Mother, Mother Ocean
We sailors are in the best position of all to come to her immediate aid.
Rising global temperatures, generally attributed to greenhouse gas emissions, have resulted in a rise in sea levels and temperatures threatening coral reefs and low-lying islands worldwide. Statistically, then, it’s our cavalier behavior on land that most threatens the sea.
But that isn’t to say that our behavior at sea bears no blame.
Maritime issues include offshore oil production and spills, the burgeoning growth of maritime transport (more than 80 percent of all goods manufactured globally are transported by ship, according to the Independent World Commission on the Oceans), stowaway biohazards and invasive species, noise pollution, habitat loss due to destructive fishing practices, souvenir shell collecting, aquaculture by-products, and genetically modified fish escaping into the wild breeding pools.
What to do? I believe the sailing community should create and adopt a mission statement that openly declares our commitment to the protection of the seas. This should include our own 10 Commandments of sorts—a Thou Shalt and Thou Shalt Not set of behavioral rules that will mitigate our own impact on the environment and maintain our credibility as advocates.
Our oceans are often called the deep blue sea. Yet snatch up a bucket of seawater and you’ll find that it isn’t blue at all; it’s clear. The sea is truly blue only en masse, just as we can be truly green only by acting collectively.
Where once the phrase “organized sailors” would’ve been considered an oxymoron, we must now rethink our culture of rugged individualism and organize ourselves into a critical mass with political and cultural clout.
We must create and join groups, petition, even pester, politicians, vote and vote again, use our spending habits to cajole industry toward meaningful reform, and volunteer our time and talents to environmental groups and schools.
It’s a misconception that our economic and environmental interests are at odds with each other. The words economy and ecology both have their roots in the Greek word oikos, meaning “our common home.”
Would that we could extend that sense of community to all mankind across and including every sea. There are no chain-link fences or sandbagged border posts out on the high seas. Lines of political delineation make no disturbance in our watery wakes.
The ocean isn’t terrestrial, and we should therefore no longer think of it as territory, especially in national terms. We must see it as a living world treasure merely passing by our shores.
Together, I believe we can ignite the world’s imagination, instigate crucial change, and ultimately preserve and protect our sacred waters.
Mother, Mother Ocean, we have heard your call.
The crew of Roger Henry continues to contemplate the state of aqueous affairs as they voyage home to New Zealand.
10 Commandments of Green Sailing
1. Select all paints, varnishes, caulks, and adhesives with their environmental impact in mind. Calculate the amount of paint required, then buy the smallest unit sizes possible to reduce waste.
2. Properly contain and dispose of toxic by-products resulting from boat maintenance. Work clean by using vacuum bags when sanding, and ground tarps when scraping and painting. Tent projects that create excessive dust.
3. On the water, select biodegradable cleaning and personal-hygiene products, including dish and laundry soaps, disinfectants, canvas and teak cleaners, shampoos, conditioners, and deodorants. Remember that these products ultimately end up in the sea.
4. When provisioning, reduce packaging, especially plastics. Store foods in reusable stowage bins. Sort, compress, and properly dispose of any non-biodegradable rubbish. Use boat bags to haul groceries, and reuse grocery-store plastic bags as onboard garbage bags.
5. At the fuel dock, adjust the nozzle flow rate to a slow setting. Don’t top up your fuel tanks. This leads to inevitable accidental spills. Have ample rags on hand. Report any substantial spills immediately.
6. Rectify engine oil or diesel leaks. Place oil-absorbent pads in the bilge, and dispose of them properly. Always check the bilges for pollutants before switching on the bilge pump.
7. Keep your outboard and inboard engines well tuned. Run them at the manufacturer’s recommended rpm and temperature to reduce toxic emissions. Ensure that the pitch and diameter of your propeller are correct and that it’s clean and free of dings. Replace old two-stroke outboards with either four-stroke or advanced two-stroke technologies.
8. Minimize your engine hours. Use such alternative energy sources as solar panels and wind generators to keep batteries charged. Ensure that refrigeration systems are well insulated and efficient. Use ventilation and fans instead of air-conditioning when possible. Instead of increasing electrical supply, strive to reduce demand.
9. Avoid creating large wakes that erode shorelines and endanger nesting shorebirds. Especially in high-speed dinghies, be aware of surfaced marine animals such as turtles and manatees. Maintain a respectful distance when watching wildlife.
10. Anchor as if you’re in a jewelry shop—for in a sense, you are. Never drop anchor in the middle of a coral patch. Look for areas of sand or mud, and carefully calculate wind direction, scope, and swing room. Consult your chart regarding bottom type and holding properties. Use an appropriately sized and efficiently designed anchor to prevent dragging.
As if these 10 points aren’t enough, I make a final plea: Go sailing! As a day sport, sailing has a very low environmental impact. For long-range sailors, the cruising lifestyle consumes but a fraction of the goods and services of a land-based life.