Please select your home edition
Edition
Coast Guard Foundation LEADERBOARD 2

Appreciating the sailing community's leadership role in ocean health

by David Schmidt 22 Sep 2020 08:00 PDT September 22, 2020
Thick smoke off of Anacortes, Washington © David Schmidt

If you live on the West Coast of the USA or Canada, you're more than familiar with the wildfires that brought heartache and loss to many small communities and families, and which destroyed numerous homes from California up to my home state of Washington. Even if you and your family managed to escape the destruction, your lungs are likely still trying to recover from the worst air that this humble scribe has ever experienced in the USA.

For readers who are based in other parts of the country, describing this air as "foul" is akin to calling the F50/AC50), used to contest the SailGP circuit and 35th America's Cup, "quick": namely, an understatement of enormous proportion.

While I had been experiencing the smoke for what felt like an eternity (mea culpa: I'm addicted cardio workouts and the smoke is kryptonite for my rowing-machine routine), it wasn't until I was out on the water late last week to test a boat off of nearby Anacortes, Washington, that I realized the enormity of the situation. Having grown up sailing and cruising Maine's DownEast waters, I'm no stranger to pea-soup fog, but until last week I had never experienced a situation where visibility was reduced to just a few hundred feet due to anything besides fog.

In fact, the smoke was so thick that we needed to run the test boat's Garmin-built radar just to operate a half mile from the marina.

Frustrating, yes, but I count myself as lucky that I haven't lost any loved ones, pets, a home, a business or anything else to the flames. Sadly, there are plenty of accounts of serious tragedy and heartache emerging from the 2020 fire season. However, looking bigger picture at the challenges that humanity faces with human-caused climate change and pollution (read: ocean health), I am happy to see the sailing community working hard to be a force for positive change.

Take the online iteration of The Ocean Race Summits Newport, which was hosted live from Sail Newport's world-class facility, in Newport, Rhode Island, on Wednesday, September 16. There, thought leaders - ranging from Rhode Island senator Sheldon Whitehouse to Mark Towill, CEO of 11th Hour Racing, and Peter Burling, an Olympic gold medalist, America's Cup winner and a founder of the Live Ocean Charitable trust - spoke to online audiences about the challenges that humanity and the sailing community face, as well as the opportunities that all stakeholders have in improving ocean health.

Anyone interested in watching a full replay of The Ocean Race Summits Newport, can do so now.

"We want to demonstrate that being competitive at top level sport and prioritizing sustainability are not exclusive," said Towill at the event. "It is to our benefit to be leaders in this space and to encourage others to join in... We're at a tipping point and we want our team to be driving change."

In sailing terms, tipping points can be thought of as vanishing stability. Sadly, says Burling, this is exactly where we are as a planet. "What scared me most during the last edition of The Ocean Race was what I didn't see - the lack of whales, albatross, tuna, compared to the stories I heard about in the past," he said at the event. "The difference to where we are now is pretty scary and it shows how urgent the issue is."

While these tipping points need to be urgently addressed in order to avoid the (metaphoric) bottom paint facing the sun (provided you can see it through the dense smoke that's been choking the West Coast), The Ocean Race Summits Newport also provided reasons for optimism, namely human ingenuity and our ability to work together to conquer great challenges.

"For many generations, we have been takers from the ocean and we have to change our mindset and be caretakers of the oceans," said Senator Whitehouse at the event. "People have to put their mind to think about oceans in order to appreciate the work that needs to be done. But it can be done. It has to be done rapidly and with intention. But we can solve this."

There's no question that the task is enormous, but there's also no question in my mind that, if the sailing community can find ways of making monohulls that weigh 14,374 pounds fly on foils that are powered by double-sided soft wingsails, we can also get a grip on the environmental challenges that face our lonely planet.

For starters, organizations such as 11th Hour Racing are hitting well above their weight by educating and influencing countless people through their involvement with The Ocean Race, but - ultimately it's up to each of us to demand more from our leaders and our industries to protect the oceans from over-plunder and pollution.

