Sunday, September 13, 2009


We always feel guilty when we are offshore and we take out the trash. It’s also one of those things offshore sailors try not to talk about with people who don’t ever leave sight of land, especially in today’s world of increasing environmental awareness. It’s a fact of life though that we humans create an inordinate amount of waste as a species and most of us in our homes on land think little about it after we take our trash out in our super duty black plastic bags which are made so well that they will protect our precious waste for hundreds of years in much the same condition it was when we threw it out and the garbage guy came and hauled it off for us. Some of us now have three or four different recycling bins in our homes and diligently put glass in one, plastics in another and metals in yet another. I applaud those folks who go through the effort and am even more amazed when I read about a city like Fresno, CA that actually follows through with these high ideals, unfortunately most cities end up throwing even the recyclables that folks have gone through the trouble to divide for them into the same old landfill. (On a side note the state of California has more cities in the top 10 of recycling than any other state.)

What do we do offshore? Well it’s a lot like the whole recycling thing as far as the dividing goes… on our boat we have two trash bags, one for the plastics and one for everything else. Cans are sunk to dissolve in the saltwater (I know the pop cans probably never will though, the aluminum will hang out on the bottom in 2000 to 7000 feet of water.) The glass is crushed with a hammer and thrown into the briny deep, while paper is ripped into small pieces to dissolve in the water after it floats around for a few months depending on its thickness. Plastic is NEVER thrown overboard it is kept to be thrown out on land where it ends up in a landfill buried with all of the landlubber trash. I know there are probably some of you, possibly even cruisers who think we are terrible to throw anything into Mother Ocean. Let me assure you I feel bad every time I do it and I actually believe it is the best thing we can do. I have seen far too many garbage dumps on beautiful little islands that are simply taking over a large portion of a place with far too little space already, places where the locals really could care a less and give very little thought to what they are doing to their island. I have been to at least three islands that actually take their trash to the windward side of the island where the waves are the biggest and a cliff keeps the trash from washing back ashore and they throw it ALL into the sea, plastic included, and watch as the tide takes it all out. One of those islands accepts trash from sailboats for $5.00 US and then they promptly truck it to the other side of the island and throw it into the sea. On this island we were chewed out by a fellow cruiser for throwing our trash (not plastics) into the ocean… they were very proud that they had saved it all in a huge stinky heap until they reached land… only to have the locals take $20.00 from them for four bags and throw it into the ocean still in the nice black bags.

Why did I even decide to write about this tonight? Because we heard a thumping against the hull this evening and when we went up to see what it was we were distraught to see this whole anchorage full of trash… It seems that sometimes when there are heavy rains the rivers overflow and all of the trash from upstream is washed into the ocean and when the tide turns it flows right up into all of the pretty little bays here. In case you think this is unique to Trinidad and decide to make it one of the reasons why you shouldn’t come here… we saw the same thing in the Dominican Republic, St Georges inner harbor in Grenada, St Vincent, and Dominica. I have noticed that the poorer the country the more noticeable their trash is as well. In more developed countries or islands we may be better at hiding our trash from view but it’s still there. Those plastic water bottles you insist on buying every time you are thirsty because you are afraid to drink the water… they will still be around in a thousand years.

What is the answer? Man… I am just a sailor… but it seems pretty simple to me… we need to start seriously recycling and stop throwing the stuff that can be reused in the ocean and in landfills and we need to start buying stuff that will actually dissolve away in time… hmmm Coke in a paper box? Maybe not but I bet if it actually cost them not to do it they would figure out a way.

The one thing I was glad to see was the look of horror on my little kid’s faces when they saw this pretty little bay turn into a garbage slough. Maybe someday they will find the answer to this problem since the grownups can’t.

Captain Tofer