Mike's Notes: Ocean Ready, Life Hungry

Posted by Mike Henriques

09/22/2017

What is it that drives us to the ocean, to shorelines, out on the water where the blues turn to grey, the ripples build to waves, the zephyrs strengthen into gales? We are a landlocked school, tucked up next to rock-ribbed granite of New Hampshire. Our proximity is to rivers and lakes, to ski mountains and biking trails. And yet, as today’s launching of Ocean Classroom reminds us, we are drawn to the ocean, to harbors, waterfronts, lighthouses and passages that bear us outward. Today nearly two dozen students will go to Boston and find the Roseway, Captain Flansberg, a World Ocean School crew, and two Proctor educators. They will walk the decks with their duffels over their shoulders to ease down gangways and find assigned berths below. They are beginning their term at sea. That beckoning to adventure and discovery, that call to the sea, is in us all.

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I recall my first days on the water, tucked into dinghies and pressed to join a family outing on the water. I recoiled. I endured. I found a quiet place up forward and curled up to sleep away the hours. But later, pressed into service as a deckhand, hauling sheets and halyards, shivering and hiking out over the rail to flatten a heeling boat, I began to pay attention to the wind, to currents, to the delicate luff of a sail. I learned how to move quickly on a tack or sit balanced and cat quiet in light air. I learned the soaking claw up to windward, the thrilling ride of a broad reach, the delicate slide of going wing and wing downwind. I learned the gossamer feel of a spinnaker and the cut of a wet jib sheet winched tight. I learned how to pay attention and dial in my senses, awakening to larger world possibilities.

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Year after year I watch Proctor students head to the ocean carrying their kit and tucking themselves into new quarters. I see some with experience, many with none,  and all of them changing over the course of a term. They step on the the 137’ Roseway with the barest understanding of systems and the interrelatedness of everything on board, and they return in November knowing how to plot a ten day crossing and the why and the how of setting and striking sails. They can tie a bowline and use a sextant. They can navigate channel markings, stand a midnight watch, and sing a few shanties. They can basically run the boat. And because they understand the working of the Roseway, they understand much about the workings of life and are “life hungry.” They come back from Ocean having seen much and wanting more.

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I ended up working on a fishing boat in college. The Kelly Hope Drew sailed out of Portland as an older ground fishing dragger. We would leave in the evening and power all night to the fishing grounds for our three to five day stretches in the Gulf of Maine. I would take my watch at the helm, alone in the wheelhouse while others slept. The diesel engines throbbed, the night sky pitched, and I delighted in heading out and feeling the possibilities of each new trip. I worked physically hard, slept little, cooked on a kerosene fired stove (last man hired was always the cook), learned how to clean any number of fish, and came to appreciate good foul weather gear and clean decks. I loved the time on the water, the men I worked with, and what it taught me about the uncharted waters of the self.

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In Boston today the dock lines will slip and the Roseway will make her way out of the harbor. She starts her journey down the eastern seaboard with Proctor students on board, each one of them Ocean ready and life hungry. I am, as we all are, thrilled for them.

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Mike Henriques P'11, P'15

Proctor Academy Head of School

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