Take Your Passion Cruising

Katharine Lowrie sets sail to protect wildlife

If by chance you are in Grenada as you read this, you can meet Kath and attend a presentation on Kath and David’s seabird survey on December 2. Details below.

Kath LowrieLand Meets Sea

I’m not sure that my experience of cruising is altogether normal… I dumped my maiden name, Land and its beguiling earthly forms, abandoned my job surveying wildlife and plunged into an alien world of motion and water.

David and I bowled off from the shores of Devon, England, in our ancient sailing boat who, in her heyday, had been much more contented transporting a couple of tonnes of fish about than two fresh-faced explorers and their fellow friends.

The thing was that we wanted to work overseas in ecology.

Lista Light, our 75 year old, wooden sailing boatLista Light, our 75 year old, wooden sailing boat, seemed the perfect carbon neutral mode to transport us on our way.

So we filled her fishy voids with oranges and lemons, strapped a rowing machine to her cabin top with ideas of harnessing our energy and keeping fit, procured Ampair’s wind turbine-come wake turbine, added to our clutch of solar panels and surged off.

Surge was one way of putting it! On our first outing from her sleepy resting place in the Bristol canal, on a freezing spring day, we ran into gale force 9 winds and tore Lista’s head and main sail. I was sick as a dog, lying prostrate on the pilot berth being occasionally fed marmite and cheese sandwiches. “Baptism in freezing cold waves and wind” came to mind, but Lista was staunch, she just rocked her ample hips from side to side and I felt cocooned in her great wooden frame.

Kath at the helm, COLD! So we gradually made our way south accompanied by rafts of puffins and guillemots and pods of leaping dolphins and of course night sails.

I shall never forget the first time I sat up on deck under an hallow of stars manning the helm alone,

with the wind nudging Lista’s beam and the waves rushing past. It was the most magical experience, to feel natural forces lift us up and push us forward effortlessly.

Then, of course, reality would hit, on this instance after a dreamy crossing of the Biscay, replete with a pair of the world’s second largest whales, fin whales, who sidled close by our side, which I had to restrain myself from joining. As we neared the safety of Spanish shores, we found ourselves skewered down on all sides by lightning and thunder. This was followed swiftly by our finding ourselves in a two-way motorway of tankers, emerging out of rain clusters on the radar screen, metres from our bow.

But the point of sailing is the adventure, the uncertainty as to what lies over the next frothing wave.

Katharine Lowrie surveying for breeding seabirds in the Grenadines

If you yearn for wildlife as I do, then it supplies encounters with the oddest of creatures from a minke whale that swam at our side for over five days, to the sparkling phosphorescence that shoots from our wake or to my first scaly sight of a flying fish, hurtling into my eye at night!

We were aiming for South America, but ended up in the Caribbean working with a nature conservation charity…

Environmental Protection In the Caribbean (EPIC). Now, as a friend has pointed out, we are making a survey of the worst anchorages of the Caribbean as we research seabirds in their wave-battered homes far from people and their predators.

By October 2010 we intend to have produced the first comprehensive breeding seabird atlas of the Lesser Antilles.

Without a seabird census, governments cannot predict how their numbers are doing and put in place the necessary conservation measures.

GRE-Battowia Central Gut_26Seabirds indicate the health of our oceans, they direct fishermen to shoals and remove the weak and diseased fish from the food chain. They are at every level of the food web, balancing and checking the marine world. They are inextricably linked to sailing folklore, guiding sailors to land… so they’re not just pretty to look at.

And so we find ourselves repairing Lista Light’s aching bones in Grenada and seeking a grant to fund a small motorized tender that will allow us to reach the seabird islands in greater safety than last year.

Because, manoeuvring our 35 tonne boat within metres of unchartered coastlines and anchoring by wind-torn islands produced: one grounding, a windlass torn from the deck, two surveyors fighting dangerous currents and countless other near misses… so the hunt is on!

It is nearly a year and half since David and I left the UK and I started sailing.

Kath LowrieSailing has unlocked a world of beauty, of wildlife, exotic shores and velvet nights.

We have experienced nature in calm and rage, without a whiff of jet lag or the misery of long airport queues. We have nosed into sleepy coves alone and carried our world of books and pointless frippery along.

Sailing allows us a portal into sustainability

with solar, wind or wake energy powering our needs, local fruit and veg filling the holds, rain water harvested and organic waste fed to the fish.

There is more on the list, such as installing a holding tank, because the longer I spend in this watery world we all inhabit, the more I need to have as little impact upon it as possible. Long may the lobsters stare at us from their dark coral home and the mangrove roots march seaward.

Want to learn more?

Seabird Presentation in Grenada -  December 2, 2009:

Katharine and David will be giving a free presentation on seabirds – including their findings from the first comprehensive seabird survey of the Lesser Antilles to date.

The talk and slide show will also include why seabirds are important, their ecology, a bit of id and a short video on the project.

Location: Le Phare Bleu, near Petit Calivigny, South Grenada:  contact@lepharebleu.com (+1 473) 444 2400 www.lepharebleu.com

Date/time: Wednesday 2 December 2009, 4.30pm at the pool-side bar.

Le Phare Bleu should be organising transport from Grenada Yacht Club, etc. Please contact them for information.

The talk should only last an hour, including questions. Le Phare Bleu has a Friendship Season with special dining offers on the night if you are interested. So if you would like to find out more about seabirds in the Caribbean please do come along.

Help Katharine and David fund their small survey tender

SAB_NorthCoast_2If you have any ideas of how Katharine and David might fund a small (~ 14 foot) survey boat, please contact Katharine at landy@listalight.co.uk.

Visit Katharine and David’s website

… for the dates of their 2010 presentations on the EPIC project and seabird ecology on various islands in the Lesser Antilles as they survey northwards in 2010: www.listalight.co.uk

… for more information on the EPIC Seabird Survey that they are working on: http://www.listalight.co.uk/webpages/EPICProjectSummary.htm

… to learn more about the Lesser Antilles Seabird Species: http://www.listalight.co.uk/webpages/seabirdspecies.htm

Submit YOUR own bird records

Central data base for the conservation of birds, where you can submit your bird records: www.worldbirds.org

Watch Kath’s YouTube video
Related articles:

- Read how other women Take Their Passion Cruising:

- Old Sailboat given New Life ~ Lista Light on a Mission to Protect Seabirds (from the Daily Herald website – St Marteen)

What’s YOUR passion? Have you taken it cruising?
Let us know. Email kathy@forcruisers.com or leave a comment below.

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