By Saul Gorman, WG ‘16
New Zealand: a land of gorgeous beaches, Hobbit villages, and some of the best scuba diving in the world. The insanely beautiful landscape will, at the very least, get you some new followers on Instagram.
So why get on a boat, sail into open ocean until there is no land in sight, and spend eight days and nights hauling on lines?
1. Learn about sailing.
The SSV Robert C. Seamans is 134-foot brigantine with nine sails and over 50 lines (ropes) leading down from the masts. Every sail serves a purpose, and every line does something different. Beyond that, navigating on the open ocean is not always easy. I won’t say that we became experts, but we all know a lot more about sailing than we did.
2. Do. Science.
The ship deploys nets and scientific instruments every day to study the ocean at different depths. There are plenty of jellyfish, zooplankton, and other sea creatures to examine. On some nights, the phosphorescent plankton light up like stars in the ship’s wake. Most of us haven’t been in a science lab since high school, so it was a welcome reminder of what collecting and analyzing data is all about.
3. Face real challenges in teamwork and leadership.
When your team is on watch, you have a lot to accomplish in a four to six hour period. That could include raising or lowering sails, manning the helm, plotting a new course, scrubbing the decks, deploying scientific instruments, checking the engine gauges, cleaning the galley, and standing lookout. When it’s your turn to be leader of the watch, you are running the boat. You will have to make dozens of leadership decisions and manage very different personalities.
4. Insta like a boss.
Everyone talks about the scenery on the land-based ventures, but the coastline around Auckland is spectacular. We saw dozens of dolphins swim right up to the ship and leap out of the water just feet away from us. Enormous albatrosses fly past the boat almost every day. And if you want some adventure pics, you can strike your favorite Captain Jack Sparrow pose while climbing 100 feet up the mast.
5. Meet awesome people.
The crew is there to make sure you don’t sink the ship, but good luck taking the first mate seriously when he walks on deck wearing a leopard-print jacket. One of the ship’s engineers was a part-time Microsoft consultant who showed me how to navigate the ship using just the stars. You will get to know the crew members as your friends, and if the stars align, sneak in a dfmo after.
6. Maybe put on a few pounds… and I mean that in the best way possible.
You will be sleeping and eating at odd hours, but fortunately, there is always food available. The ship’s crew includes two cooks that prepare three meals and three snacks every day. And believe it or not, the food was delicious. Chicken curry, miso salmon, and strawberry shortcake… YUM
7. Do some honest reflection.
Over the course of the trip and afterward, I thought a lot about the way I work: what kind of leadership style do I respond to, what weaknesses do I have as a leader, and how can I be a better teammate under stress. It’s not easy to be productive when you’re tired and seasick, and it’s even harder to lead a team of people who feel the same way. The ship helped me uncover my strengths and weaknesses, as well as illuminate the best qualities to emulate in my teammates.
8. Make great new friends.
Before the trip, I barely knew my teammates. But somewhere between scrubbing the decks and raising the mainsail, I got to know my teammates on a much deeper level. We all made some great friends, and for that reason alone, the trip was worth it.