A Voyage from Sea to See

Words & photos by Ben Neufeld

Many can say they have travelled to countries and continents around the world, tasted food from the most exotic of places, or dipped their toes in the waters of distant seas. Few can say they’ve felt the adrenaline that accompanies hanging 40m above the ocean, the rush of a 200ft vessel crashing through 10m swells, and the unrelenting exhaustion of these experiences.

West Island College International’s “Class Afloat” offers a 9-month experience unlike any other. Not only does this program provide the valuable lessons learned from travelling abroad, but it also incorporates the vigorous world of tall ship sailing. Exploring four continents by tall ship, from the most populated to the most remote regions, is a demanding undertaking with days often starting before the sun rises to clean the ship, participate in a full day of academic classes, and sail through the night. Due to its nature, Class Afloat exemplifies an environment where individuals are expected to be physically, intellectually, and socially engaged at the highest level, as we participate within a team and community environment.

We began in Amsterdam, made our way down the coast of Portugal and Spain, through the deserts of West Africa, across the ocean to Brazil and Uruguay, and on to South Africa. In the last leg of our extensive journey, we made our way westerly across the Atlantic Ocean back to the comforts of home soil with ports of call in: St. Helena, Ascension Islands, Barbados, Dominican Republic, and Bermuda.

Prior to my departure, I didn’t think that living on a ship where functioning under unrelenting mental and physical exhaustion, being punctual at the most inopportune of times, and conforming to a hierarchy of positional significance, would foster the conditions necessary for profound periods of personal growth and discovery. To say the least, I was proven wrong; not only did these conditions contribute to the experience, but for the first time I was challenged to understand who I am and who I wanted to become.

For many, the experience of travelling abroad envelops any given situation with value and significance. Experiences had by students abroad become milestones in their lives that play immense roles in their development and act as a memory they can look back on to gain perspective on where they’ve come from and where they are going. For me it wasn’t the travel or the sailing that held the most value during my time at sea, it was the simplicity of being isolated from the external influences and clutter of society. For both good and bad, society has become over-saturated with information telling us to be this and to do that, to the point where it’s become very easy to lose sight of our individuality. One’s ability to see the world through fresh eyes is what ultimately allows us to reflect on our ideals; being in the middle of the ocean without land in sight for thousands of miles has given me the space and time needed for meaningful connections with people from all over the world, and most importantly it has reminded me of what it means to be human.

Growing up in the Comox Valley, I became accustomed to the coastal mountains aggressively cutting into the landscapes, the temperate rainforest we call our backyard, and the entrancing waters of the Georgia Straight. Class Afloat not only helped me discover myself and the world around me, it gave me the opportunity to rediscover my home, seeing again it as if it was the first time. Whether you are young and beginning to think about your future, or you are simply looking for something new, I encourage you to seek out new experiences, places, and people. You’ll find that by changing the way you look at things, the things you look at change.