Day 24 S/V Kaisei: Reflections of Our First Mate

28 08 2009

Thursday, 27 August 2009
Lat: 38° 50’ N Lon: 126° 36’ W

Adrian Thibeault-Stone

Adrian Thibeault-Stone

The sea is my life; I have chosen to live my life by the rules of the sea as a profession and as a lifestyle. I began this as a child, sailing with my father on tall ships on the east coast. However the bug did not truly bite until I was 19: Mary Crowley sent a naive teenager out to Okinawa to sail the brigantine Kaisei back to California. Over the summer of 2004 I had many a wild adventure, from typhoon-tossed seas off of Yokohama, to hitchhiking around Hawaii – to the simple, meditative calm of the North Pacific high; decorated brightly by the random cast of characters who called this vessel their home over those halcyon months.

From there, I knew that I had fallen in love with the freedom that sailing had provided me: the ability to make the means to feed my voracious wanderlust. Since then, I have made my passion my profession; sailing, delivering, maintaining and racing modern and classic yachts as far and as fast and as wide as I can, acquiring my Master’s License along the way.

I was in England when Mary Crowley called me out of the blue one morning in June, asking me to be first mate on Kaisei. She explained the mission, detailing the great gravity of this undertaking. The threat of plastics had been no stranger to me. All too often have I sailed into the shallows of an isolated anchorage, into the lee of some rocky island, or navigated the shoals of some exciting new coast – only to find myself sharing water with invasive bits of plastic. The last few Atlantic and Pacific crossings proved to me that not even in the middle of the widest oceans am I free from plastic’s pasty, suffocating presence. Twice, while blasting under spinnaker across the Atlantic, I nearly pegged a submerged plastic barrel; at 13 knots the effect on the rudder would have been catastrophic.

With this in mind I agreed to return to Californian shores to help outfit Kaisei for this mission to the middle of the great gyre and see with my own eyes the onslaught of the plastic tide. This was a challenge in itself; I have grown accustomed to working on multi-million dollar yachts with astronomic budgets. To turn Kaisei from a tall ship into a research vessel, on a short dime, was going to require some ingenuity; the bulk of which I can attribute to Capt. Mike and Norton Smith. In the course of these three and a half weeks at sea, we have become our own floating civilization; which is, in large, where my responsibilities as first mate come in to play. To operate a vessel such as Kaisei, the strength of many is required; the participation of all is mandatory, to maintain her. From the romantic: setting the t’gallant under the glow of a full moon, to the mundane: daily chores and watch rotation. These tasks require a language and a format of its own that comes off as archaic and outdated to those with little experience at sea on a tall ship – yet, it serves its purpose, to keep all aboard safe and functional as a team.

Kaoru Ogimi-san, the Japanese owner of Kaisei before it came to Ocean Voyages Institute, said, “To have a functioning ship you need hands, hearts and minds. Hands first and foremost, to respond quickly and efficiently to the task at hand without question or thought. Secondly you need heart, for without putting heart into what you are doing you only doing half of what you can. Lastly the mind, or the wisdom and thought put into running the ship as best as you possibly can.” Such words resonate deeply on this vessel; our slice of civilization adrift in the middle of the deep Pacific blue.

We are now sailing back to San Francisco, coursing our way through the vibrant waters of the Pacific – still a couple hundred miles from civilization. We voyage back to our known world, our earthly comforts, back to the coddled rules of terra firma. We sail away from this vast ocean that can, at whim, benignly wrap her subjects in the austere beauty that the empty sky and sea offers – free of the clutter of life on land. Then, with a terrific ease, she can conjure up great seas and great winds without the slightest bit of sympathy. This ocean makes it very clear, to those within her grasp: you are – at all times – at her mercy. This stark siren call has drawn many, over countless generations, to traverse her trackless wave-tossed realm; seeking nothing more than to commune with something greater than our selves. It pains me to see this noble water polluted with the refuse of an inconsiderate and ungrateful species. I hope that, when we return to land, that we can convince one and all to use their hands, hearts, and minds towards eradicating our parasitic need for so much consumption of plastic and set about cleaning this majestic ocean – the life-blood of this planet.




4 responses

28 08 2009
Carol Carlson

Good story, well said.

28 08 2009

Beautifully written . Your words allow me to carry your ocean inside of mine,
and align me with your mission. Safe passage!

28 08 2009
Tom Smithberger


So beautifully and will written! Thanks. Tom

29 08 2009
Amy Thibeault

Thanks for bring home the ugly truth and sad reality. You need to send your words to a few plastic materials companies…. one that comes to mind is the one at which your uncle jim works. If we don’t have an economic and viable way to recycle the product, than it shouldn’t be manufactured.

I’m glad you are enjoying your career, too. Passion in one’s work runs through those Thibeault veins.

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