This is something that is joked about on the boat plenty. Many of us, before leaving, encountered friends, loved ones, and colleagues who referred to this as a vacation. Maybe we wax poeticly we are the types to always look on the bright side. This post describes some of our daily challenges.

Brazil, tropics, sailing, adventure; of course, sounds like a vacation. I’ll admit the first week in Olinda, Brazil had elements of a vacation. I took pictures of piña coladas, local sights, Carnival decorations and dinners out. We also did three presentations to schools and universities, a beach clean up, and Lisa did an unofficial trash audit. When we boarded the boat we left the bowls of delicious Acai berry desserts and other delights ashore as well.

There is a reason this is called eXXpedition. It starts with leaving the comfort of your home, travelling to new cultures and trying things you have never done before. For starters, desalinated water does not taste like water. It takes some getting used to, may just be the understatement of a lifetime. Those of us who have never sailed oceans make disgusted faces each time we must drink (which is many times a day given the heat). We dream of cold beverages, but there are none. Water comes out of the tap fairly warm and if it sits in a water bottle it tastes like tepid, weak, smelly tea. Yet we drink it to survive.

Many of us eat less than we are used to. Our stomachs are sensitive, sea sickness is an issue for some. The boat never stops rocking, ever. Cooking makes the already intense humid heat below deck stifling.

We work in shifts. Sometimes we can sleep in between. During the day, we do science in the mid-day tropical heat. At night, we sleep with the sounds of the team on watch talking, generators, sails, winching and the boat beating through the water. There is no such thing as silence. Our bunks are so close together that you can be in the space of five other people with a 1ft aisle between, in sweltering heat. We stink, I can only assume. We literally pour sweat at all hours of the day. It is hard to keep sunscreen on. There is no escape from the heat. We shower judiciously using approximately 2L of fresh water max, and less often than most would prefer. The irony of being so close to water and never getting in for a swim… torture for us water lovers.

There are no chefs, maids, or clean bedding. No store runs to satisfy cravings. No cold beer when we feel tried or over worked. We share whatever tasty snacks we find and then they are gone. We are all pushing our limits of comfort in a situation with 14 strangers with whom we must work cohesively. We are tired, stressed and at times homesick.

Yet we are all here, positive, inspired, and collaborating. We grind and “sweat” halyards, foreguys, forestays, preventors, main sheets, stay sails and jibs. We maneuver poles, deploy trawls. We are strong. There is nothing that the sea has thrown at us that we haven’t been able to handle. Every evening we lead discussions that are inspired, inquisitive, empowered. Topics range from microbes, consumer habits, values, geopolitics, education, and alternative social structures. We explore realities and the hypothetical.

The science is not glamorous, often consisting of dripping sea water for literally hours. Each day we process various cartridges, collecting a range of data, that will take nearly six months to analyse. The data will be the first of its kind to quantify water quality, micro/ nano plastics, toxics, enzymes, microbes and oestrogenic compounds off the coast of the Amazon. As a crew, we eagerly pick the brains of Barbara (molecular microbiologist) and Diana (toxicologist) as to the specifics of our samples. It is complex and intricate. It challenges them to describe the technical processes that allow them to gain the data they are after, how it relates and why it is important. Science has its own language, which we are realizing is one of the stumbling blocks of an informed public.

We are all in a process of searching, discovering, learning, connecting, disconnecting, detoxing. This is not a vacation, this is an eXXpedition. An experience of a lifetime. An opportunity for growth, a vessel for change. None of us will leave the same, and dispite the challenges we will all leave smiling.

Friends, family and work colleagues; don’t be surprised if we move more slowly, talk about the wind changing directions, get up in the middle of the night to watch the stars, decline single use plastics, talk obsessively about unseen toxics. We might also really, really enjoy water. Fresh fresh water. We have changed here on the high seas in ways that your average cocktail sipping, hotel loving, tourist shopping vacation with all the comforts just can’t change you.

Sarah Richardson