I had the good fortune of meeting Monique Mills from Making Waves Sailing this month. She is a fellow Soul Adventurer, a sailor and a playful inspiring free spirit- a woman after my own heart.We met at Secret Harbour in Lance aux-Epines in the south of Grenada one sleepy Sunday afternoon to chat all about her sailing tours. This Canadian native made her dream lifestyle, in which her most authentic self could flourish, into a revenue generating business with a purpose.
A former powerhouse in the international corporate field- these days she captains My Mistress, her sail boat, through the Windward Islands between Grenada and St. Lucia with guests on board. Their mission- anything from relaxing and adventuring above and below the waves to collecting data for scientific research to do their part for marine environment conservation.
1.When did you first learn to sail and who taught you?
I was 12 years old and my family was living in the land locked Prairies of Canada. My dad bought a tiny sailboat for us to sail on the lake. I remember sailing with my dad specifically one day when I was day dreaming staring into the swirling water around the rudder, whilst on a collision course. My dad, waited as long as he could stand it and then yelled at me, “Monique, look where you are going – not where you have been!” It was simply the urgency of correction, but that statement has become one of guiding mantras of my life. Although my brothers and I took lessons, I would have to say it was my dad who taught me – especially considering such a life-long emphatic epiphany! Since then, my biggest influence has been Girls for Sail and one captain in particular. I proudly refine my style from Nicola Henderson, who is now a Captain in the Clipper Race.
2. Where have you sailed to?
Most of my sailing has been destination sailing. Arrive in a location for vacation and cruise the area. West Coast Canada offers spectacular wilderness above and below the water. When I lived in Central Asia, Thailand was an easy escape. And of course Grenada and the Windward Island for the past 15 years – mostly vacation sailing.
3. What is your connection to Grenada?
My connection begins a generation ago! My parents honeymooned in Grenada and my dad vowed to return. When he bought the sailboat there was no doubt – Grenada would be home base. My attachment to Grenada has grown with my experiences over 15 years and now is the home base for Making Waves. I have travelled to over 55 countries and everywhere I go it’s always the people that make the country great. Grenada has a special warmth in the people that invites you in and welcomes you to stay.
4. Would does being a sailor mean to you?
Freedom. Wind, water, wilderness – and most of all freedom…and joy! Even taking the dingy out for a blast across the bay puts a smile on my face. It’s where I do my loudest singing. I am a nomad so sailing provides me a mobile home to explore to my heart’s content. In the sailing community, I find like minded people who are always willing to lend a hand or trouble shoot a problem. You’re never alone – unless you choose to be.
5. What kind of sailing trips does Making Waves Sailing offer? (What sets Making Waves Sailing apart from other charter companies)
We offer sailing trips with a mandate towards science based marine conservation. As we are sailing I am collecting data for students, scientists and institutions. The data points and sampling we provide becomes information and that information becomes the education, the science behind the facts which is ultimately the power of persuasion to effect change in government, communities and the buying habits of consumers.
At the end of the day – guests come on board for a holiday. They can choose to be as involved as they like or simply relax, laugh and enjoy the cruise.
6. Why did you choose to focus on marine life conservation and scientific research within the context of recreational sailing trips?
The ocean has always been my passion and it’s the worst kept secret is that I am a science nerd. I wanted to do more than tour tourists around the islands. I wanted to be able to contribute something meaningful to its preservation. I basically created my dream job in the perfect location - Grenada. Wind, water, ocean, science, adventure, fun and food. We often feel a sense of futility when dealing with global problems such as ocean pollution. ‘But what can I do?’ is often the lament. We demonstrate that anyone can make a difference by becoming a citizen scientist*. That’s why the tag line to Making Waves Sailing is “Live to Inspire”. I truly wish to inspire people.
7. Which islands can people visit with Making Waves Sailing?
We sail the Windward Islands. Our first consideration to our itinerary is safety and the comfort of our guests. The options and activities are limitless and we can often accommodate unusual requests. For example, I had one guest wanted a minimum 30 minute run every second day. We made it happen. Another guest loved to swim but had a fear of the ocean. Gradually, as she ventured further, the fear was replaced with joy.
8. What can someone who books a Making Waves Sailing trip expect to experience? (What are their options?)
We are a crew of ocean loving sailors providing a spectacular sailing adventure to inspire appreciation for the sea and all its creatures. Our style is to sail conservatively so our guests are comfortable and safe. Laughing for sure. Lots of laughs. Great wholesome fresh food. Beyond that there are plenty of activities. Snorkeling, diving, kite surfing, hiking and or simply nothing at all – relax and let us take care of everything.
9. How can your guests get involved with the marine life conservation and scientific research aspects of the trips?
The amount of participation is up to our guests. There are a number of options depending on the level of interest. We are partnered with Lumba Dive, in Carriacou, who offer a day course on marine biology. So on our second day, we can learn and then apply what we learn as we go. But this is not a set itinerary. It’s just one option. As an ambassador for 5 Gyres, I will be taking water samples. The guests are welcome to participate. When we are in the water it’s about respecting the animals and ecosystem. Once our guests return home, I hope that they are more conscious of their purchasing decisions like choosing sustainably sourced seafood and reducing plastics waste.
