This August, I finished my second summer living, working, and sailing on the Sloop Clearwater, and I couldn’t be more grateful. If you told me in June of 2021 that a month later I would not only be using a glorified bucket as a bathroom, but also cleaning and sharing it with eleven strangers, I would never have shown up for my first day of work.
My first week, I avoided calling home at night. I was miserable and scared that I was going to break down and ask my parents to come get me. Whenever I was alone, I would cry into an old hand-me-down Star Wars t-shirt in my bunk, which lined up head to toe with nine other crew bunks that encircled a small dining table. Rabid homesickness, grueling manual labor, fourteen-hour work days, continuously failing, and the summer heat of the Hudson Valley almost pushed me to quit.
While the second week challenged me almost as much, I was learning. I got less frustrated with myself when I had to redo easy jobs, like putting a piece of chafe gear on a line. I didn’t waste time being unkind to myself for not knowing how to do unfamiliar tasks. Instead, I picked up new skills by simply trying my best and allowing myself to grow. I also bonded with my crew members. We sang through chores, tasted ice cream at different ports and played Dungeons and Dragons below deck. Their unwavering support that month is still a constant reminder to me that it’s okay to ask for help sometimes, and that it’s important to make mistakes.
By the third week, the once annoying sound of waves hitting the stern keeping me up all night now gently rocked me to sleep. Waking up at dawn, I was captivated by the glow of the sunrise illuminating dew drops that clung to the deck. Catching glimpses of swooping ospreys while on bow watch, sailing through sunsets that painted the river gold, transiting past rocky islands dusted in mist, and walking along firefly lined docks transformed me. I gained a completely new perspective of the Hudson that strengthened my sense of belonging and focused my clarity of purpose. I have lived less than 100 yards from the river my entire life, but I never dreamed that there was such beauty hidden in it.
With every passing day, I took more pride in my work as an educator deckhand and began to better understand the significance of it. The mission of the Clearwater is to protect the Hudson through advocacy and education. Working on it is unique as every day you see the impact of your work –in the excitement of children petting fish they caught, in teaching inquisitive grad students, or even just in the cleanliness of the river. It was always distinctly rewarding and it made me so happy to see the difference I was making in how the hundreds of people who came on the Sloop for both educational and public sails viewed the river.