In early June, Josh Amata and the rest the Makulu II crew returned to New York after a nine-month voyage that touched such exotic locales as Sardinia, The Gambia, Cape Verde, and Grenada.
Josh, three other teachers, and captain Jim Bender completed this dream itinerary as part of Reach the World, a nonprofit that connects voyagers with schoolchildren via live chats, email correspondence, and a dedicated website, www.reachtheworld.org. The goal of the program– as outlined in “Reach The World’s Curriculum Based on Voyage of Makulu” and “Global Sailors Use Internet to Teach,” a story in March 2007 Cruising World– is to broaden the horizons of low-income students by exposing them to a range of cultures and ethnicities.
“The cool thing about it was, you really got to make a personal connection with the kids,” says Josh, who taught at Middle School 80 in the Bronx before embarking on Makulu II. “In September before we left, we went to all 100 classrooms and talked to the kids individually. That helped get them involved beforehand.”
Once the journey was under way, the schoolchildren embarked on their own virtual voyage, tracking progress and checking in with the crew at each port of call. “The goal is to open their eyes to the world, and the way you do that is by showing them something they can relate to, like, here’s what kids in Africa think is cool.”
The schoolchildren were just as interested in learning the details of sailing the 43-foot Swan as they were curious about wildlife in Africa. Some of the questions they asked:
“What kind of animals do they have in Morocco?”
“Is it scary sailing in the middle of the ocean?”
“Where does the poop go?”
The Makulu II teachers were all too pleased to answer these and hundreds of other inquiries. And of course, the voyage wasn’t only eye-opening for the children. “Learning to sail was the best thing I could have done,” says Josh. “It was awesome. I can’t think of anything else I would have rather done for nine months.”
Prior to casting off in Italy last fall, the 26-year-old had minimal sailing experience. “I think I sailed an FJ once in college,” he says. “The first few days on Makulu were pretty intense. We went through a lightning storm the third day out, and on the fifth night, in Sardinia, the anchor started dragging at 2 a.m. It was like, ‘Let’s get going.'”
These early surprises illuminated some of the voyage’s inherent dangers and prompted Josh to overcome his landlubber status. A one-time forest firefighter currently pursuing a degree in international relations, he quickly adapted to life at sea. “I was reading books and studying navigation while I was on the boat, so I had the advantage of being able to immediately practice what I was learning,” he says. “Still, it took a long time until I really felt comfortable doing a lot of things. It’s difficult! Steering, docking, pulling up the anchor, trimming the sails, following the windshifts, learning the different knots. It’s never-ending.”
By February, Josh was steering Makulu II in 25-knot winds on an Atlantic crossing; by May, he was crewing on a raceboat in Bermuda. “We got dead last, but it was a lot of fun,” he says. “There’s a lot more to the racing side of things, just figuring out the starting sequence was a challenge.”
Now home in Cleveland for the summer, Josh hopes to continue his sailing adventure on Lake Erie. “My cousin works as a repo man for boats,” says Josh. “I’m hoping he comes across a sailboat for me.”