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Beth Sorensen
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Reed College senior Caitlin Shrigley awarded Watson Fellowship to travel the high seas

PORTLAND, OR (March 22, 2005) - Reed College senior Caitlin Shrigley was recently awarded the coveted Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to spend next year sailing around the world on tall ships.   An anthropology major, Shrigley will receive $25,000 to fund her travels.

With an eye for future leaders and innovators, the Thomas J. Watson Foundation annually awards 50 fellowships of $25,000 to college seniors for a year spent independently exploring and traveling outside the United States. Watson Fellows are selected in a two-step process that requires nomination from the college followed by a national competition.   This year the Watson Foundation received nearly 1,000 applications, from which 184 students were selected by their institutions to compete on the national level.   Four students at Reed College were nominated for competition. Caitlin Shrigley is Reed College's 62nd Watson Fellow since 1968.

The traditional or tall ships Caitlin will be traveling by are characterized by their multiple sails, high masts of up to 200 feet, and length of as long as 300 feet.   Caitlin will travel by sea to countries including Norway, New Zealand, Australia, Samoa, Bahamas, Barbados and Jamaica on her project, "Keeping Traditions Afloat: Ships and Sailors on the High Seas."

Caitlin, a native of LaConner, Washington, began sailing when she was 13 aboard a 56-foot schooner named Rejoice .   " I sailed on her every Sunday and did maintenance work on her every Monday along with five to ten other teenagers," she explains.  "Once a month we would go on three-day sailing trips around the San Juan Islands. Once a year we went on two-week trips around the San Juans and the Gulf Islands in Canada.   And once a year we spent one month in dry dock scraping the paint off her hull and repainting her. I sailed on Rejoice for five years until I graduated from high school."

Since high school, Caitlin has spent three summers teaching kids age eight to sixteen how to sail at a summer camp in the San Juan Islands.   For the first two summers, she was the deck hand and a steward, and last summer she was the first mate.

Caitlin is no stranger to travel abroad.   " I took a year off between high school and Reed. During that year I spent seven months traveling through Asia with a close friend and then two months in Europe with her. Between my sophomore and junior year I spent nine months studying Spanish in Barcelona."

The Watson necessitates that students don't return to their home country for the full year, unless a serious emergency occurs.   Nonetheless, the prospect of traveling alone through foreign waters doesn't intimidate Caitlin.   " I have always been emotionally close to my family and friends, but not necessarily geographically close. Their support has allowed me to be independent and travel."

Being at sea for the majority of a year may sound daunting to some, but Caitlin suspects it will help her adopt a clearer attitude toward life on land.   "A friend told me that once you are over 25 miles from land the air is crisp and clears your palate so once you return to land you can smell it rotting. I am excited to be away from land long enough to come back and smell life."

Tall ships do more than bring to mind images of crisp air, pirate ships soaring atop high waves, and haggard sailors manning the helms.   Maritime art is a beautiful and declining art form, gradually diminishing as tall ships cease to be made, and their maintenance grows more costly. "Sailing is a dying art," Caitlin explains, and this project is a manifestation of her fervent desire to keep it alive by learning more about tarring sails, climbing masts, rope work and knot tying, and storm navigation.  

"These ships can be operated single handedly," Caitlin explains, but there are fewer and fewer of them left in action, as they are gradually sold to museums, and retired.   In fact, in the process of applying for the Watson fellowship, Caitlin contacted nearly 30 ships and crews, and found only four positive responses.   By the time she got the news that she'd received the Watson, one ship had been sold to a museum and another had engine problems, so her search began anew, with great success.

An abbreviated travel itinerary includes Caitlin flying to England, where she will take a ship to Scandinavia, travel west down the coast of Europe, then sail to the Caribbean.   Later still, she will fly to Argentina, and hopefully, if she can find another active tall ship, sail to Antarctica.  

For anyone interested in applying for a Watson, Caitlin has a few words of wisdom: " Figure out what you want to spend a year doing and make sure that you have more passion and excitement backing it up than any amount of rain, sickness, destruction, lost luggage, and loneliness could ever take away."

Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program
The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program began in 1968, founded by the children of longtime education and world affairs enthusiasts Thomas J. Watson Sr., the founder of IBM Corporation, and his wife, Jeannette K. Watson.   Historically, more than 2,300 Watson Fellows have journeyed abroad, going on to become professors, politicians, lawyers, doctors, artists, journalists, and more.

For more information on the Watson Fellowship, please visit the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship website at


Reed College
Reed College, in Portland, Oregon, is an undergraduate institution of the liberal arts and sciences dedicated to sustaining the highest intellectual standards. With an enrollment of about 1,360 students, Reed ranks third in the undergraduate origins of Ph.D.s in the United States and second in the number of Rhodes Scholars from a liberal arts college (31 since 1915). For more information, visit