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An inside look at the science of cleaning up and fixing the mess of marine pollution

Sailing the Sea on World Oceans Day

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Here's Blue, the Olson 911SE yacht I'll be sailing around Vancouver Island, Canada. Credit:

Here's Blue, the Olson 911SE yacht I'll be sailing around Vancouver Island, Canada. Credit:

June 8 is World Oceans Day. How will you be celebrating? Starting Saturday, June 4, I am participating in Van Isle 360, a sailing race around Vancouver Island, Canada. The 580-nautical-mile race (667.5 miles on land) stops in 10 communities around Vancouver Island. The race starts and ends in Nanaimo, British Columbia, and will take about two weeks. I’m sailing on the nearly 30-foot-long yacht Blue, and we’ll have a satellite transponder so you can track how I’m doing during the race at

On World Oceans Day, in particular, I’ll be racing from Hardwicke Island to Telegraph Cove. There is not much of a town at Hardwicke Island, but we’ll tie up for the night at a salmon processing plant. The town of Telegraph Cove, population 20, is near the northern end of Vancouver Island, and much of the town is built on stilts, with buildings raised above the water on pilings and linked by historic wooden boardwalks. Even when I am ashore that night I will still be surrounded by water.

Vancouver Island and the route I'll be taking through Johnstone Strait. Credit: Google Maps.

Vancouver Island and the route I'll be taking through Johnstone Strait. Credit: Google Maps.

Johnstone Strait, along the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, is also famous for wildlife, and hopefully we’ll see whales during the day.

Vancouver Island and the City of Vancouver (which is actually not located on Vancouver Island) are named for Captain George Vancouver, the captain of the 1792 British expedition that explored this region. He is also known for developing the first nautical charts of the region, such as this one of Vancouver Island. While I’m thankful for his work, I’m glad I’ll have up-to-date charts on the boat.

So what is the connection to my work on oil spills and this blog? For one thing, even though this is a remote part of Canada, it is very much part of our marine transportation system between the lower 48 states and Alaska. The race follows the “inside passage” between Vancouver Island and mainland Canada, which is the route that cruise ships and commercial vessels take to avoid the rougher open ocean route on the outer edge of the island. That means I’ll be sharing the “road” with big ships as they travel through the same maze of islands I’ll be navigating.

I’m also hoping all those oceanography skills we use to forecast how oil drifts with tides and winds will come in handy when trying to sail through some of the toughest tidal currents in the world. The currents at Seymour Narrows near Campbell River, British Columbia, can exceed 15 knots—that is 17 miles per hour!

Keep an eye on this blog because I’ll try to upload some pictures and updates here during the race. Let me know in the comments how you hope to be celebrating the ocean on World Oceans Day, whether you’ll be sailing in a remote corner of the sea or showing your appreciation thousands of miles from the ocean.

Author: doughelton

Doug Helton is the Regional Operations Supervisor for the West Coast, Alaska, Hawaii, and Great Lakes and also serves as the Incident Operations Coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Emergency Response Division. The Division provides scientific and technical support to the Coast Guard during oil and chemical spill responses. The Division is based in Seattle, WA, but manages NOAA response efforts nationally.

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