Sailing and sustainability… it’s complicated

Published on March 24th, 2021

by Tim Zimmermann
Sailors love the ocean, but it is not so clear that the ocean should love them back. One small example: Last year, when I was waiting in line at a fuel dock in Annapolis, the couple on the boat in front of me was chatting away while the diesel nozzle gushed gas into their tank unattended. I guess they expected it to shut off automatically when the tank was full. So they were a bit surprised when a geyser suddenly erupted from their fill port and diesel started pouring into Spa Creek.

A few gallons must have escaped before they collected themselves enough to scramble to the hose and shut it off. Neither they, nor the fuel dock attendant, seemed perturbed in the least as a large slick started spreading across the surface. I was left to wonder how much diesel spills into the Chesapeake Bay every year, and what effect it might have.

Hapless operator error aside, the popular image of sailing benefits from an inbuilt aura of eco-friendliness, since sailboats rely more on the wind than the burning of fossil fuels (or at least they are supposed to; I am always amazed at how many sailboats I see motoring despite a fine sailing breeze).

But there are many, many aspects of the environmental footprint of sailing that sailors are happy to gloss over: all the flights sailors (especially professional sailors) take getting to and from their boats; the energy and materials required to churn out masses of new boats and mountains of new gear every year; all the non-recyclable or toxic materials involved (fiberglass, carbon fiber, shrink wrap, bottom paint, two-part epoxies, exotic woods, laminate sails, to name a few); all the raw sewage; gas-powered RIBs everywhere, the list could go on. – Full report

Editor’s note: We’ve long been a fan of Tim’s work both in sailing and other adventures. As for the impactful behavior at the elite end of the sport, we just keep on planting trees, right?

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