Sea Change: Climate Change and Lake Superior Sailing


Amicus II
Mark and Katya Gordon with their children aboard Amicus II

Greetings from Two Harbors!  My husband Mark and I, with our two daughters (ages 11 and 9), have sailed to and lived aboard for thousands of miles on Amicus II, our 40-ft. steel sailboat.  

In July of 2013 we returned from a 10-month sailing voyage to the Bahamas and back.  The stark realities of climate change were fresh in our minds, largely because its effects continually complicated our lives. Lake Huron harbors were too shallow to enter. Lake Erie was awash with dead fish. We scooted out of New York Harbor and sailed down to the Chesapeake just one week before Hurricane Sandy struck.  As it approached, we looked for hidey holes.  We spent five days hidden up a creek in North Carolina and discovered afterwards that, had we missed that last weather window to head south, we would likely have lost our boat in New York.  

After that we hoped the lows would be cleared out, since the hurricane season was officially over, but it was not to be.  Lows that looked potentially dangerous kept us from heading east to the Caribbean for weeks and a seasoned old salt who had raised his family aboard and been single-handling for decades told us things looked “weird”—why risk the open ocean under these circumstances?  So instead we headed down the eastern seaboard to the Bahamas, as we had done six years before.  

SailboatHere too we were plagued with chaos and a disruption of “life as usual.”  Coming in from the Atlantic Ocean into St. Augustine, Florida, we despaired of entering the channel after calling the Coast Guard from the boat.  The buoys we saw bore no relation to the chart and the depths were dropping as we tried to navigate them.  Amazingly, the Coast Guard couldn’t tell us what to do either! “Don’t trust the buoys and don’t come in if you don’t know the way,” they told Mark who was perched  at the bow while I steered towards land, eyes glued to the depth-sounder which showed depths dropping alarmingly fast, while our daughters lay comatose in the cockpit, seasick as the ocean swells turned into 10-foot waves with the declining depths.  Clearly the institutions that managed the safety and structure of the waterways along the entire coastline were perpetually attempting to reclaim what would never fully be recovered.  Abandoned towns haunted the coast of North Carolina, including a brand new school—flooded and left, never to be rebuilt. Every town had its own Hurricane—the one that put it under and from which it was still coming up for air.

Lake SuperiorWe returned to Lake Superior with a determination to look our climate crisis straight in the eye.  Here in the northland we don’t have the high drama of rising seas or desertification but no longer could we excuse ourselves from the urgency of the crisis. So we took, and continue to take, a hard look; harder than we had before. I must say that, though alarming scenarios haunt us, it is heartwarming to learn how many thousands of people have been spurred to action before us, and are taking concerted actions in virtually every facet of our modern life. We are finding incredible rewards in working to transform what we consider the biggest disaster of our time—a job as important as ending slavery was 200 years ago. 

How about our sailing? No longer could we, in good conscience, go gallivanting off to the high seas, throwing larger responsibilities aside.  Instead, we decided to combine our cruising passion and skills with awareness and advocacy. The scope of change that is required of the global community begins by putting aside hopelessness, helplessness, and cynicism, rolling up our sleeves, and getting to work; this is the key to our message.  “Business as usual” serves no one in the long run.

Amicus Adventure SailingOur chartering business, Amicus Adventure Sailing, which operates just north of Duluth, MN, has been our livelihood for over four years. Though day-sailing dominates our summer season, voyages to northern Lake Superior and Isle Royale are what we live for, and young adult sailing voyages is our particular passion.  This year, “Sea Change” has been born:   three young adult sailing voyages which over three years will complete a circumnavigation of Lake Superior. We (our family plus up to four young adults) will sail, live aboard, and adventure together, as in past voyages—but we will also engage people in Lake Superior towns in the transformation away from human-caused carbon emissions through education, advocacy, and discussion. We will do this with a range of events, planned ahead of time with local leaders, designed to spur people into new levels of personal commitment and action. We will also be conducting interviews with longtime citizens of the Lake and documenting their observations of the changes over time.  Finally, we will be providing activities and learning for kids—right on Amicus II.  The Will Steger Foundation will provide us with one outlet for sharing our adventures and what we learn and see along the way.

Evidence of climate change on Lake Superior is abundant. Water levels are falling; water temperature is rising; invasive species are accumulating; weather patterns are changing. Every industry and every community along the Lake is affected by climate change. Lake Superior connects people across ecological zones, countries, and cultures. Everybody loves the Lake!  Which provides us with a unique opportunity to join together to preserve it.

Learn more about “Sea Change” on our website: We are always looking for young adults to be our ambassadors, crew, ad hoc family members, and climate change advocates.   We are also busy connecting with local leaders where we will be traveling, raising funds through donations (see our website to donate), and presenting our story and our message.  To learn more and meet us in person, come to our next scheduled presentation at the Midwest Mountaineering Expo, April 24-26, in Minneapolis.  See you there!  


Katya Gordon
Two Harbors, MN



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