eXX RB: A Personal Introduction to eXXpedition

May 12, 2017

eXXpedition Round Britain crew member Sarah Tanburn shares her first Round Britain meeting insights:

On a Saturday morning in late March, the surface of the Thames sparkled in bright sunshine as the tide rushed in from the sea. I walked the cobbled streets of Wapping towards the Hermitage Community Moorings excited to meet some of the women with whom I will be sailing Round Britain this summer.

Twenty of us gathered in the floating meeting room. Tea, coffee (real coffee!) biscuits and lots of introductions. I’d already met Anne, mission co-leader, on one of her flying visits to Cardiff but everyone else was a friend met for the first time. Lots of names and faces to remember, points of connection to find, while the pier lifted and fell gently beneath our feet to the swell of the river. Another Anne welcomed us to the Moorings, itself an exciting new venture in community activism, before we settled into the intensive business of the day.

Emily and Lucy introduced us to eXXpedition, the company behind the mission. Emily gave us a tailored version of her excellent TEDx talk, describing how her experiences at sea had led her to campaigning against pollution. I was amazed at her drive and imagination. Lucy followed, describing her own background as a scientist and policy maker, before beginning our new scientific education. (At least it was new to me: I can’t speak for the others.)

Plastics don’t decompose in the way organic materials do: instead they break down under ultra-violet (sunlight) into tiny pieces. Each of these is a honey trap to all sorts of noxious chemicals: here’s Lucy’s slide showing some of the yucky stuff sticking to these bits of debris.

Image credit: Lucy Gilliam

These clusters of contaminants float within the zooplankton indistinguishable except under a microscope. And fish don’t carry scientific instruments to test the water around them, so all that nasty stuff gets into the food chain – into you and me.

Three big lessons came out of their talks: regulation, education and campaigning. It matters to regulate what stuff can be used in everyday circulation, and how it is thrown away. Educating people works. And those things happen because people who care get on their soapbox.

All three depend on good data: information collected according to proper protocols and made available to researchers across the world. Later in the day we had a good Skype conversation with our lead scientist, Diana Papoulis. She talked about some of the protocols around data collection: we will trawl everyday as we circumnavigate Britain. Expect many more blogs about this: effective research is the heart of the mission.

Amy and Emily Meek are eXXpedition Ambassadors. These two young women genuinely deserve that over-used adjective, awesome. Follow them on Twitter @kidsvplastic: you will be bowled over by their articulate energy and confidence. I am really looking forward to working with them.

Of course, we had a good lunch – bread, fruit, cheese and cold meat. On such a stonking day there was no need for anything hot. I was glad to hear one of the crew say how much she likes cooking and was looking forward to her galley stints. I may have sailed more than many of my new crew mates, but I know too well that the first couple of days will involve sea-sickness, when boiling water seems harder to me than working out the tide times at Land’s End.

exxpedition round britain, round britain sail, sailing uk, women sailing ukIn small groups we discussed both our ports of call and the enormous to-do list. We have plenty of shore-based work to organise. Cardiff is our first stop and I came out of that discussion with a long list of my own.  Fortunately, I’m not the only person based in Wales, and Gail already has a big Cymru flag for Sea Dragon to fly while we are in Welsh waters.

In another group, we discussed this blog and website. I am keen to write up this trip, as I did my last.  I’m really hoping lots of other women want to share their stories and reactions to our journey. One of the wonderful things about the Round Britain experience will be listening to and working with other women to make the world a better place.

We gather in Plymouth on 7 August and untie our lines the next day. Four weeks later we will be back there after stopping in Wales, Northern Ireland, the Hebrides and Edinburgh and London. Afloat we will visit all four capitals of the UK and explore some of its wildest waters. The journey has already begun though, on a sunny day in Wapping. It’s going to be a blast.

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