Oct 102012
 

I’m trying to get myself back into regular posting amidst a busy fall season and limited internet access, so I thought posting some random photos from the last couple of months on Clearwater would be a nice start…

Coffee and work.

Coffee and work.

The government won't set you free. Chores will set you free.

The government won’t set you free. Chores will set you free.

Unfouling the pennant at anchor.

Unfouling the pennant at anchor.

 

Aug 152012
 
Sunset: The sloop Clearwater peaks out from behind the dock in Beacon, New York.

Sunset: The sloop Clearwater peaks out from behind the dock in Beacon, New York.

Hi everyone! I’m in Worcester right now for some days off, volunteering for Worcester World Cup, an FIFA-inspired community soccer tournament that one of my best friends spear-heads each year. I had a full first couple of weeks on Clearwater, and I’m enjoying some down time but I wanted to report back on life aboard “The Pete Seeger Boat”.

First of all, I have to say that this is a gorgeous boat with a remarkable and inspiring history. In the sixties, a bunch of people, many of them folk musicians, decided that they wanted to draw attention to the Hudson River, which at the time was heavily polluted by raw sewage and industrial waste, including large amounts of PCB’s, a known carcinogen. They raised a bunch of money, and commissioned the Sloop Clearwater as a symbol of the Hudson’s beauty, designed after the old Hudson River sloops that used to carry cargo down the river.

We caught a type of flat fish called a hog-choker on one of my first days, and kept him in our on-deck tank.

We caught a type of flat fish called a hog-choker on one of my first days, and kept him in our on-deck tank.

Since then, the Sloop Clearwater has been traveling up and down the Hudson, teaching children and youth of New York about the environment. Their mission is “to provide innovative environmental programs, advocacy, and celebrations designed to inspire, educate and activate the next generation of environmental leaders.” And they do.

Working as an educator on boats, over the years I’ve seen a lot of different approaches to teaching in this very unique environment. Each boat has its own set of values or topics of focus, but the universal challenge (perhaps with teaching in general) is deciding whether to touch the lives of a lot of kids a little, or the lives of a few kids a lot. It’s a tough choice and the two usually seem mutually exclusive, but Clearwater’s model does both.

One of my first projects: model boats for the girls in my watch for the Young Women at the Helm program. They spent a day designing and building their own rigs.

One of my first projects: model boats for the girls in my watch for the Young Women at the Helm program. They spent a day designing and building their own rigs.

The main work of Clearwater, as I was told over and over again during my interview, is teaching (not sailing!). We take 15 thousand school children onto the Hudson River each year for 3 hour daysails, during which we barrage them with a mountain of information, activities and local lore (so I’m told, I haven’t done this part yet). This is the mass education part. It seems like every kid in the Hudson River Valley has been on the Clearwater and can tell you the name of at  least one species of fish.

But what happens to those kids as they get older? What happens when they age out of Clearwater field-trips? This is where the model becomes special. In the summertime, Clearwater hosts two grant-funded, multi-day programs for 15-18 year olds: Young Women at the Helm, and Young Men at the Helm. These programs are the beginning of a pipeline that ushers the most interested and promising youth of the Hudson River Valley from participant to volunteer, to intern, to crew member, and maybe even one day to captain. The current captain, first mate, second mate and two apprentices all got their start as either participants or volunteers.

One of Clearwater's many clever conservation utilities: a barrel full of water not quite fresh enough to drink, but used for other non-potable necessities.

One of Clearwater's many clever conservation utilities: a barrel full of water not quite fresh enough to drink, but used for other non-potable necessities.

Before I lost my marbles and ran away to the sea, I worked as a program coordinator at several small, youth-serving non-profits in Worcester, MA. I’ve seen a lot of really fantastic youth development programs, many much more radical or visible than the one that Clearwater runs. But I’ve never seen one that as successfully meets the needs as broadly and deeply of so many youth as this one. The Clearwater Organization is undoubtedly “inspiring, educating and activating the next generation of environmental leaders.”

When I finally come to my senses and return to the real world, I will be bringing the gospel of this model with me wherever I go. Although it may not be such a sure fire approach without the help of a majestic old boat to capture the imagination.

A view from below...that is one huge mast!

A view from below...that is one huge mast!

Hudson River Sloops are known for their "Hudson River Gybe", a special, loud and sometimes scary gybe that involves the boom swinging across without sheeting in at all.

