Rio’s Polluted Playing Field

Author:
Updated:
Original:

A conversation about the next Olympic sailing venue

The Olympics represent the pinnacle of sport and a rare opportunity for athletes to compete on an international playing field for national glory and personal achievement. But what if the playing field is neither safe nor fair? Prior to winning its bid to host the XXXI Olympiad, Rio de Janeiro promised to clean up Guanabara Bay by 80 percent—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rehabilitate these garbage- and effluent-filled waters. However, more recently Andre Correa, Rio’s newly instated secretary of state for the environment, said most emphatically that, “It’s not going to happen.”

This announcement confirms what critics have been saying for some time—that the city is actively walking back its commitment, potentially exposing sailors to sewage-born illnesses, while also forcing them to compete on racecourses that have been described as being chocked with everything from speed-sapping plastic bags to discarded sofas.

Now, just 12 months prior to the Rio 2016 Games, there’s a ground-swell of effort to fix the situation, with some ISAF officials calling for a change of venue.

We caught up with Josh Adams, US Sailing’s managing director of Olympic Sailing, to learn more about the team’s preparations for this unusual Olympiad.

SAIL: Have American sailors gotten sick?

Adams: We’ve logged hundreds of days on the water. No doubt, some athletes get sick, but that’s the minority experience. It’s really tough to tell if they are getting stomach sickness from Guanabara Bay or from eating at a restaurant. No one has been prevented from racing or training because of illness.

Long before conditions on Guanabara Bay became headlines, we set about on our own research project, and we worked in partnership with the U.S. Olympic Committee. We tested Guanabara Bay in 54 sites, and we had these samples prepared and analyzed by medical experts.
Our experts felt that there was nothing in the water that would prevent our athletes from competing on Guanabara Bay.

SAIL: Are the racing areas any cleaner than the rest of Guanabara Bay?

Adams: There’s a big difference between the upper bay, past the Niterói Bridge, and the main part of the bay where the racing is actually held. A lot of the reporting in the media is actually about areas of Guanabara Bay that are pretty far from where the racing will be held. It’s also important to note that there are several ocean racecourses, outside the bay, where much of the racing will be held.

SAIL: What about the sofas?

Adams: Typically, we can expect debris on the tidelines and—most commonly—plastic bags that can catch the foils of a planing dinghy. From a performance standpoint, this isn’t good. There have been reports of larger objects, but our sailors haven’t confirmed these.

A really important data point about Guanabara Bay was last year’s Rio 2016 test event in August. There was a lot of high-quality racing held, and people certainly experienced dealing with debris. There were some incidents reported, but nothing dramatic or that changed the outcome of the racing.

SAIL: Can there be fair, Olympic-level racing on Guanabara Bay?

Adams: We feel that fair racing can be held on Guanabara Bay. It’s a long series, so the sailors are going see multiple courses, inside and outside Guanabara Bay, and the total body of work is going to be a fair competition.

SAIL: Do you think the sailing venue will be moved?

Adams: We fully expect the Games to be held in Rio, and we think it will be a great Olympic regatta. If there’s a venue change, then we’ll quickly adjust.

SAIL: Anything else?

Adams: The pollution story tends to overshadow the real story of Guanabara Bay, which in our minds is about the challenging currents and winds that are going to make or break Olympic dreams. s

Related

01-LEAD-lagoon46-ncz4503-a3

10 Places to Cruise With a Catamaran

Navel gazing doesn’t get much better than from the deck of a sailboat anchored somewhere exotic. You can think great thoughts staring up at the stars from a South Seas anchorage. It’s also better doing so on a catamaran. Full confession: I’m a cat convert, a cat evangelist if ...read more

Radome

Ask SAIL: Some Random TLC

Q: I recently removed my radar’s white radome, which covers the internal rotating antenna. I gave the radome a light sandblasting to clear it of years of grime and discoloring. Should I paint it, too? — B. Anderson, Aberdeen, MD GORDON WEST REPLIES Stop! First, make sure the ...read more

L42-Sea-Trails-3728

Boat Review: Leopard 42

Sticking with its proven design formula, but also cherry-picking popular features from its recent models, Leopard Catamarans has launched a “best of” package with this new boat that sold nearly 30 units before hull #1 even touched water. Like a greatest hits album, the Leopard ...read more

01-LEAD-Cut8

Know how: Reinforcing Engine Stringers

If I were to ask, “What are the top five parts of the engine you want to be able to easily access?” How would you respond? Would it be the dipstick? The overflow coolant? I’d wager the raw water pump and its impeller would also make the list. Am I right? The reason we want to be ...read more

Sail-VOE-4-a

Experience: Under the Eyes of the Bar Bunch

Sitting quietly at the bar of a local yacht club, I gaze out over a rambunctious Lake Michigan on a sunny but blustery spring afternoon. I am enjoying watching a small sloop approaching the marina and recognize it as belonging to one of our newest members. “Pretty little thing. ...read more

01-LEAD-Bocas_Marina2

Cruising: Hurricane Heaven

As I write this, another hurricane season has passed. In hundreds of harbors and marinas, sailors are breathing a sigh of relief. I know the feeling since I rode out eight spinners aboard my sturdy 30-footer. I can recall the precise moment when I said, “No more!” It was in ...read more

J45-Podcast-vert-600x-02

Point of SAIL: J/Boats Inc. President Jeff Johnstone

In this episode of Point of SAIL, sponsored by West System Epoxy, Principal Editor Adam Cort talks with Jeff Johnstone, president of J/Boats Inc., the company that has brought the world such iconic designs as the J/24, the J/105 and the J/22, to name a few. In their ...read more

100719BTSC-9304

Boat Review: Catalina 545

Catalina has long been the largest All-American family cruiser company, building what sailors might call “standard” boats. Moving up from the popular 30ft to 45ft sizes puts the company into “yacht” territory, and the new Catalina 545, winner of the SAIL magazine 2020 Best Boats ...read more