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Dispatches : Sailing

Best Ocean Trip: Sailing the Marshall Islands

Set 2,273 miles southwest of Honolulu—the nearest landmark—the Marshall Islands are so remote, covering only 70 square miles total, that it takes at least 10 hours to sail from one island to the next. Which is why we love them. Visit with Sausalito, California–based Ocean Voyages on the KeAma II, an 80-foot sailboat with room for six guests, equipped with sea kayaks, sailboards, and snorkeling and fishing gear. Leave the navigation to your expert captain as you snorkel among shipwrecks off Wotje Atoll, walk the deserted beaches of uninhabited Erikub Atoll, and fish for mahi-mahi off Maloelap Atoll. Dinner is fresh coconut water and grilled yellowfin tuna. From $5,950 per person.

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Best Ocean Trip Runner-Up: Paddle Italy’s Cinque Terre

Many travelers cycle or hike their way down coastal Italy, gazing out at the turquoise Mediterranean. Very few get on the water. On Tofino Expeditions’ 11-day trip down the astonishing Ligurian coast, explore a promised land of grapes, olives, and anchovies. After a night’s stay at an organic farm in the hills outside Genoa, paddle roughly eight miles a day along Cinque Terre National Park, passing 11th-century churches, swimming off empty beaches, and hiking up to sleepy villages where you’ll stop for sustenance—fresh fish, focaccia slathered in pesto, and vino delle Cinque Terre. $4,490.

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Best Islands: Haida Gwaii, British Columbia

Aptly nicknamed the Galápagos of Canada, Haida Gwaii is a largely uninhabited archipelago of 138 islands 80 miles off the British Columbia coast. Only 4,000 humans live here, 70 percent of them native Haida people. The inland temperate rainforests are full of eagles and huge black bears. The surrounding waters host sea lions, seals, porpoises, humpback whales, three species of killer whales, dolphins, and very large steelhead. All of which is to say: this is wild heaven.

It’s also threatened by a proposal to send megatankers here with fuel from the controversial Fort McMurray tar sands—all the more reason to acquaint yourself with it now. From December to April, stay at Copper Bay Lodge on Moresby Island (seven days, $4,170 all-inclusive), and spey-cast for 20-pound steelhead under stands of 700-year-old cedar trees on the Yakoun River. Paddlers: try an eight-day kayak expedition through Gwaii Haanas National Park, with stops to see the native totems at Ninstints and soak in hot springs overlooking the San Cristobal Mountains ($2,321). Or sail the spectacular Hecate Strait on a nine-day trip on the 92-foot tall ship the Maple Leaf ($4,750).

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How Long-Dead Arctic Explorers Are Helping to Improve Climate Science

Corwin1907The Revenue Cutter Thomas Corwin, in which John Muir sailed as part of an Arctic research trip. Photo: Frank H. Nowell

In July 1879, 33 Navy men set sail for the North Pole aboard the U.S.S. Jeannette Arctic expedition. That fall the ship became mired in ice off southern Alaska and drifted for three years. Its hull was later crushed and the crew abandoned the ship, pulling smaller crafts over the ice, searching for open water. In the end, only 11 men survived. But the logbook, in which the ship's crew wrote detailed weather and sea ice observations, also survived.

Climate scientists are hoping the data inside that and many other Naval and Coast Guard ships, dating back to the mid 1800s, will improve climate science and boost the accuracy of modeling for future weather patterns. Last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) began digitizing these logbooks. Now, OldWeather.org, a collaboration between a number of academic, government and citizen science research organizations, is spearheading the Arctic Rediscovery Project, an effort to transcribe this massive amount of data, a vital first step in the data analysis process.

Last month, sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean fell to the lowest extent in the existing records, which extend back to 1979, when satellite-based data first became available. This was an alarming discovery, especially given the absence of extreme weather that has precipitated ice loss in years past. But the Arctic Rediscovery Project could greatly improve climate scientists' understanding of Arctic sea ice by extending the archives of scientific sea ice data by more than 100 years.

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A Tsunami of Plastic

Tsunami_debrisTsunami debris. Photo: Stiv Wilson

By Stiv Wilson, 5 Gyres Institute

Out across a plastic stratified strand, two surfers, silhouetted in the failing light, are finishing a session. A year and half ago, this wasn’t a surf spot. A tsunami destroyed everything around here, shifting the coast enough to create virgin waves. Above the beach there is nothing but houseless foundations and the hum of heavy machinery trying to dig out. But the tsunami had another effect, too: the world finally woke up to the everyday pollution our oceans endure as the plastic zeitgeist of convenience we seemingly can’t avoid flows unchecked from every stream, river and sewer outfall in the world.

The mission of 5 Gyres Institute, the organization I helped kick start with co-founders Dr. Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins, is to bring attention to the plight of plastic in our oceans by reinventing at-sea science research. By taking ordinary citizens, who have a vested interest in this issue, on our research excursions, we hope to inject more science into advocacy, dispel garbage patch myths and raise global awareness of the problem. By adding the cool factor of an epic and often brutal sailing adventure, we create fact-based communication tools for societal change, that traditional academia struggles to convey.

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