A friend encouraged me to put my nautical experience on this page as it does ultimately give a look at leadership in a significant way. It’s also bound to come up as in said circles the story of my last vessel has become quite infamous. Let’s start at the beginning.
As a young boy I’d go to stay with my aunt and uncle at their houseboat on Lake Union from time to time. Uncle peter had won an award for crafting a Thunderbird out of aluminum. I’d get to sleep on it some nights. My memory is of studying the rigging. I learned, just by lying there, how the sails were raised (by halyards) and how the mast was secured (by stays). Growing up we were water nuts, playing endlessly during summers on greenlake with whatever we could find that floated. As a teenager the water was where my crew went to test our skills and push our limits in various ways as teenagers are wont to do.
As a young adult and an avid traveler, studying sustainability, I found that hitch-hiking, though green in essence was lacking and not much fun in the modern world. I dreamt of sailing with lofty ideas about how it was end-all-be-all of sustainable travel. My partner at the time and I found our way into a 30′ offshore sloop, the S/V Shearwater and thus began a new chapter. I had heard tell of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and I in my naivete thought that this was a job for me. Truth be told, that hasn’t changed, just the angle of attack while facing a serious problem. Incidentally, this was also when I would rejoin the digital world from the edge of asceticism and activism. I joined Facebook and began to life train as a mariner. I birthed the idea of the Sovereign Fleet, a armada of do-gooder pirates who’s mission was to clean up our oceans, a dream that lives on in my heart unfettered.
We spent several years with the Shearwater as our primary focus, living aboard and learning, mostly in the waters north of here throughout the Salish Sea as far north as Desolation Sound and as far south as Olympia. Kids came a couple years in and responsibility took precedence for some years.
Years later I’d find myself the operator of the stunning Schooner Hoptoad, a 68′ Junk Rig. The lessons, as all are, were full of beauty and challenge. Non standard rigs were the most interesting thing in my universe in those days, and I still dreamed of sailing to the Gyre to somehow begin the process of generations of cleanup.
After the Hoptoad era would come the most recent and most significant chapter of my life as a mariner. I went bigger again, with my eyes on a captains license that I thought could merge my passion for big environmental work with the challenges of the nautical world. I acquired the 78′ schooner Ninaa Ootakii on a handshake, and never a more costly move have I made.
That said, the lessons are worth it, as are the humans that have come into my life. Although I spend over 30% of my income paying for those years, and will for years, the fruit of the labor never ceases to dissapoint.
I acquired the ship for a million reasons… I wanted to have room to house the houseless and train folks who wanted to help make the world a better place. I wanted a political headquarters for the progressive movement that was rent free and could go to any port town. She’s built like a stage, and could support an aerial show that would dazzle… And she’s big enough to do big work, boasting 52 gross tons by volume. I had developed a relationship with captain Jeff Sanders of the United States Maritime Academy, for whom I still regularly volunteer as tech support to this day. Shout out to captain sanders, now the first and only online captains course in the country, a legacy I’m proud to say I’m a part of. Through the years that followed I would earn my 50 ton masters license with USMA, and I like to think of all that trouble (and the huge chunk of my every paycheck) as money well spent on a stellar education. When the time comes, I’m as ready as a human can reasonably be.
The ship became infamous when she grounded at Fort Worden, and then again at Beckett Point. I’ll remind my critics that she was under the stewardship of another for the latter and being tended by another for the former. I was way past my limit, having tapped out completely for family, work and politics, and having too little if anything for a ship of that magnitude. But I stepped back in against the counsel of every sane person in my universe, first to chase her down in a gale to keep her off the beach, and then to get her off. At the extreme personal expense of both time and money I did what it took to clean up that mess. The alternative was to leave it for the neighbors.
Now I tell this story for a good many reasons… And it would be hard to pack any small bit of any of it in here. But the community that supported me in those most harrowing days is worth all the effort once and again. And I’ll remind the reader that good things come of sticking with it. While that ship was a disaster for me personally, and a nuissance to a good many people on the one hand, on the other many had a home where they otherwise would not have. Many met, many fell in love. The fruit of the relationships developed under extreme duress and crazy good adventure will never cease to amaze me.
And furthermore, they say all’s well that ends well. Today you would not recognize that ship. You’d be unlikely to know that she drew a new steward of the caliber she needed. Now an on demand and at the ready protector of our harbor, he rolls with the best and has pulled more boats off the beach in a winter than you can shake a stick at. And thus the adventure continues. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish I could be out there with him, but we have work to do before that time comes.