5 minutes with... Ivar and Floris, Sailors for Sustainability
Hello Ivar and Floris!
We hear so many wonderful things about your adventures - let's here a bit more about who you are and what you are up to.
Tell us a bit about yourselves…
We are Ivar Smits (46) and Floris van Hees (42), two Dutch sailors. Five years ago we quit our jobs, left behind our family and friends and started a sailing trip around the world. Along our route we look for and visit solutions to sustainability challenges that have already been put in practice. We blog and vlog about these solutions to encourage people, communities, businesses, and governments to accelerate sustainable change.
What kind of boat are you sailing and where is your ‘home’ port?
Our boat “Lucipara 2” is a classic steel ketch of 47 foot, designed by Alan H. Buchanan and built in 1965. A lot of renovation work was needed when Ivar bought her in 2004. In total, it took 12 years to bring her back to a seaworthy and comfortable state. Thankfully, he had help from family, friends, and experts. During the renovation works, we paid special attention to self-sufficiency. The energy efficiency significantly improved thanks to modern insulation and the installation of a wood-stove in the main cabin reduces the need for central heating. We can generate our electricity needs in a renewable way with solar panels and a wind generator, and make our own drinking water with a watermaker.
Ivar is the third owner and maintained the original name of the boat when he made Amsterdam her new home port. While the origins of the boat’s name lies in colonial times, when the world was sailed for profit, often gained through violent oppression, we wish to demonstrate a different use of sailboats. We sail the world to discover solutions for the common good and make these sustainable solutions accessible for everyone to use and share. With this “open source” approach we aim to move away from colonial-era monopolies.
Where are you heading – how long have you been sailing?
We left Amsterdam in June 2016 and visited sustainable solutions in northern, western, and southern Europe during the first two years of our journey. Via Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway we reached Scotland. From there our southward journey began via the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and Portugal. We then spent a year in the Mediterranean and also visited Italy, Albania, Croatia, Greece, Malta, Tunisia, and Morocco. After stops in the Canary Islands and Cabo Verde we crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil in 2018. From there we took the “classic route” to the Pacific: via Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile. We sailed to Easter Island and Pitcairn. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, we were in French Polynesia. After eight months, we were allowed entry to New Zealand, but had to sail non-stop because of the many border closures. So far we have sailed 29,000 miles, visited 25 countries and documented more than 50 sustainable solutions. We’ve met countless inspiring people that work towards an environmentally sound and socially just society.
Our route from here is roughly as follows: via South-East Asia, South-Africa, Brazil, the Caribbean, the USA and Greenland we aim to sail back to Amsterdam. How much time it will take us to complete our journey depends on a number of factors, most notably how long the pandemic will last. In any event we expect to sail for at least a few more years.
Wow! That is far - what an adventure. What’s your mission and why is this important?
Our mission is to inspire as many people as possible with positive examples and call them to sustainable action. We see that not only change is needed, but also possible in so many areas. The challenges we face call for "all hands on deck". With our sailing trip around the world we want to contribute to a better world for our generation and the generations after us.
We believe sustainable change is urgently needed because our culture is heavily influenced by the myth of endless material and financial growth on a finite planet. The result is exhaustion of the earth and social inequality. The planetary scenarios that the "Club of Rome" made could still be dismissed in the 1970s as an overly negative worldview. Our generation no longer has this "luxury". We are already living with the consequences, such as climate breakdown, deforestation, biodiversity loss, overfishing, plastic soup in the oceans, soil erosion, water shortages, unemployment, poverty and refugee flows. With unchanged policies these crises will only get worse.
We think our society is at a crossroads. The urgency for system change is greater than ever. Fundamental changes are needed in our economy, energy management, monetary system, legal system, food supply, and ideology. However, cultural change evokes uncertainty and resistance. We think that people need more positive examples for inspiration. As many people worldwide are working on concrete solutions, the contours of a sustainable society become ever more visible. It’s not a daydream, but already working in practice.
We couldn't agree more. Was there something specific that got you started, or has this been your dream all along?
When we met nine years ago, Ivar lived on his sailboat. For him sailing was already the best and most sustainable way of getting somewhere. It took Floris some getting used to, but he soon saw the advantages: you reach to the most beautiful places, you always have your home with you, and you travel on wind energy. A long sailing trip soon became a common goal.
