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Posted by Tall Ships America on July 18, 2016

By Intern Ben

Sunrise Ben Niagaralr

“…but ye also want to go in order to see the world? Was not that what ye said? I thought so. Well then, just step forward there, and take a peep over the weather-bow, and then back to me and tell me what ye see there… Well, what does thou think then of seeing the world? Do ye wish to go round Cape Horn to see any more of it, eh? Can’t ye see the world where you stand?”
– Herman Melville, Moby Dick

What is it about sailing? It cannot simply be nostalgia, the wonder of the lost golden age of sail. New vessels are still sold, people still learn to sail, and people still turn out in droves to see tall ships when they come visiting. Is there actually a wondrous, magical quality to it, or is it just humans who have the tendency to romanticize it?

Wednesday evening I was at the helm on Niagara when the weather started to turn foul. The change in the wind allowed us an easy reach towards the west. Unfortunately the rain had other plans. As the evening wore on the dark clouds grew on the western horizon. Every now and then the 2nd mate would come down off the bridge and bring up the Doppler radar. Each time the rain appeared a few miles closer on the screen but no sail was taken in and no change was made in the course.

In another hour the captain came on deck and gave the order to turn around. Sail was taken in and the brig started motoring back towards the east, running from the rain. Despite those efforts, it caught us soon enough. And lucky for us within a few minutes of starting it was our watch below.

The night went uneventfully, but unfortunately, having the first night watch meant getting up in the wee hours of the morning for the next watch. When we got out it was still dark, but the hum of the motor and lights from below deck created our little encapsulated world. The opaque black closed in like blanket, with only the distant lights on shore to remind us where we were.

Then suddenly — color. Blues, greens, reds, and oranges sprouting from the horizon and standing out sharp against Niagara’s rigging. The same experience gripped me days later as we crossed Lake Huron on the Denis Sullivan.

In that moment I felt wonder, in what I feel was its purest form. Where a moment before there was nothing, there was suddenly a wealth of being and experience that came out of seaming oblivion. Sailing is the action of change. Adaptation and improvisation are as common to the sailor as his own shipmates. To think there’s any wonder in just a boat is to only see one side of the coin. Decks, wood, lines, pin rails, cleats, tar and hemp — nostalgia these evoke, not wonder. Wonder is that state of being amazed and of being lost. The wonder of tall ships is in the changes the boat brings about, not what you bring to the boat. No matter where you live, you can’t be a sailor without at least walking out your door.


Ben and George are currently on their way to Pepsi(R) Tall Ships(R) Chicago 2016 aboard Playfair.


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