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CAPTAIN JOEL STEVEN FOGEL
A Life Well Lived In 1987, I was first to explore the Upper Yangtze River in China by kayak through the Great Bend Gorge. We were 17 men and one woman, composed of topographers, geologists and professional river-runners. The story was told in Riding the Dragon’s Back: Down the Yangtze River.
My desire to explore first hit me in two places, at school and at work. I was about 10, listening to the teacher drone on, pointing to a map. Outside, a typical nor’easter blew off the sea in Atlantic City, NJ. Casinos hadn’t arrived yet. It was 1954.
“Pay attention, Mr. Fogel,” the authoritative figure yelped, slapping his pointer against the blackboard. “If you ever want to learn anything, you must stop daydreaming!”
The rain pounded against the window, but I was off, mentally traveling down some dark jungle river which the map showed only as a green curving line. That day taught me that we must first dream in order to live our dreams. My teacher was wrong. The dream would someday lead me to a reality which I could never have imagined.
Two years later, I was sitting in my father’s office. He manufactured commercial refrigerators in Philadelphia. On the weekend, I would travel to the factory to be “exposed to the family business.” On top of his large wooden desk sat a catalogue of dealers and salesmen. The bright fluorescent lighting glared down on black-and-white photographs of face after autonomous face staring back at me. They were all smiling and suddenly I was lost in a maze of men in grey flannel suits. Something clicked...I was determined at that moment that I only wanted one thing: to live an interesting life.
Later, after many adventures and expeditions, I would articulate my feelings in a documentary done about me called Challenging China’s Yangtze: “If you’re lucky, you are only going to live 100 years. There is a lot to see. I already know what my place and people are like. Now I want to know what the rest of the world is like.”
The sea was my first turning point. My grandfather, a commercial fisherman, took me in his vessel, The Bluefish, for days on end. I was only 5 or 6. I used to get really sick, and complain that I wanted to go home. “The sea is your home,” grizzled old Captain Joe Broome would chuckle. “She’s your Home and your Mother...so learn to love Her and stop squallin’.”
In school, sitting at my cramped wooden desk, I would dream. At work in my father’s factory, sweeping the floor, I would dream more.
Later, when I was about 16, I became a lifeguard on the Margate City Beach Patrol. That was great...saving people from the sea and being admired by pretty girls. That job nearly spoiled me for life.
At the University of Hawaii, where I studied Marine Zoology and worked as an assistant curator at the Sea Life Park on Oahu, I met Mr. Jacques Cousteau while working on the Conshelf Project. I was assigned to him as a “runner”—running for gas, food and coffee for him and his Navy divers. Captain Cousteau taught me a lot. He gave me a deep respect for Mother Ocean and all that She does for us. “Remember,” he said, “the Ocean has given us everything! We are from Her.”
In 1970, with his encouragement, I paddled a kayak from New York to Florida to film and report on water pollution. This was the beginning of WATERWATCH International, a non-profit worldwide water monitoring group which I founded to educate the public about the need for clean water. And it led to Lowell Thomas sponsoring me into The Explorers Club.
Exploration is the poetry of life and explorers are the poets of action. * * * CAPTAIN JOEL FOGEL, a 100-ton Coast Guard captain, was born in 1944 and has led nearly two dozen major expeditions, everything from living with an Ethiopian stone age tribe, to exploring underwater caves in Puerto Rico to documenting, in Twilight of the Primitive, an Amazon tribe, to studying Volga mussels. He worked for the Fogel/Jordan Commercial Refrigerator Co. for nearly 40 years as VP of International Marketing, but eschewed gray flannel. A holder of the Audubon Society’s Golden Osprey Award for environmental awareness, he’s kayaked the Grand Canyon, the Mississippi, and the lengths of both US coasts reporting on water quality. He’s appeared in 10 movies, including Rocky V and Dead Poet’s Society. After saving a woman whose car went off a bridge into ice water he was awarded a commendation from President Reagan and was nominated for the Carnegie Hero Award.
Joel and Coty have Sandy, William, Ellen, Anna and Jolina, and six grandchildren. They split their year between homes in Somers Point, New Jersey, and Manzanillo, Mexico.