Laura K.O. Smith ’05: Sailing to the End of the World and Back

The life of a full-time adventurer on the high seas

In high school, most people have posters of bands in their room, but Laura K.O. Smith ’05’s tastes hewed more anachronistic: “I laid out my desk like I thought a ship captain’s desk would look from the late 1700s.”

Growing up, Smith was enthralled by young-adult adventure novels, particularly The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, the story of a 19th-century teenager thrust on a harrowing sea voyage.

Continuing her lifelong romance with the ocean, Smith and her husband, Federico Guerrero, run Quixote Expeditions, a 2-year-old business that sails approximately nine hardy tourists from Chile’s Cape Horn across the perilous Drake Passage and on to the icy monoliths of Antarctica.

“A lot of people think we’re crazy,” Smith says. “It’s sort of become a new normal for us.”

The couple’s boat, the Ocean Tramp, is a double-masted rig that measures roughly 65 feet long. The pair, who met while working for an oil-services company, bought the boat after its previous owner, legendary American mountaineer Charlie Porter, died in 2014.

Ocean Tramp’s inboard engine helps to escape wayward ice, while an aluminum-fortified hull adds to its defenses. Smith and Guerrero got the idea for their business after traveling with friends to Antarctica in 2013.

As the expedition leader, Smith charts all tourist activities during the short Antarctic sailing season — December through March. Guerrero, a licensed captain, pilots the craft.

The couple made two trips last season but plan six sojourns this year. While the trips are billed as pleasure cruises, the couple give a free berth to a scientist, in most cases a biologist, whose research brings an educational component to the expedition.

Previously, passengers have helped scientists collect water samples and log bird and mammal sightings; a forthcoming trip will include a researcher who studies whether whales can smell.

Trips last 25 days, two weeks of which are spent getting to and from the Antarctic Peninsula. All hands help with the sails, chop potatoes, and wash dishes.

The continent beguiles in a number of ways, Smith says, noting in particular the region’s monochromatic splendor.

“Antarctica [has an] interesting lack of color,” she says. “You essentially have blue, white, and shades of gray — [it’s]almost completely devoid of reds and greens and yellows.

“And there’s something about the icebergs — [it’s] sort of like watching clouds,” she adds. “They’re all different shapes, and it never grows old.”

Smith’s life on the water dates to her childhood, when she took part in summer sailing camps guiding dinghies across Maryland’s Deep Creek Lake.

After majoring in geological engineering at Princeton, she worked for Schlumberger, looking for crude in the waters off nations such as India, Norway, Qatar, and Angola.

Now, Quixote Expeditions keeps her afloat for up to 140 days per year. Smith and her husband also sail tourists to the Falkland Islands and the craggy Isla de los Estados, in the Argentine portion of Tierra del Fuego.

The couple live aboard Ocean Tramp when they’re not leading tours, docking in Ushuaia, Argentina, the so-called “end of the world” on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago.

“Look out one side of the boat and you see the Ushuaia city lights with the mountains behind; look the other way and it’s the Beagle Channel, with Chile behind,” she says. “It’s a pretty amazing place to call your office.”

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50 Wonderful Winter Marketing Ideas

Putting your house up for sale this winter?

Here are 50 great ideas from Zillow. From creating a list of winter service providers (cough, cough Taylor-Made DCV&S) to creative infographics- there are some great ideas here!

Click here to see the list.

 

New Germany State Park gets ready for snow activities

GRANTSVILLE — New Germany State Park has scheduled several activities for February.

In hopes of snow, New Germany rangers are inviting challengers to a snowman contest Feb. 3 at 1 p.m. at the Lake House, McAndrews Hill Road.

The Friends of New Germany will host a membership meeting Feb. 4 from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at the Lake House. The Friends of New Germany is a nonprofit organization made up of volunteers who care about the park and want to enhance, maintain and support it through fundraising and a variety of projects. Anyone interested in joining the group or becoming a volunteer is welcome to attend. For more information, email newgermanyfriends@yahoo.com or call 301-895-5453.

The Maryland Conservation Corps will offer beginner cross-country ski lessons at New Germany State Park on Feb. 4 and 12. The lessons will begin at noon inside the Lake House and will last about two hours. There is no charge for those with their own equipment. In the event of no snow, the lessons will include some basic ski instruction, followed by a winter hike.

The lessons are being offered as part of the Healthy Parks, Healthy People program, an international movement that focuses on utilizing parks to promote the health of people and the environment.

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Garrett Chamber of Commerce releases top legislative priorities

MCHENRY — The Garrett County Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 legislative agenda includes a focus on tourism, infrastructure, education, health care, the business climate and economic and community development.

“Our committee and board of directors do a fantastic job developing a legislative agenda that helps me focus on specific issues and provides a guide of legislation for which to watch,” Nicole Christian, the chamber’s president and CEO, said.

Chamber officials plan to urge lawmakers to continue working with Pennsylvania and West Virginia to expedite the process for completing the U.S. Route 219 and U.S. 220 portions of the North/South Appalachian Highway.

As a total corridor, it is projected to create 10,000 permanent and 20,000 construction and construction-related jobs in the region, officials have said.

Portions of the U.S. 219 Somerset to Meyersdale project are on track to open next year.

The chamber’s top priorities, in order, are:

• Revising the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) Program for reimbursement to counties for state-owned lands.

• Increasing tourism promotion funding to $11 million.

• Supporting the creation of the Rural Development Incentive Program.

• Supporting a pro-business environment in the state.

“The chamber’s Legislative Affairs Committee spends several months discussing what issues to include in the agenda and which ones to make our top priorities,” Shane Grady, chair of the chamber’s legislative affairs committee, said. “With only one senator (George Edwards) and one delegate (Wendell Beitzel) representing Garrett County in the legislature, it is important that we are vocal about our priorities and that we are aggressive with our advocacy efforts in order to make an impact.”

The General Assembly will consider more than 3,000 pieces of legislation during the session, Christian said.

To view the chamber’s legislative agenda in it’s entirety visit the website www.visitdeepcreek.com/pages/Legislative.

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Garrett officials delay fracking study

OAKLAND — Garrett County’s commissioners have decided not to conduct a study on the economic impacts of fracking.

The commissioners recently rejected all bids for the proposed study, which would have explored possible detriments to tourism, property values and outdoor recreation opportunities likely to occur if hydraulic fracturing for natural gas production is allowed in Western Maryland.

With the Maryland General Assembly expected to take up legislation that could ban fracking or extend a current moratorium on the process, officials decided it wasn’t the right time for the study.

“If the legislature passes a moratorium versus a ban, or takes no action, there will still be sufficient time to do the study before any permits are issued,” said Kevin Null, county administrator, as he summed up the views of the commissioners.

The study would take at least six months to complete and wouldn’t be ready prior to legislative action. The commissioners also said the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Maryland Department of Commerce are withholding funding until the legislature’s action is known.

More than 60 elected officials in Maryland have signed a letter of support for a statewide fracking ban. Not on that list are members of the District 1 legislative delegation that represents Garrett and Allegany counties — Sen. George Edwards and Dels. Wendell Beitzel, Jason Buckel and Mike McKay.

Sen. Robert A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, is expected to introduce legislation to ban the process. A moratorium is in place until October.

Marcellus shale formations throughout the eastern United States harbor large natural gas reserves. Shale is a sedimentary rock formation that extends underground through about 95,000 square miles in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland.

In Maryland, the shale formations are found only in Allegany and Garrett counties, with the bulk of the formations in Garrett County.

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