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Family sets sail with climate change message

By LaReesa Sandretsky

Forum News Service

TWO HARBORS, Minn. -- 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 sailboat. On May 10, they set sail on Lake Superior on their latest adventure, dubbed Sea Change.

“We love to sail, but we love to have purpose,” Katya Gordon said.

The family, along with three college students, is on a five-week sailing trip around Lake Superior, docking at ports to spread the word about climate change.

“We’re convinced that climate change is the issue of our time,” Katya Gordon said before their initial departure, seated below deck on the boat. “It’s just a matter of getting beyond feeling overwhelmed and hopeless.”

The group has already visited Grand Marais and spoken at a community event, and is currently docked in Houghton, Mich. They are planning a few more stops, including Bayfield, Wis., and Grand Marais again, for their 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 regarding Lake Superior.

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

Katya and her husband, Mark Gordon, gave their first presentation early this month 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 Gordon said with a laugh, not missing the irony of unpredictable weather affecting their climate change-focused trip.

Their daughters Cedar, 11, and Lamar, 9, grew up on the water – their first trip around Lake Superior was when Cedar was 3 and Lamar was still shy of her first birthday. They are comfortable in their second home, they said.

Three students from Northland College in Ashland, Wis., moved into the boat’s 200-square-foot hull in early May and will sail with the Gordons until early June.

“I feel like the biggest thing I’ll take from this is a better sense of patience and teamwork,” said Devon Brock-Montgomery, 19, who 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 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 Gordon said. They are all between 18 and 25 years old and pay a small fee to sail with the Gordons.

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,” Fair 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.”

Last week the family had to drop their planned visit to Marquette, Mich., because the southeastern shore is still too icy for sailing, Mark Gordon said. They had planned to sail to Isle Royale over the weekend and arrive in Houghton, Mich., early this week. They arrived in Houghton on Monday.

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