BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE: Sailing La Vagabonde and the Greta Thunberg Effect


Nov. 21/2019: Here’s a bit of synchronicity. I was only vaguely aware of the La Vagabonde YouTube phenomenon, then became much more interested after I saw how rabid their fans are at the Annapolis show last month. And, of course, like everyone else I’ve been hearing and seeing a lot about Greta Thunberg, the teen climate activist from Sweden who has been touring the U.S. scolding adults for trashing the planet. So you can imagine that my attennae perked up a bit when I learned that Greta is now sailing transatlantic aboard La Vagabonde in a desperate bid to get to Europe in time for the next UN climate conference, which ends December 13 in Madrid.

Greta, you’ll recall, sailed transatlantic, east to west, in August aboard the IMOCA 60 Malizia II so as to attend the last UN climate gathering in New York. The idea being to reduce her carbon footprint by not flying. She had planned to make her way overland to the next conference in Chile, but rioting there forced the UN to move the venue to Madrid. Hence the need for another sailing jaunt.

Sailing west to east across the North Atlantic in November is a very serious proposition. Especially when you consider that Riley Whitelum and Elayna Carausu, the Aussie couple who run La Vagabonde, an Outremer 45 catamaran, sail with their infant son Lenny aboard. To make this run they have beefed up their crew with a very experienced ocean sailor, the Brit Nikki Henderson, who last year became the youngest skipper of a Clipper Round-the-World boat.

You can follow their progress in real time at the La Vagabonde website. I’ve been doing this ever since they left Norfolk, Virginia, last Wednesday. They’ve been doing a fantastic job so far! Coming out of the Chesapeake they successfully gamed a big Hatteras low that was forming, shooting to its south side and staying far enough from its center to keep on a strong beam to close reach on starboard tack.

They’ve since bypassed Bermuda and have now reached a critical point. They slowed down, and even went north for a short bit as a strong front passed over them. As you can see in this screenshot from their PredictWind tracker this morning, they are now between the large low north of them that spawned the front they are trailing and another very compact deep low on the tail of the front:

As you can see in this morning’s OPC surface analysis, that second low is named Tropical Storm Sebastien:

Studying the models and forecasts it looks like Sebastien, like La Vagabonde, is heading straight for the Azores. Fortunately, Sebastien should be getting weaker, and I’m guessing, or hoping anyway, that La Vagabonde should be able to stay far enough north to not get involved, or if necessary can slow down again and let the storm pass in front of them.

Greta’s latest tweet

It should all make for a very interesting YouTube video!

Meanwhile, Greta has had some impact on the larger sailing scene. A Facebook group I follow, Sailboat Hitchhikers and Crew Connection, has seen its membership soaring since Greta started thumbing her way back and forth across the ocean. The Guardian has reported on this, dubbing it the “Greta Thunberg effect.” What the Guardian failed to note is that the wave of clueless newcomers on the page looking to ride on bluewater cruising boats has sparked a brush-fire of mean-spirited trolling by more experienced members. The page’s moderators have been kept busy tamping things down by deleting nasty commentary.

And Greta, of course, has inspired many nasty trolls herself, including, as I’ve noticed on my own FB feed, quite a few sailors.

I try not to wade into politics here, but seriously people, this shouldn’t be political. We’re talking about our children. Ultimately, we are failing as a species if we can’t provide for and protect them. That people are willing to vilify children who are actively interested in their future–kids who take action to hopefully make the planet a better place, or, for Christ’s sake, to avoid being shot to death at school–is simply mind-boggling.

I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again: sailors, at least, should be better than this.

Meanwhile, if you really can’t control yourself, here’s a number to call:

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17 Responses
  1. Paul Tidwell

    So proud of La Vagabonde and her crew! All of you have catapulted yourself to the forefront of global activism. Thank you for all that you’re doing, and will do for all of us! Fair winds and a safe crossing! Abrazos to Greta! So much gratitude that you’ve all found one another!

  2. charles

    Not too long ago we could have rock climbed in the Hudson Canyon. More recently I sailed over it.
    The loss of the North American ice cap was not due to my ancestors over cooking their mastodons over smoky fires, and the current shrinking of the remaining ice is not due to your tuck burning gasoline.
    But Greta is SURE it is. And that’s enough get any adult annoyed.

