I cannot recall how many times I have advised my crew that much of what we come to appreciate and love about our sailing adventures occurs in retrospect. It was for this reason that I chose to pause upon my return and wait a while before taking the time to document any final thoughts and observations and I am glad that I did. Time gives us perspective and allows us to step away from our emotional reflexes and formulate considered and rational thoughts and opinions instead.
As much as I knew I would I already miss the drama and adventure of life onboard. I miss the seemingly infinite expanse of blue beneath us and the effortless sparkle of the constellations that decorated the sky above us each night. I miss the sneaky squalls that crept up from behind amidst the relentless tropical heat and in a bizarre way I even miss the drama of overcoming the plethora of challenges that presented themselves to us relentlessly throughout.
Since arriving home I have been asked time and time again “So how was it?” And I remain baffled at the inference that I could summarise the experience in a mere sentence or two. So far the best word I have mustered is simply “massive”. I am also painfully aware that most people are interested for a polite few minutes before their eyes begin to glaze over and roll backwards and I realise that it might be a good idea to actually breathe between stories and anecdotes which is why referring to the blog has proven itself as a bit of a lifesaver for everyone.
When I look back at my initial preconceptions I literally smile to myself as I realise the things that concerned me alongside those that hadn’t even crossed my mind. It also fascinates me the aspects that seem to be of genuine interest to others and those to which they appear indifferent. The common factor here always begins with the fact that I was part of a 14 strong all female crew. It is always the cause of the raised eyebrows and the looks that blend curiosity, surprise and suspicion. It is always the first specific question that is asked and without doubt generates the most significant response.It is almost a little annoying that the same level of interest isn’t derived from the general mission of the expedition to expose the increasing level of plastics and micro-plastics in our precious oceans. Still, if it is the all female aspect that draws the attention then this is fine with me so long as this facilitates a growth in awareness of our mission.
So to finally address my initial concerns about sailing with an all female crew and who I would become within that dynamic the basic conclusion is very simple and for me remains unchanged. Every crew is built upon a varied mix of personalities, characters and experiences regardless of gender, race or age. Every team dynamic will display its strengths and over time and with the right amount of fatigue and familiarity thrown in it will also display its weaknesses. The two crews that I worked with were on the whole ‘typical’ big boat crews with an eclectic mix of life experience and skills and it was a pleasure to sail with such a talented and interesting group of people that happen to be women. There are many that would be entertained to read a summary that supports the stereotype I heard expressed often before my departure relating to bitchiness and such behaviour but it simply didn’t occur. There were many laughs there were many tears and there were many moments that allowed us to appreciate and share individual knowledge and character. Whatever the motivation to construct a specific crew it matters not to me so long as each individual arrives with an open mind a good intention and a strong work ethic. So yes, I would sail with an all female crew again.
Gender question laid to rest the toughest part of my journey without any shadow of a doubt was adapting to the position of First Mate after skippering big boats for so long. It is natural to me to want to lead and so reconditioning myself to step back a little took a degree of conscious effort. Another classic lesson that I try to teach is that there is no room for ego at sea and that a successful team will only ever behave as such when the common goal is greater than any individual need. Taking on the Mates role forced me to examine my own ego and to relax into the notion that there are many different styles and methods to lead a crew. I needed to combat my own control issues for the greater good of the crew dynamic, a process that was extremely self illuminating. Perhaps the old adage that ‘ we teach best what we most need to learn’ was exemplified for me through this journey.
Finally and without doubt most important of all is the impact that the mission itself has had on my lifestyle and how I feel about the world now that I am home. It sounds rather dramatic because in all honesty it has been really rather dramatic. Life on board enabled us to disconnect from the everyday hustle and bustle of life to take a step back and see the true result of our constant quest for convenience from a new perspective. The fact that a thousand miles from land a plastic bottle floated past the boat should have been the greatest shock but instead it was our communal lack of surprise to witness it that was the big eye opener. Every day we pulled a trawl back into the boat and more often that not small particles were retrieved for testing that at first glance appear to be plastics.
Our expedition represented a relatively small section of the worlds oceans but it was enough to see the damming evidence of the effect that consumerism is having on our planet. The elements that are visible are worrying enough but eXXpedition has enlightened me to the greater problem of micro plastics and the effect that these are already having on plankton and subsequently on all marine life and life in general. I wouldn’t attempt to relay the science as this would do a disservice to the many talented women that I have spent the last two months with but the information is out there for us all to review. The question for me on a personal level now is what can I do to help to change things?
First of all I know that I cannot return from this privileged experience and start dictating to those around me the way in which I believe they should conduct themselves. What I can do however is to re-tell the story of our adventure with as much passion and candour as it deserves and alongside the high action tales the underlying message will present itself organically. I can set an example to those that I teach by consciously avoiding single use plastics and giving more consideration to the packaging I purchase and the source of my seafood. I can choose to make changes as small as they may be in my own personal world and slowly build upon those changes as I educate myself in my own time from my own sources of information. I can work alongside some of my employers to find solutions to get better at what we do because we most certainly can do better and the world will forever prefer solutions over problems. I wonder how many sailors realise that there is an application for mobile devices to very simply record any sightings of marine debris as after all there are few citizen scientists that are better placed to facilitate this than us.
A very smart lady once told me that in order to change the world we first have to start in our own back yard. I hope that I am fortunate enough to work with other amazing projects with organisations such as Pangaea Exploration and eXXpedition moving forwards and in the meantime the process of change for me has already begun right here in my own back yard.
by Emily Caruso, First Mate on Sea Dragon, eXXpedition Amazon and Ascension 2015