Image via Kelsey Bonham
For junior Kelsey Bonham, the option to learn remotely this fall created the perfect opportunity for her to fulfill a lifelong passion project: complete a solo sailing trip to Trinidad while collecting data for climate change research.
Bonham, who has always dreamed of going on an extended sailing trip, saw remote learning as the chance to combine her passion for sailing with her interest in climate research. Working with Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Africana and Latin America Studies April Baptiste and a grant from the Kevin Williams ’10 Memorial Fellowship, Bonham’s vision of conducting research on small tropical islands began to come to fruition.
“I drafted up an independent research proposal for a project I could do while sailing north from Trinidad, while stopping at various islands in the Lesser Antilles to learn more about climate perceptions on those islands, which are some of the most vulnerable to climate change,” Bonham said.
Growing up sailing, Bonham knew this project would be a huge undertaking, especially since sailing is a male-dominated industry. With a clear vision in mind, it was time to determine the logistics of the trip. Firstly, and most importantly, she needed a boat.
“My plan was to find a used boat for cheap and fix it up over the summer. When COVID-19 hit, I actually got a bit of a head start,” Bonham said.
While the pandemic has certainly slowed down numerous areas of work, it helped Bonham quickly obtain a boat as part of a real estate contract to purchase a house. From there, the real work began. From removing hazardous paint in a full hazmat suit to fixing up the engine, Bonham had her hands full.
“The challenge was that it had been sitting on land, neglected, for over ten years, and we had to close the contract on the house before I’d even had the opportunity to go inside it. I took a pretty big gamble there. It’s also steel, which is very atypical; most sailboats are made of fiberglass, so I had literally no experience working with steel boats by the time I already had the title in my hands,” Bonham said.
Bonham has worked for weeks on end to get the boat ready for the water, and is now putting the finishing touches on the interior. Much to her relief, Bonham reports that the boat has working air conditioning, an invaluable asset for working under the tropical summer sun.
Despite all of the restoration challenges, Bonham has gained thoughtful insight throughout the whole process.
“I hope that I can still make it all the way to Trinidad and back and do the independent research I originally planned, but even if I don’t get to, my main goal is just to enjoy the adventure of it,” Bonham said.
With newfound confidence from mastering power tools and an adventurous spirit, she is hopeful that this passion project is just the start of her journey working on the water to inspire positive environmental change. As an environmental geography and music concentrator, Bonham sees this project as the start of her time making waves in the sailing and climate change industries. In the future, she hopes to use this unique experience to help her land a role at an environmental non-profit.
Even if she doesn’t make it to Trinidad, Bonham has seized this opportunity to make the most of her college years as a time of growth and exploration. Although this past year has been full of uncertainty and chaos, Bonham has turned an atypical year into a meaningful experience and encourages others to do the same.
“If you’re reading this and thinking about doing that crazy idea you’ve been thinking about since you were a kid, but you’re afraid it may disrupt your “normal” college experience or be too challenging, I’m here to say do it.”
To follow Bonham’s journey aboard her boat Little Wing, check out @littlewing_sailing on instagram.