McKee Minute: Cleaning Up

Sailing needs clean water, and it's our job to make sure the oceans stay healthy enough to continue the sport.
Volvo Ocean Race

Vestas 11th Hour departure

Team Vestas 11th Hour Racing will tackle the 2017–2018 Volvo Ocean Race, spreading a message of sustainability for the future of our oceans. © Amalia Infante/Volvo Ocean Race

Water is our element, our playing field, and we should acknowledge the importance of its purity. Sailing is an activity directly connected to nature. It’s a unique and deep connection. Sailors directly benefit from clean water, but we also have a larger responsibility to protect our right to clean water.

I’ve been lucky enough to race in venues with pristine racecourses. ­Sardinia and Antigua come to mind. But I’ve experienced places with significant water-quality issues, like Corpus Christi, Texas, and Rio de Janeiro. It’s a different experience. Sailing is not as fun in dirty water. The fish and birds aren’t happy about it either.

We know a lot more about where water pollution comes from, its impacts and prevention. Every venue has its challenges.


Preservation requires enforcement of existing laws, including the Clean Water Act. Businesses that profit from polluting the water should be held accountable. Rising ocean temperatures and acidification are ongoing concerns. Even my native Puget Sound is dealing with lost habitat, reduced salmon runs, agricultural runoff, and inconsistent storm-water management.

We are in a unique position to ­advocate for clean-water policies, and for each of us to do our small part. I have a responsibility to leave our bays, lakes and seas better than when I found them. It is a moral imperative for me to at least try.

For sailors, water quality is an expected issue and one that affects us both materially and physically. Think about doing more: Volunteer for a beach cleanup, donate money (or even better, your time) to a local nonprofit, and support commonsense enforcement and legislation. We might be competitors on the racecourse, but we must be on the same team to protect our precious playing fields.


— Jonathan McKee