On May 11, 15 two-man teams from around the globe set sail in boats on a clear day from Charleston, S.C., in a race driving them up the eastern seaboard. Most boats are currently heading for New York Harbor or are already there, where they'll hold a Pro-Am event before departing for the final leg of competition on May 19, which culminates in Newport, R.I. with two days of inshore racing at the end of the month.
In most ways, the Atlantic Cup, as the new race is known, is just like many other regattas -- tough sailors from all over the world come together to duke out their skills in a combination of offshore and in-port racing. Fastest boat wins. But the Atlantic Cup's organizers have an agenda different from most others -- they want a clean race. Which has nothing to do with cheating (though surely they don't want that either): The Atlantic Cup claims to be the first carbon-neutral regatta in the (modern-era) United States.
Taking Green Steps Big and Small
Despite the fact that sailboat racing is a wind-powered sport, regattas can typically ring up a formidable carbon footprint -- from the air and ground travel necessary to get crews and staff and their equipment where they need to be to the waste generated at hospitality and media events, there's a lot more to racing than just the wind whooshing through your hair.
And while some steps -- recycling in event offices; using recycled paper for office use and all media -- are low-effort no-brainers, others -- such as ensuring all 15 teams are adhering to "clean" regatta guidelines, setting up green facilities at every port, and calculating and offsetting the overall carbon footprint of the event -- are more difficult to accommodate.
The Atlantic Cup's title sponsor is 11th Hour Racing, a non-profit organization dedicated to "advancing the maritime industry" in order to protect the oceans via the sailing community.
The organization is funded by the 11th Hour Project, which was founded by Wendy Schmidt, who also serves on the boards of the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, among other enviro-related organizations, and is the name behind the Oil Cleanup X Prize Challenge. (Bonus factoid: She's also the wife of Google chairman Eric.)
The Atlantic Cup has gone farther than probably any other yachting event to keep things green on the big blue. Though some of these steps may seem simple, implementing change in an arena where every efficiency matters rarely is, and regatta organizers had to think about details in a way that would make going green doable for the athletes, cost-effective, green-effective, and realistic.
Atlantic Cup organizers looked not just at on-board solutions, such as powering electronics with alternative energy, but also the smaller steps they could take at supporting events, such as hospitality parties, where recycling stations will be set up at all marinas and using 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper at all offices and for all event packets, tickets, and handouts. The race is also aiming for a Gold level certification from Clean Regattas -- like LEED for sailing -- a program run by the David Rockefeller-backed organization Sailors for the Sea.
Onboard, fresh water is a constant necessity: On average, a competitor will drink 3-4 liters per day. Many of the boats -- which are Class 40s -- in the Atlantic Cup have water makers that supply this amount. For offshore racing, onboard tanks are standard, making reusable bottles easy to implement.
"However, single-use plastic water bottles have become the norm more for inshore racing because it's 'easy,'" explains Juliana Barbieri, Atlantic Cup co-founder and principal owner of Makuna Sports Event Management, which puts on the race. "And when you arrive in an unfamiliar city and you don't know the best place to get water, you look for the easy answer, go to the store, and buy what you need. I think some boat captains would rather not deal with having canteens and filling tanks and cleaning them. It might be an extra step, but 15 years ago [before plastic water bottles were available] we all did it and no one complained."
The Atlantic Cup's rules require all competitors to use refillable water bottles -- offshore and in-port -- and plastic water bottles are not available to guests at events.
Taking small steps such as switching to reusable water bottles has its challenges and benefits, but no event can claim to be carbon-neutral just by cutting back on waste and adding an educational element to its program. In order to further reduce the footprint of the event, the Atlantic Cup worked with Green Mountain Energy to calculate it's overall carbon footprint -- including staff air travel, ground and water transportation, staff hotel stays, and event electricity usage -- to better understand the environmental impact of the regatta.
Based on these calculations, which will also include data from a post-race assessment, carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates will be purchased in order to offset emissions associated with the overall event. Additionally, all teams will be required to recycle any trash created onboard, and to use eco-friendly cleaning products to clean their boats.
Alternative Energy Technologies
Sailors will also use alternative fuel sources to charge that batteries that power all on-board electronics. These include fuel cells, solar panels, and hydrogenerators. Typically, in an offshore regatta, although the boat itself is powered by the wind, it needs run its engine frequently to keep essential electronics going, and that, obviously, requires fuel.
Using alternative energies on board the Class 40 boats of The Atlantic Cup.
A team uses about 1.5 gallons of fuel per day charging batteries while racing, so teams with hydrogenerators and fuel cells (which is a methanol that turns into electricity and water) will eliminate that 1.5 gallon usage completely, according to Barbieri.
Teams with solar panels will halve their usage. So an approximate savings of fuel consumption over the course of the race is 115 gallons of fuel. (Because some fuel is still necessary to get boats in and off docks, boats will use a B20 blend supplied by Newport Biodiesel, which collects used cooking oil from local restaurants.)
Perhaps surprisingly, however, that savings makes up only a fraction of the race's overall fuel usage. "The biggest offender is our fuel consumption for support vehicles, which includes the vans and truck that we have in all three cities and also includes fuel for our support boats for race committee and camera crews," says Barbieri. "We anticipated fuel to be the biggest offender and we're continually looking at how we can minimize our consumption."
The Big Green Picture for Sailing and Racing
While greening a regatta, like any sporting or entertainment venture, is a laudable step toward educating a community of enthusiasts about environmentalism and the impact of their passion, the elephant in the room -- boat building itself -- cannot be addressed with the carbon-neutrality of a single regatta. "The process of building racing yachts produces a lot of waste," notes Barbieri. "There are a lot of disposable items used throughout the build process many of which are plastic." Building materials such as fiberglass and glues aren't especially green either. "Both the building of a sail boat and the support chase boats that consume copious amounts of fuel are two big offenders of carbon consumption."
"With unlimited money and time I would put a lot of attention to R&D of more fuel-efficient larger trucks and vehicles to get us from city to city," adds Barbieri when asked how the yachting industry could become more green. "I don't want to be in the boat building business, but I would also start working with boat builders to try and develop support boats for sailboat races that are powered by alternative energy as opposed to traditional gasoline."
"The events that we organize are sailing events and we see the Atlantic Cup as a way to set an example to forward better practices in how we live our lives," says Barbieri about tackling her part of the equation.
Yachting has a long way to go to decrease its overall environmental impact, but races such as the Atlantic Cup can make their mark by appealing to lovers of the sea. Or, as they say on the water, you cannot direct the wind, but you can adjust the sails. And adjusting the rules of this regatta to require green practices by competitors and spectators is one way to begin doing that.