About the Organizer

 eric

 by Eric B. Forsyth

The Green Ocean Race is a proposed trans-oceanic race for sailboats, nothing unusual about that these days. The difference is that the boats will be completely self-sufficient; they will carry no fossil fuel; energy for lights, communications, cooking, etc will be generated on board by the passage of wind and water, or by sunlight. This will pose quite a technical challenge for designers of the boats, and it will give the skippers an extra tactical constraint compared to a conventional race. No doubt some innovative ideas will come from meeting the challenge, especially if the reliability is proven in the arduous conditions of an ocean race. These developments may well benefit the cruising and live-aboard fraternity, but I am not suggesting the average cruiser dump the diesel, the spin-offs are not the major goal. The rationale for the race is to interest the general public in an adventurous enterprise which will be well publicized to emphasize that things are a’ changing, not only for this race but also in the world we live in. The message will be that change can be accommodated; technology developed so that conditions for the racing crews on these yachts will be the same as on any other. The analogy, of course, is that the yachts, plowing their lonely way across a wide, unfriendly ocean, are like our planet sometime in this century; also drifting through space with no fossil fuel on board.

I have been ocean cruising for more than forty years, in that span I have seen enormous changes in countries upon whose shores I briefly touch from time to time. Does anyone remember Marigot, St Martin before Port Royale? A squalid little village between the sea and a swamp with corrugated roof shacks. How about Road Town, Tortola before the Wickam’s Cay construction- a tropical slum with two tiny grocery stores; Ruby’s number 1 and Ruby’s number 2. Even remote Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands has seen peat fires replaced by oil-fired central heating. The common denominator is a rising middle class with middle class aspirations and a middle class appetite for energy. Don’t get me wrong, the quality of life for the people in these places is immeasurably better than it was. The greatest changes I have seen have been in South America, Brazil, for example. Countries that were oligarchies now have a thriving middle class. Dusty roads into the sparse interior have sprouted gas stations and huge supermarkets, miles of high-rise condos line once desolate coasts, a car in every garage. Almost everywhere the trend for a ‘Western’ way of life is remorseless. I guess these changes have made countries politically more stable, but the middle class needs far more energy than peasantry. When I venture into the big cities it seems like every teen-age kid wants a motor scooter, probably to be replaced by a beaten-up car in a few years. I wonder about the corollary; will political instability return if the quality of life begins a downturn? But when I see these changes in flashes, stroboscopically so to speak on occasional visits, I wonder what the future holds. Where will the energy come from? I have a lot of time to think on long ocean voyages, lying in the cockpit with the gentle waves lapping the hull and staring at the starry midnight sky makes one philosophical.

Of course the other side of the coin is also visible to the casual cruiser; in the Baltic literally hundreds of giant wind generators stand on coastal plains in Denmark and Germany. In Brazil the fuel for the teen-ager’s scooter is likely to be alcohol, distilled from sugar. On lonely Fernando de Noronha a vast wind generator turns slowly in the southeast trade winds. The motive for these developments is usually given as a response to global warming and the initiative comes from governments, either directly or by tax breaks. Ironically, when fossil fuel runs out at least the carbon emissions linked to global warming will stop, but presumably the damage to our environment will have been done. Not all countries generate the energy they need the same way; Norway has huge installations of hydroelectricity, in Iceland I was intrigued to find geothermal plants generating their electricity. But many countries generate most of their electricity using fossil fuel and transportation depends almost entirely on oil or its derivatives.

The span of recorded human history is only about eight thousand years, give or take. Almost the entire consumption of fossil fuel has occurred in the last two hundred years, it will probably fall to zero in another hundred years, simply a spike in the historical record. But the effect of this spike has been to produce the most astounding change in history; the quality of life for millions, if not billions, of people has been lifted to an astonishing level. Many of us in the developed, and even developing, world lead lives of such luxury, diversity of choice and comfort that would have seemed impossible even for a king a couple of centuries ago. But the bill has to be paid; what do you do when you have spent you inheritance? Well, I guess you buckle down to work, if you want to keep what you have. Discussing the inevitable depletion of fossil fuel is not popular, nobody wants to think about the day when they press the switch and the lights don’t come on. We live in an age of symbols and sound bites, although the solution to the energy problem is a complex mix of technology, economics and politics it is important to raise public awareness and, at the same time, strike a positive tone about change. This is what I hope can be accomplished by the Green Ocean Race. The public loves a competition, with modern technology they can experience vicariously the thrill of an ocean race via television or a web site but at the same time, with a little careful orchestration, the difficulties of also providing enough energy to keep the boat functional could be emphasized.

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