Hudson River Sloops are known for their "Hudson River Gybe", a special, loud and sometimes scary gybe that involves the boom swinging across without sheeting in at all.

The brine barrel: Normally wooden boats get a deck wash with salt water from the ocean to help preserve the wood. Since Clearwater is in mostly brackish water, we put it in a barrel and salt it instead.

The brine barrel: Normally wooden boats get a deck wash with salt water from the ocean to help preserve the wood. Since Clearwater is in mostly brackish water, we put it in a barrel and salt it instead.

Brine barrel rubber ducky.

Brine barrel rubber ducky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jul 262012
 
Day-off with crew: opening a beer the sailor way aboard Silphide, Matt's family's sloop.

Day-off with crew: opening a beer the sailor way aboard Silphide, Matt's family's sloop.

Hello out there! It’s been so long since I’ve written that I wonder how many will read this. But to those who do, thanks for continuing to tune in to my adventure!

You might have guessed that I’m home again, back in the USA. I flew out of Hobart, Tasmania at 6:30 AM on Saturday, July 14th, and arrived in Los Angeles at 6:00 AM on Saturday, July 14th. (Awesome. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that one. :) I spent a few days hanging out in LA with friends and volunteers from the American Tall Ship Institute, where I was First Mate in 2010-2011, and then continued on home to Massachusetts. In a few days I start a new job as Bosun on the Clearwater, a gaff-rigged sloop that sails the Hudson River. It will be a whole new culture and environment, and I look forward to reporting…

But for now, what things stand out to me in my first two weeks back in the country?

Cinderblock city in Guatemala

Cinderblock city in Guatemala

Re-entry shock: It’s amazing how challenging a return to home can be after an extended period of time away. I remember having reverse culture shock after just 2 1/2 weeks in Scotland when I was 17, and even more of a dramatic adjustment period in 2009 after returning from 10 weeks in Guatemala. After Guatemala, I remember noticing how all of the buildings seemed exceptionally solid — even over-built — in comparison to the flimsy-feeling cinder-block and corrugated tin structures in Central America. One would think that Australia and the USA are so similar that reverse culture shock would be almost non-existent, but I’ve learned that any change in cultural environment, no matter how subtle, can stir up emotion and reflection. We often don’t know what we’ve been through until well after, when the dust has settled.

U.S. Airport Security: Both times I went through International customs and security in Australia, I felt the process was effective, fair and efficient. Large throngs of people surged beneath signs in many languages, passed quickly through baggage checks and metal detectors, and finally several sets of  TRUE random check points which took no more than 2 minutes to complete in most cases. I actually saw grey-haired people and a business woman randomly stopped! Entering the US, even as citizen, took hours. I was shocked to see a sign at the metal detector exempting seniors from the need to remove shoes and jackets…a chivalrous gesture, but one that surely creates a weak point in our national security. Customs agents suspiciously looked back and forth between visitors’ faces and their passport photos, and one fringe-looking person after another was pulled aside for a “random” check. It’s hard to explain the perspective one has after being away, but after a six month fast from the constant fear-inducing American news landscape, my gut reaction to this inconsistent and intimidating show of muscle is that it is inefficient, flawed and disrespectful to our visitors. I was distinctly aware of America’s inflated sense of self-importance.

My first experience of Vegemite.

My first experience of Vegemite.

Re-adjustement to local customs: Some things have been easy, some difficult. The whole time I was in Australia, I constantly got mixed up about which side of the car was the passenger and driver, first thinking my instinct was wrong, and then second-guessing that. It has been a relief to be able to trust my instincts in such things again. On the other hand, I’ve caught myself pronouncing “tomato” like a Brit more than once, and taking to the left side of a foot path when meeting another walker head-on. I am a little sad to have to drop my favorite little Ozi phrases like “Rightio” and “I reckon…” People just give funny looks. Reliable internet and relatively inexpensive food are great luxuries that are a rare thing down under, so that is a nice change. Also, readily available cookie-dough ice-cream, inexpensive beer, and fresh bagels. I am not sad to say goodbye to Vegemite.

Wild Oats, Sydney-Hobart winner, with future boyfriend Iain sitting in the foreground. Taken before we met. :)
Wild Oats, Sydney-Hobart winner, with future boyfriend Iain.

