Reflections from Shore: Ben’s Story P. 1

16 Dec

A sunny shakedown sail after relocating ISBJORN to Annapolis Harbor! Photo by James Austrums (2019)

A sunny shakedown sail after relocating ISBJORN to Annapolis Harbor! Photo by James Austrums (2019)

November 30th, 2019

Today I said goodbye to an abbreviated 59 North family – Andy, Mia, August, Emma, Ben & Jenni. All of them will be greeting new crew today at 5pm, except for Ben who will fly back to Bainbridge Island with his young family. I too will be going my own way – which feels exciting but strange after spending four months eating, sleeping, wearing, sweating and bleeding 59 North! 

My name is Ben Soofer, or Andy is fond of calling me, ‘Liz 2.0’, after 59 North’s first apprentice-turned-ISBJORN-mate Liz Karramavos! While I have much love and respect for our dear Liz, I’m at this point I’m pretty sure I merit the title of ‘Ben 1.0’. I joined the 59 North team two years ago as a remote, unpaid PR apprentice. Since then, I’ve worn every hat imaginable and have found an amazing team & family within 59 North.

I’ve lived aboard the good boat ISBJORN for the past four months; prepping her for the Caribbean season while simultaneously fulfilling my PR/Comms roll. My liveaboard status recently ended, right after serving as second mate on the recent Annapolis – B.V.I. passage! I’m back on the road again – traveling Central America and working remotely with Andy, Mia and the rest of the gang.

So, What’s All This About?

I wrote this blog for a couple of reasons. It started as a way to introduce myself as part of the team; answering questions and satisfying curiosities as to what I do for 59 North and how I got my start. However, this entry ended up becoming so much more. A lot has happened in my young life that has allowed me to find this amazing job, team, and family at 59 North. This is the first time I’ve written about, and subsequently processed, many of these experiences.

So here goes: to understand what I do for 59 North and how I got my start, we’re going to go back to the beginning (relatively). 

Ben Gets Kicked Out of School

Before Andy, Mia, or any of you knew me, I was a bit of a delinquent. An aggressively average ‘B’ Student in high school, I arrived at UNC Wilmington in the fall of 2016, and was politely asked to leave after my freshman year, (regular dumb 18-year-old things, promise). 

This brief and strange chapter had concluded in the same haphazard fashion in which it began. Despite this life-rattling setback and a new, very fashionable 10 PM curfew back at home, I knew that the only way to go was forward. I enrolled in community college, found a job serving coffee and fine chocolates, and kept my head down for a semester. 

As it turned out, getting suspended from college was the best thing to ever happen to me.

For a while, I lived the college dropout cliche. Spending time at home, and more importantly, spending some time with myself, provided a clarity that allowed me to get my head straight. The courses I took at the local community college were great, and I learned that I was in fact capable of making an ‘A’ – I just had to try. I worked enough to save up some money. The most valuable lesson I learned in the period however, is that when it comes to friends, quality trumps quantity.

After one semester, I applied and gained acceptance to Sea|Mester, a study abroad program for college students. Through Sea|mester, I sailed 6800 nautical miles aboard the 116’ schooner, S/Y Argo. Starting out from the B.V.I., we sailed down island and through the Panama Canal, in order to passage towards Tahiti in French Polynesia; stopping to explore the islands and go SCUBA diving along the way. Growing up sailing along the banks of the Neuse River at Camp Sea Gull in North Carolina, I wasn’t new to sailing by any means. But the beauty of the places I saw, the people I met, and the cruising lifestyle I experienced culminated into this immensely powerful force that changed my perspective on life. I started to think about how I could make my life center around experiencing the feeling of happiness I had found aboard S/Y Argo.

Performing the traditional rites of equator-crossing at sea with fellow crew aboard S/Y ARGO

Performing the traditional rites of equator-crossing at sea with fellow crew aboard S/Y ARGO

Working as a Sailing Instructor at Camp Sea Gull (2016)

Working as a Sailing Instructor at Camp Sea Gull (2016)

S/Y ARGO off in the distance. Photo by Carolyn Kovacs.

S/Y ARGO off in the distance. Photo by Carolyn Kovacs.

