Topics like sustainable resources and waste disposal are all over the media, the public shows concern and agrees that something should be done in order to save the planet.
For many, environmental woes remain somewhat theoretical, distant, brushed aside by more sensational topics. Cruisers tend to be more aware of their impact on the earth as we depend on our own, limited resources.
Battery monitors, fuel and water level indicators show plainly how much we produce and use each day, so a responsible approach to resource management and general awareness for environmental issues seem to be the automatic result on most cruising yachts.
Electricity, water and fuel
On our yacht Pitufa, a wind generator and 400 watts’ worth of solar panels (we’ve added more and more along the way) cover the whole energy supply for our LED lights, fridge (no freezer), watermaker, two laptop computers and, of course, the electronic navigational gear.
Only during prolonged, cloudy periods do we have to cut back, adjust the temperature of the fridge a little and read a book instead of watching a film—but these are small inconveniences compared to running a droning, fuming, fuel-wasting generator.
Cruisers wince when they see landlubbers ashore absentmindedly leave the water tap running … especially those cruisers who have to carry their freshwater in jerry jugs and heave them aboard at the risk of a slipped disc. Our watermaker produces six gallons per hour. As we only run it with solar power, we can’t be wasteful either. We use between five and seven gallons each, which is still not a lot compared to the average per capita consumption of 80 gallons in the US. Rigging canvas to collect rainwater is worth the effort, after a tropical downpour the tanks are full again and we can lavishly splash around.
The wind’s free and even after five years of cruising it still feels like magic that a heavy sailboat can cover gigantic distances just using Mother Nature’s breath.
Cruisers who try to save diesel and avoid using the engine sometimes have to wait a while for the right weather window, but with some patience passages usually work out nicely without the iron genoa. Buzzing around in the dinghy uses quite a lot of gasoline. Using a kayak to explore the area around the anchorage saves money and is an opportunity to work out.
In areas with a recycling system we are happy to carefully sort garbage into separate bags. Sadly, there are still many countries without even a rudimentary infrastructure for waste disposal. When we started cruising, we quickly filled the forecabin with garbage bags, which soon became a smelly problem. In the meantime we learned to leave superfluous packaging at the supermarket, organic rubbish goes over the railing, biodegradable waste can be sunk at sea on passage, but of course some plastic remains. Washed non-smelly plastic can be flattened and disposed of later in a proper waste container. When we stay for a long period in very remote areas our last resort is to dig a hole on the beach (above the tideline) and burn the plastic there—along with washed up rubbish. Of course, this is not ideal, but it’s still better than handing a bag of trash to a local who then throws it into the sea (after collecting a disposal fee).
We used to find anchoring restrictions against cruising boats unfair, because cruise ships, freighters and other big vessels do much more environmental damage but get away with it due to their economic role. After observing the behavior of cruisers for a few seasons in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific, unfortunately we admit that some of them do cause damage after all. While the death of entire reefs may be due to pollution and climate change, it’s obvious when snorkeling around popular anchorages that coral heads in an otherwise healthy area fall victim to anchor chains. Large, dead pieces of coral lie on the bottom and the delicate structures are broken and shredded. It takes only a little effort to avoid playing havoc with the coral: simply use fenders or buoys to float the chain over the bommies (coral formation) or use a Bahamian moor to avoid swinging over reefs.
Some cruisers think it’s cool to ‘live off the land’ on remote islands, collecting coconut crabs, hunting for lobsters and even stealing eggs from seabird colonies. We talked to a biologist in French Polynesia and he confirmed what we already suspected. It might be okay to take a few crabs (not female ones) and collect some lobsters (only fully grown ones), but some people overdo it and take whatever they catch or buy it from locals who are not concerned about sustainability.
“Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.” The old saying refers to footprints in the sand, not our carbon footprint …
Birgit Hackl, Christian Feldbauer and their ship’s cat Leeloo set sail towards the horizon in June 2011 on their yacht Pitufa. Visit their blog: www.pitufa.at