Today we launch...well, not boats yet, but the cyber existence of Action Optimist. Soon we will launch the boats! The idea of remote beach cleaning has been coming together here for years, but finally we are organised.
Our idea has been inspired this photograph, which I took in 2009 when I was the event photographer the Classic Malts Cruise, a sailing event around the whisky distilleries of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. I jumped ashore from my RIB onto a rugged remote bit of coastline, looking for things to photograph. What I found were coves and crevices jam packed with plastic and garbage. All this rubbish - so far from anywhere, so far from where it was used and so carelessly dropped. This bit of shoreline on the Point of Sleat faces SW and the winter gales batter full force, ramming the floating debris deep into the cracks with every wave. Over the years this photo has sat on my desktop, haunting me. This rubbish must still be there, it cannot escape and few people pass. It will remain until it is choked down by wildlife or breaks down into micro plastics and potentially enters the food chain...or until...maybe...we go and get it...But how?
It's too far to walk in and carry out more than a rucksack full. Going by yacht doesn't work because the rubbish accumulates on the exposed windward shores- exactly where you would not anchor a boat safely. Maybe by RIB- but RIBs are heavy to handle and can be easily damaged trying to get close to shore or if sharp debris punctures a tube.
Years passed and we noticed more and more debris on the Scottish coasts, especially those with a similar SW aspect. We litter picked, adopted our local beach, did eco-schools, litter picked some more. I spent a lot of time in RIBs as part of regatta safety fleets, helping children develop sailing skills in their Optimist dinghies. My kids started in the heavy club boats, built of tough thick polypropylene. They soon moved into their own fibreglass racing Optimists and set off on competitive sailing adventures. Those old club boats though, bought second hand to kick start a new junior sailing program at Nairn Sailing Club, were good fun - we towed them around, kids capsized them and clambered over them and we hauled them up and down the beach. Literally hundreds of kids have had their first experiences of sailing in those boats.
Optimists dinghies are fine racing craft for those who appreciate them, the largest sailing class in the world (over 350,000 registered in 100+ countries worldwide) with an incredibly competitive culture that forms the first stage in many Olympic careers. But there is always someone keen to make that cheap shot about how they look like bathtubs. Even for me, Optimist enthusiast though I am, it is not much of a leap from bathtub to skip. And there lies the idea. Maybe we can do extreme beach cleaning with our old training "Oppies": they can be towed, dropped off, filled like a skip, hauled off and dragged back to port, each packing a mean 70kg of marine litter. Three in a chain gets you over 200kg.
Following a year when we have made commitments to environmental campaigning and been inspired by others around the world, the kids and I finally decided we should try. We have a window in July. We will be surveying the areas we pick, so the data collected can used by researchers. Much is planned and much more cannot be, because it is all weather dependent. What would be easy on a calm day would be disastrous with the wrong conditions.
We are hoping to be joined by friends along the way. Send us a message if you are interested. We are just looking forward to getting out there to see what's possible.
There is marine litter everywhere.
There are sailors everywhere.
There are Optimists everywhere.
If it works, we will scale it up.
Christine, Calum and Amy
PS We launch today because it is the first day of "Plastic Free July" - the Marine Conservation Society's annual campaign challenging us to shop without single use plastic for a month. This may be tricky, but we will do our best.