Mother, Mother Ocean
We sailors are in the best position of all to come to her immediate aid.
The essence of mountain climbing isn’t to be found in the ropes, crampons, or pitons, however necessary and pleasing to the touch those tools may be.
Rather, it’s found in the almost-sacred relationship between the climber and the mountain, the haunting heights, the soulful solitude, the touch of cold rock upon warm cheek, the yawing precipice that defines each movement and moment in exquisite relief.
So, too, the essence of voyaging under sail won’t be found in the exotic materials, mechanical gadgetry, or electronic wizardry that seem to define the modern yacht. While it’s only reasonable, even responsible, to immerse ourselves in the minutia of our boats, we must remember that they’re immersed in bodies of water, and it’s those bodies of water that give them their raison d’être. Without the oceans, our vessels are no more than coastal yard art or cacophonous wind chimes. Without the beckoning oceans, our horizons would hold little wonder, and our hearts less will to wander.
Like many old salts, I feel a deep reverence for our oceans, for they’ve more than influenced my life—they define it. It’s a life that, while always uncertain and challenging, is profoundly rewarding. Thus, especially in light of recent marine environmental disasters, I feel compelled to answer the clarion call to help protect and preserve what is our largest, richest, and yet arguably most vulnerable environment on Earth.
If we can behave like one, the sailing community is uniquely positioned to contribute to this worthy cause. We have an armada of obviously resourceful sailor-citizens strung out along our shores, crisscrossing oceans, and probing into countless ports worldwide. We might act as environmental ambassadors, teachers, researchers, monitors, and reporters wherever we go.
We have an active and interested sailing press to whom we can report back, and we possess efficient new technologies to collect, connect, and communicate our findings.
While sailing may not be the sport of kings, it is the sport of senators, representatives, and captains of industry. These influential people can be reached, touched, and moved toward more enlightened action.
Just as important, if we’re mindful of our own environmental behavior, we can hold the high moral ground from which to preach our message, being careful to strike a tone that always educates, never alienates. We can become living examples to emulate. Our sails are symbols of elegant efficiency. Our lifestyles, intentionally stripped of the superfluous, define the differences between our wants and our needs and reaffirm that the richness of life is to be found in our experiences, not our possessions.
First, we should familiarize ourselves with the natural and cultural history of our oceans, for once we comprehend their might, majesty, and the pivotal role they’ve played and still do in our lives, it’ll become easier to mobilize the enthusiasm to effect positive change.
Ocean waters cover 71 percent of the planet, but we refer to Mother Ocean because it was the origin of life on Earth. Scientists estimate that aquatic life preceded terrestrial by some 3 billion years. Humans’ own visceral connection is best illustrated by the appearance of gills through part of our fetal development. The ocean’s role was hardly diminished when fins became feet, for although less archeologically glamorous, the fishhook and net have played as important a role in human development as the spear point and arrowhead.
Evidence of the earliest recorded sea voyages, around Greece and the island of Milos, date to 7250 B.C. Intrepid Greek sailors pushed the known world out to the gates of Gibraltar, where they noted a strong current and attached their word for that, okeanos, to all waters beyond.
Modern oceanographers agree that the Greeks weren’t far off the mark with their simplified concept of the ocean as a great river, for the oceans are never still. Within the oceans are powerful currents that move incomprehensible masses of water not only horizontally around the world but also vertically up and down through the thermoclines.