May 29, 2017

It’s currently a skosh past midnight here on Atilla, our 50′ monohull that has become home for just short of a month. I’m eating fruit snacks with some of my best friends, which is interesting because I never before ate fruit snacks and these “best friends” currently talking around me are people I met six days ago. I’m a student on the Echo program, learning how to sail and ultimately gaining three ASA sailing certifications at the course’s completion. There are three other students in this program and an incredibly endearing Captain and unbelievably hilarious Program Director. The six of us have become so close and experienced so much together already that I sometimes forget this is a program and not just a trip I embarked on with five of my favorite humans.

I find myself in more and more disbelief each day. I am continuously experiencing new incredible things and am learning more in one day than I ever have before in a week. However, what is most surprising to me is the level on which I’ve connected with the people who were all randomly thrown together on a boat for the first time ever less than a week ago. We learn so much about each other daily, share so much of ourselves, trust so much in each other, and laugh harder and louder than we probably should.

Today was Challenge Day, so us four students sailed from Salt Island to Mountain Point on Virgin Gorda, with little to no help from our teachers. I couldn’t fathom quite how much we had learned since starting the program and couldn’t believe that we up-anchored, sailed smoothly, and then anchored at Mountain Point with relatively minimal help. After anchoring, we all talked over some lesson plans, learned how to tie several knots, and gelled closer together over some great music. By the way, I’d suggest listening to the band Rainbow Kitten Surprise (particularly the song “All That and More”) 🙂

After some down time, we free dived the Kodiak Queen, which was one of the coolest moments I’ve experienced in a while. The Kodiak Queen is one of the five surviving ships from Pearl Harbor. From what I have gathered and remembered without the use of internet (so this could be a little spotty), Kodiak Queen was a fuel boat that was rafted to a submarine when bombs started to rain out of the sky on the day of the Pearl Harbor attack. Initially, the crew abandoned the boat and fled for their lives, however they quickly realized the fuel boat was a ticking time bomb that needed to be taken out of the line of fire. The crew came back on board the boat and successfully got it out of the harbor and away from danger. Needless to say, shortly after, each crewman became recognized worldwide as a hero.

This ship, in the last few months, was sunk right off of Mountain Point. Amongst being a historical anomaly, Kodiak Queen now also incorporates more or less an art exhibit and is also completely conducive to coral and algal growth, serving as a restorative habitat for many species to live and thrive in. This multi-faceted, newly implanted underwater exhibit will soon be recognized around the world, and I was able to see it today. I had chills.

Afterwards, our group swam back to the boat and sat for about an hour on the bow just talking about our lives and funny memories we’ve been a part of, great people we’ve met, and things we’ve grown to love. Later in the night, each student met individually with one of our teachers to go over four things: 1) a goal for the three week Echo program, 2) a goal for the entire summer, 3) a goal for the entire upcoming year, and 4) the roles we play in every person’s life that we’ve entered, big or small. Moments like these really open your eyes to what life can really be and what each day can truly give to you if you allow it to open up and unfold in a way that’s conducive to your dreams. Lastly, after dinner and over some tea, we played a game that required one person to tell their life story in 3 minutes and then afterwards answer two questions from each listener. I didn’t think I could feel any more comfortable or any closer to these people, however, in typical Sail Caribbean fashion, I was more than pleasantly surprised.

Sitting here, not being even halfway through the Echo program, I know that this experience will be one of the first and most significant times in my life as far as getting closer to who I am as a person and peeling back the layers in order to discover what means the most to me at the core. I wouldn’t ever be able to come up with a proper way to thank the people who have organized and been a part of this experience. It’s kind of one of those things that you don’t seem to get used to. You just find yourself in different moments during the day looking around and listening to the people beside you, feeling the breeze brush your face, hearing the water splash onto and slosh off the sides of the boat, and you just can’t help but feel like you are somehow a part of nature’s beautiful, patterned, yet unpredictable existence. It’s really incredible, just really super, super incredible. I’m so thankful.

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

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