Local teen, Katie H (17) from Twickenham arrived back from her travels on the 20th April with more than just a few photos; a load of memories, close friends and a new perspective on the world. 

Her adventures consisted of sailing over 12000 nautical miles on the tall ship Thor Heyerdahl and land stays in Tenerife, the Caribbean, Panama, Cuba, Bermuda and the Azores. 

My first article, in November, covered the beginning of her journey and now we caught up to talk about her experience and what is yet to come. 

Can you describe your trip in three words? 

Katie: adventure, learning, friendship 

What were some highlights? What was the most memorable? 

K: One moment I’ll never forget was an experience in the middle of the Atlantic: I had night watch with two other students and I was at the rudder. My two shipmates went downstairs to look at the map. It was in the middle of the night; the stars were above me and I was the only one on deck. I felt like I was controlling the ship completely by myself in the middle of this vast ocean. It was just the most amazing experience. 

Another highlight was when we were in Cuba and visited a local school. I chatted with the students there and they told me how badly they wanted to visit all the countries around the world but knew they couldn’t. It really illustrated how different our lives are, as did our stay with the Naso Indians in the jungles of Panama. Experiencing these cultural extremes had a really profound impact on me. 

What are the most valuable things you learnt? 

K: Firstly, that being well trained in what you do is important but being positive in difficult situations is even better than having loads of knowledge. No matter what the circumstances, you can always be positive and make the people around you laugh. This will have a huge effect on what you can achieve together and mean you will have a much, much better time. 

Secondly, to completely be yourself in every situation. Don’t put on a front. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Don’t pretend to know something you don’t know. 

Thirdly, to be open to new opportunities and new experiences. So, try everything once. Speak to new people. Try the food. Sleep in a hammock under a mosquito net. Wash insects off in a river. Just be open to everything. 

Plastic pollution of our seas has been a huge topic lately. How much plastic did you see in the ocean and on beaches: 

K: It really depended on where we were. So, in Falmouth there was very little but on the island of Nanunega in Panama the beaches were literally made up of rubbish. You couldn’t see any sand or pebbles, it was all covered in plastic. The Kuna Indians who live there didn’t really know anything else. Most of the stuff on the beach wasn’t theirs, because it was a place where all of the plastic waste from countries like ours gets washed up. I just found it really shocking. 

How do you think that has affected how you look at plastic now? 

K: I will definitely recycle more; in England and in Germany it is generally easy to recycle but I feel we all need to do more to avoid plastic in the first place. As a family, we will be doing a plastic free week soon which I am really looking forward to because I think it’s a great opportunity to reduce the amount of plastic that we use. And afterwards I hope that we will keep that going. It is very hard to live with no plastic but we can cut down a lot more. 

I will also stop other wasteful habits and for example stick to showering instead of taking a bath. We don’t really need all that water and now that I have seen what a precious resource water is I am much keener to save it. We stayed with the Naso Indians in the rainforest of Northern Panama. For them, the only way to get water is to take it directly from the river which has chemicals running through it. Having to drink that water, even after using our water purification tablets, was absolutely terrifying. 

We take clean water and a healthy environment for granted but we are causing so much damage that people elsewhere have to live with. 

How are you settling back at home? 

K: It’s going really well. I have started to get back into the normal routine of life. I’m seeing my old friends again. I feel like I’ve settled back quite well with my family. But I’ve still got the pull of the Thor (Heyerdahl –Ship) and I just feel like that’s my home as well and I miss my fellow sailors. 

What’s the next big thing for you? 

K: That’s probably the World Scout Jamboree in the summer. And then after that, it will be A-levels and Uni which is all slowly creeping up on me. 

What A-levels do you think you are going to take? 

K: Maths, Chemistry, Biology and for my fourth option I’ve decided to do Geography. My main career aspiration since I have been young is Medicine. I’ve been fascinated with anatomy and how the body works since I was young. I found that I could really embrace this throughout my trip in the interactive science lessons on board and through the medical workshops with the board doctors. But I am also fascinated by the natural sciences: Geology, Oceanography and Marine Biology. 

It sounds like Katie’s Classroom under Sails experience was a life changing learning opportunity, one that many other teenagers would probably love to have. Anybody interested in finding out more can contact Katie at katieonthewaves@gmail.com or read her blog at www.kationthewaves.wordpress.com 

I can’t wait to see what she does next!