sustainable sailing bora bora

Sailing Around The World, Sustainably: Two Cruisers’ Perspectives

The values of sustainable travel remain the same no matter where you go — but that doesn't mean there's just one way to get there. Most choose to travel by air or by land, but for those with the time, resources, and willingness to brave some choppy seas, live-aboard sailing done right can mean leaving an especially tiny footprint while traveling the world.

Since christening their Oyster 485 cruiser Shindig in 2010, Rob and Nancy Novak have sailed everywhere from San Francisco to the Sea of Cortez to the Marquesas and beyond. How have they managed to sail the world sustainably? Hidden Lemur got in touch to find out.

Why do you prefer sailing over other methods of travel?

Traveling by boat allows us to slow down and really spend time in foreign countries and communities. Because we are accessing places that are difficult to get to, we are able to enjoy more remote areas and places that are not as touristy.

What are some joys of long-distance sailing that the rest of us might not suspect?

We've become so much more self-sufficient while living and traveling on a sailboat, which of course requires a lot of skills and independence. We've built our own communities, having met and made deep friendships with sailors from all over the world, as well as inhabitants in the communities that we visit, particularly Mexico. And our pace is different than other forms of travel, as we are able to spend more time in both remote areas and populated towns while having complete control over our own itineraries.

Rob and Nancy Novak, on a stop in Bora Bora.

Which sailing experiences stand out among your all-time favorites?  

First would be crossing the Pacific in 2017, via the longest non-stop passage on the planet: a 2700-mile passage from Baja Mexico to the Marquesas, the first chain of islands in French Polynesia. Baja Haha 2012 also stands out — this was the start of our cruising lifestyle on our sailboat. We rendezvous’ed with over 100 other sailboats in San Diego and made the 750 mile passage together from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas.  We have made life-long friendships from this experience.

Do you think sailing is a sustainable form of travel? Why or why not?

Yes, sailing is absolutely a sustainable from of travel.  Onboard our boat Shindig, we use the wind to move about and we are totally self-sufficient. We make our own power from solar and wind generation and we make our drinking water from sea water. We also have a diesel engine for propulsion when we need it and a diesel generator to supplement our wind and solar production.

Our living space is very small.  So our energy needs are only a fraction of what we use at our land based home.  Our travel to communities benefit them like any other form of sustainable tourism would. We engage with the local community for provisioning, utilize local resources to help us, and take tours that are available. We have participated in many local fundraisers initiated by sailors to help the locals.

Rob and Nancy aboard the Shindig in San Francisco.

Do you have any tips or tricks for aspiring sailors who want to make sure they can do so as sustainably as possible?

Most live-aboard sailors are already very sustainability-minded.  The sailors that are successful long term have a lot of experience. They are usually eager to help novice sailors adapt to the new lifestyle. 

Boats can be very complicated systems and one must be able to maintain and fix them when they break. One needs to be an electrician, a plumber, a mechanic in addition to a sailor and navigator.  It is also very helpful if one knows multiple languages, and it's especially important to be respectful, flexible and patient in traveling to other countries.

Where can we follow your journey?

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