The 11th Hour
WORDS: PHOEBE HUNT | ILLUSTRATIONS: JOSE WALKER
The oceans won’t be cleaned up in a day. And as anyone who has spent time working in the marine conservation world can attest, there isn’t one simple solution to the problem. Yet as sailing crew, captains, boatbuilders, charterers and Superyacht owners around the world will agree, it’s never been more vital: the industry would be nothing without pristine waters on which to sail.
No one appreciates the co-dependence of yachting andocean quality more than philanthropist, businesswoman and competitive sailor Wendy Schmidt. A keen racer, she has recently led her team aboard Deep Blue to victory in the Barcolana 54, becoming the first woman to win the race. Aboard her own 46-metre ketch Elfje, Schmidt has travelled to some of the most gloriously undisturbed corners of the world.
While competing in international regattas, however, she and her crew have also become increasingly accustomed to seeing mountains of plastic waste from single-use water bottles piled on the docks and plastic pollution littering the racecourses. Keen to do something about the mounting problem, Schmidt took a somewhat different approach to other ocean clean-up projects, and decided that collaboration was key. Rather than working against luxury travel and Superyacht regattas, she believes the only way to succeed is in harnessing these as a force for good.
Along with sailor and sailmaker Rob MacMillan and sailor Jeremy Pochman (both of whom she has raced with extensively), Schmidt launched 11th Hour Racing in 2010. “We use the power of sport to sell sustainability rather than products,” explains communications director Alessandra Ghezzi. “By sponsoring organizations and events [to help them] reduce their environmental impact, we enable them to become leaders in ocean health.”
As president of the Schmidt Family Foundation and responsible for around $1 billion of philanthropic funds, Schmidt has thrown her weight behind the problem and raised the profile of marine protection.
From working to eliminate single-use plastic at regattas, the organization quickly evolved to support sponsorships, grantees, and ambassadors who integrate sustainability into their values and operations while educating, innovating and inspiring people with the critical message of ocean stewardship. “We want to encourage everyone to assess their own carbon footprint and identify ways that they can do better, no matter where they live in the world,” says Managing Director Todd McGuire.
“Just as a skipper steers a boat with a gentle, steady hand, 11th Hour Racing strives to transform the world of competitive sport one degree at a time,” says Ghezzi.
In simple speak, the 11th Hour team (which now comprises 17 people) are acutely aware that they’ve got to engage the decision-makers in the yachting world if they’re going to get anywhere with protecting and improving ocean health. One of their first challenges was to prove that sustainability does not impede performance. They achieved this with flying colours in 2011 when sailors Tim Healy and John Mollicone won first place in the J/24 keelboat circuit, making a case for cutting out single-use plastic.
Real momentum started in 2013 when the organisation sponsored the Atlantic Cup, helping the entire regatta to go carbon neutral by reducing its footprint and offsetting unavoidable emissions. Two years later, 11th Hour Racing first engaged with the Volvo Ocean Race Newport Stopover, funding an ocean science exploration zone and the inaugural Ocean Summit, aiming to kick-start action on marine health. Since then, the team have gathered a large roster of high profile ambassadors, and launched various grants to fund underwater clean-ups and sea-level rise adaptation.
So, what’s the one thing Managing Director Todd McGuire wishes more people knew about restoring the ocean? “That everything we do on land affects the ocean,” he replies simply. “Most people don’t know that soil health and ocean health are intrinsically linked. There are a lot of publicly available resources that provide strategies and solutions to reduce your environmental impact at a personal level. By gaining an honest understanding of our footprint and shifting our behaviours to minimize that impact, we will start to see a global shift in prioritizing environmental health”
“We place a strong emphasis on the connection between land and water — because what happens on land affects our ocean and waterways,” Ghezzi agrees. “Whether you live on the coast or inland, you can contribute to ocean health. Our name, 11th Hour Racing, comes from our sense of urgency: we are at the final hour in the struggle to save our ocean, and the clock is ticking.”