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Mark and Katya Gordon (left) set sail last weekend, joined by college students Jacob Schultz, Devon Brock-Montgomery and Julia Fair and the Gordon daughters, Cedar (third from right) and Lamar (far right). The group will be spending five weeks traversing Lake Superior, sharing climate change information. Photo by LaReesa Sandretsky.

Gordons set sail with climate change message

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Gordons set sail with climate change message
Two Harbors Minnesota 109 Waterfront Dr. 55616

The Gordons are on a mission.

The Two Harbors family of four has been living a wandering life for the past decade. They’ve spent up to nine months at a time away from their home in Two Harbors, traveling the lakes and oceans in their sail boat. Last weekend they set sail on Lake Superior on their latest adventure, dubbed Sea Change.


“We love to sail, but we love to have purpose,” explained Katya Gordon, the matriarch of the family.

For the next five weeks, they will be sailing around Lake Superior, docking at various towns along the way to spread the word about climate change.

“We’re convinced that climate change is the issue of our time,” Katya said on Thursday from below deck on the boat, clad in practical hiking shoes and a heavy duty rain coat donated by a sponsor. “It’s just a matter of getting beyond feeling overwhelmed and hopeless.”

In Grand Marais, Bayfield, Wis., and Houghton, Mich., the family of four, accompanied by three college students who’ve joined them on the on the voyage, will dock and give presentations on climate change. They also have numerous other ideas for connecting with the community, like forging ties with local climate change groups, inviting kids onto the boat to become “climate champions” and interviewing elders about the changes they’ve seen in Lake Superior.

Katya summarized the presentations in simple terms: “We tell our story, our observations and we share a bunch of science.”

Katya and her husband Mark gave their first presentation on Wednesday in Knife River, after the icy, unruly Lake Superior delayed the start of their trip. They said it went well, but inclement weather, including brutal winds and hail, kept many from attending.

“It was apropos, of course,” Katya said with a laugh, not missing the irony of unpredictable weather affecting their climate change-focused trip.

The girls

On Thursday afternoon, their daughters Cedar, 11, and Lamar, 9, cut short their Scottish dancing lessons to be interviewed. They folded themselves into the wraparound booth that serves as both a kitchen table and a bed in the sailboat.

The girls grew up the water – their first trip around Lake Superior was when Cedar was three and Lamar was still shy of her first birthday. They are comfortable in their second home and have mixed feelings about returning to Two Harbors after a long trip.

“It’s sad,” Cedar said simply, straightening the sparkling pink headband holding back her long, dark hair.

“It’s exciting because we have a lot to look forward to,” Lamar said, bundled in a thick sweater and a wool hat and curled up next to one of the young adults on the trip. “But also sad.”

Katya and Mark, who homeschool the girls on the boat and on land, say it’s been fascinating to watch the girls go from strapped-in toddlers to able deck hands.

“I distinctly remember when that shifted and they suddenly had opinions that needed to be taken into account,” Katya said. “We realized it’s not just our trip anymore.”

The girls’ friends have spent time on the boat, and though Cedar said her friends are “annoyed that we’re leaving all the time,” she agreed with Lamar, who said that most other kids their age think their unusual life is cool.

In fact, the Gordons say all the attention they’ve received for their unconventional lifestyle has been positive

Katya said nontraditional families are always faced with inquiries. For the Gordons, though, all the questions have been curious, not callous.

“Pretty much all people we know and are connected to … they all love it and find it empowering that someone would do something different,” she said.

Young adults

Three Northland College students moved into the boat’s 200-square-foot hull on Monday. They have all spent the last few days settling into their temporary home.

“I feel like the biggest thing I’ll take from this is a better sense of patience and teamwork,” said Devon Brock-Montgomery, 19. The Madison native wants to study limnology and will be studying lakes this summer after she returns from sailing with the Gordons. The five-week trip, she said, is the perfect way to kick off her summer.

Young adults were first added to the Gordons’ trips back in 2010, and now they’re a regular part of their chartering business, Amicus Adventure Sailing.

“Rather than just doing our own trips … it provides us with a sense of purpose. There’s a level of excitement and energy that young people bring,” Mark said. They are all between 18 and 25 years old and pay a small fee to sail with the Gordons. No sailing experience is required.

In fact, Jacob Schultz, 20, had never been sailing before signing up for the trip. Now, he’s living on a boat with six others.

“I’ve always wanted to get out sailing so this was definitely far and beyond my expectations of what I ever thought I’d do,” he said.

Julia Fair, 20, said she’s most excited about getting out in the community and spreading the word about climate change. She said all the compromise and minimalism that comes with living on a tiny sailboat is a good analogy for how climate change must be approached.

“It’s all about the teamwork. Something’s not going to get done unless at least two people jump on it,” she said. “That’s what has to happen if we’re going to make a change to curb our emissions. We can’t keep going on this way with vast amounts of space and vast amounts of resources.”

On Wednesday, Mark Gordon spoke to the News-Chronicle from Grand Marais. He said that the family had to drop their planned visit to Marquette, Mich., because the southeastern shore is still too icy for sailing. They will sail to Isle Royale this weekend and plan to arrive in Houghton, Mich., early next week.

Follow the trip on the Gordons’ Facebook page, or their blog, www.gordonsailing

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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