Onboard educator Roxanne Nanninga was a part of the South American journey of Around the Americas, as well as the ports on the west coast of the United States. As Ocean Watch slowly made its way home, Roxanne took a moment to share her experiences over this past year.
Reflections on a Voyage of Discovery
By Roxanne Nanninga
As the first fingers of light began reaching over the gray sea on the morning of our approach to Santa Barbara, I sat crouched in a ball to stay warm against the cold wind, and considered the journey that had brought me this far. From the Christmas fireworks and apprehension in Punta del Este, Uruguay, through mastery of a curriculum in two languages and a respectable amount of blue water sailing for a complete novice, I decided I’ve come a long way, not just in miles but also as a teacher and as an individual seeking to understand the great scope of our Earth’s environment and its people.
The crew of Ocean Watch and I all seem to agree that the people we’ve met along the way have been what’s made this ambitious project so worthwhile. The kids I have met need no convincing that our ocean is precious and deserves protecting. It’s not just the students, however. Parents, teachers, sailors, and scientists alike expressed gratitude to us for bringing awareness to such critical issues as climate change, ocean acidification, plastics pollution, and a basic understanding of the oceans and its life-giving processes.
These human interactions have often been very brief but that’s all it takes to make an impression. In Uruguay we received an invitation to a home-cooked Christmas dinner. In Chile, where there seemed to be the greatest abundance of kind and helpful people, very early on the morning of my arrival, I bonded with an immigration officer over our shared frustrations with US Visa policies. There were taxi drivers in Peru who shared with me their authentic sentiments of love for their country, and sometimes disgust, too, offering rare insight to a foreigner. There have been teachers; port authorities; yacht club presidents; library and aquarium staff; random people who saw the website or the news and wanted to be involved; and many, many others who have gone out of their way to help us accomplish our mission or just make our lives away from home more comfortable. Without them this trip would have had no meaning.
There have also been many non-human encounters that have shaped my experience, the biggest being the sea itself. Dark and formidable, the open ocean is a humbling place. My first memorable night at sea was crossing the mouth of Rio de la Plata in Argentina. An eerie glow from distant Buenos Aires sat on the horizon offering no sense of comfort in the shadowy night, the clouds sometimes parting to reveal a nearly full moon. The glow was echoed on the surrounding phosphorescent-tinged whitecaps. The effect gave me the creeps and I remember counting the minutes until morning.
Fortunately, that feeling eventually passed and I came to appreciate the night watches, especially on a clear, star-lit night. Others who have spent time at sea know that the skies there are unmatched. The immensity of space that spans both above and below where you sit is a great reminder of our human frailty. In the Southern Hemisphere you could even peer into a neighboring galaxy known as the Magellenic Clouds, or Clusters. However, just as I would start to believe we were alone on the sea, a dolphin, whale, or bird would come along to disrupt the illusion and remind me of the entire teeming world of life just below the surface.
As you may guess, spending time on a small vessel or in foreign countries with just a few other travelers affords many opportunities to get to know one another in a way not generally possible. The crew of Ocean Watch is a select and accomplished group, whom I have enjoyed getting to know immensely. I have heard Mark refer to his crew as family and with all they have been through and the time spent together through fortune, dysfunction, and understanding I can think of no better term for it. Being one of the few females to take part in this dynamic gives me a unique perspective on it as well. I would like to take a moment to comment on what I have appreciated and learned from each one of them.
From the beginning, Captain Mark Schrader has been warm and welcoming, inviting me into this strange and exclusive world of sailors. His determination is impressive; he was always doing whatever it takes to get where we had to be safely and as on time as possible, which is no small feat. His passion for ocean stewardship is what has pressed this project forward since its conception, and his desire for perfection has urged us all to do our best work and to stay focused on why we are here: to bring eyes and ears to the plight of our oceans and inspire people to take action to protect it in their respective parts of the Americas.
First mate Dave Logan has been the oil in what makes the entire engine of Around the Americas run smoothly. Purposely understated, Dave often rejects praise for his accomplishments but we all know we wouldn’t have made it around without his hard work and expertise. Additionally, he has been an essential help with the educational programs, having acted as my “lovely assistant” on many occasions, leading boat tours, setting up banners, sails and our traveling expedition tent, and enchanting both adults and children with his stories and quiet sense of humor.
Our writer is Herb McCormick, whom many of you may feel you know best through his daily logs to the web, which have given voice to this mission and have taught many profound things through his subtle stories. Herb has also provided the salty attitude and humor needed to keep the trip fun. His call-it-as-I-see-it commentary is alternately poignant and hilarious. On one occasion he even agreed to run a writer’s workshop for a hundred thirteen-year-olds at the Yacht Club in Lima. Despite his initial nervousness (yes, the ever-cool Herb McCormick does, in fact, get nervous on occasion) his contributions were a true highlight to the day’s event and I was grateful for it.
David Thoreson, our photographer, has given Around the Americas its face and context with his stunning imagery taken along the entire expedition. His ubiquitous presence at events happening at sea or in port has given us a thoroughly documented voyage and makes me wonder if he ever really sleeps. He was, however, the only one who could convince me to sleep on my first anxious night at sea. Always happy to share his candid opinion, he has proven also to be a great listener and his support was a great comfort to me throughout the journey.
Though Dr. Michael Reynolds was not a part of the core crew, I think he has been along for enough of it to be counted as an honorary member. He has not only kept us focused on the scientific discovery of this mission but has also helped remind us all to relax a little. Never flustered, Michael would carry on with his science in the background no matter what other chaos had ensued. He offered interesting and humorous tidbits on watch and kept me on my toes by finding hats, cameras, and other items the sometimes absent-minded professor would leave behind. Still, we owe a great deal of our credibility to him.
There were of course many others I have had the pleasure of traveling with along the way. Though I can’t mention them all by name here, each one helped enrich my time with this voyage. Thanks to all of you.
I think I speak for all of us when I say it will take a considerable amount of time to fully process the experiences we’ve had with the project and sometimes lifestyle called Around the Americas. I have learned a great deal and given much of myself. And I feel grateful.