Soaking Pages in Salt: Behind the Scenes of Writing about the Schooner Bagheera


Schooner Bagheera with Saint Joseph’s College of Maine Environmental Science Semester Students (photo: Robert Michaud)

“I want you to write it. Write it up close, tight, where it’s happening. In the moment. Let our readers see it, feel it.” –Colin Sargent

What writer doesn’t want to hear these words from a magazine editor? I had pitched a story about a historic Maine schooner leading a secret life as a floating college science classroom to Portland Magazine. At the same time, I was starting a new position at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine in communications. Document the faculty and student experience on the schooner Bagheera for two weeks of a semester-long field science immersion program? Sign me up! Full disclosure: I’m also married to one of the faculty who founded what is fondly known as “ESS” or the Environmental Science Semester. This makes me a dedicated fan of his passion for creating the next generation of scientists. Regardless of my connection to the program, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to capture a slice of one of the few semester-long full-time and full-immersion field science programs in the country.


Saint Joseph’s College of Maine students and faculty conduct research from deck of Schooner Bagheera

The ESS student and faculty journey–from Portland Harbor to Monhegan Island with many research stops in between–traversed the final leg of 2000 miles of travel across two states, two provinces, two countries, and six islands. While the students studied climate change and glacial geology, field methods, marine ecology, and oceanography this trip produced a long list of firsts for them: first time leaving the country, first time sailing a schooner, first time camping on an island, even first time eating certain types of vegetables.

You can read the published article in the Portland Magazine SummerGuide 2017 here. You can also read one of the passages that didn’t make the shorter, published version of the article below:

[unpublished excerpt from a Journey of Discovery]

The next morning breaks, murky and grey. Once under way, the captain sails directly to the first research location of the day.

“Time for your notebooks,” Dr. Teegarden says from the cockpit.

The students climb down the gangway to find their dry bags in the hold. These bags live up to their names; think of a giant rubber stuff sack–inglamorously inked by a Sharpie with the student’s name. They are the most cherished possession on this semester-long field research program.

Crewmember Kaylee appears at the bottom of the gangway, “Sorry, guys, I need to move the sole board to reset the pump.”

Ben, Tyler, and Jess stare at her as though she speaks another language. No one moves. She points at their feet, and they recognize a hatch in the floor. The students step aside. Joe leans so far out of her way, his face rests near the wooden cabinets attached to the bulkhead, “Hey, look at this.” He points to roll after roll of what are probably charts tucked up under slats that are nailed to the overhead. “That is so cool.”

“No space can be wasted,” Kaylee says, her head down in the bilge.



Patricia Erikson blogs about Maine, travel, and writing from a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, follow Patricia on Instagram at @seashorewrite or subscribe to Peaks Island Press in the upper right corner at



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