Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Captain, Teacher, Water Protector

July 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Captain Suzanne “Suky” Cannon lives the life that many boaters dream of having. She lives aboard Shambala, a 41-foot sloop classic built by Morgan Catalina, and travels where she likes.

Captain Suky's ShambalaShambala is my home, and I do travel with her to various locations. I call it the turtle lifestyle. She is new to me, and the culmination of a dream.”

Cannon is the great-granddaughter of a Nova Scotia fisherman and the daughter of a sailor father. She was born in New York City, raised in Connecticut on the Long Island Sound, and started “messing about in boats early — rowboat, dinghy, and sailing.” The “Suky” nickname is derived from the Scots who lived in Nova Scotia and has remained with her since childhood.

The water in her blood called louder over time. “After a 20-year advertising career in NYC, I wanted to work with the sky above me, rather than a ceiling,” Cannon says.Captain Suky Cannon in Miami

She drew on previous experiences, informally teaching windsurfing and sailing, to make the transition to Captain Suky while obtaining her U.S. Coast Guard Master Mariner license. She began working professionally as a sail instructor and welcoming sailors as crew aboard Shambala to obtain sea time for their professional credentials.

During a typical day when Shambala is at anchor, Cannon rises at first light “with a cup of coffee and a walk around the deck, a look at the sky and sea state, and anchor and line checks.” At 6:30 am, she listens to the weather forecast. She observes the birds and records their count (her mother instilled a love for birds). At 8:00 am, there’s usually a Cruisers Net broadcast on the VHF radio, letting liveaboards and long-distance cruisers in on what’s happening.

If Shambala’s underway, the morning has a different checklist involving bilges, engine oil, water, and all systems. Cannon reviews the paper and electronic charts before eating breakfast. “If the crew is aboard, we review the plan made the previous day, and make any adjustments due to weather forecast. If I’m not going sailing, there’s a long list of chores and projects.”

Wherever Cannon goes, she does much more than sail — she’s also a teacher and a fierce advocate for our waterways.

Captain Suky Cannon and studentsIn summer, Cannon is on the staff of Florida National High Adventure Sea Base, a sailing adventure camp for scouts (boys and girls) based in the Florida Keys. They train over 13,000 scouts a year, so she keeps busy.

“This year I will train and coach 80 cruising sailors, on Shambala, charter boats, or at Florida Sea Base,” she says. “On Shambala, each week six scouts live aboard, sailing, snorkeling, fishing, and exploring, as well as developing a greater appreciation for the sea.”

Captain Suky’s idea of busy is expansive, so she volunteers as a trained field assistant with the TiCaToVe organization’s efforts in researching and preserving sea turtles in Vieques, Puerto Rico. “Their sea turtle program employs volunteers to help the staff monitor nesting activity on a large portion of Vieques’ many beaches,” she explains. “It provides data about turtle populations, nesting preferences, and survival rates within Vieques’ geographical and climatic context.”

While Cannon loves what she’s doing, the state of the world’s waters is on her mind all the time. Saddened that “our beloved and essential oceans and bays are threatened,” Cannon is part of the solution. “Much of my water preservation in the past has been political and social activism,” she says. “I was part of the founding group of Save the Bay in the 1980s, when I lived on Huntington Bay and discovered how dead that part of the Long Island Sound was.”

Nowadays her focus as a cruising sailor is on what can be done to improve the health of the ocean and bays. She shares what she’s learned with her students, especially how plastic is wreaking havoc on the ocean and the sea animals.

“Much of my purpose as I cruise and teach is to witness the changes, and teach the young onIMG_5023es and adults how to be responsible mariners while having fun. I also help them to discover how they would like to make a contribution to preserving and protecting our waterways.”

Cannon, who also works with the Sea Grant program, urges others to volunteer time and energy. “I support a number of ocean preservation groups, and am currently looking for a project this winter to collect water samples throughout my travels.”

She loves the liveaboard lifestyle. “I love the quiet and the freedom. The sounds and interplay of the wind and waves make me feel I’m part of a brilliant symphony,” she enthuses. “I love being part of the natural world and it’s exhilarating to be the captain of my own ship.”

Cannon has advice for others contemplating her lifestyle. “Get out there and do it… the sooner the better. Make no excuses. Read Sea Grant’s publications, join a sailing or a racing club, take classes with the American Sailing Association, US Boating, or private instruction,” Cannon says.

IMG_5024When it comes to novice sailors, she offers this advice: “Start out on small boats, where you are close to the water. If you want to live aboard, spend time cruising to see if it’s the life for you. The ocean is the last frontier.”

What’s on her list of places to sail Shambala? “I would love to sail the coast of Maine and on to Nova Scotia, and if the winds were favorable, to Ireland.”

Cannon credits another person who made his home in the water with summing up her feelings about life. “Jacques Cousteau said, ‘The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.’ The sea cast its spell early with me, and I want that wonder to last forever.”

Sites of interest:

By Michael Griffin


is a native New Yorker who has many fond memories of going deep-sea fishing in his youth. He lives near Long Island with his wife, son, and cat (who is sitting in his lap as he types this).

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