while the rollers continued crashing into the concrete dock facing the open ocean.
We walked up the hill to the local tourism office that sold hand-made wool socks. Each pair came with a bio about who knitted them and on what date they were completed – a very neat idea especially since it made the purchasing seem more personal. There are only seven family surnames on the island, so the name of your knitter could easily be found on the family tree posted on the wall of the gift shop. A frenzy began as everyone pulled out their British Pounds.
The grass outside the shop looked very inviting so I laid down as soon as I finished my Christmas shopping. Later we hiked up the volcano that erupted in 1961. The view was tranquil. As I was sitting on the rocks, loving the solid feeling of land, a thought slowly drifted into my head. Who is more crazy? Are we, the 44 trainees, 8 faculty, and 7 maritime crew, crazy for voluntarily hopping onto a 70 meter vessel to zig zag across the Atlantic Ocean for 9 months? Or are the residents of Tristan da Cunha the crazy ones for living in isolation, 2,787 kilometers to the closest city, Cape Town, South Africa?
We are on water and they are on land. Our time onboard has a 9 month deadline while their time on the island is lifelong, unless they decide to leave. Their limited area of grass and rocky mountains are a big wondering paradise compared to our steel decks. They are lucky to walk for more than 10 minutes without returning to where they had just started. To keep us busy and maintain sanity, we do ship maintenance, school work, galley, and watch. It gets very tiring, especially when we’re all sleep deprived. The variety of things to do on the island is greater, but nonetheless, still hard work. They can indulge themselves in agriculture, animal care, school work, building maintenance, child care, fishing, and sports. All in all, they have a beautiful terrain to roam and a greater diversity of work to do. To answer my daydream, we’re the crazy ones. Living on a boat is mentally and physically exhausting. We endure dirty maintenance jobs, one-minute showers, minimal laundry days, early wake-ups, late nights, mediocre sleeps, hungry hours, hot and cold temperatures, school, and homework.
The fact that we keep smiling and laughing is the insane part.
Living onboard a tall ship is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The ship requires constant upkeep, classes entail that I give my best effort, and day and night watches have me and my crew mates ensuring the ship keeps sailing and the crew is kept safe. The hard work is all worth it when I get to experience seeing land on the horizon after an extended period of time at sea, sailing to places that can only be reached by boat, being part of a ship family, and opening up my mind to the similarities, differences, and issues of the residents of Tristan and other cultures around the world. The exciting and hazardous moments of being an adventurer makes me want more. I know this sailing adventure will be over too soon and terribly missed. If I smile through the tough times, it’ll make them good, and that’s exactly what I’m doing.
My name is Jasmin Gebauer-Barrett. I graduated high school from the Whistler Secondary School in BC, Canada. I am now a gap student onboard the Gulden Leeuw. Once I am back home I will continue sailing on the West coast with my family’s boat and hopefully do some sail racing with friends. This fall I am attending the University of British Columbia to study engineering and am very excited to start my next adventure there soon.