Scenario: You crack open a cold one after a long day of sailing. Your buddy Jim finishes his first beer (rather quickly) and tosses the can overboard. When prodded about the environment, he confidently responds, “It’s just metal- it will break down naturally.” A debate starts, and you want it to stop so you can enjoy the sunset and your beverage in peace. Does Jim have a point?
A Brief Beer History Lesson
Back in the 1930s when designers were tinkering with how to can beer, they kept encountering a problem: the beer reacted quickly with metal, causing an unpleasant “skunky” taste. The American Can Company reached out to a chemical manufacturer to produce a liner that would not disrupt the brew. The coating, called “Vinylite,” was trademarked with the name “Keglined” in 1934 and was a huge success. Vinylite is a polymer cousin of polyvinyl chloride, commonly known as PVC.
Day-ruiner alert: This means that every canned beverage you have ever purchased is lined with plastic.
To make matters worse, the inks used to label and decorate cans are toxic and leach into the water. Many cans also have a very thin plastic exterior lining. This throws a major wrench in Jim’s argument.
Rules are Rules
To cut the debate short, you can simply tell the “Jims” of the world that they are breaking maritime law: It is illegal under MARPOL regulations to throw any plastic in the ocean out of a boat, so beer cans are out. If you are racing, tossing your cans may jeopardize your chance of bringing home the trophy. The International Sailing Federation’s Racing Rules of Sailing states very plainly: “a competitor shall not intentionally put trash in the water.”
Reincarnate your Can
Even if aluminum cans were pure metal (which, again, they are not), there is a deeper environmental case to consider: why toss perfectly good metal into Davey Jones’ Locker when there is plenty more canned beer to be made?
Aluminum is one of the easiest materials out there to recycle as it requires a very small amount of energy to process. (The plastic liner is burned off and the toxic fumes are captured.) If we can make the most of what we have and prevent future mining, why wouldn’t we? Saving energy and resources is always a win for the ocean.
Does this mean that you should put a moratorium on your post-sail ritual? Not exactly. Just bring along a reusable bag to store your empties until you get to the blue bin. And don’t hesitate to politely inform Jim about what’s hiding in his tall boy.
Maybe our last article about plastic in the ocean scared you a bit, but now that you know what’s going on, it’s time to get motivated. The good news is that little changes in our day-to-day lives can have a big collective impact on reducing the plastic flowing into the ocean, and you’d be surprised how easy it is to form new habits. Here are some single-use plastic items you can easily swap out with reusable products so you’re not adding to the problem. Continue reading →
Sailors are a superstitious lot. We don’t just hop on a boat and cast off–certain rituals must be observed. Most of these are simple: Don’t leave on a Friday for a long passage, don’t whistle on board, always wear a certain lucky garment, etc. Some of them are practical. For example, a boat needs to be thoroughly inspected and maintained before it is sailed, and of course the people handling the boat need to have quality sailing training.
And then, once in a while we go in for something a little more elaborate. At the launch of a new sailing season, many people take some time to mark the occasion in a special way. One tradition that goes back centuries is the Blessing of the Fleet. This practice began in the predominantly Catholic fishing villages of the Mediterranean Sea, where a priest would say a blessing over the town’s fishing fleet in hopes of a prosperous season. Immigrants from Europe brought this idea to America, and over time it has grown to be a less denominational ritual and more of a festival or pageant, featuring a number of odd and interesting performers.
Some notable annual “Blessing of the Fleet” events in the U.S. are:
Darien, Georgia. This small town near the Atlantic coast throws a 3 day festival complete with a 5k River Run and country singer Rhett Akins performing his hit song “I Brake for Brunettes.”
On March 13, sailors in both Detroit, MI gathered at Mariner’s Church, built in 1842 and formerly a mission for sailors, stop on the Underground Railroad, post office, bank and grocery store.
I asked some of our members what they did to celebrate the start of spring sailing, and “margaritas on the waterfront” was a popular answer, while others had small lucky rituals. Did you, or are you planning to, attend a Blessing of the Fleet or some other kind of celebration? Do you have your own way of getting ready for spring sailing? Leave us a comment.
Also, make sure to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter. This month’s social media photo contest theme is going to be “Spring Launch.” You could submit a snapshot of your first sail of the season, getting together with some friend to see the boats off, or (if you’re unlucky) shoveling snow off of your boat. However the start of sailing season looks to you, we want to see it.