Reach the World - Chicago
Bringing the World into Classrooms


“Wait…those coordinates put you…in the middle of the Red Sea?” she radioed in the bewildered tone of a confused calculus student at the chalkboard.

Deadpanning, Aaron replied, “Wait. Let me check… yes…we do appear to be in the middle of the Red Sea.”

“I’m not sure whether to admire you boys, or pity you,” the leader of the single-sideband (SSB) cruisers’ radio net playfully jabbed.

Aldebaran CrewEach of the 15 other boats in the morning radio net had called in from the comfort of a protected bay along the Sudanese or Egyptian coast. They were waiting out the 25 knots of northeast breeze and accompanying short choppy waves, characteristic of the Northern Red Sea in late spring.

Forty miles west of Saudi Arabia, we were beating north toward the Gulf of Suez, and making good time given the conditions.

Ever mindful not to appear brash, Aaron explained that Aldebaran, our 1976 Swan 431, with her seven foot fin keel, overbuilt glass hull, and 16mm rigging, is a race horse to weather. Plus, one of the luxuries of having five people on board is the ability to hand-steer tough passages and still get some sleep. Sixteen thousand sea miles behind us, we had little left to prove. We did, however, have a schedule to keep.

Aldebaran and her crew were anything but the typical round-the-world cruising boat. Most circumnavigations are Mom and Pop operations. Having bought a boat and prepared for years, couples put their lives on hold and chase four to seven years worth of sunsets west.

We were six twenty-somethings, one year out of college, trying to make it around in two years. Imagine the Doogie Howsers of the cruising circuit. We bought Aldebaran on a loan split six ways, and spent three intense months massaging out the major problems before casting off in November of 2006. With minimal prior blue-water experience, we rabidly asked questions, got lots of help, and learned quickly. Three months in, our above standard safety measures and seamanship were matters of personal pride.

Following the standard route, known as the Coconut Milk Run, we sailed (generally) east to west downwind across the little latitudes and through both canals.

The biggest difference between us and other cruisers was the purpose of our journey. Each week, 4,000 inner-city students from Chicago and New York City Public Schools laughed, imagined, and learned about far off cultures and environments through our crew. Their classrooms followed The Voyage of Aldebaran online as part of the educational programs of Reach the World (

“How did y’all get involved with Reach the World, and can I go next year?” asked Darrel, a third grader from Henderson Elementary on Chicago’s Southside during a classroom visit this past June. (We personally visit all of our partner classrooms in Chicago at the beginning and end of each school year.)

“Wow, great question!” I laughed, slightly surprised. “That’s a sixth grader question!” Darrel beamed. In truth, it’s a question we got from people of all ages.

In the spring of 2004, the six of us (Aaron, Ashley, Eric, Jake, Ryan and Brian) were juniors on the Northwestern sailing team. We decided we wanted to do something special when we graduated. We wanted to sail around the world, but we wanted to do it in a way that also made a difference.

A year later, after some trial and error, we founded Reach the World - Chicago, the first branch of a New York City bPacific Crossingased non-profit called Reach the World. Reach the World’s mission is to integrate exciting social studies and science material into under-resourced elementary and middle school classrooms, broadening students’ worldviews and helping them learn with technology. In Chicago, we achieved this goal by linking students to The Voyage of Aldebaran.

Planning and executing our trip through Reach the World fundamentally changed our experience. For one, at no point in the journey were all six of us on Aldebaran. At least one person was always in Chicago running the company. During summer break, four people flew home to visit classrooms and fundraise.

We planned our route not only around storms, winds, and currents, but also the collective attention spans of 7-12 year olds. Kids bore quickly. We could at most squeeze three weeks of content out of one location. Usually we only stayed in places ten to fourteen days. If most cruisers moved at a 10 minute-a-mile pace, we were on track to qualify for the Boston Marathon. We traded palm-lined sandy beaches and idyllic anchorages for ports with fast internet, good transportation, and lots to write about.

It’s true that sailing around the world is an exercise in fixing your boat in exotic locations. The adage doesn’t mention all of the hours spent walking from one small store to the next trying to locate the right part in your best broken native tongue. I now know “stainless steel” in six different languages.

Each week our crewmembers were also responsible for researching and writing educational articles for the Reach the World website, answering student emails, collecting data for classroom research projects, and video-conferencing with students back in the States. The personal connection developed between the students and our crew was tremendous. It’s what separated our program from being just another website or text book. It’s what got kids excited about learning.

Galapagos IguanaOur “jobs” (we are unpaid volunteers) as field researchers led us into some incredible adventures: seeing wild tigers on a safari in India, staying in a Kuna Indian home in the San Blas Islands of Panama, interviewing a CEO in Dubai, visiting local schools in Ecuador, swimming with sea lions, sharks, and penguins in the Galapagos islands, helping out in an orphanage in Africa, getting haircuts and shaves from displaced Iraqi barbers in Yemen, and being taught how to make authentic food in Thailand, to name a few. We were always pushing to do more. Other cruisers arrived into ports, we took them by storm.

