I wanted to experience Antarctica, and the wildlife of South Georgia in an eco friendly way, so going by sailing boat seemed like a fine idea.
Never mind the fact that I had never sailed in my life - the brochure said 'no experience necessary'. So I signed up. The gentle motoring of the Chilean fjords gave me a chance to get used to 'ship life', but the crossing of the Drake Passage was another thing altogether. For a novice at sea the swell and wind of the Drake was a drastic introduction to the world of sailing. I dutifully turned up for watch duty with my team, but was too scared to go out on the bow or helm with the ship rolling and heaving over the waves. Gradually however I began to adjust and my wonderful teammates took me out 'to get the feel' of being on watch without any pressure of when I 'should' be ready to do my bit. My confidence began to grow amidst these great people.
After leaving Antarctica the watch system started again and this time I was ready. The wind was strong and the swell less than smooth, but there I was with my belt harness on, gradually making my way to the helm, (hand over hand clinging to the ropes on deck as I made way there) and presenting for duty. Never was there a sailor more intent on clipping the harness belt on than me on my first few shifts! I stood on the bow at 1am this morning as the ship heaved up and down - at one with the waves and the wind.
I peered through the foggy night, straining my eyes for icebergs or for a stranger in need of rescue in the middle of the Scotia Sea, and as I did I reflected on how far I had come - not just in nautical miles, but in facing my fears. I still waddle like a penguin with my 5 layers of clothes on when I go out on watch (after all one must stay warm when standing out in the elements), still wrap the belt harness on with gusto before leaving the deckhouse, am still the slowest person on the ship to go up and down the ladders, and still cling hand over hand to the handrail on my way to the bow, but I am no longer afraid. There is something quite wonderful about learning to trust a ship, it's crew, and the passengers that pull together to cover the watch system.