When first mate Amy told me there would be no iPods allowed, my heart sank. What was I going to do all day? When I first stepped aboard the 100-foot, nearly 100-year-old Sound Adventuress sailboat that would become my home over the next four days, I was expecting a couple of days to relax on a boat, but dreading the lack of showers and constant proximity with my classmates.
My expectations were blown out of the water. Literally. At first it was really exhausting, the sun beating on me from all angles, and meals that seemed like nothing but beans. But as I got to know the 12-person crew and put effort into the sailing, everything began to click. The sails went up with the sea shanty we sang and it was a sight to behold.
This is how I spent the third week of my freshman year at Northwest Yeshiva High School. I learned three remarkable ideas from my experience on the sailboat: environmental awareness, community, the beauty of nature. Without Internet or electronics, I was forced to be constantly present and a part of the boat community.
We all quickly learned how much work the boat requires as we watched our crew members lend each other an immediate hand anytime they were asked. The crew became like family — each night they sang us to sleep and woke us in the morning. We felt peaceful and warm and safe, crew and classmates huddled together, slowly being rocked to sleep.
When you go on a sailboat, everything is rationed: food, water, supplies, oil, electricity and more. Every night, Zeal, the boat’s engineer, would talk about a different type of resource that has to be carefully managed throughout the course of the trip.
It was interesting to hear how plankton create the oxygen we breathe or how carbon dioxide invading the water kills so much sea life. If there is anything I learned from this trip, it’s the importance of not taking one little thing for granted — not food, not water, not living space, and not the natural beauty that surrounds us.
There is nothing more humbling than being on the open sea, surrounded by water with the sun beating down on the enormous sails. Or at night, with stars that light up a pathway across the sky. I saw amazing things I never thought I’d see — sea lions stretched out on a buoy, plankton that light up in a wondrous fluorescent green, and the hint of a porpoise ducking in and out of the water. It was an amazing experience living as a part of nature, not just observing it.
In the beginning, I couldn’t take it: the vegetarian food — always a mixture that included beans — the constant work, the ban on electronics. But after a while I began to love it; I learned to hold my breath to avoid the smell of the bathrooms and to take only as much as I could eat. I learned to tie obscure knots and how to lift the hardest sail. I learned that the administrators and teachers at Northwest Yeshiva High School care deeply about their students — and will even take surplus beans off our hands.
Esther Goldberg is a freshman at Northwest Yeshiva High School on Mercer Island.