DAY ONE ON BOARD by Georgina Stevens

This afternoon I met the eleven crew members I would be spending a week with, volunteering on a boat in the Med just off the coast of Majorca.  They all seemed really nice, but I was nervous about how it would be for a week without my son, living on a boat, so close together! I love camping, but generally just with my dogs and son; this was going to get much more cosy. I was the only British person onboard, and also embarrassingly, the only one who wasn’t fluent in at least one other language.  We were four Spaniards, two Germans, two Swiss and one Austrian, so the main languages were Spanish and German.  I am determined to try and speak some Spanish this week…   

We were all volunteering for Alnitak, a marine research organisation dedicated to our oceans. I had heard about them through a friend whom I met when I was promoting my children’s book about ocean pollution: Finn the Fortunate Tiger Shark!  She told me how inspiring the experience had been for her and how she was now working with them as she was so impressed.  I realized I needed to get out in the field, as I was feeling a little jaded from the continuing barrage of single-use plastic I see everywhere, and the seeming indifference from too many people, despite this becoming such a high profile issue. So the chance to see lots of incredible animals and to remove some plastic from the Med was very appealing.

Our home for the week was to be a beautiful 100 yr-old wooden fishing boat, called Toftevaag, which looks like a pirate ship from a children’s book.  Toftevaag means meeting place in old Norse. In some Scandinavian countries, they are places where anyone is welcome to stay anytime, with only one rule; you leave the place just a little better than you found it.  What a beautiful sentiment and very fitting for this boat, which has been collecting plastic and monitoring pollution and species for the last 30 years.  The boat is also the meeting place for so many people; volunteers from all around the world, students, families, fishermen and scientists. 

My bunk was at the bow of the boat, sharing with a very friendly and enormously considerate Swiss guy called Beat (pronounced Bey-ah-t). He was also really interesting, and told me about his time as a farmer in France when he was starting out, and how this cultivated his love for working with wood and metal. He later moved into IT but never lost his love of making and mending things. When he heard about Alnitak and their work, through another marine charity called OceanCare, it sounded ideal, and after his first year on the Toftevaag, he was hooked! He is now in his third year of volunteering on the boat, and is also in charge of maintenance. We also talked about our shared love of dogs, and he told me about how he has spent many years training up dogs and their owners to become search and rescue dogs in the Alps for many years. How cool is that!

We were briefed on the week by Ric, the captain. It was very straightforward, as seems to be his style, and given our rota for cooking, washing up and keeping watch. I am now starting to feel tentatively excited about the week, and getting to know everyone. It might really be the shot in the arm that I need right now. The only problem is that I am now realising I may not have packed appropriately…. as I unpacked my wet weather jacket, pyjamas and full-length wetsuit. It was 26°C……at 8pm. It was going to be a hot night...

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