Crew Bios

After a combined sixteen years of sailing to Antarctica, South Georgia, Cape Horn, and across the Southern Ocean, we worked with Chuck Paine and Ed Joy to design Seal.

In 2002, we moved to Canada with two babies under two to be onsite to make decisions about the metalwork, as Seal took shape at Kanter Yachts. We trucked the empty hull north to New Hampshire and fitted out the interior and the rigging over two years, with the help and advice of local boat builders.

We launched Seal in 2004, when the children were two and four. We spent the next summer in Greenland, before returning to charter in Antarctica and South Georgia for the next five years. In 2011, we decided it was time for a new adventure, so we sailed up to French Polynesia, and across the island chains to New Zealand. We spent most of 2012 in New Zealand, exploring South Island, before heading north to Japan. We arrived in Alaska via the Aleutian Islands in 2013.

Hamish has spent most of the past 34 years working in remote regions since his first voyage to Antarctica in 1988. He spent six years as the full time skipper of Pelagic, one of the pioneering charter yachts in the region, as well as serving as "ice pilot" for superyachts visiting Antarctica and South Georgia. He holds an Ocean Yachtmaster Commercial certificate.

Kate sailed Seal for 20 years, following three years on Pelagic. Before that, she crewed on many different boats, from a square topsail schooner to whale watching boats, sailed as a foredeck hand in the Southern Ocean, and spent many seasons singlehanding a 28-footer on the coast of Maine. She first sailed to Antarctica in 1998. She held a USCG 100 ton master's license and an Ocean Yachtmaster certificate and is the author of Homeschool Teacher. Following a long battle against cancer Kate passed away in 2023, a devastating loss to her family and friends around the world. A friend wrote an obituary that reads:

Katharine Serena Laird died September 26, 2023. She packed an extraordinary amount of vibrance, cheer, adventure, grace, wit, and wisdom into her 55 years. A voracious learner, she was teaching herself Korean right up to her last days.

The only child of Daniel and Sally Ford, Kate was raised in Durham, New Hampshire where the sea cast a hold. While in high school at Philips Exeter Academy, she ventured to Washington, D.C. to intern with a U.S. senator. Remaining passionate about civic engagement, Kate always found time to add her articulate voice to community and political concerns. Kate graduated cum laude from Harvard in 1990 with a history degree and a 100-ton U.S. Coast Guard master’s license. While there, she was captain of the water polo team, worked on a whale watching boat, and developed friendships that withstood distance and decades. Her roommates remember her wielding a sextant for a celestial navigation course and becoming proficient in Morse code by tapping out the banter of a radio disk jockey.

Kate’s first teaching job began immediately after graduation as tutor for a family sailing across the Pacific. From sailing dinghies as a youngster, to climbing the rigging of a tall ship, to single-handing a 28-foot sloop, Kate’s zeal never wavered. After earning a rare female crew spot in the BT Global Challenge yacht race and proving herself so capable that she was entrusted with the helm on the most extreme leg?more than 6000 miles upwind from Australia to South Africa?Kate knew at her core that she could do or figure out just about anything. In 1998, Kate seized an opportunity to sail to the Antarctic Peninsula, planning to finance the trip using skills she had honed during two years teaching English and earning a master’s degree in writing at the University of New Hampshire. Kate smiled often, but her grin was especially luminous when recalling this voyage. “It was life-changing,” she liked to say. “For starters, I ended up marrying the captain.”

Kate and Hamish Laird spent the next two years running Pelagic, one of the first charter sailboats to offer trips at the exacting southern fringe of the globe. Then, undaunted by what most would deem undoable, they launched plans for a new boat and a family nearly simultaneously. With toddler Helen (Lenny) and weeks-old Anna (AJ) in tow, Kate and Hamish began building Seal, a 56-foot, aluminum, high latitude expedition sailboat. They hauled the bare hull to her parents’ front yard and spent a year building the interior, including an electrical system designed and installed by Kate. Following a shakedown cruise to Belize, the family sailed to Greenland and the U.K. before changing hemispheres to offer charters around Cape Horn, into the intricate channels of Patagonia, and across potentially fearsome swaths of ocean to the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia, and the Falkland Islands. Kate’s evocative accounts of these journeys, and some of the other 85,000 miles eventually logged together as a family, jumped off the pages of the Wall Street Journal, Sail, and other publications.

The children grew up thinking that the planet was populated by penguins and fur seals, with pockets of humans in between. Kate fanned their curiosity and committed herself to providing them with both a practical and an academically rigorous education. Her book, Homeschool Teacher, published in 2016, became a lifeline for many parents during COVID. When the time came, Kate could not have been prouder to watch her teenagers head ashore to pursue their own interests at Dartmouth and Yale.

Diagnosed with cancer in 2008, Kate resourcefully found ways to manage her treatment while still living and working remotely. Migrating north via New Zealand and Japan, the Lairds embraced Cordova, Alaska as their home port in 2013. The wildlife-rich waters of Prince William Sound, the Alaska Peninsula, and the Aleutians became treasured haunts explored by sail, foot, ski, oar, and paddleboard.

Kate is survived by Hamish, Lenny, AJ, her father Dan, and a deep roster of friends and family worldwide. Donations in Kate’s memory can be directed to lobular breast cancer research https://www.justgiving.com/page/kate-laird-lobular-cancer-research

Anna (22) and Helen (23) have sailed over 85,000 miles, and, as far as we know, were the first young children to sail to the Arctic and the Antarctic since the whalers' families long ago. Both are now experienced crew and sail on Seal.


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