I need the sea because it teaches me.
— Pablo Neruda

When it’s just me, who am I?

I asked myself this question every day for three weeks. Last summer, I received the opportunity to participate in an outdoor leadership course called Outward Bound Maine Coast Sailing. The purpose of the course is to foster self-discovery through a set of physical, mental and emotional challenges. During those three weeks, I lived aboard a 30-foot pulling boat, along with nine other teens and two instructors. Every morning, I rose with the sun and mustered the motivation to jump into the waters of the Maine coastline, which reach around 50 degrees Fahrenheit in late summer, in place of showering. I quickly learned that swimming in cold water is a much more effective wake-up call than coffee. After climbing back aboard and (never) drying off, my crew spent the remainder of the morning and afternoon sailing, rowing and navigating. We found an anchorage in the late afternoon and immediately started preparing for the next day: cooking dinner, assembling a tarp and charting our next course. Reflecting on the experience, we agreed that explaining our adventures and their impact on us to the rest of the world would be next to impossible. However, I will try to distill some of my takeaways.


Last summer, I lived by the motto, “Ship. Shipmate. Self.” In other words, the needs of the crew took precedence over mine. Since I had no previous outdoor experience, my list of perceived needs was long. I had spent the past 18 years associating running water, a fresh change of clothes, a bed, dessert food and technology with comfort. When I forced myself to venture beyond my realm of comfort, I realized that most of the items on my list are incidental. I felt empowered knowing that my crewmates and I could survive with just 30 feet of space and limited resources.


Before the expedition, I considered 30 feet a constraint. In retrospect, I have never felt more free. Being away from my phone indefinitely gave me the rare opportunity to appreciate the company of my friends and the subtleties of my surroundings. I only saw myself in the mirror once during the three weeks (I even started to forget what I looked like), yet I was more self-aware than ever. Still, I felt no obligation to impress my crewmates or conform to broader societal norms. As cliché as it may sound, existing without technology allowed me to live with no filter.


Furthermore, once I was stripped of luxuries, my sense of gratitude exponentiated. For example, one portion of the trip involved being completely solo on the edge of an island for 48 hours. My food rations were an apple, a bagel, and a bag of gorp (good ol’ raisins and peanuts). While it may seem like a nightmare to some, I was thrilled to make my own personal shelter and sleep past sunrise. The sound of crashing waves was the best lullaby. By the end of 48 hours, I felt like I had both aged and reenergized. The mere sight of another human being elated me, and the peach cobbler that my instructors baked for us was one of the tastiest meals I have ever eaten.


I am blessed in that I was able to go on an adventure that most others will never experience. However, one does not need to live on a pulling boat to feel free. Leave your phone at home and take a walk alone or with friends. Count the things you appreciate during your journey. Set aside a few hours to chat with someone over dinner (again, no phones allowed). If I learned anything from living at the mercy of nature, it is the importance of embracing change and cherishing every experience. As I type this on my laptop, I urge you to put your electronics down for a minute and listen for the sound of crashing waves.

When it’s just you, who are you?


All images were taken by Sara or fellow shipmates during the trip.