The Saint John Harbour can flummox even the most seasoned sailors.
A small boat gets pushed by the tides in unusual ways. The Bay of Fundy fog makes it easy to get turned around. Huge container ships pass by frequently on their way to the west side docks, generating big waves in their wake. And then there’s Reversing Falls.
In most places, “usually you can feel how fast your boat’s going,” said Erica Lush, a sailor on the racing yacht Maiden who grew up in Jamestown, R.I.
Lush and her crew mates spoke to CBC New Brunswick during a two-hour media sail around the outer harbour of Saint John on Thursday before the fog cleared.
“Here — you could be moving forwards, and actually be moving backwards,” Lush said as a passing cargo ship loomed ominously through the heavy mist, chased by flocks of cormorants and seagulls. “So you’ve really got to keep track of the charts and your speed.”
Visibility on Thursday was “probably two boat lengths of Maiden in front of us,” said skipper Liz Wardley, who grew up on fishing boats in Papua New Guinea, and completed her first around-the-world-race at age 20.
“In addition to the low visibility, the tides have a fierce reputation in the area,” said Lush. “We’ve had a bit of a learning curve figuring out when’s the best time to get on and off the dock, even.
“Obviously, we’ve got charts and radars. But we’re not locals, so we don’t know off the top of our heads, ‘Oh, the marks are here and these ships come in now at this time of day.’ So all those things are sort of floating factors we’ve got to juggle.”
Navigating all of those factors is a testament to the skills of the crew of Maiden, which is currently on a 90,000-nautical-mile education journey around the world that started in Dubai in January and will conclude in December 2024.
The 58-foot vessel’s mission is promoting girls’ education and motivating women to enter careers in STEAM: science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Money raised by the Maiden Factor go toward girls’ educational programs.
It is making its only Canadian stop in Saint John until Aug. 13. The public can take open boat tours Saturday, Aug. 6, and Sunday, Aug. 7.
‘Where is the captain?’
The all-women crew hails from around the world — Australia, Antigua, the U.S., Canada and the U.K.
“We’ve got a lady from India joining us soon, [and a] South African],” Wardley said. “So it’s very diverse. They’ve all come from completely different walks of life and sailing experience.”
Wardley recalled the surprise on one pilot’s face when he boarded the Maiden at 3 a.m. to take it through the Panama Canal.
“He’s just looking around. He goes, ‘Where is the captain?’ To me! And I said, ‘It’s me. Sorry to disappoint.’ He couldn’t believe it. All these women just kept coming out of all the hatches on the boat, and he’s just looking around, going, ‘Oh. What is going on?'”
Seasickness: not just for landlubbers
The appeal of living and working on the ocean is that it’s “very adventurous,” said competitive sailor and Maiden crew member Junella King, 22, who grew up in Antigua and sailed competitively with the Antigua Star Sailors League team.
“It’s nice. Keeps my adrenaline going.”
Pumping adrenaline is one of the more pleasant sensations brought on by high seas and speeds up to 18 knots.
“For me personally, I do get seasick,” King said. “So that’s a big challenge for me. Unfortunately, the patches, the bands, the pills, nothing works for me.
“I just gotta deal with it. I am mobile while sick. I will get up, and throw up, and go back down and finish doing what I got to do.”
But with bouts of nausea come moments that couldn’t be experienced anywhere else.
Like the night when, drifting silently through the Red Sea, the crew “got to see the beautiful moon and the bioluminescent plankton,” King said. “It was gorgeous.”
It’s onboard reporter Jenn Edney’s job to capture those moments.
“I’ve been doing reporting and adventure photography for the past 13 years and primarily ocean-based sailing,” said Edney, who grew up in Nebraska and was “afraid of the ocean” until she did a 60-day outward bound semester just after college.
“I chose that course to conquer some fears and push myself out of my comfort zone.
“I think that’s been a key part of my career. You know, I wonder sometimes: what came over me to say yes to some of these really scary things? But every time I’ve said yes, it’s just turned into something amazing.
That’s where growth happens — and evolution happens.”
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