| Posted: Friday, Oct 04, 2013 02:30 pm
A taste for sea salt and adventure is taking one former St. Albert resident on a journey to the roughest seas known to sailors – the great passage around Cape Horn.
In late October, Juanita McGarrigle will take a four-month leave from her job, travel to New Zealand and start her voyage to the southern tip of Chile and into the calm waters of Antarctica on the tall ship Europa.
It won't be the first time sailing the ocean on a tall ship for the 42-year-old teacher, but this time it's the trip of a lifetime, she says.
"There are some amazingly crazy and difficult passages to sail around but going around Cape Horn and through the great passage is notoriously bad," she says. "A lot of ships and sailors have met their end going around Cape Horn."
Born in Ireland, McGarrigle immigrated to Canada with her family in 1981. They settled in St. Albert, where she went to school and later studied at the University of Alberta before taking a teaching position for theatre and music at Elmer S. Gish School.
When the economy took a rough turn for teachers under the Ralph Klein government, McGarrigle moved her career abroad – to South America, the Middle East, Turkey and Indonesia. Eventually she landed a job at the Shanghai American School in China.
Growing up with tales of tall ships and sailors – especially of famous polar explorer Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton – she always had a fascination for adventures at sea. So when she met the captain and crew of the Europa on a trip to Ireland in 2005, her fate was sealed.
"I saw them in the port and I was just fascinated by the idea of pulling in all these ropes and how they get the sails up," she says. "It has a certain air of romance and mystery and adventure about it."
That summer she got herself hired on the Europa and has sailed with it ever since. Six years ago she got her sailing ticket and is now working as a trainee co-ordinator and purser for the ship's guests during her summer breaks, while teaching in China the rest of the year. The Europa has a professional crew of 14 and a complement of 48 voyage crew members who pay to participate in the trip and learn about sailing.
McGarrigle says much of her fascination with traveling on a tall ship is the exposure to the elements, of pulling in ropes in the midst of snow and rain, and the sense of adventure that follows. But out on the sea there is also no phone or Internet, she says, so age-old conversations happen and you are reconnected to humanity.
"After two or three days you run out of surface conversation and then you have to delve into what makes you you and your philosophies, your gut core beliefs, and that connection with people is long-standing," she says.
The Europa makes the trip around Cape Horn every eight years, she said. The captain of the Europa is retiring in a few years and McGarrigle says it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get on board with the crew for this particular tour. In fact, she would have quit her job had she not been granted leave for the voyage.
On Oct. 29, she will meet the crew in Auckland, New Zealand to begin her voyage to Cape Horn. From there, she will sail to the Falkland Islands then Ushuaia, Argentina, where she'll have a short break in December.
The last part of her trip will take her on a 22-day tour to the Antarctic Peninsula returning to South America in February. By then, she will have spent 105 days on the Europa, with a few breaks on dry land to explore the countries and landscapes passing by.
"At first it was this idea of adventure and romance and how do they do it and do I have it in me," she says. "But then you are in the middle of nowhere and it's a glorious thing to see nature in its fullness. You can see storms in the distance and I can't even explain the night sky."