My Final Weeks with Sailors for the Sea

As my fellowship with CBE through SfS comes to an end, I’m feeling incredibly grateful for the opportunities that had been afforded to me throughout the summer. I feel like I did a lot of good work and got traction on some valuable and worthwhile projects.

Since my last blog post, I did another race focused on bettering the SfS sustainability best practices guidance we’ve been working on. I sailed to Canada. Specifically, I sailed from Marblehead, MA to Halifax, Canada in a race. This race was considered a “clean regatta” by Sailors for the Sea standards. During my time at both race villages in Marblehead and Halifax, I engaged with environmental representatives to see how the venues had practiced sustainability. It was interesting to see the ways race organizers and yacht clubs could institute clean practices, like a massive “water monster” to refill sailor’s water bottles, and ways in which they can still improve (example: using single use, albeit “compostable,” utensils.)

While it was interesting to engage on the shore side of sailor sustainability, I was primarily there to continue evaluating offshore sustainability best practices while underway. During my shifts while racing, I had many conversations with the crew about their struggles with sustainability while offshore. Many of them reported they had difficulty avoiding plastic or even minimizing their plastic use. Another concern was trying to learn sustainable ways to discard of gray water while underway. Another concern was disposal of trash aboard the ship. They didn’t want to throw anything overboard, but they were concerned over the trash build up on the boat and trying to find safe places to stow trash until they reached a shore facility. My role as an on-the-boat resource for the crew to have some guidance on best practices made the team at SfS consider the value and potential role of recommending teams designate “environmental stewards” on their crew who would be responsible for the sustainability side of the race.

The race from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia proved to be particularly magical because we sailed through a Northern Right Whale Critical Habitat. This raised interesting questions amongst the sailors about our boat speed. In the sailing instructions document produced by the race committee, they specified speed limits for the race boats in certain zones of high concern. Boats were not allowed to go faster than 11 knots in these zones. Although we were never at risk of going that fast because the wind was very light for this particular race, it was useful to see the guidance and regulations being produced by the race governing body.

While my team did not have a direct interaction with any northern right whales, we did hear a radio call made to the Canadian coast guard by a competitor a mile off our starboard quarter reporting five northern right whales traveling. It was incredible knowing I was so close to such a precious and endangered species. Yet, it was also valuable to see what role sailors could play in the monitoring of species. By reporting the sighting to the coast guard, that data got logged.

This is a big question that we have been working with at Sailors for the Sea. How can sailors report marine mammal sightings in a way that is 1. beneficial to the scientific community, and 2. not too difficult for sailors to do? Radio calls to coast guard for any species would be out of hand and not looked on kindly by the coast guard. However, it made sense for this boat to verbally report the northern right whales due to their critically endangered status.

During our race, we saw two fin whales and two humpbacks. Specifically, a humpback mom and calf. Part of my role on this race boat was to determine how we could get the relevant data of the sightings logged somewhere despite whatever circumstances the sailors are facing. For the first sighting, we were too far away from any cell reception to log the sighting on the specified app. So, instead, we took pictures of the whales and, since I was on the helm, I took a picture of the chart plotter which had our latitude and longitude, and I made a note in the notes app of my phone what we had seen for that picture. I then logged that data to the whale report app once I reached shore.

Chart plotter to detail location of the whale sighting.
The humpback whales. We wanted to get photos of the dorsals for the national ID network.

For our next sighting, the fin whales, we were close enough to Nova Scotia that we had cell service again. So, my teammate was able to run below deck, grab her phone, run up and report the sighting in real time.

Since the race, I have written “sustainability reports” for Sailors for the Sea reporting my on-the-water findings. We have been talking amongst the SfS team about the best way to distribute this information to sailors. We have concluded that an interactive website with baseline best practices that people can learn more about specifics through a drop-down menu would be the best way to give a lot of detailed information. I am working on sharing “what if” situations, in an FAQ format, based on the on-the-water scenarios I’ve faced this summer so sailors can see more about how sustainability practices can be applied in real time. We also concluded we should create a short, one- to two-page document that sailors can print and put in their boat binder that is a checklist for sustainability best practices.

The website and materials are en route to going live. I’m really excited to see the fruits of all my work this summer come to fruition, and to see the ripples it will have in the offshore sailing community!

Sunrise over Nova Scotia shores

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.

Maya Hoffman: Sailors for the Sea

Sailors for the Sea
Working remotely from Monterey, California, USA with team in Newport, Rhode Island, USA
June 8th – August 24th, 2023

Maya will be working with Sailors for the Sea Powered by Oceana to develop and test sustainability best practices for offshore sailors, including racers, delivery crews, and cruisers. She will be speaking with sailors to determine effective and realistic sustainability practices that will be achievable for sailors, regardless of boat differences, offshore conditions, and port capabilities. She will help sailors test these practices on the water to ultimately develop an official guidance document for boaters everywhere.

Maya is an accomplished sailor herself, check out her “Skippers Corner” blog on the Sailors for the Sea website: