A global solo circumnavigation yacht race with stopovers.

Photo: OnEdition

Sombre environmental reflections on sailing through the world’s oceans.

The planet has seen some drastic changes within its eco systems in the past few decades. From rising sea levels to extremes in seasonal weather patterns, and from diminishing wildlife to the movement of ocean currents, it is believed that climate change is exacting its influence on the world. For the experienced skippers of the VELUX 5 OCEANS these changes have been observed at first hand and their commentary is alarming.

In the past 12 years Derek Hatfield and Brad Van Liew have racked up four round the world voyages between them, with the current edition of the VELUX 5 OCEANS adding two more to their tally. Their commitment to the sport means they have spent years of their lives dedicated to the sea and have seen the changes brought by global warming close-up. Derek and Brad are no scientists but instead can offer unique personal observations on the environment they love and live for – and they have a grave warning.

“I’m not a scientist but I know that things are changing – I see it in the oceans,” said Canadian sailor Derek, a former mounted policeman who took up ocean racing in the early 1990s. “Even crossing the Atlantic from Canada to France for the start of the VELUX 5 OCEANS I didn’t see one dolphin or one whale. The ocean is dying. I made my first transatlantic crossing in 1993 and I would see dozens of dolphins, and maybe two whales every day. Now you can cross the ocean and there’s hardly any life there, it’s just a body of water. It’s unbelievable how it has changed in just a few years.”

As well as a distinct lack of once-abundant wildlife, another major change for Brad can be found in the temperature of the water.

“I am sailing in nine degree Celsius water in a place that should have a far cooler water temperature,” said the American, now on his third round the world race. “I am sailing deliberately further north than ever before because the Antarctic convergence (ice zone) is hundreds of miles further north than when I first sailed the Southern Ocean in 1998. The birds are far less in numbers than I have ever experienced, and the whales – well, we all know that story.”

“Around 70 per cent of the planet is covered in water,” Brad added. “The life and delicate balance that water provides is the brine from which all known life came. Can you imagine if that balance is upset? Water can take the life away just as easily, and in a much shorter time, than it was given. The sun and water are the two things that make every weather anomaly occur. We better start taking care of our oceans or they aren’t going to be here to take care of us.”

Before leaving La Rochelle, all the skippers of the VELUX 5 OCEANS signed an Eco Charter, whereby they committed to be ambassadors of the oceans, respecting the essential element of water which supports life and this very race. Water is the communications theme for Ocean Sprint 2 under the banner of TAKING ON THE ELEMENTS, commitment by all the race stakeholders to understand and improve their impact on the world. The skippers bring a unique insight to a remote but crucial part of the world and the aim is to inform, educate and inspire race followers to make a difference in respecting the planet’s delicate environment back on land.

Fellow VELUX 5 OCEANS skipper Zbigniew Gutkowski was moved to write about the unique relationship between man and water in his blog. You can read it here http://www.velux5oceans.com/latest-news/guteks-blog-water-and-sailing-life-at-the-ocean-leg-2/

To learn more about how the VELUX 5 OCEANS stakeholders support sustainability go to http://www.velux5oceans.com/static/our-commitment-to-promoting-sustainable-development/



  1. Hi

    I am new to your blog and have been reading, working my way down. Was really excited to see that you did the PR for Velux5Oceans and then saw this post. I took part in the Clipper 09/10 race, just doing 1 leg and while I did see both whales and dolphins, they were infrequent sitings. And when you do see them and realise how amazing they are, it makes it even more devastating that they are under such huge threat.

    incidentally my skipper from the clipper race is now one of the guys taking part in this year’s velux. I haven’t updated it for a while but I did have a blog that tracked my clipper leg – http://www.moretolifethanlaundry.com. I’ll be sure to keep reading you!

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