The training on Bark Europa began almost immediately. Crossing the ocean properly with a square rigger under sail is a team effort and we were encouraged to participate. We weren’t even 30 minutes away from the fueling station and we helped with setting the sails. Enthusiastically, we moved about listening intently to the instructions given to us by the permanent crew. I wanted my adventure to be as much a learning experience as possible and I was eager to participate. Without the internet, we had to rely on the crew for all of our knowledge. Instructions were given for watch responsibilities, basic sail theory, line handling, steering, and navigation. In order to fully participate, climbing the rigging was an essential part of our training. I thought climbing would be the least of my worries since I don’t fear heights and I’m experienced in rock climbing and rappelling. As I made my way up the ladder over the growing ocean waves, I quickly felt out of my element. This was going to be more difficult than I anticipated.
On day one, we were given the opportunity to climb the first level of rigging to a platform and then climb back down on the other side. We geared up and trainee after trainee climbed the more than 30 steps and maneuvered over the ledge without hesitation.
I could feel my stomach knotting and my brain starting to question the safety of climbing a ladder on the side of the ship only to reach an angled platform that I needed to get over. Sure I’d be clipped in at the top but slipping or losing my grip wouldn’t be fun even with the harness.
After about 12 trainees successfully climbed the rigging, it was my turn. Slowly, I began my ascent. We were told to always have three points of contact on the ladder and to hold on to the black rungs rather than the wooden foot pieces. Every step was more grueling then the one before and my grip got tighter, and longer, with every rung.
I reached the angled platform and needed to climb five more difficult, sloped steps before getting over the edge. I asked for help. I didn’t know where to put my hands. I didn’t know how to get my feet on the angled steps. I didn’t know how to move anymore. I was frozen and panic started to set in.
What if I fall on the first day? It will change my entire experience. What if I get hurt and can’t go on? What if I get over the ledge and can’t get down? What if I’m the only person here that can’t do it? All of the questions rang in my head and my hands started to hurt from the cold and gripping too tightly.
I said I wasn’t ready and climbed back down. I was the only person to attempt it and turn around. I was a failure. While they were meant as encouragement, all of the positive words were daggers in my pride. I quietly moved to the back of the group, took of my harness and went to my cabin to cry.
People often assume that I have no fear because I’ve participated in so many extreme adventures but it’s just the opposite. I try to do at least one thing a day that I fear. I push all of my limits and take control of the situation, but I fear many things and sometimes a task that seems simple becomes way more than I ever anticipated. For most people, climbing aloft wasn’t a big deal. It was as casual as climbing stairs, but that wasn’t the case for me. I struggled with it. Fear won. Luckily, I had three more weeks to try again and find success.
“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” —Dale Carnegie