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Thoughts on Ukraine, The Ocean Summits, and some small steps we can all take

by David Schmidt 15 Mar 08:00 PDT March 15, 2022
Support Ukraine © with permission

If you're like me, the last three weeks have been a tough time to keep one's eye on sailing, given the state of the world and Russia's unbelievably brazen, illegal, and atrocious attack on Ukraine, beginning on February 24.

A friend of mine summed things up perfectly with a recent text: "All I know is that the world seemed to be slowly creeping out of the pandemic, ready to rebuild itself, when an egotistical dictator bent on enriching himself disrupts the world order and launches the largest military engagement in Europe since World War II."

I couldn't agree more, and while I'll admit a certain amount of schadenfreude each time I hear of another oligarch's seized yacht (there are entire websites dedicated to tracking this), it's the heartbreaking imagery and tales of needless suffering coming out of the war zone that's been distracting me from my normal task of following the sailing news.

This isn't to say that I haven't been following the regattas; just to admit that it's difficult to enjoy sailing-fueled escapism when it's obvious that so many people are suffering at the hands of one diminutive and pale-eyed despot.

Then there's the fact that the pandemic and the war in Ukraine are both preludes to the even bigger challenge facing humanity: The looming environmental crisis.

Fortunately, the sailing world is engaging this latter issue.

Next Monday (March 21), The Ocean Race and 11th Hour Racing will host one of their 12 planned ocean summits in the Seychelles. The Ocean Race Summit Seychelles will be attended by heads of state—including Mr. Wavel Ramkalawan, who is President of the Republic of the Seychelles—and environmental and ocean advocates. It will focus on the role of female leadership in ocean conservation, as well as the critical role that island nations, which are facing some of the worst climate-change blows, can play in raising global awareness and inspiring action.

"We are running out of time to ensure that the right mechanisms are implemented to secure the health of the beating blue heart of our planet—the ocean,' said Danny Faure, a former president of Seychelles and the founder of his namesake foundation, in an official Ocean Race release. "Without a healthy ocean, our existence will be challenged. The protection and conservation of the ocean is imperative for humanity's fight for survival."

This, says, Richard Brisius, race chair of The Ocean Race, is where sailing enters the picture. "We believe that sport provides the platform and reach to make a positive impact on the planet," he said in an official release. "Through our Summits we are bringing together a diverse range of leaders, experts and ocean advocates, who all share a common goal to protect the ocean. This provides a unique opportunity to develop and drive ocean rights."

Given the fact that the clock is running and there are no discarded races allowed in humanity's contest against time, carbon dioxide, and microplastic pollution, we at Sail-World sincerely hope that The Ocean Race's summits gains traction, and that the eyes of the world are opened, sobered, and fixated on the planet's looming environmental crisis before we find ourselves (metaphorically) facing tens of thousands of troops, tanks, and other mechanisms of war overrunning our borders and indiscriminately shelling our cities.

Which, of course, is exactly what our friends in Ukraine are currently facing, thanks to "an egotistical dictator bent on enriching himself".

The International Olympic Committee, World Sailing, US Sailing, and other international organizing bodies recently took the step of suspending the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes. While some regattas might not have the headlining boats that they were hoping for on their starting lines, this is a tiny price to pay in the grand scheme.

[Here, of course, it's important to note that many of the professional sailors on these now-suspended programs are international athletes who will personally suffer as a result of these suspensions. We at Sail-World hope they can find better employers.]

So, as we North American sailors await spring's arrival and the promise of warmer and longer days, it's important to remember that there are small ways that we can all push the needle, both with the senseless war in Ukraine and with the environment. Sadly, there are no silver bullets available. But there can be small- and large-dollar donations to humanitarian organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières (American translation: Doctors Without Borders; www.msf.org), Mercy Corps (www.mercycorps.org), and Unicef (www.unicef.org), and there are gas-pump, grocery-store, and lifestyle decisions that—if compounded, ideally exponentially—will make a difference.

As for "sailing-fueled escapism", I'm the first to admit that this also plays a role in helping to maintain a positive headspace amidst all of the real world's troubles, if only for a small time, and we at Sail-World of course remain committed to this effort.

So, as we hope for an early (and protracted) mud season in Ukraine, the decimation of the ruble, and rapid decline of "an egotistical dictator", we also hope that The Ocean Race summits and other environmental efforts move the game from one of hoping for a miracle to one of confidence in the planet's—and humanity's—future.

Thanks something that we can all drink to... so long as it doesn't involve vodka.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt Sail-World.com North American Editor

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