The good news is that the sailing community is on the right side of this equation, but with this gold star comes the responsibility of helping to educate others on the gravity of the situation and the opportunities to effect positive change. This could involve supporting sustainable fisheries, working toward protecting healthy reefs for diving and snorkeling, and reducing plastic waste to enable racing without wrapping speed-sapping bags around foils and appendages, to name just a few important steps.

While there's no question that the West Coast's wildfires and smoke were horrific, one "upside" (I use this term extremely lightly) is that the fires are tangible and visible, both on television sets and on simple walks around the block. Ocean health is far harder to conceptualize, as what happens under the waves tends to stay there. That said, humanity needs to address ocean health and climate change with the same ambition, commitment and voracity that we applied to the July 20, 1969 moon landing.

Yes, the hill is steep and tall, but the simple fact that the sailing community is taking a leadership role in this crucial endeavor gives me serious hope that we can avoid pointing our keels at the sky. That said, we need to start easing the traveler and the mainsheet immediately, lest the devastating calamity posed by the West Coast's recent wildfires becomes the norm for life both above and below the waterline.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt
Sail-World.com North American Editor

Related Articles

Sam Holliday on The Race Around's new solo class
Singlehanded and doublehanded Class 40 sailors can now get involved in the event's offshore action Thanks to a recent announcement from The Race Around, which is slated to begin in the summer of 2023, singlehanded and doublehanded Class 40 sailors can now get involved in the event's offshore action. Posted on 20 Apr
Nurture the roots to enjoy the fruit
The grass roots and professional sides of sailing are connected Without doubt, my favourite day on the water all year is when I run the first Junior Sailing session of the year at my local club. Posted on 19 Apr
World Sailing's double problem
IOC concerns on Mixed Offshore Event at Paris 2024 Following on from the International Olympic Committee's six-week notice to World Sailing about their concerns over the Mixed Offshore Event at Paris 2024, the sport's governing body held a Townhall Meeting of their Board and Council. Posted on 16 Apr
Green shoots emerge on North America regatta scene
Latest newsletter from Sail-World's David Schmidt in the USA Good news arrived last week from the 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 classes, announcing that their 2022 world championships will be hosted by Sail Nova Scotia, on the waters of Nova Scotia's St. Margaret's Bay from September 6-11, 2022 Posted on 13 Apr
Can You Feel It?
Well? Can you? The Jacksons certainly did back in 1980 with this single from their Triumph album. Well? Can you? The Jacksons certainly did back in 1980 with this single from their Triumph album. Some of the names that went into included the exceptionally talented, and most sought after Greg Phillinganes on ivories, and then one Venetta Fields. Posted on 11 Apr
The John Westell Centenary pt.5
FiveOs, fast multi-hulls and faster cars! This fifth and final programme in the series celebrating the centenary of John Westell kicks off with the 5o5, but now with John not so much as the designer but as the first volume builder of GRP FiveOs in the UK. Posted on 9 Apr
Randall Reeves on his successful Figure 8 Voyage
Solo and non-stop around the Americas (to port) and Antarctica (to starboard) For most singlehanded blue-water cruising sailors, crossing the Altantic or sailing alone to Hawaii would be an adventure of a lifetime. Not so for Randall Reeves. Posted on 8 Apr
Explore. Dream. Discover.
The Easter weekend was a time to get on the water around the globe for many The Easter weekend was a time to get on the water around the globe for many. Lockdown restrictions in the UK have eased somewhat, allowing the return of grassroots sports, and the fine weather resulted in sailors heading to their local clubs. Posted on 6 Apr
Randy Draftz on the 2021 Charleston Race Week
Celebrating the 25th anniversary edition event It's not too often in life that a storied event gets a second crack at celebrating its silver anniversary, but that's what happened with Charleston Race Week as a result of last year's outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Posted on 6 Apr
Leandro Spina on the new US Open Sailing Series
An interview with Leandro Spina on the West Marine US Open Sailing Series US Sailing has been working hard to prepare their athletes for the Tokyo 2021 Olympics, as well as for the upcoming 2024 and 2028 Games, and part of this involves the recently announced West Marine US Open Sailing Series. Posted on 1 Apr
Rooster 2020 - Impact BA - FOOTERUpffront 2020 Foredeck Club SW FOOTERSelden 2020 - FOOTER