High above the Atlantic today—Wednesday, August 2—I’m thinking about how odd, or even aggravating it is to take a transatlantic flight that burns who knows how much jet fuel, when the point of my trip is to protect the environment. We’re cruising at 30,000 feet–higher than the summit of Everest, where I’ve also stood. From here, the ocean looks so vast, so incredibly pure and blue, with the prevailing winds kicking up a few whitecaps.
But serious scientific studies have shown that the open ocean is more polluted than some industrial areas. Breezing across the Atlantic at 500 miles an hour is almost too easy; I feel like I’m going against my own beliefs by taking this trip. Yesterday, I read an interesting article in the French paper Libération, talking about how, at this point in 2017, we’ve already consumed the amount of resources that the earth produces in a year. Environmentally, we’re now in debt, with “the blue planet going into the red.” It’s a catchy tagline; it’s vivid and alarming. It’s a tipping point that we hit earlier and earlier every year, while we do very little to change it. And today, I’m once again contributing to that environmental catastrophe, while telling myself “it’s for a good cause.”
Fortunately, I’m proud of this mission: meeting up with a ship that’s a living example of the energy transition. It’s powered only by the sun, wind, and water, and it’s a floating research laboratory that studies the state of the oceans, plastics pollution, and the disappearance of plankton.
I’m trying not to worry about all of that, and instead focus on my own purpose for being here: getting together with my friends on the crew of this one-of-a-kind yacht. It’s a blast from the future, like a floating spacecraft, and I’m also excited to set foot in Cuba—for the first time, even after all of my sailing travels. I’ll see Havana’s port, and recall Eric Tabarly’s story of having been held on board his own yacht—the Pen Duick III—for more than two weeks after daring to cross into Cuban waters without permission. I’ll see the island’s endless, partially deserted coastline, and its blinding white-sand beaches with deep blue water lapping on the shores. I sailed along that very coastline many times, even coming across some real-life pirates one night. We chased them away, thanks to an authentic Winchester 30/30 that I always kept on board when I was sailing through dangerous waters. Maybe we’ll see them again on this trip!
Che Guevara watches over Havana—that’s my first impression upon entering the city, crossing the green fields of sugar cane and coffee, after Alex Polque takes me by the hand at the gate, and leads me to his vintage yellow taxi. I was dreading the notorious Cuban bureaucracy, but as usual, nothing went according to plan and I was on my way, taking less than an hour to get my luggage and go through immigration without any hassle at all. Cubans have long embraced carpooling. I shared the taxi—and the bill—with a Cuban businessman. With his little briefcase, he reminded me of a spy who’d just stepped out of a John Le Carré novel. But it was just my imagination playing tricks on me, and soon we were at Revolution Square, with surrealist portraits of Che Guevara watching over us. Here, he’s even more famous than Fidel Castro himself.
After a tour of the old city with its exuberant rococo villas, majestic Spanish churches, and decrepit, crumbling buildings, we dropped off our mysterious passenger. Then we drove along the seemingly endless waterfront, and finally found the ship, well-hidden and well-guarded at a tired old pier, invisible to the outside world.