May 30, 2017

So today marks Day 8 on the Echo program and I cannot believe so little time has gone by but also how quickly time is passing. It feels as if it was only yesterday we arrived (one whole day late due to a delayed flight and about 47 calls to Helena, the Office Manager, later, might I add) to Hodges Creek Marina and met our lovely Atilla family, yet at the same time I feel as if I have known these crazy people my whole life.

Today’s adventures started with a relatively smooth up-anchoring, considering the wind was howling through Great Harbor, and as always, a quick debrief followed where we went over what we did well and what we need to work on. It probably would seem redundant to an outsider that we follow most tasks with a de-brief but I’m discovering that the more I learn, the more I realize I still have to learn which is honestly such a humbling but also exciting feeling. It continues to put the world in perspective and makes life seem like that much more of an adventure.

After our successful departure, we motored around Virgin Gorda and over to Bitter End, passing by Richard Branson’s islands (yes, plural). We learned a bit about the business icon himself from debatably one of his biggest fans, Stew, and how he managed to form so many successful companies while maintaining admirable morals and priorities.

We pulled into the Bitter End Yacht Club mooring field and successfully hooked and threaded a mooring ball mostly due to the excellent driving abilities of our wonderful helmsman, Andrew. Immediately, we were packing day bags and loading into our much smaller dinghy that recently replaced our old and very unfaithful rib, Crow, which has yet to be named but never fear, we are working on it. We spent the afternoon lazily lounging beachside while studying from our ASA 103 books and pleasure reading about the pirates that plundered these very same seas hundreds of years before us.

At about 3:45 pm, we made our way over to the water sports center and boarded two Hobie Cat Getaways with three of us on each. Now, I can’t really speak for Andrew, Stew and Jules, but Jen, Sarah and I were in for the ride of our lives. Not only did we spend the majority of our hour up on one pontoon, slicing through the waters, but we also found ourselves at one point jumping on the bottom of the boat trying to flip it back right-side up and at another point we swore the entire cat completely front flipped over us. Despite defying gravity multiple times, no items were lost, no causalities were had and there wasn’t a single second spent not keeled over laughing. The only thing I was thinking as we gracefully sailed perfectly into the same spot on the beach that we departed from was how the heck am I going to save up enough money to get myself one of these.

We all recollected as a group and shared stories of our sail and immediately we were strapping on sneakers and heading up an incredibly rocky and steep trail to summit Bitter End. Although some boulders were slippery and our only hand-holds were strategically placed cactus’, I felt safe with Andrew hiking behind me, constantly reminding me that he was a certified in Wilderness First Aid and that he even brought his first aid kit with him on the hike (although I think he was secretly disappointed that he never got to use it.) The top was breathtaking and every day I spend here in the British Virgin Islands I expect to begin to get used to these sorts of sights, but it just doesn’t happen and I have a funny feeling it never will.

After our hike, we came back to the boats and the four of us plus Courtney, who we are so excited to have joining us on our down island sail to the Leewards tomorrow, started on dinner while our brave captains, Stew and Jen, embarked on a valiant search for a plunger. Just as they returned from their mission successfully, we were finishing with dinner prep and the seven of us sat down for another meal that just seems to keep getting better and better each day. We ate and laughed and re-capped the day and laughed and planned out our schedule for tomorrow and laughed some more.

Now I am sitting in what now feels like our home, about half a sleeve of Oreos deep, sipping on some tea, surrounded by some of the funniest, craziest, coolest most inspirational people I am so lucky to call my best friends. Having the opportunity to write out these posts really reminds myself how truly insane this life I have been living just over a week now really is, and how thankful I am not only that these places and these people exist, but that I get to work here and with them. I couldn’t possibly be happier and it still hasn’t sunk in that my time here is far from over. It honestly feels like the craziest dream and I hope to god no one pinches me anytime soon.

Julia M, Echo student, age 19, Winter Springs, FL