WEST ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The West Orange resident who embarked on a 5,000-mile trans-Atlantic voyage aboard a 105-year-old tall ship to raise money for the American Brain Tumor Association has returned home after 45 days at sea.
Michael Mault, a former Maplewood police lieutenant, said he is thrilled to be with his family again, but admitted he does miss being out on the open ocean. Sailing on an old tall ship was his lifelong dream and he said it was “life-changing” to actually have the experience. In fact, he enjoyed it so much that he said he would go back in a heartbeat.
“It’s hard work, but it was such a rewarding journey as far as just learning and feeling like every day, when you hit the rack, you had accomplished something,” Mault told the West Orange Chronicle in a Nov. 25 phone interview. “The only way that 105-year-old boat was getting across the ocean was by us, by teamwork.”
Mault was a crewmember of the Europa, a Dutch tall ship that allows passengers to act as trainee seamen; it traveled down the coast of Africa to Cape Verde before crossing the Atlantic Ocean and the equator to reach Montevideo, Uruguay. That meant he performed all the tasks of an actual sailor, from steering the ship to swabbing the deck to peeling potatoes. He said the professional crew taught him a lot as well, such as tying knots and celestial navigation.
Climbing the rigging was the most challenging aspect of the journey for Mault, who said he always worries household ladders will not be able to hold his 6-foot-6-inch, 240-pound body. So to scale a 150-foot rope ladder as the boat pitches and rolls was quite difficult, he said, especially since the ladder narrows and the footholds get smaller the closer you get to the top. And, he said he sometimes had to do so at night when it was difficult to see. But once he got used to the practice, he grew to love it.
Mault said his favorite part of the voyage was helming the ship at night, surrounded by beauty.
“The stars were just absolutely incredible,” Mault said, pointing out that there is no ambient light blocking them at sea. “I’d never seen that many stars anywhere. You’re in the middle of the Atlantic and there’s nothing but sky. And there’s barely any room for sky because there’s so many stars everywhere.”
The stars were not the only memorable part of the trip, though. Mault recalled that crossing the equator was a special moment because the professional crew — dressed as Neptune and merpeople — held a ceremony in which he and the rest of the passengers were promoted from “pollywogs” to “shellbacks.” He also celebrated his birthday aboard the Europa, which meant the crew lavished him with attention throughout the day and even served him a delicious deep-dish apple pie.
The only moment Mault found upsetting was fishing for dorado, or mahi-mahi. Though the former Marine said he is no softie, he said it actually bothered him to see the vibrantly colored fish turn a shade of gray upon dying. It reminded him of the feebleness of human life, he said.
Through all of these experiences Mault never forgot his mother, Loretta Mault; his brother, Dennis Mault; and his friend, Angelo Vayas of Maplewood, who all died of glioblastoma, a brain cancer, at relatively young ages. He said he felt all three were with him for the journey, to the point that he often saw his mother’s favorite number 222 on the heading’s digital readout. And he made sure to acknowledge them along the way.
“I took a moment when everybody was celebrating the equator crossing to just go up on the bow and think of them,” Mault said adding that he reflected on “how amazing they were and how I was in that place because of them.”
Raising money for the American Brain Tumor Association in their honor was the main purpose of the voyage and, according to the Sailing for a Solution YouCaring page, the fundraiser has so far collected $23,271 of its $36,000 goal. Mault said he plans to continue accepting donations until the end of the year.
ABTA Director of Corporate and Community Engagement Jennifer Sloan said that money will significantly help the nonprofit’s work funding brain tumor research and providing informational resources to brain cancer sufferers. Sloan said her group is extremely grateful, and she would like to work with Mault again on another fundraiser.
Sloan said she hopes others will consider hosting a fundraiser for the ABTA. Though she does not expect most to do something as large-scale as Mault’s voyage, she encouraged people to similarly to use their passions in a way that could raise money for the cause. While there is more hope than ever in the field of brain-tumor research, she said a cure will only come through continued support.
“We can only get there with continued efforts like Mike’s,” Sloan told the Chronicle in a Nov. 28 phone interview.
Mault himself said he would like to continue the Sailing for a Solution concept in the future, whether by embarking on another voyage or offering sailing lessons to children. He said the campaign could also raise money for causes beyond the ABTA, such as hospitals treating glioblastoma.
In the meantime, Mault said he is simply enjoying his time with his family. Likewise, his loved ones are overjoyed he has returned.
Kerry Mault said it feels wonderful to have her husband back, pointing out that the roughly one month he was away was the longest they have been apart in their 31 years together. In fact, she said she was so happy to see him at the airport that she hopped out of a moving car just to give him a big hug. And while he was able to communicate with her for 10 minutes every day by text message using a satellite phone, she said she is glad to know he is home safe after the dangers of the open seas.
As for the future, Kerry Mault said she is not sure whether she is ready for her husband to be constantly participating in voyages. She joked that one of her fears was he would actually enjoy this trip so much he would want to do more. But she is open to the idea and even said she might be persuaded to join him — but only if they embark on shorter, calm-water sailing expeditions so she can get used to being away at sea.
Regardless of what happens, Kerry Mault said she admires her husband for what he has accomplished.
“My husband was very brave to do this trip,” Kerry Mault told the Chronicle in a Nov. 28 phone interview. “I’m proud of him. I really do give him a lot of credit because a lot of people did look at him like he was crazy.”
Samantha Mault also gives her father credit for making the voyage, telling the Chronicle she is happy he was finally able to achieve his lifelong dream. And while she does not know whether she would ever take such a trip — she said her father is a lot braver than she is — she definitely would like to continue raising money for glioblastoma research. She said it was a lot of fun helping her family sell T-shirts and host two fundraising events at the Oak Barrel Pub in West Orange, and the experience has inspired her to continue giving back.
Unlike his sister, Jack Mault said watching his father’s campaign has made him want to embark on a voyage; in fact, he said he and his father are talking about going on the Europa’s trip to Antarctica together.
“I’m extremely proud of him,” Jack Mault told the Chronicle in a Nov. 28 phone interview. “It just proves how nice of a person he is, how caring he is to do something this risky to raise money for a disease that’s deadly.”
But Michael Mault did not complete his journey for praise — he did so to raise awareness for a highly malignant and difficult-to-treat disease that typically gives those diagnosed only 15 months to live. He said this fundraiser has taught him that glioblastoma is a lot more prevalent than people realize after hearing from dozens of people who have been touched by it. Yet many still are not familiar with the cancer, so he hopes his voyage will spur others to spread the word and support the search for a cure.
To donate to Michael Mault’s Sailing for a Solution fundraiser, visit https://www.youcaring.com/american-brain-tumor-association-571168. To learn how to launch a fundraiser for the ABTA, visit http://hope.abta.org/site/PageServer?pagename=vfe_splash.
Photos Courtesy of Michael Mault