When Mark Towill and Charlie Enright met at Brown University, they were coming from two very different places but had one important thing in common.

“We’ve always shared a passion for the ocean and the wider environment. It’s been part of who we are since we were young, growing up in Hawaii and Rhode Island. The backdrops maybe have been different, but declining marine health and the effects of climate change were fast becoming evident,” says Enright.

Captain/environmentalist Charlie Enright, at the helm. Photo: Courtesy of James Blake/Volvo Ocean Race

Next month, Towill and Enright will lead the Vestas 11th Hour Racing Team as they embark on a sailing race around the world. But while there’s a laser focus on winning, there’s also a serious commitment to spreading the message of sustainability.

Sailing has only solidified the pair’s feelings about the ocean and what that means to their friends and families.

No matter what the message, this is a grueling race. Photo: Courtesy of Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Racing

“Together, we’ve decided to take action, [to] become ambassadors for a sustainable future, working with organizations that are aligned with our vision in Vestas and 11th Hour Racing,” Enright says. “As sailors and ocean ambassadors, we’re aware of the enjoyment [the world’s oceans] can bring, as well as the challenges and the peril.

“We’ve taken in breathtaking scenery, yet have witnessed many things that should never have found their way there, like refrigerators, tires, containers and pallets. The oceans deserve our respect and it’s our responsibility to highlight the issues, to be good role models and inspire change.

“We have only explored about five percent of the world’s oceans, yet they’re the lifeblood of Earth, covering more than 70 percent of the planet’s surface, driving weather, regulating temperature and ultimately supporting all living organisms.”

The grueling endurance challenge is the Volvo Ocean Race, a multi-leg sailing competition that circles the world. It runs every three years and goes back to 1973. The race starts in the Spanish port of Alicante on Oct. 22 and sails to 11 ports, finishing in the Hague (Netherlands) in June 2018.

As sailors and ocean ambassadors, Towill and Enright know what kind of joy the ocean brings, and they’re willing to protect it. Photo: Courtesy of Martin Keruzore/Volvo Ocean Race

Enright led an American/Danish crew of 10 in this race in 2014-2015 and staged a historic comeback, taking first in the final ocean leg and fifth overall. This year they come back in full partnership with 11th Hour Racing, a program of The Schmidt Family Foundation to bring real change to marine health. They will be racing a VO65.

Sailing, especially at the global race level, is the ultimate in renewable energy, emitting no greenhouse gases. Any doubters of the power of clean energy have a hard time arguing with a vessel moving at 45 to 50 knots (nearly 60 mph). Coincidentally, one of the other teams, skippered by British sailor Dee Caffari, will lead Team Turn the Tide on Plastics in the race.

For the Vestas 11th Hour Racing Team, winning means a lot, but so does the health of our oceans. Photo: Courtesy of Jeremie Lecaudey/Volvo Ocean Race

“The power of the wind, and harnessing this power, is elementary in what we do on the water whilst sailing, and what we should be doing more and more of in our energy mix. It’s an abundant and readily available source and, even more importantly, a local, carbon-free and climate-friendly power source,” explains Enright.

“Actually, by installing windmills in an area approximately the size of Rhode Island, you could run the entire country on wind power alone. Now obviously it’s about creating a smart energy mix, but it’s important we all embrace and demand renewable energy options, such as wind power, in order to protect our environment for a sustainable future.”

Guys from Rhode Island don’t usually like those “size of Rhode Island” comparisons, but Enright likes their chances this year, noting that the boat is in great shape and the crew is moving as one unit.

He feels that athletes, and not only those in adventure sports, are ideal ambassadors for environmental awareness. He points to statistics from Green Sports Alliance that show that 16 percent of Americans follow science closely in the news, while 71 percent follow sports.

Sailing is certainly one of the sports almost three quarters of Americans keep an eye on. Photo: Courtesy of James Blake/Volvo Ocean Race

“If we can deliver our messages through sport, we can really have a big impact, both in terms of behavior change and education. It’s important that there is a mutual respect and appreciation between sportspeople, nature and their surroundings,” he adds.

“Likewise, harnessing the power of the wind and the water is the essence of our campaign and what powers our boat as we sail around the world.”

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