A Swell Circle

Perhaps tides began to turn in 2015 for me. I rang in the new year with a friend in the heart of Bangkok, Thailand. I continued travelling for a month or so more and dreamt that when I came home, I'd buy a sailboat in the 10 open days before work and sail it up the coast to live on. There might have also been a dream that I'd run across a sailor man and he would ask me to sail the rest of the world with him.

Neither the boat nor sailor man happened. I got sick upon returning to Canada and needed to rest for a few days in Vancouver. I went to Tofino and that was a trip of epic proportions in itself. I returned home to Prince Rupert, sun kissed, trim and a little wiser- minus a boat and man.

While away in Asia I had begun asking people about their senses of home. I felt so connected to mine and the idea of one not having a home base - lodging and steady work- was something difficult for my mind to comprehend. There were these brave travellers who didn't know where their next pay cheque would come from. Their courage inspired me and I became grateful for my home too- it's community and my place in it.

I arrived home and begun practicing sailing my dads small sailboat. Good friends helped me learn a few ropes and my sister and I would do laps of the dock to practice our docking skills. For so long, I had dreamt of "sailing the world with my soul-mate". I was 23 at the time and it had been a long while since my heart felt the pull of another. I started to realize that I didn't want to wait anymore- that if I wanted to learn to cook, sail, do carpentry, work with my hands, fish, see the world, etc. - it was up to me to learn. There was a growing list of things I longed to learn and experience and it was up to me to find the teacher, not wait for them.

That summer, I sailed around Haida Gwaii and to Port Hardy with SALTS and drove across Canada with my good friend Jane. Along the way, I would ask travellers, friends and family about their homes and career paths. It was becoming apparent to me that I needed to shake things up.

Upon returning from that road trip, I moved in with friends, out of the home I'd been brought home from the hospital to. I loved my world at the swimming pool, the community, stability and time off. It was incredible. From 16 to 24 it was my home. One evening in late December, a friend, a good man who was teaching me to cook, and I were roaming the docks at Fairview in Prince Rupert. A captain that I distantly knew poked his head out of the wheelhouse window and asked if I knew of any deckhands for the upcoming tuna season. My heart skipped a beat as it knew. This was what I'd been looking for. A stepping stone to learnings, adventure and new work. A few weeks later, I told him I'd be interested in trying.

The decision to leave my job at the pool took months to commit to. It was what I had grown into and known. I felt love and belonging there, and yet there was a piece growing stagnant.

I made the decision to go with gratitude for all that place had given me, though terrified that I might be setting myself up for destitution. I never looked back.

The following tuna seasons were such learning curves. I loved the boat and people I worked with. Perhaps the first year, I was pretending I was a sailor. I documented the season in a way I'd watched sailors. Eager to show off this mysterious breed of mariners I'd encountered- whose competence, knowledge and professionalism blew me away.

I made some solid mistakes, but like to think of myself as a slow and steady learner. After a winter season living in Sweden, travelling to South America and doing a few courses on Vancouver Island, I happily agreed to do another season, actually I was thankful and surprised to have been asked back, as I had been the slowest member of the team the previous year.

I approached that season with the mindset that my body and soul belonged to the boat. I had no time line. The season could last as long as it had to. It was some of the worst tuna numbers many had ever seen. Yet, I loved the season nonetheless. My brother and I saw a green flash at sunset and it turned out to have been the same evening my uncle passed away. I went outside and hugged the ladder when I heard the news.

Months have gone by now that I haven't seen land. Last year we did a 39 and 50 day trip. I never felt lonely, although I'd often think of people swimming in lakes and climbing the Rockies under the summer sun. Fishing was more intimate in a lot of ways than my life back on land. As long as we were all getting along- it was a serene time, though it was devoid of love too, hence hugging the metal ladder.

These fishermen are some of the strongest people I've known. They've opened my eyes to the world of entrepreneurs, to hold such risk, responsibility and success too.

I was terrified to come back to land after this last fishing season. I really could not envision what my life would look like, though it unfolded beautifully.

I spent a month organizing courses and sponsorship to go to school in January. It was really important to me to follow along with Transport Canada and tie my accumulating sea time into tickets. It took almost a month to get it sorted out, but by November, I was set to go with a few months to kill.

Tom was another captain I'd met through fishing. When he told me of his plans to help deliver a boat to the South Pacific for their tuna season, my heart dropped once again and I couldn't shake the idea. A few weeks later, I asked if they needed any help with the delivery. Tom said no, but that I could come for the ride to Tahiti. I was so, so fortunate. The boat felt like a cruise ship and the crossing was a dream come true, with the gentlemen and adventure.

Back in the midst of deciding to leave the pool, I reached out to so many people. One person was Janne Robinson, who I ended up meeting in Ecuador the following year. Another person was an epic sailor, Liz Clark. I'd followed her journey for a while and both these women inspired me with their courage when it came time to making my decision.

I had no idea where to go as we arrived in Tahiti, just that I wanted to see one specific island. After settling into French Polynesia, I moved there, and stumbled upon Liz's boat. I couldn't believe my eyes. Sailing had been a dream for so long, or really just travel, community and boats. I'd found such good people to take me across an ocean, and captains to show me how to be on boats.

I was all set to do another season. Once again, I had been scared I wouldn't be asked again, but the offer came a few months after the season ended. There wasn't a start date but my heart rested in knowing it would be a good summer, on a familiar boat with plans to learn as much as possible. Now that I'd picked up the fishing components for the most part, I wanted to learn more about boat handling and the mechanics below deck. Justin was supportive and I was stoked.

A few weeks ago now, I received a message. A whale watching company out of Vancouver was looking for a new employee. I had the ticket, as it's what I'd gone to school to tie my sea time into. All of the sudden, the chance to stick close to land, meet new people, work in engine rooms and on the busiest section of the BC coast came up. The pay and schedules were set and I was sent into a frenzy. I knew I had one more fishing season in me. I've loved it. Yet life pushes us onwards sometimes.

Justin said he wouldn't make the decision for me when I told him about it. Perhaps I would have stayed had he said I was imperative to the seasons operation, but that wasn't the case. There are other deckhands on this coast. Without giving it too much thought, I hopped in my car and drove to Vancouver to give the city life a try. I've loved it so far. I'm learning so, so much and meeting such empowering people too.

Every now and then though, tears come to my eyes at the thought of not fishing. I had been looking forward to reading a whole new stack of books this season, Liz Clark's Swell being one of them. I had been approaching this upcoming fishing season with the understanding that it would be my last for a while. It would be my farewell season. I like to think that tuna fishing isn't for everyone. There are such strong, competent deckhands that won't do tuna because of the length of trips. I've been able to stick them out, finding them quite peaceful and reflective.

In the city I feel like a fish out of water. Life presented me incredible options and I chose one. My heart and mind go back to fishing daily. It's such a different pace here. I don't have any conclusions yet, whether it was the best move. I suppose time will tell, and perhaps, hopefully, there aren't any wrong choices, just different ones.

Just know I've loved fishing and miss it so. Its' community is built on such incredible individuals and I'm honoured to have had that life, even just for a few moments. Like lifeguarding, fishing offered me the world. I don't know where this next phase will lead, it's been swell so far.

For now, there are oil levels to be checked, a city to be wandered and whales to be found.


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