When I was watching “Sesame Street” as a member of the program’s target demographic back in the ’70s, one of the central messages I took from Grover, Gordon, et al. was “Don’t Litter.” Now, when I watch “Sesame Street” with my kids, I notice that recycling has replaced littering as the primary emphasis for proper waste disposal. The good folks at the Sesame Workshop (formerly the Children’s Television Workshop) are well aware that kids have the power to lead cultural change.
Many of the sailors I know hold the “greenness” of our sport as a sort of moral superiority. In the Tartan Ten class, we brag about our ability to go an entire summer on one tank of diesel, in stark opposition to the unsophisticated, powerboat masses whose wakes we curse. Most of us wouldn’t dare throw a beer can in the trash at home; they go in the recycling bin. But in my experience, we don’t do a lot of recycling on raceboats, and we seem to make a moral exception for the fossil fuels our coaching and support boats consume.
As I’ve become involved with planning the 2012 United States Optimist Dinghy Association National Championship, which starts July 22 in Sandusky, Ohio, I’ve noticed that the Opti kids are leading a cultural change in our sport. For last summer’s Opti Nationals in Houston, the class outlawed disposable water bottles. [The Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association has done the same. -Ed.] Organizers provided reusable bottles for every competitor and used a device known as the WaterMonster to refill them. They deployed recycling containers around the venue, as well.
For this year’s event, Sandusky Sailing Club is partnering with Sailors for the Sea and registering as a Clean Regatta. Beyond the water-bottle initiative, organizers have taken steps to reduce the impact of the gas-guzzling spectator fleet. “The idea of a grandstand barge started as a joke,” says regatta chairman Mike Austin. “But then we looked at the possibilities and said, ‘Wow, that would be a first.’ Before we knew it, the plan was in the works. From this came the idea of using two retired World War Two landing craft that have been moored unused at a local dock for several years.
“Several chapters of the Sea Scouts from around the state will make Sandusky their home for the week and act as volunteers for our event,” Austin continues. “Not only will they be helping to man the landing craft for our parents to view racing, but they’ll help our initiative to be a Clean Regatta.”
We might find it inconvenient to recycle at the marinas or yacht clubs we call home, or we might find it impractical to take the time to refill a day’s worth of water bottles at away regattas. Inconvenient or impractical as it may be, we can learn a lesson from our kids and make our sport truly as green as we imagine it to be. Maybe it’s time for the big-kid classes to follow the little kids’ lead. Outlaw the single-use water bottles, make recycling at major regattas both convenient and compulsory, maybe even put a lonely landing craft to good use.