Whether from the vastness of the open ocean or 250 miles above Earth, sailor Charlie Enright and retired astronaut Nicole Stott have witnessed the awe-inspiring majesty as well as the fragility of the planet from perspectives few people will ever see.
Enright and his 11th Hour Racing Team have grown more environmentally active each time they circle the globe. Their third lap around the planet, in the Ocean Race starting Sunday from Alicante, Spain, will focus on ocean health as much as trying to win one of sailing’s most grueling competitions.
On Friday, 11th Hour Racing released a short film clip titled “The Oceanview Effect,” in which Enright, the team's cofounder and skipper, describes the life-changing feeling sailors get as they speed away from land onto the untamed ocean. He compares it to the Overview Effect that astronauts experience the first time they look down at the planet.
“What we do to the ocean, we do to ourselves. The source of life on Earth, we need to treat it that way,” Enright says at the end of the clip.
Stott is totally on board with that message after 11th Hour Racing enlisted her as an ambassador. She met with Enright in Rhode Island just before Christmas to discuss their experiences and shared interest in ocean health.
“It just really beautifully ties together,” said Stott, who spent 104 days in space during two missions, and made a spacewalk during a three-month stay on the International Space Station in 2009.
Stott said she looks forward to following 11th Hour Racing’s progress aboard its 60-foot foiling sloop Mālama in the five-boat IMOCA Class in the Ocean Race, which will cover 32,000 nautical miles over seven legs before finishing in Genova, Italy, in early July. There will be a stopover in May in Newport, Rhode Island, 11th Hour Racing’s home base and near Enright’s hometown of Bristol.
Stott and Enright said being exposed to the Overview Effect and Oceanview Effect tends to lead adventurers to take action once they return to terra firma.
“OK, I’m on a spaceship orbiting Earth or I’m on a boat traveling across the ocean, where it feels like it’s just me and yet feeling more connected to everything around you than you might have before, and trying to bring that understanding to light in not just that moment, but OK, how do I carry that forward?” Stott said in an interview. “What meaningful thing can I do with this reality check that I’ve had from this really extraordinary place that I’ve been?”
For Stott, that meant writing a book, “Back to Earth: What Life in Space Taught Me About Our Home Planet―And Our Mission to Protect It.” Stott works with Plant A Million Corals of Summerland Key, Florida, which has discovered an accelerated way to restore lost and damaged coral reefs and is a grantee of 11th Hour Racing.
Stott recalled zooming in on the effects of climate change from space, including glaciers breaking off in Patagonia and colorful but dangerous algae blooms in the ocean. She is a scuba diver and lived for 18 days in the Aquarius undersea laboratory as part of her astronaut training.
For Enright, it means ramping up 11th Hour Racing’s message of caring for the ocean. He knows that it’s what sailors can’t see — microplastics, warming oceans and rising acidity levels — that is as damaging as what they can see, such as loss of biodiversity and debris.
“For us, it’s been a transformative journey,” said Enright, who cofounded the sailing team with fellow Brown alum Mark Towill beginning with the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race.
“The first time we went around the world it was just through the observation of marine debris that we realized we kind of had a problem. The first lap of the world was really our awakening, and then the second lap of the world was actually telling people about it. We are the canaries in the coal mine trying to broadcast some of the issues. Now that’s not good enough. Now it’s about solutions.”
Towill, who’s from Hawaii, stepped off the boat after the 2017-18 race to become team CEO and focus on building Mālama, which in Hawaiian means “to care for and protect.”
Mālama was built using renewable energy sources and with a number of innovations designed to reduce 11th Hour Racing’s carbon footprint. The team has committed to going beyond net zero by drawing down 20% more greenhouse gases than it emits.
For nonstructural parts of the boat, 11th Hour Racing replaced 220 pounds of carbon fiber with renewable materials such as three hatch doors made of flax, recycled plastic and bio-based resin.
The team set up a carbon fiber recycling program in France and has recycled more than three tons into carbon fiber tape to be used in future builds.
Cameras at the top of the mast will use AI technology to help steer clear of marine mammals, and equipment aboard will measure the ocean’s temperature, salinity and mercury levels. Three-quarters of the onboard energy will come from solar panels and a hydro generator.
Enright is doubly driven to win the Ocean Race after twice finishing fifth.
“If you’re just kind of sailing along and putting pictures of flax on Instagram, what’s your credibility?" Enright said. “You're certainly a lot more credible when you’re on top of the podium with the microphone and an opportunity to influence."
Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson