Sailing for the Sea with Sailors for the Sea

So far, my CBE fellowship with Sailors for the Sea Powered by Oceana (SfS) has been nothing less than amazing. I am working remotely with the team in Newport, Rhode Island, USA, on developing sustainability best practices for sailors and boaters who go offshore.

While I’ve been working remotely, my project has been very hands-on. I’ve been collaborating with the SfS team via video calls to discuss sustainability challenges for offshore sailors. I have been working with SfS on drafting a best practices document for offshore mariners to use while preparing for their crossings and while in transit. The document addresses concerns such as black water disposal, gray water disposal, provisioning to minimize plastic and trash, garbage disposal guidance, recycling and composting practices in different ports, managing oil and fuel leaks, etc.

As an offshore sailor myself, I’ve witnessed the struggles of being sustainable while offshore. I’ve found that while sailors have a deep love for the ocean and a desire to protect it, the strain of being offshore makes it difficult to always adhere to strong sustainability practices. While racing offshore, sailors are often hungry (living off freeze dried food) and exhausted (running on almost no sleep.) We’re battling the elements and survival comes first. When you’re in a situation like that, you won’t pause to think about how to dispose of the apple you just ate, you’ll just throw it overboard. If your boat is filling with water because you’re in heavy seas, you’re not going to think about how to properly dispose of your bilge water, you’ll just throw it overboard.

We want to create sustainability standards that are realistic, effective, and achievable for offshore sailors. If the sustainability standards are too difficult to reasonably adhere to while in the actual situation, there’s always the chance that sailors won’t even bother to try.

In order to make sustainability best practices realistic, we need to evaluate how they actually work in the field. We need to understand what difficulties offshore sailors are facing and what roadblocks exist so we can preempt problems and create effective standards. So, in June, I was captain of a boat in the Annapolis to Newport race and we used the boat as a research platform to evaluate the effectiveness of the first round of our draft of the sustainability best practices.

At the helm during the Annapolis to Newport race with the Sailors for the Sea flag.

We were an all-women, primarily youth team called Leading the Change! Our goal was to be competitive while being as sustainable as we could possibly be based off the sustainability best practices guidelines we’ve been developing at Sailors for the Sea. We provisioned our boat sustainably, buying in bulk to minimize single-use packaging, using silicone bags instead of Ziplocs, minimizing the amount of trash that came on the boat so we could have space to dispose of everything sustainably. We reported which practices were simple and which were difficult to adhere to during the actual race, among other things.

We also wanted to see if offshore sailors could contribute to our understandings of the ocean. We’re trying to determine the best channels for sailors to report marine mammal sightings safely and efficiently, so we can add those channels to the best practices document. We also wanted to determine strategies to document marine debris we see offshore.

The race didn’t go as planned. There was a bad gale sitting just outside the Chesapeake Bay. My team raced 100 nautical miles down the Chesapeake Bay, then I made the call to retire from the race out of safety concerns for the worsening weather conditions. However, it was enough to achieve a lot of sustainability “lessons learned” that I have been working through with Sailors for the Sea to ameliorate our sustainability best practices document. We are currently working on the next draft. We are also working on determining methods to present “what if scenarios” that I have faced in the field to other sailors so they can think and plan accordingly.

I’ve also been informally interviewing sailors on the boats and at the ports to see how they view sustainability, and what challenges they face in being sustainable. One interesting finding I’ve uncovered so far is that there appears to be a myth about aluminum disposal while offshore – many sailors are operating under a shared belief that it’s legal and unharmful to throw aluminum (tinfoil or cans) overboard while offshore. Part of what I’m working on at this moment is researching the laws on this front and the environmental consequences of aluminum in the ocean to raise awareness and educate sailors to the realities of the situation.

I love my work so far and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity. Everyone at Sailors for the Sea has been warm and welcoming. I see the enthusiasm sailors have for wanting to be sustainable, and their fierce desire for guidance on that front. So, I’m excited to see the results of all our work this summer.

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