When I left ship life in 2012, I never thought I would be back again. I was burned out as a massage therapist, I was tired of traveling all the time and perhaps most acutely, I was lonely. Nomadism does not serve long-term relationships very well at all and I desperately wanted a partner and a circle of good friends to hang out with. Shipmates do become family in a sense, but instead of bonding naturally,we’re kind of forced to hang out with each other despite differences that would have hindered friendships or relationships in ‘real’ life.
I had also gotten the idea in my head that I should ‘get a real job’, so my mind was whirling with career possibilities and grad school. Ultimately, I ended up leaving ship life to move to Seattle and start a masters degree in Nutrition at Bastyr University with the goal of becoming a registered dietitian. Over the next four years, I dated seriously, I made some friends, I collected stuff, I learned the intricate processes of biochem… But when I finished school, I realized that I didn’t want to work as a registered dietitian while sacrificing my freedom for a 9-5 job. I wanted to travel again and continue exploring the world. So I left Seattle and went back to ship life.
My first contract back on the boats was in August of this year: two weeks in Alaska on the National Geographic Sea Bird. I had actually spent most of the summer prior to this contract in England taking care of a beautiful old dairy farm along with two black labs, three goats, and two degus (rat-like things). My days where a mix of mountain biking, hiking, talking long walks with the dogs, eating good food, drinking wine, and knitting. I applied for the housesit on a whim in May while staying with my brother and sister-in-law in California because I had no plans for the summer. I didn’t really think I would get it, but turns out I did and it was perfect respite from the chaotic and heavy months I’d had earlier in the year (quitting my job, breaking up with my boyfriend, selling my stuff, etc…)
After two and a half months of exploring southwest England, I headed back to the States to begin my ship contract in Alaska. My flights took me from Bristol, England to Amsterdam to Seattle (overnight) to Sitka. I didn’t sleep much at all during that 20+ hour marathon, mostly because I was anxious about how it would feel to see the ship and step back on board again. Would I know anyone? How different would it be? Do I really want to go back to this lifestyle?
As I was waiting at the airport for my early morning flight from Seattle to Sitka, I ran into old friend – Alberto – who was heading to the ship as well. Alberto is from Mexico, but he’s a long-time Lindblad naturalist who I’ve worked with many times over the years both in Alaska and Baja. It was good to see a friendly face and catch up on ship and life news. He told me about some changes within the company and on the ships, but for the most part it sounded like things were pretty much the same.
And then we were in Sitka, taking a taxi to meet the ship at the dock. I have to say, the first emotions that ran through me when I walked up the gangway for the first time in four years were ones of excitement and homecoming. When you live out of a backpack for six years and the only real home you have is a tiny cabin on a 64-passenger ship, there’s definitely some fond feelings: a sense of adventure, freedom, belonging, wonder… Along with the not-so-fond ones, of course, which came right after those initial bursts of excitement and homecoming: restlessness, impermanence, seasickness (just kidding, I very rarely get seasick). But all in all it did feel really great to be back.
And now I’m on my second contract in the Pacific Northwest. We left from Seattle and are currently cruising north along the inside passage toward Vancouver, BC. There, we’ll drop off these guests and pick up new ones then head back down to Seattle. I’m actually on a brand new ship that I’ve never been on before – the National Geographic Quest – which was built on Whidbey Island just north of Seattle. Her maiden voyage was in July up in Alaska and soon she’ll be testing out the waters down south in Costa Rica, Panama, Belize and Honduras. It’s a bigger ship than I’m used to – about 100 guests compared to 64 on the Sea Bird and Sea Lion, but it’s beautiful and the deck/bow space is perfect for critter watching and sight seeing.
So that’s my story about getting back on board the Lindblad ships. More to come!