Travel time from Tahiti back to Washington, D.C. takes over twenty-four hours. I got home and immediately sent out a score of cold-emails to the most badass sailing companies I could find on the internet. The one that caught my eye the most also had a podcast that I liked ;)

As it turned out, Andy was the only person to respond to my hopeful email. He thanked me for reaching out, told me that he and Mia were a bit busy, but to follow up later in the year. Naturally, I took this to mean that I should follow up once a month. So I politely pestered: email here, message on social media there. Six months after my original email, I sent the final follow-up from my dorm room at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. Andy responded and said that he needed someone ASAP; could I chat tomorrow? Thus began my relationship with 59 North.

I worked with Andy & Mia as a remote, unpaid intern for about six months. During this time I learned about twelve new things a day: from the inner workings of podcast publication to the day-to-day operations of an offshore sailing company! The highlight of this intern era was getting to be involved in the 2018 Arctic with Delos project – posting blogs and Instagram posts.

Ice-Defenders! Photo by James Austrums

Ice-Defenders! Photo by James Austrums

 I finally met Andy and Mia in person eight months after my first day of ‘apprenticeship’ – flying up to Marstrand, Sweden during a semester studying abroad in Amsterdam for a 59 North speaking event. Andy and Mia were there to greet me with big hugs the second I stepped off the ferry, promptly introducing me to Linda and Ludvig Hammerberg. The Hammerberg family is well known in Sweden for taking their family (a three year old and a five year old!!) on a four-year circumnavigation! I stayed the weekend on S/Y Mary, the Joshua type catch owned by Linda and Ludvig. The couple now works at Rutgerson Marine in Marstrand and I’m proud to have them as friends. 

Lots of firsts here: First time meeting my mentors, first time in Sweden, and first business trip!!! 

The weekend was a success. I made a solid impression, great new friends and the offer to deepen my involvement with 59 North. 

Fast forward another year: I’m sitting at the Family farm 45 minutes outside of Stockholm with 13 people I had been working with digitally for almost two years! Finally being able to put faces to names was only beat by the fantastic time had by all and Mia’s amazing Swedish hosting skills. It was a working weekend, during which the farmhouse turned into a hostel to host the entire 59 North Team.  The following weekend I was back in Marstrand (a phrase I thought I would never write) at the Rutgerson HQ for a classic 59 North Celestial Navigation workshop lead by Andy! (speaking of which, come hang out with us in Annapolis this February for our 2020 workshop!)

2019 Celestial Navigation Workshop in Marstrand, Sweden!

2019 Celestial Navigation Workshop in Marstrand, Sweden!

Diligently attending to my studies while abroad for a semester in Amsterdam

Diligently attending to my studies while abroad for a semester in Amsterdam

Moving onto ISBJORN!

After spending a week or so at home recuperating from my solo travel bonanza through Europe, I re-packed my bags and drove an hour up to Annapolis, Maryland. Waiting for me was the boat I’ve called home for the past four months, S/Y ISBJORN! 

I had two very surreal realizations when I moved onto Isbjorn. The first was wow – Andy & Mia trust me. ISBJORN had been their floating home for the past four YEARS, and here I was – sitting pretty on a Swan 48’. The second realization was that I had just moved onto the very boat that I had been watching, discussing, and posting about for the past two years of my life as shore support for 59 North. The first time I laid my eyes on the boat in person, I was moving onto it!

I immediately fell for the flush foredeck and eggshell awlgrip. Down below, the spartan yet lived-in aesthetic show character and reveals precisely how this boat has been treated – with dignity, respect, and admiration. Something about ISBJORN coerces one into openly chatting with the ship herself – I found myself giving her galley a good detailing on my first night and talking out loud – team bonding! As I spent more nights on the boat and learned her ways, I felt the connection grow stronger and more comfortable.

A little Flemish goes a long way!

A little Flemish goes a long way!

ISBJORN making way into Annapolis Harbor.

ISBJORN making way into Annapolis Harbor.

Highlights of marina life in Annapolis included easily-accessible hot showers and hanging out with our contractor friend, Kevin. Kevin gave me a full intro course on Marine electrical, plumbing, bilge pump systems, and more.

After about three weeks in the Marina, ISBJORN was moved to a new home – mooring ball #22 in the middle of downtown Annapolis! To the north, a thirty-second dinghy ride to my car. To the south, a thirty-second dinghy ride to hot showers and downtown Annapolis! I was ecstatic about my new home. 

Next up: the Annapolis boat show and preparing for the passage south! 

Shameless yet epic. Photo by James Austrums.

Shameless yet epic. Photo by James Austrums.

This article was syndicated from 59º North Sailing // 59º North Blog

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