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Sailors return from “Sea Change” trip: Part one

The Gordons and their crew had to deal with a lot of ice while sailing, which stuck around on Lake Superior this year long into June. Submitted photo.1 / 2
The Gordon family of Two Harbors recently returned from a five-week “Sea Change” voyage in Lake Superior on their sailboat. Pictured are Mark and Katya Gordon in back and Northland College student Jacob Schultz, Lamar Gordon, Northland College students Julia Fair and Devon Brock-Montgomery and Cedar Gordon in front. Submitted photo.2 / 2

From Katya Gordon Amicus Adventure Sailing 

Katya Gordon and her husband, Mark, own Amicus Adventure Sailing, a charter sailing business that is operated out of the Knife River Marina. They live in Two Harbors with their two daughters, Cedar and Lamar. The family, along with three college students, recently returned from a five-week sailing trip around Lake Superior called Sea Change, during which they docked at ports to spread the word about climate change. Katya wrote a two-part story for the News-Chronicle summarizing their trip. This is part one and part two will appear in next week’s News-Chronicle.

0 Talk about it

Once upon a time, there was a family from Two Harbors who decided it would be fun to push the outdoor season on Lake Superior and go sailing in May and June. Of course, it was 2014 and “the spring that never happened.” In early May, there were record amounts of ice out there. Were we crazy? As we blew on our numb fingers, checked the water temperatures for a rise up to 35 degrees, and wore every single layer of clothing we had brought, we suspected we were. Our 40-foot steel cutter, Amicus II, had brand new deck paint and was like a horse straining at the bit to get out of the marina. Our three brave students from Northland college surely had a few misgivings, but they wisely kept a positive front. And so our trip began.

What a trip! Entitled “Sea Change” to place an emphasis on the events we scheduled at various ports to spread the word on climate change and its effect on our lake and our northern climate, we managed in five short weeks to both exhaust and energize our “boat family” in a way that only those who have been on an extended trip with a few other people will understand.  

The sailing part, in some ways, was the easiest. After all, it was nothing new. We didn’t sail at night and we watched the ice charts religiously. Without ice, it was just insanely cold sailing in 33-38 degree water — and heck, we knew that part well. Mark sat the group down the night before departure and described what he was going to wear the next day. He started with, “I’ve got two pairs of long underwear and I’ll be wearing them both….” By the end of his talk, the crew eyed him warily. It worked, though; no frostbit fingers or hypothermia for anyone throughout the trip. We dressed to the hilt, ate hot food and drank hot drinks and slept warm at night.

On the other hand, scheduling public events mid-voyage was new for us. We presented an evening slideshow entitled “Sea Change: Addressing Climate Change on Lake Superior” in Knife River, Grand Marais, Houghton, Bayfield and both ends of Isle Royale. (Watch the News-Chronicle for updates on a local version this year.) We did kid climate change projects and hosted several “open houses” (which were really “open boats”) during which we invited interested passersby to see our boat and learn how seven people live in an area smaller than many people’s bathrooms. Finally, we interviewed lifelong residents of Lake Superior, getting their not-to-be-lost stories and their impressions and observations over decades of time. Over the five weeks, we connected with over 300 people.  

I’ll be honest: it is a lot of work to put oneself out there, especially after a physically demanding passage or a stressful group day. But like most things that aren’t easily come by, the rewards were immeasurable. Most people are very concerned about climate change but feel overwhelmed when it comes to doing anything about it beyond personal lifestyle choices. Our message evolved into one of hope, based on very real solutions that are right now developing among people like ourselves and being brought to our government. One of my favorite sayings is, “Government does not create political will. Government responds to political will.” Therefore, it is our right and responsibility to bring to our leaders the political will to do the right thing. As we would say in our presentations, standing by and being cynical or hopeless is not an acceptable response to today’s urgent climate crisis.

Connecting with our parks system and our scientific research labs was very rewarding. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, which hosted our event in Bayfield, has been implementing its own climate adaptation plan for years. We learned a lot from them and they appreciated the attention brought to the challenges they are facing. Michigan Technological University, with a state-of-the-art research lab less than a mile from the dock where we parked in Houghton, came to our presentations and invited us to their lab the next day. They are immersed in many studies including one in which they study lake levels, lake temperatures and the food chain in the Lake. They were terribly excited (and footing the bill for their own research since they lost their funding) to be out there. We have experienced, in three short years, the warmest year on record, followed by an average year, followed by the coldest year on record. What a golden opportunity to understand how temperature and ice affect the food chain! Their enthusiasm was infectious. “We need you,” said the head of the department. “We need people who will reach the public with good information, who can speak a language that is understandable, and who can translate our data into daily facts of life that people will care about.” They made us feel that we are a critical part of the team. How gratifying!

Stay tuned for part two next week.

The Gordons are offering a special for year round Lake County residents. On Tuesday nights, two-hour sails beginning at 6:30 p.m. cost just $10 per person for locals. They normally run $30. Visit or call the Gordons at (218) 290-5975 for more information.