10. Do you remember when you first became conscious of your responsibility to conserve the marine environment?
I grew up in a home where we didn’t waste. Waste not, want not. Conservation is an extension of resource management. The term ‘sustainability’ means ensuring the resources we use and consume are replenishable. Over fishing means that a species isn’t able to reproduce sufficient offspring to maintain a healthy population. Protecting the ecosystem ensures the fish have enough food and habitat to reproduce so that we can consume fish season to season, year after year. We all have a responsibility and each person makes a difference. We often talk about what we do to the environment, but now we need to talk about what the environment is doing to our health. What we put into the ocean, we also put into our bodies. It’s a closed loop. Even as a kid, I understood that.
11. What is one thing you think everyone can do to protect and conserve the marine environment?
The first thing is to try to reduce or eliminate single usage plastics like bags, straws, cups, utensils etc. Bottled water is a huge offender! Grenada has good drinking water so carrying your own water bottle and refilling at any tap makes a critical difference. And of course polystyrene foam, known as Styrofoam. Both Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadians have made steps to eliminate polystyrene foam. This will have an immediate benefit to water quality and our health. Polystyrene is proven to leach dangerous toxins.
12. What are some of your sustainable and eco-friendly practices on board?
First of all the boat is sail power. For our power demands, we have solar panels and wind generator, although there are times when we need the engine. A boat is a constant exercise in resource management. I bet most people don’t know how many amps their cell phone draws when they plug it into the wall. On board, you become acutely aware of your consumption when you are restricted with power, fuel, water and food. The boat is your life support system and as such, it’s important to manage resources wisely. Good maintenance improves efficiencies.
When cleaning the boat inside and out we opt for non-chemical solutions when possible. During refueling it is critical to capture spillage. There are many things that can be done and every little bit counts. We follow Sailors for the Sea ‘Green Boating Guidelines’.
It is also a priority to source our provisions locally. This is two fold benefit. We are contributing to the local economy while lowering carbon foot print and making sustainable choices. Fish is always from local fishermen. For example we don’t serve shrimp or purchase frozen seafood from Asia. All fruits and vegetables are purchased from markets. Instead of store bought cookies and bread, we special order from the local bakery and request the goods be packaged in paper. And it’s fun too! The people of Grenada are a big part of why I am here. I enjoy the markets, chatting and making friends.
As for skincare, we recommend any of the high quality products made on the island. We insist our guests use biodegradable shampoos, and reef friendly sunscreens that do not contain oxybenzone or avobenzone which harm your skin and kill coral larvae. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide only.
13. Favourite Sea creature and why?
The octopus is an amazing animal. Almost supernatural in their physiology. They are masters of camouflage and have been observed solving puzzles in the lab. My first encounter was diving West Coast Canada at 100ft deep with a giant pacific octopus. ‘Giant’ is well named as each arm was over 1.5m – keeping in mind there are eight arms! In the interaction that followed, I was amazed at the curiousity, emotions, beauty and intelligence of this creature.
14. Share one of your favourite places to visit in Grenada and why?
Carriacou always has lots of surprises. It’s full of characters and every corner hides a gem. I have just begun to explore it. In Grenada, Crayfish Bay Organic Chocolate plantation is a rustic, overnight getaway for me. Interesting people doing cool things, food, wilderness and chocolate. I have selected our home base to be Secret Harbour Marina. It’s friendly, cozy and surrounded by reefs to explore. Plus great amenities that make coming ashore a pleasure! There’s so much more to discover. Ask me again next year!
15. What does the future hold for Making Waves Sailing?
In addition to vacation sailing I am building a program called “Sail with a Scientist” where a scientist is conducting research on board as we sail with guests. This will be a bit more engaging than our recreational vacation sails where the focus is on our guests. Ultimately, my vision is a reef monitoring Expedition Grenada to Cuba where guests come along as citizen scientists. And for that, I will need a bigger boat! My motto in life is ‘dream the impossible, then live it!’ And I am certainly living the dream!
Follow Monique and Making Waves Sailing on Social Media
Facebook: Making Waves Sailing
*A citizen scientist is scientific research conducted by amateur, or nonprofessional, person – people like you and me. Science often needs very basic data that anyone can collect, at any age. Simply recording and reporting whale sighting is an act of a citizen scientist. Reef monitoring can be a photograph of the same location repeatedly. Identifying and counting the fish in a fisherman’s net is also important data.
I am an ambassador for 5 Gyres Institution who are the leading the research on global plastics pollution. I have a trawler that floats on the surface to capture water samples. The samples are filtered for plastics and the information collected is sent to 5 Gyres institution. I am not a marine biologist. I am a citizen scientist providing this information to scientists which is an invaluable contribution to developing conservation initiatives and awareness campaigns.
We are also partnered with local dive shops to assist in lionfish culling, education and beach cleanups.
I will be volunteering with the 2018 Grenada Sailing Week to assist in the Sailors for the Sea Clean Regatta program which was initiated last year. This year we will do more to reduce plastics and waste. My belief is that because sailors love to sail then we are naturally motivated to protect the places we play – our oceans and lakes.
Written by: Sheba Augustine of Grenada Soul Adventurer