Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Green Sailing, or Sailing is Environmental Awareness

One of my favorite, long-lost, t-shirts is one I bought from a Mission Beach, California surf shop which said "Surfing is Environmental Awareness."  I liked the art as it depicted surfing as part of the ocean ecosystem.  It was a message I didn't mind spreading by wearing it on my back.  I bought it nearly 15 years ago and probably got rid of it during one of our recent decluttering exercises since it no longer fit, but I wished I still had it.

I've often thought that "sailing is environmental awareness."  It's true at so many levels.  You tune the boat to be one with your environment to get what you need out of her, comfort or speed.  Your wake is often the only sign you leave behind, and on a good day you use the wind as your fuel.

On the water you're constantly monitoring your environment.  Not only in general (temperature, wind, waves, cloud cover) but subtle details such as changing cloud patterns, minor wind shifts, and how the wind fills in from a dead calm.

You notice man's negative impact on Lake Michigan as you would in any natural space.  You're eye is drawn toward a single plastic trash bag or balloon floating in the water just as you are a pop bottle on a forest trail.  A little trash can make a big difference!  Have you ever spilled a few drops of diesel at the fuel dock?  A shot glass worth can make a surprisingly large sheen next to your boat.

You quickly become aware of how much trash a boat can generate if you spend more than a few nights away from dock and the trash dumpster.  On a race such as the Mac you can end up with 3 or 4 large bags of trash if you aren't careful.  Much of that is single use packaging to move material from one place to another.

Three important lessons I've learned that reduce trash on the boat are:

  • Limit use of plastic bottles.  I'd rather carry a 3 gallon plastic water jug and refill glasses or reusable bottles than carry a case and half of bottled water.
  • Don't use disposable plates and utensils.  I use plastic marine dinnerware (the stuff with rubber on the bottom) and wash after each meal.  This is one place where "marine" makes a difference as it really keeps your plates or bowls from sliding as the boat moves.  
  • Buy in bulk.  Use resealable containers to store your food in.  Clean them when done and use them again later.      

I've also learned some misconceptions about trash and the lake from the Pocket Guide to Marine Debris published by the Ocean Conservancy.  For example:

  • It takes 2 months for an apple core to decompose.
  • An orange or banana peel won't degrade for up to 5 weeks.
  • A paper towel can last up to 4 weeks in the water.
The lesson?  Don't throw even seemingly biodegradable materials such as chicken bones into the lake.  Besides being a violation of the law, the stuff will stay around much longer than you anticipate.

I've been participating on the Chicago Yacht Club's Verve Committee trying to broaden the Verve Distance Race's appeal to cruising and casual sailors.  One of the values that the race supports is "green sailing."

There's a group called Sailors for the Sea who's mission is to "educate and empower the boating community to protect oceans and local waters."  They have a clean regatta program which allows regattas, such as the Verve Cup, to become certified as a clean regatta.

Many of their measures are common sense, such as reducing water bottle use and zero tolerance for littering.  Others are more progressive, such as requiring non-toxic bottom paints and preventing bottom cleaning in the harbors.

There are plenty of groups who want to educate and even legislate green boating.  In addition to the groups already mentioned, the EPA is busy looking at "green" boating.  Part of the 2008 Clean Boating Act requires a review of green practices, including "normal operational discharges."  Read what Boat US says about this here.  There's a link to email your comments.  Don't let the federal government over-regulate what should be common sense.  The are already laws against discharge.

And finally, if you own a boat 40 feet or greater, the US Coast Guard requires you to have a written waste management plan.  It's required for each manned oceangoing ship (other than a fixed or floating platform) of 40 feet or more in length that is documented under the laws of the United States or numbered by a state and that either is engaged in commerce or is equipped with a galley and berthing.  

The plan must provide for the discharge of garbage by means that meet Annex V of MARPOL 73/78, the Act, and 151.51 through 151.77; (2) Describe procedures for collecting, processing, storing, and discharging garbage; and (3) Designate the person who is in charge of carrying out the plan. Source:  cEFR Section 33, part 151.

I found this template for creating a waste management plan on the Cruising Life web site.

I think the average sailor is more environmentally aware than the average person.  As with everything else, there's room for improvement.  Education, understanding, and being a positive role model to those around you will contribute to the enjoyment we have for our pastime.

1 comment:

  1. Be aware of your trash when sailing. This is to prevent from doing harm on the water.