I first learned about the art of sailing when I was nineteen years old. I had signed up for a semester abroad with a program that teaches students marine biology and oceanography courses, as well as sailing and coastal navigation skills. After a year of scraping together money and filling out forms, I spent my sophomore winter on an 88’ schooner in the Caribbean with a plan to sail to twenty islands.
I was so wrapped up in the excitement of tropical locations and adventure, I did not fully consider what life on a boat would mean: there were many sleepless nights underway, lots of line-pulling and heavy lifting, and even more cleaning. It was not what I had planned for, and I was guilty of more complaining than I’d care to admit now.
This relatively small ship with 10 student crew and 4 staff was run with military-style precision: everything had a place, duties were assigned and rotated daily, and we rotated watch teams for days underway. Frugality and the environment were considered with everything we did. At shower time, we soaped up on deck with Doctor Bronner’s soap and jumped into the sea. We ate three square meals at the same time each day and food was never wasted. (Chili-mac night meant our stock of vegetables were in barely usable shape.)
Every time we arrived at a new port, we had what my captain called a “boat appreciation” session, where every inch of the deck, cabin, and galley would be cleaned. I remember a younger and whinier me, complaining about polishing the brass in the cockpit for the third time because the first mate pointed out spots I had missed.
There was a whole week where I’d crawl into my bunk and cry as my “personal time” activity. I was exhausted; I longed for the comforts of home, my friends, all the things I was so excited to leave behind. I wasn’t sure if I had the gumption to make it through the semester.
By the time we were sailing back to the British Virgin Islands to return home, I was a new person. I saw my physical appearance change from all that elbow grease (and three months of Caribbean sunshine), but most of what had changed would surface in the coming months and years. I took better care of things that belonged to me. I became more organized and self-sufficient. I began to consider the greater impact of the little things I did in my day-to-day routine. I started to look at my life and at the world the same way I looked at the S/Y Ocean Star.
Treat the Planet Like It’s Your Boat
While at sea, your boat is all you have. It is your only protection from the elements; it is your only home. It provides you with safety, comfort, and mobility. Its success through the storm is your own success. Your fates are shared.
The earth is our round blue vessel, moving us through the endless ocean of space. It sails at just the right speed and distance for sunny summers, cozy winters, lush rainforests and electric blue ice caps. It provides us water, shelter, and everything we could ever need. Our fates are shared.
This Earth Day, take a moment to glance around at this ship called Earth that we all call home, and take some inventory: Is there rust in the cockpit? Does the wood need attention? Has oil seeped into the bilge?
More importantly, look at yourself as a member of the crew: What can you do about it? Are you hiding in your bunk as I did? Are you helping to turn the rudder that points us forward?
5 Things You Can Do to Celebrate Earth Day Today:
Take the crew on a beach or waterway cleanup. (Hint: you don’t need to be near the ocean or even a body of water to do a cleanup! Litter around city storm drains is likely to end up in our waterways- start there if you live in a land-locked area.)
Take a plastic-free pledge. Commit to eliminating a few single-use products from your life, like the infamous water bottle. Take a #plasticfree pledge here.
Eat seafood-free. Search on Yelp for a vegetarian-friendly restaurant near you and give the highest-rated one a try. Spoiler alert: the meat-free options out there are better than ever. Expect the unexpected.
Go engine-free for a day. Planning on going for a sail? Challenge yourself to (SAFELY) get out of the marina without the motor! Going out to eat? Pick a place that you can walk to instead of drive. These little actions add up to saving a huge fuel footprint.
Gift the Green Boating Guide to a friend. Download and print it out here and share it with a favorite sailor in your life. It’s free and packed with great information! Better yet, share over email or print on recycled paper with plant-based ink.
How will you be celebrating S/Y Earth today? Share your ocean-loving stories with us in the comments.