Two months ago, the Swain family set off on an adventure of a lifetime, hitting the high seas on their 47-foot sailboat (The Flying Fish) from Wellfleet to the Bahamas. You may know of Sarah Swain – one of our favorite local musicians as well as founder of the Cape Wellness Collaborative and the Cape Cod Women’s Music Festival – and her husband Steve, an incredible local sculptor. Together they own Wellfleet’s Frying Pan Gallery. Lucy, the eldest of the three Swain kids at 12 (Jessie and Stanley round out the crew!), is keeping a fantastic blog describing their travels – Sailing Swains – and we thought it would be fun to get an update from her.
You and your family have a cool partnership with and organization called 5 Gyres, a nonprofit doing ocean plastics reasearch. Why was this important to you? Tell us about the Manta Trawl!
The partnership we have with 5 Gyres is important to me because I know that ocean plastics are a huge problem. It is important to know where there are large quantities of plastics and what kind of plastics are the most plentiful. Dad found 5 Gyres online and talked to some people who got us in touch with Carolyn Box, who works at 5 Gyres. She happened to be visiting the Cape and we met up with her in Wellfleet. We do not have a specific schedule for when we use the Manta Trawl. We try to do it as often as possible, but we cannot do it every day because some areas we are in you cannot trawl, and sometimes the waves are too big and the wind is too high. I have been pleasantly surprised about our results, because there has not been as much micro-plastic as I thought there would be, at least where we trawled. In Cape Cod Bay we got no micro-plastics where we trawled, but we picked up quite a few balloons, plastic bags and floating plastic debris with our boat hook. That does not mean that there are no micro-plastics in the bay at all, but possibly Cape Cod Bay does not have a lot of micro-plastics in it compared to other places. Let’s try to keep it that way!
What is your message to your fellow Cape Codders about how we can positively impact a reduction in ocean plastics?
Everyone knows about the three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! But there is one more R, probably the most important one. Refuse! Refuse to use plastic bags when you go food shopping. Refuse to buy foods with lots of plastic packaging. When you go out to eat ask if you could skip the straw and, if you have kids, ask if they could get their drinks in glass cups instead of the plastic kiddie cups. Refuse to buy single use plastic water bottles, buy a nice reusable one (glass or metal) instead. Refuse to buy little plastic toys that kids will only play with once, like the ones you get for birthday party favors. Do not use any products with “micro-beads”, like skincare and toothpaste. Refuse balloons and especially balloon releases! We once picked up 5 balloons in ten minutes. Not good! Sea turtles may mistake them as one of their favorite foods, jellyfish. It kills the sea turtles when they eat the balloons. Make sure you use your four R’s in your everyday life, but don’t think that it is okay to use a lot of plastics if you are recycling them. Most plastics that you put in the recycling bin don’t actually get recycled, and many types of plastics are non-recyclable.
What do you miss most from Cape Cod?
I miss all my friends and family and dogs the most, but I also miss the change of seasons. I love the fall and winter, and it just doesn’t feel like the fall. For example, this Halloween it did not feel like Halloween to me because we were not with our family friends that we go trick-or-treating with every year.
Do you still have to do homework? Are Jessie and Stanley learning a lot?
I am still enrolled with the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School. I am doing most of my school work online. Other than the stuff I do online, and some of the math that Jessie does, we are doing most of our school work by going to museums and we are learning many things that we would not be learning in school at home. Mom has us write reports about our trips. Stan would still be in preschool so he is not doing any schoolwork, his job is to not fall off the boat. Stanley also spends hours and hours with his Legos! I also have been writing a blog about our journey.
Do you think your sailing and navigation skills have improved? Is there one cool thing you’ve learned that you’re excited about?
Yes! I have learned a lot about navigation and sailing. Mostly navigation. Sadly we have not been able to sail much because there as either been not enough wind, too much wind, or it is coming from the wrong direction. Luckily we have a big motor that works quite well. My favorite thing that I have learned is how to use paper charts. I quickly figured out how to use the electronics we have for navigation, but paper charts were a little harder for me. It is cool to learn a skill that has been practiced for hundreds of years.
How does a family of five not go crazy living aboard a boat together?!
We actually have been doing better than I thought we would be doing. We do get into the occasional argument, but no more than we did when we were home! It is actually really nice living together in close quarters. We are always so busy at home with school and activities (and our parents are really busy) that we don’t get to spend a lot of time together.
Most importantly – food! What’s the best thing you’ve made aboard Flying Fish?
My favorite thing that we have had so far is probably the vegan chili my mom makes with some freshly baked bread. We make homemade bread about twice a week. We always try to bake it on the coldest day we can, because using our oven heats up the whole boat, and, on hot days, it makes down below really hot. We get our fruits and veggies at grocery stores at towns we stop at along the way or farmers markets (if we can find one) about once a week. We try to get things that store well like apples, oranges, potatoes, squash, cabbage (yuck) and romaine/iceberg lettuce. Things like berries, tomatoes and cucumbers do not last long! I have tried crab and like it a lot and love Old Bay seasoning! Once we get to the Bahamas we will not have the same access to fresh fruits and veggies.
Where are you now and what’s the next stop?
Right now we are in Beaufort (North Carolina) and tomorrow we are headed down the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) to Swansboro N.C. We are not doing any more long days (8+ hours) until we head over to the Bahamas from Ft Lauderdale. Our destinations are now pretty close together, about 3 hours or so, and we will have time to explore in the afternoons.