Environmentally Friendly Sailing: A Possible Trade-off? In dealing with this assignment, I find myself struggling with what is obviously an oxymoronic expression.  After all, what exactly is environmentally friendly about cruising up and down the coastline spewing bilge water and grease from the boat’s bowels, regardless of the fuel we use to propel us along? At least, by using the wind, we’re not burning up fossil fuels.  Indeed, there are large vessels out there whose consumption of fossil fuels must rival that of rockets to the moon.  However, no one can really be in a position to take the hard line on this, either.  After all, what does GreenPeace put in the tanks of its protest boats?  Happiness?

So, before I write a piece to encourage a non-environmentally friendly onslaught on our Islands, I thought I would have a look at a few areas of the sailing industry to see just what was, and wasn’t, particularly environmentally friendly about it.

When trying to be environmentally friendly, everything you do, to a certain extent, will be a trade off.  There are modern yachts with solar panels and wind turbines that can store up enough energy to provide a couple of hours of fuel-free motoring; but turn the air conditioning on to cool down a blisteringly hot interior and in the space of an hour you will have burned up enough fuel to have gone twice the distance.  Buy an engine-free, wooden-hulled skiff and you’ve probably ended the lives of a dozen trees.

I recently sailed from Tortola to Annapolis MD.  It was a great sail, and the trade route 300 miles off shore was easily recognisable – floating trash conveniently mapped out the full 1500 miles for us.  We hardly needed the GPS.  Well, there’s some more hypocrisy for you.  You are as green as you can possibly be at sea; you take all your carefully sorted rubbish on to shore and put it in the appropriately marked bins.  Great.  Then along comes the commercial disposal unit and it gets scooped up, put on a barge and taken and dumped back out to sea.  Lovely.

There are a couple of aspects of modern sailing that are not very particularly good examples of modern ecological awareness.   How about sailing historically speaking?  Well, we’re fortunate that we can actually ‘see’ historical sailing – we just have to take a look at the famous Tall Ships Race. The concept began in 1956 with the notion that our marine history should not only be preserved, it should be lauded.  21 ships, all retired ‘workhorses’ hailing from the cargo and passenger industries of yore, lined up at the start.   This year, 160 tall ships from all around the world will gather at specific ports to represent their parent nations.  Symbolic it may be, but the European Union published a green paper sanctioning and supporting the expeditions.  According to the paper, old fashioned sailing and sail theory “teaches the power of the sea and the influence of the wind, and develops basic skills of seamanship and navigation that are crucial to the monitoring and use of automatic control systems.”

Sailing in to Chesapeake Bay at the end of our trip, the 500 or sailing craft out on the water reminded me of the Sir Francis Drake Channel in the BVI in full tourist season.  And then it struck me.  Never mind the tall ships promoting sensible and natural seamanship.  Isn’t that what the BVI sailing industry was all about?  The BVI Spring Regatta, the Chief Minister’s Cup, the Dinghy championships… They all encourage sailing in its truest form, “Sailing and its theory promote a real platform to learn seamanship as opposed to the current trend of simulators.”

As we begin the season we applaud all those BVI sailing associations and enterprises, clubs, KATS and VISAR who give as much of their time as they can so that we may enjoy ours.  If you are on charter and you are throttling that engine to get from one destination to the next, switch it off, hoist the sails and feel the elements.  Go on, sail the boat.  You’ll be a little greener.