  3. Excellent update. I think what we are seeing is a foundational change on how we view our use of this world. It’s not so big anymore. Greta is pointing out the obvious and it has folks freaking out about their own future.

  4. One…she’s not a child ( 17 years old). La vagabond makes their living off patrons and may have crossed a line here getting political ….which Greta is extremely political. Her and her family are well known Marxist. As everyone has pointed out ..there’s nothing 0 carbon of the yacht ( materials and manufacturing) , the Volvo engines, or Greta’s lifestyle. Her parents and film crew had to fly out from the USA , crew flew in and even all the thermal gear is a oil byproduct. Evil oil🙄 she should have found a crew with a hand made wooden sailboat with no motor…dressed in wool ( that wouldn’t be vegan though) cotton….do you understand the hypocrisy??

    1. Charles Doane

      Hi Mary: Thanks for your comment. Yes, obviously, Greta has a carbon footprint. We all do. It’s the world she was born into, that we were all born into. Are you saying that disqualifies her, and us, from trying to change that world? To me that makes no sense. I wasn’t aware Greta and her family are Marxists. Would be happy to check any credible sources you can cite for that. But really it is not relevant. I don’t see that there’s anything Marxist, or political, in pushing people to accept and act on what scientists are telling us is happening to our planet. To put it in boating terms: if there was a 97 percent chance your boat was taking on water, wouldn’t you take action? That’s not a political calculation. It’s simple common sense.

  5. Dee

    Unfortunately, Greta is being used by the people promoting her, and her message is but a smoke screen. ‘Climate Change’ is driven by the SUN… NOT CO2. CO2 is but .04% of the atmosphere, and the majority of it comes from nature. Human activity is hardly a blip in the scheme of things. Moreover, the ‘science’ the climate activists are using is completely flawed and without basis. I strongly suggest that anyone who’s truly interested in this topic look up Tony Heller or Suspicious 0bserver, both on utube. I’ll also suggest checking out Jordan Peterson’s discussion on climate change – it is an eye-opening dissertation on the real issues facing humanity.

    1. Charles Doane

      Thanks Dee. I’ll check out those sources you cite. Have they published in academic journals? Or only on YouTube? Unfortunately, they are in a tiny minority. See my NASA link below. Almost all published climate scientists (97%) agree on what is happening and that humans are the primary cause.

      1. Dee

        Charles – All the individuals I pointed to use and cite academic and professional studies from well-known journals and gov’t entities such as NASA, NOAA and others, as well as from a few unknown professional scientific journals. I don’t know if you permit links, but there are other aspects about this subject that make this entire discussion about ‘man-made climate change’ rather moot, at least in regards to the human component. What I’m alluding to is the fact that one of the core ‘problems’ being cited by Greta and those behind her, is the use of fossil fuels and the pollution caused by both the extraction and use of same. I fully agree that the pollution of the planet is a grave and immediate problem, and must be addressed – not only by the West, but, more importantly, by ALL nations. If those around Greta REALLY CARED about the pollution being emitted by human activity, then these people whould be directing their primary focus on China, India, and other nations that have NO pollution mitigation activities or regulations. Now, aside from this ‘minor’ issue, what we need to understand is that Humanity has had the technology to Completely Eliminate the use of fossil fuels for about 100 years. However, the ‘people in charge’ make too much money off the currently accepted paradigm, and will not willingly relinquish their dominance over this control of energy resources. I wish to direct you to a movie that came out in about 2012, now available on utube, that addresses the many aspects of humanity’s multi-faceted dilemma at this time in our history. It’s called ‘Thrive’, and covers virtually all the issues that fall under this umbrella of ‘climate change’. I strongly suggest viewing this hour long piece for a more complete understanding of humanity’s predicament in an increasingly complex world. Thanks!

  6. Charles Doane

    Hi again Dee. Checked out those links you sent via the contact button. First none are published academic papers. All YouTube content, none of which refers to any specific published papers (or no references I could find; I didn’t watch every minute of everything you recommended).

