Teenage solo sailor among storytellers in Freeport

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FREEPORT — Eight adventurers will share their tales of outdoor discovery and wonder during the first-ever Stories Outside event on Aug. 19.

From summiting Mount Kilimanjaro to canoe camping, the stories are meant to inspire and excite. 

Held at L.L. Bean’s Discovery Park at 2 p.m., Stories Outside is free and open to the public as part of the second annual Life Happens Outside Festival, presented by Teens to Trails. Attendees are encouraged to bring blankets and chairs. There will also be live music by Jake Hoffman.

Stories Outside is produced by Portland-based Adam Burk + Co, which works with companies, organizations and individuals to help them tell their stories “confidently and coherently.”

Burk founded the business in 2015 after three years of leading the Treehouse Institute, a Maine nonprofit that “fosters more resilient and prosperous communities through building social capital.”

“I have a huge passion for people first and foremost,” Burk said. “People have a seed and idea about what their story is going to be about … (So we) coach people to confidently and coherently tell that story. That process is pure beauty.” 

He said the “Co” in Adam Burk + Co stands for “collaborators,” rather than “company.”

“Whether it’s the client or the people on my team, it’s all a very collaborative effort,” Burk said. “I like to work in deep partnership.”

His partnership with L.L. Bean, Burk said, was a “no-brainer.”

“We wanted to replicate the experience that is so fundamental to being human, which is going outside and … being totally in awe,” Burk said. “This is what we do as people … It seemed really straightforward that we’d do this storytelling in the park.”

One of the featured storytellers will be 19-year-old Kai O’Connor.

Although from Corinth, Vermont, O’Connor has spent his summers in Freeport, visiting his grandparents and sailing at the Harraseeket Yacht Club. 

On June 20, O’Connor returned from more than eight months of sailing solo from Freeport to the Bahamas, then to Jamaica, Cuba, Mexico and back to Maine.

His vessel was a 1968, 27-foot Pearson Renegade sailboat, which he bought for $1,000 and spent the summer after high school fixing up. The 5,200 nautical miles it took O’Connor to sail to the Bahamas and back was the first time he had sailed a boat longer than 14 feet.

“I knew how to sail a small boat, (but) didn’t know anything about anchoring or navigation so there was a steep learning curve in the beginning,” O’Connor said. “I had a lot of help from others, both people I knew back home and some I met along the trip.”

Between leaks and engine issues, choppy conditions and bouts of seasickness, O’Connor overcame wave after wave. After running out of money in Florida, he even he lived on his boat and worked for a yacht management company for two months before continuing on to the Bahamas.

Still, O’Connor said the most significant challenges he faced were long, four- to five-day sails, specifically his trip from Mexico back to the U.S., on which he plans to focus Sunday. 

“That turned out to be one of the best sails in the end, but it started off really hard,” O’Connor said, careful not to divulge too much.

O’Connor made it back just in time to attend orientation at the University of Vermont, where he’ll study engineering in the fall. 

Taking the time between his studies for the trip, which he’d be dreaming about for years, O’Connor said, just “made sense.” He hopes to keep sailing while at school and, eventually, sail the Northwest Passage. 

The importance of ignoring the doubts of others, and those in your own head, in pursuit of your goals is something O’Connor said he hopes to pass down to those listening to his story Sunday. 

“There are a lot of people who like to tell you that you don’t know what you’re getting into,” he said. “But you just have to go out and do it.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Kai O’Connor, who recently returned from a solo sail from Freeport to the Bahamas and back, will be one of eight storytellers at the premiere Stories Outside event Aug. 22 at L.L. Bean’s Discovery Park in Freeport. 

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