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Sustainability Is Easy, Until It Isn’t

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My dad had some pretty revolutionary ideas about sustainability — and not in a good way — when it came to our frequent fishing and crabbing sorties on Chesapeake Bay back in the late ’70s.

His idea of recycling was holding spent cans of beer into the water sliding past our Gamefisher skiff until they sank beneath the surface. “That will easily corrode in a few weeks,” said my dad, an electrical engineer who designed satellite components and microchips for the National Security Agency. Worse were the cigarette butts he perpetually flipped into the water using the same logic.

In the early ’80s, I began questioning this nonsense. “My science teacher, Mr. Zoller, said you’re wrong,” I told him.

Luckily, my father understood my deepening interest in the outdoors and science, and respected my teacher after the wildlife field trips he’d chaperoned. Deep in his heart, my dad loved the Chesapeake, and he felt bad about polluting it. “You’re right,” he said one Saturday morning on Eastern Bay as I was dipping crabs off our trotline. “It’s lazy of me to think that my beer cans and cigarettes will somehow just melt.”

From that day on, Dad collected his cans and butts in a bag and disposed of them shoreside. One small step for mankind.

Of course, at that point in history, we weren’t dealing with the mountains of plastic that humans toss out or dump in the oceans every day. There were nearly 3.5 billion fewer people living on (and polluting) our interstellar blue marble back then. The day before I wrote this column, I read in The Washington Post that microplastics have been discovered in the snow in Antarctica. We are leaving no natural landscape untouched.

I admit that during the past two years, as my city has gotten pickier and pickier about what it will accept for recycling, I’ve become disillusioned by the whole concept and more cynical about the fate of our planet. Maybe you have, too. News reports about recycling suggest that precious little plastic offered up for recycling actually gets recycled. This fact has left me sticking to cardboard, paper, glass and aluminum, all of which seemingly have higher recycling rates.

This issue of Soundings Trade Only focuses on climate and sustainability, and it’s clear from our reporting that leading by example is key. A growing number of companies in our fold, large and small, are committing to running their outfits in increasingly sustainable ways. The “Pulse Report” on Page 64 includes information about how some dealers are becoming cleaner and greener. On Page 6, the American Boat & Yacht Council explains standards for more sustainable marine products.

Kim Kavin’s reporting about plastic waste, on Page 28, makes it abundantly clear that plastic cleanups and ocean-cleaning tech can do some good, but that eliminating single-use plastics is really the only way to solve this problem. Look at your next cart of groceries in the checkout line, and you will quickly see how difficult trying to implement this sort of sustainability will be.

I’ve been a slowpoke when it comes to embracing electric propulsion in boats, but a sea trial last year with an X-Shore Eelex — a zippy and fun electric center console — began to change my thinking. An afternoon spent on a solar-powered Silent-Yachts 60, which you can read about on Page 32, taught me that some good use-cases for solar-electric motoryachts do exist. If you’d told me that an electric power cat would tickle my fancy a couple of years ago, I’d have laughed at you. Still, there is much work to be done regarding electrification in our industry.

The annual hurricane forecast, explained on Page 24, calls for caution and preparedness ahead of predictions for an extra-active season. Without getting into the politics of sustainability and climate change, there’s no doubt that larger storms have affected the industry more frequently in the past decade. Recent storms, with a lack of atmospheric steering currents, have unleashed horrific amounts of rain. Sustainability also means being prepared for these events so we can weather them better as an industry.

The sunshine on the horizon, for me, is that I’ve almost always found boaters to be some of the best shepherds of our watery world, especially when they are actively participating in the sport. Of course, there are plenty of bad apples, but I believe that if we work together, we can make at least a small difference. I am thankful that we’re trying. 

This article was originally published in the July 2022 issue.

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