The smell of wood hit me. Pervasive, but not the smell of newly unpacked IKEA furniture. This smell was different. I will allow myself to call it a “wet” smell, however it wasn’t wet here at all. This wood smells like it was touched by winds, some salt water, many years of people being in its company, overcooked meals, freshly caught fish and a lot of happiness.You can feel the good atmosphere. The galley (kitchen) on the left, the navigation table on the right, further on the saloon. Above one of the couches you can see the extensive book collection, which doesn’t only feature sailing literature. Evidently it serves as a source of various themes for someone on long passages, or maybe…. on a day-to-day basis? The interior seems to be designed for personal everyday usage, rather than for commercial sailing trips. I kept looking around and noticed a few pictures. The same person in every one of them – a man. With a little girl; by himself with his hair blowing in the wind; and finally the one that draws the most attention: hanging on the main wall, looking straight at the photographer. His eyes look like the ones of a sailor. A sailor who saw a lot, remembers a lot, and his face looks like it was shaped by the wind. He calmly overlooks the entire saloon and suddenly you know where you are: in his home! This man is Ela’s dad – he built Mateńka a long time ago. This year she’s celebrating her 31st birthday.
The inside is inviting, cozy, and I immediately felt like I was part of it. Not only part of the crew, but also part of this family. Ela showed me the rear cabins. The entrance of the right one shows a black and while picture of a young woman. This was Mateńka – Ela’s grandma, the mother of her dad. I’ve never been on a boat that reminded me of someone’s home. I felt like I was visiting a family, not just being part of a crew transporting a boat from one place to another. This was the first time I experienced such intimacy when entering a boat. I thought, to care about everything is not just my job here, I really have to give my best! I felt like I wanted to enter its life with my entire heart. From this moment on “this boat” became Mateńka (or sometimes we call her Grandma).
I got over my initial shock and was shown to my cabin. A cabin is like a sailor’s own room. It’s a very important place, where you can hide and warm up after your hour-long shift. Imagine a very cold and windy winter, you are walking through a field for hours and hours in a row. Without any trees to hide from the icy wind hitting your face slightly from the side. Sounds cold, wet and not very nice, right? Now let’s move this scene onto a boat. In the middle of roaring seas, with waves hitting the deck from time to time (and yourself too). A sailor at the steering wheel doesn’t have to put any salt on his meal. After a big wave, they might even complain that their soup (or tomato sandwich) is too salty. So remember, if you are in this situation, eat your meal swiftly to avoid spillage or additional salt being added to your meal. After such a shift (say 4 hours long) your clothing is wet, your skin salty, your hair crusty, your body freezing and your stomach demands food. The situation is very uncomfortable and you should watch out for fellow sailors finishing their shifts. They might be aggressive, moody or quiet. You best immediately step out of their way to allow for easy access to their cabins, or the bathroom. In any case, your cabin is your safe place, it provides you with warmth while you throw away the wet gear, put your tangled (at least in my case) head on your pillow and crawl into the sleeping bag. Then you just need to find a secure position, preferably with all limbs stretched out against adjacent walls, to not fall out of your cabin with a big bang, when the boat heels a bit more. Of course I am talking about pretty windy situations – waves hitting your face and falling out of your cabin doesn’t happen very often, depending on the time and place of course. Excuse this digression, I had to 🙂
Getting back to my newly assigned cabin – I had it all to myself! (which is incredible, unless you have been single for too long). I sat on the bunk (bed). As I mentioned before, the boat didn’t remind me of any of the charter yachts I have seen so far, but more of a home. Yet another indicator for that, right there in my cabin: a tiny bunk on the other side. Maybe not that tiny, but smaller than traditional ones, definitely comfortable for a kid-sized person. (Some might ask if I would fit in there, I definitely would! Lying on my back with a huge plate of sandwiches next to me even!) Later I learned this tiny bed was meant for small Ela, when she was visiting as a kid on vacation. Mateńka had a bunk especially for her! Not even 10 minutes passed since I entered Mateńka, but somehow it felt different. Not the boat, but myself. My picture of sailing boats, based on those standard white charter ones, in which I can see the reflection of my face. Those who see so many people, different ones every two weeks, when they manage to escape work for a holiday. It was changing. Some of you might have had that feeling during sailing trips, how pointless the return to reality is, while there are so many things to see in the world. I have those thoughts whether I come back from a weekend cruise, a two-week one, or one that is months-long. Since last year’s Caribbean trip I can’t stop but dream of another adventure. Be part of a permanent crew on a boat and sail off to explore the world together! I’m sure there are plenty of people who sail amongst their own all over the place. That’s how it is supposed to be! To feel like sailing is everyday life, and not just a vacation. Learning about how Mateńka doesn’t typically see any random crews, it’s only friends of friends of friends who come visit here, a glimmer of hope appeared that I might have just accidentally stepped into a chance to be part of this and make my dreams reality? Although I knew I was only supposed to spend two weeks here to cross the Bay of Biscay, silently I was happy that I don’t actually have a return ticket yet.
I put my backpack into my cabin and joined the rest of the crew. The longer I listened to Ela’s stories and her memories about Mateńka, the more interested I got. How much could Mateńka have sailed in her 31 years? Why is she not so well known in Poland, where the amount of boats is rather limited and you basically have heard about most of them before? Where has she been all this time? How many adventures did she see? WHEN ARE WE SETTING SAIL?