Excited Phoenix School 6th – 8th graders and teachers heading to Los Angeles, for a week of marine studies at Catalina Island Marine Institute begin their day early at Boston’s Logan Airport. As weary as we are when we reach San Pedro, we find a second wind as we board the brigantine, Exy Johnson to spend the night until we can catch the ferry to Catalina Island in the morning. Sleep is all we want….or so we think.
We do much more than sleep. Exy Johnson’s crew invites us to stow our gear below in bunks, then offers us opportunities to climb aloft on the Irving Johnson, berthed at the same dock. Some of us scramble out on the bowsprit, sitting astride the spar or lounging in the net below. Diving cormorants gulping fish entertain the net-perchers who happily wave to boats passing by. We watch others step out onto the shrouds to climb the ratlines to the top-mast platform 50 feet above the deck. They place their feet and hands carefully as they ascend, clipping in to master the last climb out and over the edge of the platform.
Raya and Devon reflect on their climbs.
Raya: “I can’t do this!” My mind tells me, “You won’t be able to make it to the top!” My heart has other plans, though. Using the last of my dwindling strength, I use my displeased muscles to pull myself onto the deck. What I see below me is worth the climb.”
Devon: I grapple up tarred line, hooking my talons onto thin ratlines. I am like an eagle in his nest. I am loving my time, savouring every second until I call, “Laying low,” and it is time to descend,
With legs hanging over the platform’s edge, our top-men gaze out to sea, over alien-like cranes waiting to load and unload thousands of piled containers, and out to the west, all the way to Catalina Island in the distant haze.
Smiling and waving at each other, some from below, some from above, we let the peacefulness of the sun and sea wash over us and soothe our tiredness.
Soon we “lay low” (descend from above) and pitch in to cook a delicious dinner in our ship’s galley. There is no better meal than one shared on the deck of a 2 masted sailing vessel with the sun setting in the distance, painting the sky a brilliant orange.
After dinner we gather at the helm to share our writing with the crew and then Ken brings seine twine to our bunk area ready to teach us how to make a monkey fist knot to hang around our necks. One by one, Phoenix kids succumb to the long day and its adventures, and turn into their berths to dream of our first day “at sea.”