When we planned our trip, we agreed that sustainability would be our main theme. We are both conscious of the privileged situation we are in. At the same time, the precarious state of our natural world and increasing social inequality concern us. We were (and are) convinced that fundamental changes are drastically needed to ensure that future generations can live in harmony on a healthy planet.
In our experience you can always learn from how other people do things, especially in other countries. So we saw an opportunity: if we collect innovative examples and share them with as many people as possible, we can speed up the transition to a sustainable society. That’s how we came up with the idea of Sailors for Sustainability. We believe that sharing positive examples of sustainable change can overcome apathy, cynicism, and denial and that it will inspire people to change their habits. They can do so as an individual, but also as a family, as a member of the community, as a customer, as an employee, as an entrepreneur, as an investor, and as a voter.
You've been well, everywhere, and seen so much, but what’s THE coolest thing you’ve seen or found out so far?
In the five years that we have sailed so far, we have documented more than 50 inspiring ecological and social solutions that already work in Europe, Africa, South America, the Pacific, and New Zealand. They include different forms of renewable energy, natural agricultural methods, ecosystem restoration, cooperative ways of working together, spiritual revival, and circular economy examples. We like to think of these solutions as pieces of a giant sustainability jigsaw puzzle. Although we aim to find many more, we can already see how these solutions illustrate what a sustainable society could look like. This image can be our collective compass, an inspiring tool to help us as a society navigate through challenging waters. Rather than focusing on one individual example, we believe the combination of all these different ones is an extremely positive and cool discovery!
Travelling for so long and experiencing so much of the world can't always be easy. Have there been any low points, what have you found the hardest to see so far?
When we sailed through Patagonia, we eye witnessed climate breakdown when we approached a gigantic glacier that was melting and had retreated massively in recent years. Realizing that its melting ice mass is contributing to sea-level rise and therefore indirectly to flooding of coastal zones made us very sad. We’ve made a short video about it: https://youtu.be/lQx3v1HavfY
In French Polynesia, when we were anchored at a remote atoll in the Pacific Ocean, the amount of washed-up plastic pollution was heart-breaking. Marine life gets entangled in plastic debris, which is a disaster in itself. A lot of the plastic was already disintegrating when we picked it up during our clean-up. It made us realize how microplastics end up in the food-chain, not just the marine food chain, but also our own. See also our video on this: https://youtu.be/DLVrxe1E2Xw
These two examples made us realize that events that many people regard as “environmental problems” – as if they’re not related to us humans – is in reality a survival issue for the human species. The planet doesn’t need us, it’s exactly the other way around. We are fully dependent on a healthy planet for our survival.
What do you find most difficult about being low-impact or around the water, yourselves?
We believe being on land or being on the water brings very similar sustainability challenges. Daily choices we make on issues like energy use, the food we eat, the stuff we buy (or not) and the waste we generate are quite similar. One issue that we sometimes find quite frustrating is that although we separate our waste on board into five streams, sometimes we find no recycling facilities on land and despite our good intentions some of it ends up in landfill, which is a terrible lost opportunity in so many ways.
What’s on your clean sailing wish list?
As all sailors know, the wind is free and using it to move causes no emissions. Although we have learned that when you take the time, there is basically always a good weather window, sometimes we still need our engine to avoid a dangerous situation. We are on a diesel-diet, so to say. Still, when our current engine needs to be replaced we would love to travel even more fossil-free with an electric engine.
And tell us one thing you think fellow Clean Sailors should know about…
If you’ve read this far, you’re surely curious to what we’ve discovered so far! Don’t be shy and get inspired by the sustainable examples we have described! You may not think about it every day, but whether you’re on land or on board, we all have a huge number of choices. Do you use renewable energy? Do you opt for a fossil-free means of transport? Do you eat organic and locally produced food? Do you make demands towards your bank and pension fund in the field of human rights and green investing? Do you involve climate change in your political choices? How much stuff do you actually need? Focusing on growth of material wealth seems to have become a rat race in our culture. We believe this is pointless, since there will always be someone with more money, a bigger house, or a fancier car. Doesn’t it make much more sense to be satisfied with enough? We have experienced ourselves how rewarding it is to “de-clutter” and share more. To have less possessions, but more experiences. To work less, and have more free time. Then there is also more room to appreciate the unique beauty of nature, for interaction with each other, awareness and reflection.
How can we keep up to date with all things Ivar and Floris, Sailors for Sustainability?
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Thank you for your time, both!
Fair winds to you and as always Sail Mighty, Tread Lightly!