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Pictured above: Cover art from the press kit when Pride II sailed to Asia in 1997-1998.

To Asia with PRIDE, an adventure story

urprised I was still in the running, my stomach churned as I waited for my interview.

Someone swung open the door and asked me to sit at the head of a conference table packed with Maryland Education officials and Pride personnel, including Captain Jan Miles. This was the first Christa McAuliffe Fellowship to offer an adventure scenario to write real-time stories for students. The academic interview questions were intense.

Captain Miles was the only mariner at the table. “How comfortable are you on a small boat with a handful of people for a long time?”

Grateful for a sailing question, I chose the most appropriate experience from my forty years on the water. “I crewed in the Annapolis-Bermuda race on a 32-foot boat. We were a crew of six who hot-bunked it for five days; we won by ten minutes. Four of us brought the boat home in six days; the self-steering wandered a bit. I’ll be fine on Pride.”

Satisfied that I would not add baggage to his challenge of sailing to Asia, Captain Miles made no comment.

The joy of being selected was brief as there were only four weeks until PRIDE’s departure. From that moment on nothing was easy; not creating months of substitute plans or learning to use the satellite; nor gaining comfort with three cameras or determining acceptable naming protocols for logs and photo files. There were meetings and technology lessons, packing considerations, and mid-term grades to calculate. I found someone to pay my bills and take care of my house and cat. Meanwhile, I continued to teach science.

The frigid December 6th departure was grand, graced by huge crowds, Fort McHenry re-enactors and officials armed with speeches. My speech was brief. Over the fanfare few noticed that Captain Miles departed by setting the square top sail. Capturing the fresh NW breeze, the sail eased PRIDE off the dock in the heart of Baltimore—a nod to captains who did so before engines. From there it was a chilly fast reach down the Bay. I snapped a photo of Key Bridge, then wrote/sent my first log via satellite to test the system. Before we left the Bay I got word that it worked! The relief was immense.

Exiting the Bay the 40 knot winds and following sea caused lumpy conditions. Captain Miles did not allow passengers on deck. The mast chocks creaked, and large jars of poorly stored goods rolled onto the cabin floor. Water sloshed under the deck bulwarks. In these conditions I managed to write a second log with photos. Then before it was sent my computer went blank. Unbeknownst to me a loose wire rendered it dark, erasing the earlier joy of success. Once in Bermuda I visited a school that created a scrapbook for me to deliver to a sister school in Asia. Then as planned, I flew home for a brief spell to close out my job, visit schools and replace my computer.

Two weeks later I rejoined the ship to transit the Panama Canal and make the ~month-long passage to Hawaii with Captain Dan Parrott. The crew changes every six months, so they enjoyed reconnecting with their colleagues. I was assigned a watch to share the ship-board experience. As the sole passenger who was twice their age, some crew were less inclined to small talk. Despite limited social conversation I maintained a cheery disposition. I savored the beauty of the Pacific and wrote with a passion about marine life, ocean currents and shipboard activities.

I distinctly remember a warm sunny day when Pride was sailing over long blue waves. The watch leader was below at the chart table and I was alone on the helm. Captain Parrott came on deck. Apparently he was aware that while I answered in a friendly manner, I seldom initiated conversation. “Are you all right?”

I thought about the stress of my teacher duties and how much I preferred writing about life at sea. I glanced up at the sails and noted the gurgling water rush past the hull with our next landfall Hawaii. My answer was sincere. “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

Part of my task was to describe the crew’s life aboard. The humdrum of daily activity was straight forward, but for students to know the crew I chose to feature one crew member at the end of each log. One by one I interviewed everyone, wrote a biography and added a photo. Then I suggested to teachers that their class write letters, addressed to the Pride office. Twice a week I wrote logs with photos, but without personal email or cell phones I had no measure of success. In 1997 website technology was slowly making a presence and offered limited bells and whistles for feedback.

When PRIDE reached Hawaii the crew was seated around the galley table for mail call. One crew noted the piles of personal mail. “What’s all this? Why are there letters from Ohio and Hong Kong?”

I caught her eye. “Half-way across the ocean I suggested that students write to you. Seems it worked.” After the crew called home I also learned some of their parents were delighted to read about the ship’s activities. After 21 days at sea, confirmation! Folks were following PRIDE’s journey!

I smiled when I opened the only student letter sent to me. “Dear Miss Bridgett, You’re the teacher. Do you do anything important?” Till now, that was the question! By April we had another measure of success. PRIDE’s website was one of five exhibits showcased in the Education Exhibit at the 1998 World’s Fair in Lisbon Portugal. Our ocean-crossing logs aligned perfectly with their theme: The Oceans: A Heritage for the Future.

While PRIDE’s crew took a month in Hawaii to address ship maintenance, I visited schools that followed our voyage. Meanwhile Captain Miles arrived to take command for the passage to Shanghai. To take advantage of land-based entertainment, Jan repeatedly asked the crew if they wanted to share a ride to the movies, but no takers. Only Jan and I decided to go. Our conversation after the first movie was awkward. Between two ocean voyages one might not choose to see Titanic.

Other social activities that we enjoyed were yacht club events and an outdoor market. One day as I boarded PRIDE, crew member Samantha sat nearby. “Don’t dump him till we get home.” Seems Captain Miles was less grouchy in my presence. This was news to me. However I did remember an incident during the rough leg to Bermuda. After a long wet night on the helm Captain Miles came below. The four passengers were seated at the table, uneasy after bouncing around all night sequestered below. Standing at the buffet bar his back to us, wearing a long black foul weather jacket he said, “I’d appreciate it if you’d keep your breakfast on the inside.” Saying nothing more he went back on deck, leaving us wide-eyed. Was he joking?

On the day of PRIDE’s departure to Asia Jan and I wandered the retail area near her dock. A crowd had gathered. Since I was scheduled to fly home for a short spell to visit schools, we would not see each other until my flight to Shanghai.

Jan stopped strolling. “Do you want a cup of coffee?”

“Aren’t they waiting for us?”

He stroked his beard. “They can’t leave without me.”

I considered Samantha’s request. I married him.

Leslie Bridgett
Pivotal Decisions

Captain Jan Miles and science teacher Leslie Bridgett met sailing Pride II to Asia in 1997-1998.