Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Notes from being an OceansWatch Volunteer
(As the author of the project blog, this profile is in first person.)
We sit perfectly still in the waters of the Dominican Republic. The morning bay water is calm with hardly a ripple. The air smells of burning and the distant smoke along a hill says they are still burning sugar cane, the reason I was told, that small black ash pieces covered our boat. I’m glad we will dock soon and have access to fresh water.
This is the 10th island for me in the OceansWatch project as I was the only volunteer to visit Trinidad, due to the boat having a couple problems and going directly to Grenada instead after the transatlantic crossing.
Trinidad, Grenada, Union Island, Bequia, St. Lucia, Dominica, Antigua, Montserrat, Sint Maarten and now the Dominican Republic, our final island for this assignment.
After crewing on a boat in the Mediterranean for nine months, I made the Transatlantic crossing from the Cape Verde Islands to Barbados and then sailed to Bequia and left the boat I had been crewing on. Finding the OW organization and getting a volunteer position was the next step in my personal journey to change my life after giving up a business in the US after 26 years.
I had some healing to do after a bad experience on the other boat and leaving my life in the US after losing most everything that I had worked so hard for due to the economy.
I’m in the middle of writing a book called “Changing Courses,” and when I left the boat that I had planned to be on for 15 months, I thought I could either end this journey in Bequia and fly home, or with over 9000 ocean sailing miles, surely I could find another boat. Learning of the OW boat was a miracle for me, a safe boat AND chance to do something productive. This I thought, would be a great way to say “thank you” to the world and nature for all the breathtaking things I got to see in the Med. Perhaps a way to give back. I figured if only I could make even a little difference that would help me right back. I didn’t want to end my experience full of negativity. And so I flew to Trinidad to wait for the OW boat.
Growing up in Kansas, I was always a “summer girl” and spent every moment allowed at the city pool. I eventually got my Water Safety Instructors license and was a lifeguard and taught swimming for two seasons. The first time I saw the ocean I was 18, that was it, I knew I wanted to live on the ocean. I couldn’t afford out of state college tuition, but as soon as I graduated from Kansas State with a degree in journalism and public relations, I packed my car with everything I could fit and drove to Daytona Beach, Florida. I had a total of $500 to my name, no job and knew only one person there. Within 10 days I had found a self employed opportunity with the largest newspaper in Central Florida: The Orlando Sentinel.
It wasn’t reporting and I really didn’t mean to end up in advertising, but it was a job. Bringing the territory from $200,000 to 3 million during my time there, the role fit and I soon became involved in the professional society: the Advertising Federation of America. At 29 I was President of the organization and took the membership from 20 to 200 people that year, but it was a blast. I found a ambitious group of people my age and called them the “Have the Most Fun Possible Committee” and to this day, they evolved to be some of the movers and shakers of the ad community in Daytona. But I think my biggest career honor was being awarded the Ad Fed “Silver Medal” in 1993, the second youngest person in its history to be given the advertising person of the year award. Also as a Rotarian Fellow, between Ad Fed and Rotary there was a lot of volunteer work, boards, committees and events that I was in charge or involved in.
It’s funny how things you don’t realize are preparing you, end up coming into play later in life. I feel that way with some of my OW experiences. My sales experience, public speaking and constant multi-tasking certainly came into play as we felt our way through the OW project.
Each island was really different yet there were links that bind them together. Some Environmental offices I walked in and was able to talk with the Minister of Environment himself! But others were assistants to the assistant. We were a tight team and shared responsibilities according to our expertise or took turns on the islands.
I guess looking back, the thing that haunts me is the islands, the organizations that could really, really use volunteers to help. When we talked to new contacts, to see the look in their eyes when they asked “Can you help?”.
To see hope.
The idea that some yachts might come to help, or that a scientist who’s willing to give their time for expertise that the organization cannot afford. Those looks, they scare me because I am one volunteer sent to make contacts, research projects and organizations, meet yachties and talk to them about membership. I am only one and I am only here for now.
Soon, I have to go back home and find a new career so I can survive before I am able to give back again. Volunteering is not free, it has cost each of us to do this but that is a part of giving and that’s good as long as it ends up meaning something. As long as there are members who step forward and answer them with, “Yes. We can help.”