Climate, Kayak and Conversation: Part 1 - Sailors for the Sea

Climate, Kayak and Conversation: Part 1

 October 25, 2021  | By: Jennifer Brett

In late July, 2021, Will Freund tied up his sailing kayak in Norfolk, Virginia, and wrapped up an incredible 3-month, 1,000-mile voyage that was years in the making. While a cruise of the Intracoastal Waterway is a fairly ordinary pursuit, Will’s journey was anything but. Not only was his boat—a 2015 Hobie Mirage Adventure Island sailing trimaran kayak—extraordinary, but his mission was too—to tell the stories of those impacted by climate change through sail-kayaking the Intracoastal Waterway and chatting with people along the way.

Will, 25, a native of Raleigh, North Carolina, is a storyteller, conservation biologist, and educator. His project, Climate, Kayak and Conversation, centers on his journey aboard a 16-foot sailing trimaran kayak from Miami, Florida, to Norfolk, Virginia, along the Intracoastal Waterway to film a documentary to understand how different communities approach the conversation about climate change through storytelling. Along the way, Will chatted with locals from waterfront communities about how they feel about climate change and how we can progress the conversation around it to make a better future. 

Sailors for the Sea Skipper Damon Gannon, and his wife, Janet, had the chance to catch up with Will to hear more about the adventure—what he learned and the challenges he faced. In the first segment of this interview, they discuss the some of the folks that Will met and the conversations they had. 

Here are some interview highlights—watch the video for the entire conversation, including how the idea for this project came about, how people really feel about the Green New Deal, and what effects of climate change Will witnessed himself.

Damon and Janet Gannon: I’d love to hear what you saw along the way in terms of climate change and what people said to you?

Will Freund: I think the biggest thing that I learned when I started talking to people about climate change is that everyone perceives it differently, and that what people think that climate change is, is basically anything environmental. I had originally started this project with the idea of going into communities and asking people directly, “What about climate change is happening in your community,” and in my first week or two on the water, I realized very quickly that I couldn’t even start to have that kind of conversation because we weren’t even able to bring up climate change without it getting overly politicized, so I couldn’t even talk about the effects of climate change itself. 

So I had to shift the focus of the conversation to just the topic of climate change, and how do people feel about that topic, because everyone experiences it differently and we don’t all have the same knowledge base. That means that each conversation that I had, I had to go in basically with a blank slate to then come to that person’s level of understanding. Generally, what I was hearing from people is that, yeah, things are happening, everything from more storms than usual or more tidal flooding.

There was a fishing guide in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, who talked about how all the seagrass beds have completely died off in the last few years, which has huge environmental implications even beyond climate change, such that he’s not even guiding full time anymore. It’s interesting that each town I went to had different things they were focused on—pollution, plastics, flooding, tropical storms—but for a lot of those people, they couldn’t look beyond that one issue. People have no trouble recognizing the impacts of climate change, it’s what’s causing it that’s the problem.

D&JG: Why should boaters care about climate change?

WF: I think at its core, climate change affects our entire planet, but it will affect our waterways and our water more than our land, at least in the immediate terms. We’re going to have more acidification, increased floodwaters, and increased sea levels, which are really going to directly affect the communities that we live and work in. As much as we love to say that we love to be out on the water, boaters are directly connected to the communities along the coast. We might like being on the water, but we can’t sustain ourselves on the water if we can’t maintain the communities that are along the waterways. If you like being on the water, you need to protect the communities that you can come back to at the end of the day. 

In parts two and three of this interview, we’ll hear Will describe his kayak and what it was like to live aboard, his favorite stops, how he handled storms and equipment failures, and advice to anyone planning a small-boat adventure.