The 161-year old race for the Auld Mug is on its way to San Francisco. The America's Cup itself isn't till next year, but plenty of events happen along the way to the final series. For all of them, for some time, environmentalists have been concerned about the impact a huge sailing race will have on the San Francisco Bay and the ocean waters around it.
Those double-hulled racing yachts are sailing under wind power, right? Sure, but the event's a huge tourist draw. That's going to bring in cruise ships and other spectator boats. And air pollution and water pollution their engines will bring, too.
And there's all the temporary development on shore. Most recently, environmentalists shut down plans for a giant floating TV screen in Aquatic Park (the Dolphin Swimming and Boating Club threatened to swim around that area in protests). The Sierra Club pointed to "concerns about water pollution impacts and other criticisms of the project's final environmental impact report, which the state requires before construction can begin." Now that's sorted out; the San Francisco Chronicle reports that San Francisco Supervisors addressed those concerns in the last several days.
Instead of seeing the Cup events as a potential for disaster, Dan Pingaro sees the America's Cup as a huge environmental opportunity. Pingaro heads Sailors for the Sea, "a new voice for ocean conservation based in the greater boating community." Sailors for the Sea has been prominent at America's Cup run-up events, promoting conversations about global warming, marine debris, and ocean conservation efforts.
The group was founded by David Rockefeller, Jr. Rockefeller leads the board of directors. The group's day-to-day operations are thriving now with Pingaro at the helm. Pingaro's the CEO and executive director. But first and foremost, he's a sailor. And that's how his involvement with Sailors for the Sea started.
"I was racing 50 days a year in San Francisco," he remembers. Pingaro came from an environmental policy background; in northern California, he was taking some time to be an entrepreneur. A Surfrider meeting caught his attention. "Here’s all these folks organized to go sailing on the weekend. Any one of them are smart intelligent people," Pingaro continues. "I just had that aha moment walking on the dock. There’s nothing in sailing that's similar. Let’s start something like that."
The group has developed a certification process for events at yacht and boating clubs. "Clean Regattas" include certification standards for everything from trash to the paper regatta awards are printed on to water discharge and waste disposal. Pingaro calls the America's Cup "the pinnacle of sailing." Sailors for the sea is the only nonprofit focused on sailing and the environment. Pingaro says he wants to engage the sailing and the boating community to leave behind a clean, healthy ocean.
The America's Cup is the biggest effort in this vein to date, with the America's Cup Events Authority committing to sustainable practices at race and meet events throughout the runup to the Cup races themselves, and at multiple locations. They even organize sailors to pick up trash along the coast on their days off racing.
Beyond the Cup activities, Sailors for the Sea has developed marine science education for young sailors. "We’ve found a very receptive audience," Pingaro says. Members of the sailing community can calculate their "carbon wake" on line too.
My most burning question for Dan Pingaro proved to be the most difficult. I asked him why this has all happened in the last three years; why it took so long for sailing to make the connection to the ocean's health. "I don’t know why it hasn’t happened before. It takes a unique set of circumstances to galvanize a whole new constituency."