Sail Green: Rally with a Cause

Though they’re sailing for enjoyment and to see the world, participants in the Blue Planet Odyssey will also lend a hand to a range of scientific and educational endeavors.

The Blue Planet Odyssey round-the-world rally had its U.S. start on Jan. 10, when a group of five boats left Key West bound for Montego Bay. From Jamaica they will continue to the San Blas Islands, where they will join five other crews who started from Martinique. The combined fleet will then transit the Panama Canal together and meet up with two West Coast participants as they head off across the Pacific. Three other boats, late leaving from the East Coast, will catch up with the Odyssey in the Pacific, along with an additional five participants that will cross just the one ocean. For a while, at least, the fleet will be 20 strong.

Throughout their voyage, BPO participants will contribute to various oceanographic research projects by deploying drifter buoys as well as Argo floats. A few days before the start, Shaun Dolk, manager of NOAA’s Drifter Operations Center in Miami, distributed 10 drifter buoys among the boats and briefed participants on the locations where they should be deployed once the boats reach the Pacific Ocean. These autonomous buoys are active for at least 450 days, transmitting data on currents, seawater temperature, barometric pressure, wind and salinity.

Terry and Dena Singh, who are starting the BPO from San Diego, will have on board their Amel 54, Libby, eight Argo floats supplied by the Scripps Research Institute. They have been asked to deploy them at precise locations west of the Galapagos Islands. These state-of-the-art probes drift on the surface of the ocean before descending to a depth of 1,000 meters, and by changing their buoyancy, they dive to a depth of 2,000 meters every 10 days. Returning to the surface, they transmit by satellite all the vast data that has been collected before resuming the cycle.

Participants will also be active in several educational programs during their world voyage. This involves a number of schools in the U.S. and Canada. Dena Singh, for instance, has set up links with Wildcat Mountain Elementary School in the Singhs' hometown just outside Denver, Colorado. All the students in third through fifth grades will follow Libby's route around the world. The voyage of Anne and Jeff Posner on their Wauquiez 40, Joyful, will be keenly followed by students of Good Shepherd Academy in Alabama, as well as Round Hill Elementary School in Round Hill, Virginia.

Canadians Rob and Carol Harvey are sailing on Maggie, a Passport 470. Carol, a former science teacher, has arranged with teachers at Sam Sherratt Public School in Milton, Ontario, to use the resources provided by the BPO for projects involving fourth through sixth grades. The daughter of crewmember Bob Shanks is a teacher in Calgary, Alberta, and her school will also follow Maggie's progress.

Justin Smith and Meredith Dunning, sailing on the Baba 40 Coconut Woman, have been asked by geologists at the University of Texas to conduct observations regarding the study of ancient tsunamis in the South Pacific. They've been tasked with asking locals if there are anomalous rocks that may have been carried inland by large tsunamis, such as the two boulders discovered in Tonga that are larger than the largest stones found at Krakatoa.

Jerry Schuster and Ginny Malmquist, sailing on the J 40 Heron Reach, have actively worked to raise awareness about climate change in their community of Bellingham, Washington. They also have been active in their local Transition Movement, an international group dedicated to creating a more sustainable world. They have left their log home on 20 acres of forested land and are looking forward to a completely different and wondrous world on the sea, and a move from 20 acres to 40 feet.

James Bellini, the owner of the Wind Náutica boatyard in Brazil, has sailed Blue Wind to the Caribbean to join the Martinique start. The world voyage will be a good test for this prototype of the new Wind 44 design conceived by the Argentinian naval architect Nestor Volker.

One BPO participant I've known since 1986, when he sailed in the first Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, is Zeke Holland. He teamed up with fellow software engineer Bill Dickson and doctor Tim Liveright to acquire No Regrets, an older Atlantic 42 catamaran. Tim spoke for all three when he said: "Our lifelong commitment to progressive social and environmental causes has found the perfect complement to our sailing passion by contributing to such a worthwhile mission that may shake a few folks loose from their complacent nonactivist moorings." For Tim and Ceci King, who will be sailing Ransom, a 39-year-old Hinckley 49, "raising awareness for how disrespectfully we are treating our oceans is important to us," said Tim. "But equally, it is the adventure that attracts us."

Benjamin Riddle, sailing with Joseph Richardson on Gypsie, an Irwin 52, has set up links with the Lake Norman Yacht Club, based in Cornelius, North Carolina. Benjamin began sailing there at the age of 6 and ended up teaching and racing at the club throughout his younger years.

The rally also has set up links with schools in some of the places along the way, where sailors will be engaged in local community projects. With an array of special skills and professions that range from a car mechanic to teachers, software engineers, a boatbuilder, a farmer, video producers and medical doctors, we will be able to provide some practical help to the island communities we will visit. As this Odyssey will call at some places where people’s lives are already affected by climate change, we want them to know that cruising sailors care for them and empathize with their concerns.

Cruising World editor at large Jimmy Cornell is the organizer of the Blue Planet Odyssey, in which he is participating aboard his Garcia Exploration 45, Aventura IV.

This article first appeared in Cruising World, March 2015.

NOAA's Shaun Dolk demonstrates how a drifter buoy is deployed form the deck of a sailboat.
Participants on a cruising cat can leave no doubt they're part of the rally.