Many of us who are cruising sailors have been sailing mid-ocean or walking along a perfect beach in the middle of seemingly nowhere, only to be appalled at the amount of plastic trash we find. Few of us, however, have taken that disheartening reality and turned it into a lifelong mission to transform the plastic status quo, conceived and created a purpose-built vessel to carry out that mission, and devoted our lives and careers to making people worldwide aware of the ocean’s garbage problem.
Or, do it as a family, as Heloisa and Vilfredo Schurmann and their sons Wilhelm and David, and daughter-in-law Erika Ternex, are doing.
“It was time to give back to the oceans all that the oceans had given us,” Heloisa Schurmann told a group of sailors at the Newport International Boat Show in mid-September, where the 78-foot steel ketch, Kat, was docked. “What can we do to change the situation?”
“We saw strong momentum at the UN Ocean Conference this year for a global treaty to curb plastic pollution by establishing a legally binding international agreement over the next two years,” said Wilhelm Schurmann, one of Heloisa’s sons who is Kat’s captain and who oversaw her build in 2014. “This agreement by 175 countries will take humanity a step closer toward a new plastics economy that incentivizes and rewards those who prioritize conservation-centric behaviors. Our goal with the expedition’s stop at the Newport International Boat Show is to intensify a new era of collaboration with industry leaders and develop innovations that can be applied worldwide on a large scale.”
Heloisa and her husband, Vilfredo, took the cruising plunge in 1984, setting out from their home in Brazil and completing a ten-year circumnavigation with their three young sons. “They grew up on the spirit of that dream,” Heloisa said. That voyage led to several subsequent journeys, and during each of them, the Schurmanns grew more dismayed at the plastic pollution they witnessed.
Determined to do something substantive, in 2012 they envisioned the boat they would build to carry out that mission. Designed by Argentinian Nestor Volker and built at a shipyard in Itajaí, Brazil, Kat is a forcefully elegant machine whose systems work to showcase sustainability goals and permit sailing in all latitudes. Among those of which the Schurmanns are most proud is the boat’s wastewater treatment system, which uses the standard aerobic bacteria to break down solids and neutralize coliform but takes it a step further using ultraviolet light to further disinfect the wastewater before discharge. The entire forepeak is a dedicated recycling center, with a bottle crusher that can render up to 200 bottles into a five-gallon bucket of easily handleable sand. Food waste is composted, and the compost feeds the two container gardens growing on either side of the boat’s davits, which are protected from salt and too much sun with purpose-built covers that use solar fans to keep them aerated when the boat is underway. All trash is compacted. Hydro generators, wind, and solar contribute to largely clean power generation.
Newport was part of the boat’s 2021-2023 voyage to sail to 65 communities from Brazil, the U.S. East Coast, through the Caribbean, and then across the Pacific to Auckland, New Zealand, engaging with scientists, educators, residents, and local governments along the way.
“Our goals are to witness and register in each location the reality of what is happening, then connect with NGOs and local people in this effort,” Heloisa said. “We are seeking innovative and practical solutions to changing the scenario.” And, she added, “We want to raise awareness to people around the world of the need for urgent action.”
For more about the Schurmanns’ journey and mission, see voiceoftheoceans.com.
Photos courtesy of Voice of the Oceans