Surf City Yacht Club’s Junior Sailors Push ‘Green’ Regatta Initiative

By DAVID BIGGY | Sep 05, 2018
Photo by: Supplied photo A pair of young sailors show off their reusable lunch bags as they get ready to go out onto Barnegat Bay for one of Surf City Yacht Club’s ‘green’ regattas this summer.

Late in the racing season last year, Surf City Yacht Club Regatta Chairman Rich Warren asked an important question after he scooped out of Barnegat Bay several plastic items that had been floating by the race committee boat.

“It was too late in the season to do anything about it, but Rich raised the question,” explained SCYC Commodore Cindy Botwinick. “He asked, ‘When are we going to stop doing this?’ That’s when the movement started.”

The junior sailors – starting with Junior Commodore Hannah Mercurio and several others – took the question to heart, and as this season’s big youth regattas were being planned, they spearheaded an initiative that may change how SCYC does its business forever.

“This is about making an impact for the future,” said 16-year-old Hannah, who alongside junior mates Declan Botwinick and Tommy Green developed a “Green Team” as they sought to make this year’s Junior Commodore and New Jersey State Optimist Championship regattas “green” events.

“There’s plastic and other trash everywhere in the bay, and we have start making sure it doesn’t get worse. As we get older, we don’t want to have to worry about how much we’re affecting the bay while having our fun out on the water. It’s about giving back to the bay and not continuing to make this a problem.”

The concept of a “green” regatta – that being one in which plastic and single-use items are eliminated as much as functionally possible – didn’t originate with Surf City Yacht Club. The global nonprofit Sailors for the Sea is one of several organizations that provides resources to and encourages boaters of all kinds in the effort to reduce pollution and negative environmental impacts within the world’s waterways.

Headquartered in Newport, R.I., Sailors for the Sea offers “the world’s only sustainability certification for water-based events with 25 best practices to ensure your regatta reduces its environmental impact.” And as the juniors at SCYC planned this year’s two main youth events, achieving the organization’s highest certification status became the target, and in doing so they realize the local impact could be far-reaching.

The Sailors for the Sea “green regatta” program – outlined at sailorsforthesea.org – includes a list of best practices needed to achieve specific certifications. For the gold, silver or bronze certifications, a certain number of the best practices must be met with proof of doing so through documentation or photos when registering an event.

SCYC’s Junior Commodore regatta met 13 of the best-practice criteria to achieve silver status. The state opti regatta likely will be silver as well, because composting is required for gold status and regulations are such which prevented the club from being able to compost.

“We use the bay every day, and it’s much nicer when there’s not trash floating around,” said 15-year-old Declan. “The whole point of green regattas is to get people to not use plastic or other stuff that can end up in the water. I’d love to see this effort get as big as the Island, because that’s how big it will need to get to make a real impact on our waterways here. We need to transform the culture. That’s how important it is.”

In theory, operating a “green regatta” seems easy. But as the junior “Green Team” learned, putting the plan to action and creating an environment that completely eliminates plastic and single-use items is a lengthy and tedious ordeal, especially when several hundred sailors are expected to show up to an event.

“The challenges they faced were more in how to prepare everything for a green regatta,” said New Jersey State Optimist Regatta Chairman Tony Mercurio, who worked along with the junior crew to ensure smooth sailing both in the water and off it. “For an event like New Jersey states, we used to bring in a pallet of bottled water, use plastic forks and knives with plates you’d throw out, plastic Ziploc bags for the sailors’ lunches, and the result was a lot of trash to get rid of after a regatta. The key was to figure out how to eliminate all that – make a regatta an environmentally friendly event – within a budget.”

Starting in April, the junior leaders and others began their research to do just that, and by the time of the Junior Commodore Regatta on July 3 the “green” plan was in full effect. And the list of changes to previous plans, some subtle and others easily noticeable, was quite extensive.

A water refilling station – designed and built by Jessica Boeticher, who had developed the station for a school project and subsequently donated it to the club – was available to all sailors so they could refill reusable water bottles provided by SCYC for a small cost. Sandwiches and homemade granola bars were wrapped in wax paper. No more snacks made with wrappings that could litter the water were available. Reusable lunch bags were in use so sailors could tote their lunches onto the bay without worry that any plastic would blow away. Dinners used real plates and silverware – no more plastic cutlery.

“It was interesting,” Declan Botwinick said. “Using plastic stuff is what everybody knows, and we had to dig through the trash to get back the forks and knives. It didn’t even register with a lot of people that they were using heavy, metal utensils,because they’re so used to using plastic and just throwing them away.”

Additionally, mobile water stations were used on several boats to provide water refills for sailors while they were on the bay competing, and traditional trophies – largely made of plastics nowadays – were replaced with reusable bags made of recycled sail cloth and embroidered sailing hats. In total, making the changes to create a “green” regatta cost several thousand dollars, but the club’s commodore says it was worth the expense.

“This is a big deal because this year, as a club, spearheaded by our juniors, we realized that this can be an effective way to change the culture here,” Cindy Botwinick said. “I think people have started to realize the amount of trash we used to produce, and it’s starting to create a buzz, even among the adults.”

And that is the point – creating a culture within the group that isn’t buzzing about how it can change things to help improve the impacts made on the local environment, but generating one that becomes intricately more focused on just doing it without the need for a kick in its collective pants.

“What the juniors have done so far has led to a mild cultural change here,” Tony Mercurio said. “It’s not huge, but it’s a start and it should continue into next year and the year after.”

For next year, with Bridget Green as the junior commodore who will lead the charge, the juniors seem intent on continuing their “green regatta” initiative, and the hope, at least for now, is that local businesses somehow will get involved in partnering with the club to help offset the increased costs associated with operating them, or help generate more awareness about them.

“The Green Team will live on,” Hannah Mercurio said. “Our next step is to keep this going, to push this effort to make the bay a cleaner waterway for everybody. But that’s going to take a lot more than just us doing our small part. We need our entire community to get behind us on this.”

biggy@thesandpaper.net

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