I’d like to tell you a story about my attempt on the Pacific in 2007. It was either a failed attempt, or an intense learning experience, depending on how you prefer to look at things. And there is an environmental moral to the tale.
To get to the relevant part of the story, I’ll need to give a very swift recap of the preceding events. In brief, I was unwillingly picked up by a Coast Guard helicopter 10 days into my voyage, leaving my boat floating around on the ocean about 100 miles off the coast of California. I chartered a large research vessel for the salvage operation, and with the crew and a few intrepid friends set out from Sausalito to retrieve Sedna. We found her, lifted her aboard the research vessel, and spent the next 24 hours fixing her up and replacing broken equipment so I could resume my attempt at the earliest opportunity.
However, it was already late in the season, and my weatherman was dubious about the safety of relaunching so late in the year. After a restless night grappling with the pros and cons, I decided that it would be better to postpone my attempt until the following year. This was a really tough decision. It would be nine months before I could try again, and I felt especially bad about it as my friends had worked around the clock to get my boat ready for an immediate relaunch. I called everyone into the galley of the research vessel and broke the news, then apologized that all their hard work had been in vain.
One of my friends, Aenor Sawyer (aka my expedition medic, aka the Bone Doctor, whom I have mentioned before gently brushed aside my apologies. She explained that they didn’t mind in the least. They had always known that I may not be able to continue. But they had wanted to make sure that I had the OPTION to resume my row if conditions allowed. They didn’t want my options to be restricted by not having a seaworthy boat, so they were happy to have done the work necessary to keep that option open to me. She thereby introduced me to what she called the concept of “Ultimate Flexibility”.
The premise of Ultimate Flexibility is that we are rarely able to make decisions based on perfect information, so it makes sense to keep as many options open for as long as possible, pending further developments. When in doubt, take the course of action that maximizes the number of options available. I now use this as a guiding principle when making decisions, and it strikes me that it is also highly relevant to our environmental challenges.
We don’t want to find ourselves trapped in a corner that we can’t get out of because we have done too little, too late. Sceptics say climate change isn’t happening, or isn’t due to human interference. Let’s for a moment suppose that they may be right, but we can’t be sure yet, so we would be wise not to restrict our options at this stage. We rarely regret being ready too soon rather than too late. So why procrastinate? Whichever way we look at it, we are going to run out of fossil fuels sometime. So what do we have to lose by being ready now, apart from a lot of smog, sickness and war over scarce resources? Let’s hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
Whichever way you look at it, one day we will run out of oil. For sure. It took millions of years to create, and since we discovered it around a hundred and fifty years ago, we have already used up most of it. We are having to resort to ever more energy-intensive and environmentally destructive methods to squeeze the last few drops out of our poor ailing planet in order to fuel our oil addiction. The time, money and energy that is going into these desperate last-ditch efforts would be better spent on creating clean, renewable energy sources that will sustain us into the future. Solar, wind and tidal energy will be available for as long as the sun continues to shine, the wind continues to blow, and the moon continues to orbit the Earth. If and when those things ever cease to happen, we will have bigger worries than how to refill our cars.
But to transition from the energy supply systems we have now, to the energy supply systems of the future, we need energy. Oil would be useful too, as we will need to make solar panels, and wind and water turbines, which are likely to require plastic, oil-derived, components. So in the interests of Ultimate Flexibility I would like to see us using our diminishing resources of fossil fuel to create the infrastructure for a sustainable energy future. The longer we leave it, and the scarcer our old-world energy sources become, the harder this is going to be.
There is also the issue of future flexibility: what right do we have to rob our descendants of the opportunities that we have enjoyed? If we use up all the fossil fuels, destroy the rainforests, exterminate numerous species, and generally continue guzzling our resources with reckless abandon, we are depriving future generations of their freedom to enjoy these privileges. Ultimate Flexibility is not just a concept for the present, but for the future as well.
After capsizing the previous two nights in a row, I was really pleased not to do my tumble-dryer act last night. Capsizes are to be expected, but not welcomed. Conditions today have been very variable, but during a lull in the wind I was able to make a foray to the fore cabin to obtain replacements for equipment that had broken during the storm. My last bucket had shattered – not so much a hole in my bucket, but a bit of bucket left around the hole – but I had a large lidded tub that Sir Peter Barter had used to airdrop food, beer, and reading matter from his helicopter as I was on the final approach to Papua New Guinea last year. This tub has now been fitted with a rope handle, and will serve as my washbucket for the remainder of the voyage. I also got replacements for some data cables that have been behaving erratically recently, and assorted other bits and pieces. I am now feeling shipshape(ish) again.
I moved on to a new flavour of rawfood crackers today. For some reason, when on board I prefer to work my way through one particular flavour and only when it is all used up do I move onto the next one. I don’t mix it up. I have long since finished the “mock turkey” flavour (cashew nuts and cranberries) and “pizza base”, and am now onto the “sunburgers”. David, please let Suki and Brendan know that the crackers have been awesome. The biodegradable plastic packaging has been fine – no deterioration as yet. I am keeping this packaging separate from the rest of my trash so it can be suitably composted when I reach dry land. When I realized this voyage was going to take longer than planned, I had to find a way to use every calorie on board, so I have been slathering the rawfood crackers with the Red Feather canned butter that was a last-minute donation. I am sure this defeats the purpose of the crackers as a super-healthy vegan food, but desperate times call for desperate measures!
Quote for the day: “It’s choice, not chance, that determines your destiny.” (Jean Nidetch)
Photo: Handy with a scalpel or a drill – Aenor using her surgical skills on Sedna (then known as the Brocade)
We have now raised $2650 towards our target of $4000 to bring my mother out to see me arrive. Huge thanks to all who have contributed so far. To make a donation, visit our fundraising website Send Rita To See Roz
Latest Podcast now available: Send Rita To See Roz
Sponsored Miles: Kenny Runnerduck, Todd Lowe, Doug Grandt, Bonnie Sterngold, Ward Carpenter, Thomas Heavey and Margaret @ Green Drinks. Miles sponsored beyond Roz’s destination: Larry Grandt, Chris Lynch, Jessica Taylor, Kenny Runnderduck, Terry Jones, Ward Carpenter and Thomas Heavey. Grateful thanks to all.