Apart from this, there is a whole tide of fresh political awareness that I am subject to after being immersed in an outside perspective. And I wouldn’t be fully reporting on “my quest for a life at sea” if I didn’t summarize the last year thusly: I traveled to the other side of the world, sailed in the Southern Ocean, fell in love, got my first bit of professional licensing, and turned 30 minus 1 year. These major life events are leaving me feeling aswirl with looming life pressures and some new doubts and questions as to how I am going to make it all happen. But then, I suppose that the real reason we travel round the world is for a good mix-up so we can get to the tasty stuff at the bottom of it all. And I certainly feel mixed up at the moment.

For now, this is Stephanie’s blog, signing off.

 

Jul 012012
 

It is nearly six months since I arrived in Tasmania. The intense and challenging voyaging season is over. The sea-sickness is but a memory, with people suddenly coming out of the woodwork assuring me that Winde in particular sends her passengers to the rail more than other ships. I am rested, encouraged, just home-sick enough, and I have a job!

ClearwaterIf you’ve been keeping up, you might remember a few posts ago, I wrote about my top choices for employment this fall. The Isaac Evans, Sultana and Clearwater were tied for first place, and I was recently hired as Bosun on the Sloop Clearwater for the fall season!

I’m really excited to be sailing on Clearwater, for many reasons. The first is its environmental mission. The Clearwater Organization was started in the mid-sixties by American folk-singer Pete Seeger in order to build environmental awareness about the Hudson River, which at the time was very polluted. The sloop was launched in ’69 as a symbol of environmental stewardship and teaching tool for young students. Clearwater continues its environmental mission today, with multi-faceted programming, not limited to the work done on the sloop. I was raised as an environmentalist, and I look forward to using my science degree to teach about something that is so important to me.

The second is the music. As I said, Pete Seeger started the organization, and continues to be involved today. For the last six months I’ve barely picked up a guitar, and it’s the longest period I’ve spent without almost daily music practice. I’m really looking forward to joining a ship whose history is intertwined with music.

The third is the Hudson River! So far I’ve sailed around the islands of Maine, some harbors in Massachusetts, the Eastern Pacific of Southern California, and now the Southern Ocean, but I have no inland experience! I’m looking forward to learning about inland rules of navigation, and putting everything I’ve learned in my Coxswain’s course to work.

Finally, I’m excited about the rig. After a square-rigger and a bunch of schooners, three sails is sure to feel sparse, but every ship has her own secrets to share, and I’ll be glad to get to know a new rig. Sometimes the simplest things in life are the most enjoyable.

 

May 152012
 

Well once again it’s been a bit since I’ve written. I definitely overestimated the amount of time, energy and internet access I would have during this voyage season. We’ve got about another three weeks to go before it ends. In the meantime, a little bit from my life:

These last two voyages were the most difficult for me, and I suppose it comes down to the intensity of the schedule, and my propensity for sea-sickness. The experience of sea-sickness just cannot be described in any decent way to anyone who has not been sea-sick. You can list the symptoms (headache, nausea, vertigo, lethargy, painful awareness of the impossibility of escape) but the sum is equal to more than its parts.

Some sunrise or sunset, somewhere...

Some sunrise or sunset, somewhere...these pretty sights help with the recovery process quite a bit.

My latest source of hope in the face of this brutal disease is the thought that I am not allergic to the sea as a whole, but maybe just to the Southern Ocean, or Windeward Bound, specifically. I’d experienced mild, passing nausea in the Pacific Ocean before coming to Tasmania, but I’d never been so constantly and severely sea-sick as I’ve been here. I refuse to believe it’s a permanent change…

But such an experience does lead a little adventurer like myself to ask some pretty confronting questions during those wee morning hour watches. What will I do if I never overcome my sea-sickness? What will I do with all of my dreams of world travel across oceans on sailboats? How stubborn am I really? Stubborn enough to live permanently in the world of dizzying, miserable, punishing sea-sickness?

The real answer, much as I hate to admit it, is no. I’ve lived a good portion of the last two months in that state, and I have finally reached my limit. My plan now is to tie up my commitments here in Tasmania, go home, get myself back on a schooner, and enjoy some coastal sailing for a little while.

Then, when I’m ready, I will get myself back out into the open ocean, and before giving up on blue water entirely, I will try one ocean crossing. If my brain and my inner ear don’t start playing nice after that, then I will just have to content myself with quiet and comfortable coastal sailing. Not the worst thing in the world, at least until I’ve had time to get antsy for travel, and forget just how awful it is to be sea-sick…