“Lots of people told us we were crazy,” I explained to Darrell, “but we had a dream. We didn’t pay any attention to them. We listen to each other, and worked hard. And yes, you can join Reach the World, but first you have to graduate college!”

“How far away from land do you think we are?” asked Jake, lazily using his foot to steer the boat over following seas during a sunset cockpit dinner. We were five days into an 11 day passage from Thailand to Sri Lanka. This was the type of question that spurred wonderful humorously heated debates.

Before anyone could conjecture, Ryan’s eyes bulged and finger shot up. Laughing, he choked down the piece of seared fresh yellow-fin tuna in his mouth. “About a mile… straight down,” he said. We laughed and moved onto one of the thousands of other seemingly mundane topics that kept us occupied for days.

As the sun darted below the horizon in typical tropical fashion, we attentively watched for a green flash; we were not to be rewarded.

“Rule 28,” said Aaron. We all knew what it meant. Rule 28: night time is life time - time to put on life jackets and clip in. We had started developing rules a year earlier to memorialize key lessons learned. We assigned them random numbers. Rule 28 was, in fact, the first rule instated. We all knew a handful by heart, 43: raise your sail in the lee, 76: have a good electric drill, etc. Rule 28 sent Eric and Ryan below. They handed up life jackets. We handed dirty plates and bowls down.

Boat lifeAaron and I clipped into the jack lines and headed forward to drop in a reef in the main, raise the staysail, and roll in a bit of genoa: our stable heavy air set up. Better to sacrifice some speed and put the reefs in while everyone is awake than be overpowered in the middle of the night and have to call an extra person up on deck. As I dropped the halyard and winched in the reefing line, I remembered a time, having grown up racing but never cruising, when this would have seemed preposterous. Things had changed. I now understood why one avoids upwind passages when at all possible.

My watch beeped: eight o’clock, time to drive. (A good Timex Ironman watch, headlamp, and polarized sunglasses are the pantheon of personal effects to bring on an extended cruise.) Jake relayed the vitals - average speed over ground, wind patterns, impending changes of course, like a doctor passing off charts at the end of a shift. He handed me the wheel, and headed below to fill out his log.

It was still two hours until moonrise. The water was dark, the stars bright. We’d been in following seas and 15-20 knots of breeze for a couple of days. I steered the boat by rote, listening to the wash of salty foam hitting San Blas Sceneryour quarter, occasionally glancing at the pedestal compass. I thought about life and people at home.

“Ryan?” I called out looking at the orange-tinged night sky through the window of my new bedroom in Chicago.

“What’s wrong?” he answered back from across the house.

“I just realized this is the first time I’ve slept alone in a room in nine months. It just feels weird.”

“Goodnight buddy,” he said in a tone that let me know he understood.

Sailing around the world before starting your adult life has only one significant downside. You have to come back and start your adult life. Entering back into the normal world surfaced a lot of unexpected feelings. Hundreds of little things were odd. There were a lot of adjustments to make.

I had forgotten about long summer days. In the tropics there are 12 hours of daylight. It gets dark by 6:30 every evening, and there is very little twilight. Direct sunshine at 8 PM was downright confusing my first day back.

I was always cold. A couple hundred days of sunny 85-90 degree weather thins out your blood. I felt like a flower struck by a late spring freeze. I carried a jacket with me all June. Air conditioned houses were hell.

Chicago streets seemed abnormally wide, and equally abnormally quiet. Apparently the higher a country’s per capita GDP, the less its drivers lay on the horn.

Panama Canal crossingThe inside jokes of a tight knit crew were replaced by the perpetual questions, “did you see any big waves or bad storms?” and “what was your favorite place?”

After two months of being back, my golden tan has started to fade and my blood has thickened. Not much seems odd any more. I’m no longer introduced as “Brian, who just sailed around the world.” I’ve even gotten used to fresh water spray again.

One thing that hasn’t faded is the quiet confidence of being an around-the-world sailor. It never will. Neither will the memories and kinship between our crew, and most importantly, our desire to do it again.

Even though The Voyage of Aldebaran is over, Reach the World - Chicago will continue to expand the horizons of Chicago’s important young minds. Next year thousands of underserved student’s will follow the RTW-C’s Bike Africa Expedition as it pedals 7,500 miles from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt. If you would like to support Reach the World, please see the ad for the BIG TEAM REGATTA on page 45, or call Brian Sabina at 773-698-6900. If you are inspired to take a trip of your own, Aldebaran is currently on the market in Mallorca, Spain. If you are interested in learning more email Delivery can be worked out.