“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

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Tella and I gave the R.V. Lady Amber hull a good rap. Gulls crooned overhead. Lethargic sea lions draped the docks of the Cape Town V&A Waterfront and bell buoys tolled gently about the harbor. We exchanged glances as an inquisitive, sea-worn face emerged on deck from the saloon below.

“Ahoy, there. What can I help you with?”

“Inquiring as to the UNESCO flag on the side of your boat, sir. We’re looking for work. And passage across the Atlantic.”

“Peter Flanagan, Captain. Please, come aboard… cup of tea?”

“Aye. Aye!”

‘Skip,’ as we came to know him, took the helm that very day as captain of our greatest adventure. With a uniquely charismatic persona, he had an uncanny ability not only to synthesize dreams and resources but to magnetize others into his vision and to leverage their collective abilities to conjure tangible results. His true skill, central to and magnified by his Captainship, was fostering a sense of authentic belief amongst his crews that their dreams – and ipso facto, his dreams – were not only possible, but attainable. Without hesitation we signed on to transform this deteriorating and derelict yacht into a renewed sailing vessel worthy of maritime travel and scientific research once more. A grand vision to say the least!

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Skip had by now been docked in harbor for months… a Master Mariner’s worst nightmare. The contracts expired, the crews disbanded, and the funding ran dry. But with his grandiose promise of a NASA research contract in mind, we set about overhauling the Lady Amber. Like cauldron sorcery Skip’s crew coalesced:

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Tella – ‘Tigs’ | First Mate – a Canadian marine biologist with remarkable wherewithal and a wit to match. Exceptionally well read, well spoken, and well equipped to navigate all the swells of life.

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Forrest – ‘Love’ | Second Mate – our South African organizer and expeditor with a bias to action and a penchant for lists. Skilled at motorcycling and longboarding, and always keen on the next mission.

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Orión – ‘Gadget’ | Chief Mechanic – our proper Argentinian MacGyver, capable of troubleshooting the most defunct of appliances, tools, and trappings regardless of prior knowledge or experience. A bona fide problem solver in the truest and most tangible of senses.

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Ben – ‘Bonito Burrito’ | Deckhand - another South African native, the heart and soul of the ship, our laughter and joy. A calming force through any foul winds, meteorological or otherwise. And a veritable second Captain aboard the ship by all but title, having spent his adolescence living on boats and carrying on a multi-generational nautical family legacy.

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Cullen – ‘Squire’ | Deckhand – an American explorer skilled in visual storytelling and boundary pushing, tasked with mission documentation and deckhand support. Equipped with scant seafaring experience and a wealth of curiosity.

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Argo - 'Wife' | Deckpaw - Skip's confidante through thick and thin, known for fickle clawing, oversleeping, general apathy, and low work ethic. 

Almost incomprehensibly, this motley band of adventurers - fueled by Rooibos tea and peanut butter & honey sandwiches - pulled together a successful and comprehensive overhaul of the R.V. Lady Amber from masthead to keel, bow to stern. The months-long multi-level to-do lists seemed unending at times:

Scrape the barnacles. Sand the hull. Prime the hull. Paint the hull. Drop the rudder. Machine the prop. Replace the stanchions. Apply the decals. Organize the fo’c’s’le. Disassemble the winches. Lubricate the parts. Repair the hatches. Install fresh batteries. Rewire the lighting. Seal the portholes. Plumb the heads. Sew the sails. Fix the tools. Clean the bilge. Sort STCW/visa papers. Install mast light fixtures. Apply for inspections. Receive feedback and iterate. Label the life vests. Organize new fire extinguishers. Install new stopcocks. Run new mast lines. Tension the stays. Eat. Study. Rinse (or not). Repeat.

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Thus it was that after four months of preparations we found ourselves weeks deep into the Mid-Atlantic Ocean sailing upon an easterly breeze. These trade winds have escorted sailing vessels across the blue expanse for five centuries. And like those of the past, we are on a mission: oceanographic research via upper-ocean sampling, data collection, and autonomous buoy recovery and deployment. Our crew of five - six if counting Argo, the cat – has arrived to this moment from around the world through an extraordinary series of events driven by spirits of adventure, deep senses of purpose, and desires to contribute to something more. Now is our time. It has all come to this… the pieces are in place and the path is clear. The sky is the limit.


We raced below decks to find Skip prostrate on the saloon floor, minimally responsive.

“No, no, NO!! Fetch water! A cold cloth!”


Inflection points of life so often come unpredictably on some idle Tuesday in fashions that may never have crossed our worried minds. It can require the clarity of years to reflect on just how fully these moments transform our paths in life. Such was true for us that day on the Lady Amber as Skip suffered a seizure symptomatic of what we would soon learn was brain cancer metastasizing from his lungs. We carried on the journey by necessity, but Skip - and the entire crew - was never to be the same. He in fact had only weeks to live. Upon landfall and official medical diagnosis in the Caribbean, we escorted him to a return flight home to bid final farewell to his loved ones on this Earth.

A dying man, having fulfilled those tasks laid before him and assembled together a competent and cohesive crew capable of carrying on his vision henceforth, as a matter of unspoken understanding thus set the stage for his own final act and demise. 

The mission - literal and figurative - continues, and his words forever remain:

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“The Mantle of Responsibility hangs heavy over any captain at sea. The position he holds is by necessity a lonely one complicated by the thousands of tasks, both big and small, that is his duty and his ability to keep those aboard alive in a foreign environment.

This story, perhaps will give you an insight.

Merry Christmas,


Capt. P. Flanagan

R.V. Lady Amber

Atlantic Ocean

Dec 2015”

Photo Credit: Forrest Heesom-Green

Photo Credit: Forrest Heesom-Green

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