Asta Mail was the Expedition Coordinator for the One Water Story Expedition that took place this summer in the Great Lakes of North America. She took on the project as an extension of her Master’s of Professional Science program at the University of Miami, and has now returned home to summarize her work and complete her Master’s thesis. In today’s blog, Asta describes what it’s like to go back to life on land after a full summer as crew aboard Sea Dragon.
Reflections of One Water- By Asta Mail
I sit here listening to the silence of the modern home. Before me sit comfortable arm chairs, waiting patiently for their exhausted participant to take them for granted. I am vaguely drawn to the high pitched echo through the house- something, whirring away peacefully, thrumming its own energy as a function of a well cared for home. I am surrounded by art, mess, and windows out to a world of flat ground and permanent hills.
This may sound very banal to you. To me however, it feels like a complete change of pace. My world, for the last four months constantly moved. I was awash in nature’s physical energy aboard an incredible racing yacht, travelling through the largest lake system in the world, an area where 20% of the world’s freshwater sits placidly, awaiting our use.
This energy, I now realize, I have absorbed. Since my return to land, I am compelled to be constantly moving. My day seethes with a randomness I never previously could sense. The cyclical rhythms of our day to day lives now remind me of the cyclical rhythms of water particles as waves vibrate through them. Round and around we go, but never the same way, never exactly the same.
It has been almost 9 months since I began my internship program with Pangaea Explorations, and I can truly say that through this project, I lived my dream. Somehow, I managed to put together a four month sailing expedition, gather enough people to take part, and sail through 4 of the 5 major Great Lakes safely. To me, this is a bit of a miracle!
To some, spending a couple months sailing the lakes sounds adventurous and luxurious-or horrible, depending on your perspective of being on the water.
As I sit at home assembling my Master’s thesis paper, I think to myself of the first reactions from guests we hosted on board this summer. To some, our boat was a thing of ultimate beauty- a stealth force of unstoppable human accomplishment. This boat was built to race around the world “the wrong way”- upwind through the Southern Ocean.
Sea Dragon, originally named Barclay’s Adventurer, was built for the Global Challenge Series sailing races in 2000 and 2004. Ron Ritter, the CEO of Pangaea, purchased CB 37- Barclay’s Adventurer in 2008, and saw the potential for her use as a platform for marine research. The vessel has been given a rating Category 0 by the British Maritime and Coastal Agency, meaning that the vessel should be “completely self-sufficient for very extended periods of time, capable of withstanding heavy storms and prepared to meet serious emergencies without the expectation of outside assistance.”(ISAF, 2012)
Not once did she complete the Challenge series sailing race- a 60,000 nautical mile continuous sail around the world-but twice. Since then, Sea Dragon has glided along the sea another 50,000 nautical miles. She is able to right herself, even in the worst sailing conditions-an incredible engineering achievement, and one that has likely saved the lives of the brave sailors aboard.
Some people understand the significance of working on a vessel as impressive as this one.
To others: “Oh my god, you live on this thing?! It’s so tiny! I’m getting sea sick just standing here!”
“Where do you sleep? That’s it? It’s like being tied into a hot dog bun!”
I love both reactions. They both were inspired by awe. One in a good way; the other in a “this is cool but you’re crazy” kind of way.
My heart twitches when I think too much about the last four months of my life. Going through it was such an experience unlike anything I’d ever had before, and it still shocks me that it is now over. To come home and know that it is time to now translate it from experience to words is thrilling, and yet hollow at the same time.
I have to take this opportunity to thank everyone who made the One Water Story possible. The management team of Pangaea Explorations is an incredibly ambitious and hard working group, and without their faith in my abilities, I never would have known what I was capable of creating.
I am inspired by Pangaea’s belief in making citizen science initiatives possible, and in their willingness to allow complete novices to “learn the ropes” aboard their incredible ship. I am definitely one of those novices. This was my first ever expedition planning experience, and it is one I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I also progressed in my sailing abilities- from totally useless on a boat, to slightly less useless. This for me was a huge achievement!
I would absolutely recommend to anyone considering sailing with Pangaea Explorations that you first consider your own life’s story. Every adventures starts with a cause-what are you looking for? If it’s personal growth, challenge, and regaining a sense of awe about the world we live in, then it’s your time to book your spot on board. Scared? Good- then all the more reason to take part. Doing things that scares you teaches you a whole lot more about yourself than I would have ever expected.
I will be completing my Master’s of Professional Science Degree at the University of Miami at the end of this semester. It will be a relief to be done, but bittersweet in that I will be looking for a new adventure to begin! My new dream is to continue my career in expedition planning and marine education. I hope that it will fill me with the same sense of purpose that working with Pangaea Explorations gave me.