    Tony Heller, for starters, publishes under two different names and is/was a “birther,” which suggests right there a strong political bias and, more importantly, a strong willingness to disregard easily provable facts. The one video I watched was not impressive. Lots of apples and oranges comparisons re data. Also spends a lot of time complaining that predictions from 30 years ago proved wrong. Duh! The science has evolved. Mostly predictions have underestimated the rate of change.

    The German teenager, Naomi Seibt, presents nothing factual at all, just her negative opinions on climate scientists. Most tellingly she admits she only changed her mind about the climate debate after becoming alarmed about migration. Her opinions changed because her politics changed, not because of any objective inquiry she made. As to the last link… whoa! I’d have to spend many hours watching videos to evaluate what they’re putting out. But I do note, if you go to their main website, their goal is to have you sign up and pay for “premium content.”

    As to your comment above: personally, I believe when Greta addresses the UN she is addressing all nations, not just the West. And yes, of course, India and China present huge problems. They are industrializing very rapidly. From their POV, I have to say, it must seem very unfair that they are now under pressure to limit use of fossil fuels in their efforts to achieve parity with Western nations that were able to develop their industrial economies through untrammeled use of fossil fuels.

    Lastly, you are exactly right. We have the technology to eliminate use of fossil fuels, but people making money off the status quo will do everything they can to prevent change.

    It is a huge challenge.

    Thanks for putting so much effort into your comments here!

  7. Dan Muller

    I find it hard to believe that people are still quoting the Cook report and the 97% figure. Cook’s report was debunked years ago.
    Also, I feel really bad that people are using Greta they way they are. Her parents need their butts kicked. Asperger’s is hard enough to deal with on a small stage, and her parents have put her on the world stage. She will probably be a total wreck in 10 years. I hope not though. She is probably a wonderful person.

    1. Charles Doane

      Hi Dan: Thanks for this comment. My understanding of Greta’s story is that her school strike and activism are all her idea. She was inspired by the kids who became active against guns after the Parkland shooting. Her parents initially resisted, but she talked them into supporting her. You like many others state that Greta is being “used” by people. But no one ever says who these people are. Perhaps you can enlighten us.

      As to the 97% figure, I am not familiar with Cook’s report. I got it from NASA:

      What is your estimate???

  8. Mitch

    The irony about man made climate change is that the people pushing the belief that man can somehow change the climate, are the same people who claim that it’s impossible to build an 1800 mile wall on the southern border of the USA.

    Additionally, if man made climate change were real and irreversible at this point, and if sea levels were going to rise and flood all of the coastal areas, why did Barack Obama, a proponent of the idea of man made climate change, just purchase a home on the low lying island of Martha’s Vineyard and why does the “granddaddy” of the climate change movement own a home on the beach in Santa Barbara that is only 8 feet above the high tide line?

    Weren’t the glaciers all supposed to be melted by 2010?

    The climate has always changed based on sun spot activity, not cows farting.

    1. Charles Doane

      Hi Mitch: Thanks for the comment. I have to point out that Obama buying a place on the Vineyard doesn’t prove anything about what’s happening to the planet’s climate. I’ve come across a few people putting forth your sun-spot theory. It seems to be a favorite among people who can’t believe that people have an impact on the planet’s environment. As to the wall, I know of no one claiming it is impossible. Just that it’s a bad idea.

      In my mind it’s a fairly simple situation. The planet’s atmosphere is a closed system. The emissions from what we burn are not escaping into space. Would you lock yourself in a closed room with a running automobile? There is little future in it. And no, the glaciers weren’t supposed to melt by 2010. They are melting much faster than was originally predicted. If you study the science, rather than just grasping at the first scientific-sounding theory that tells you what you want to believe, you’ll find that the one thing climate science has consistently gotten wrong is that it has underestimated the rate of change. Climate scientists are continually surprised by, and alarmed by, the acceleration of events.

      I know there are climate alarmists who worry that humans will go extinct as a result of all this. That is obviously absurd. The intelligence of the human species originally evolved largely in response to dramatic climatic change. Adapting to climate change is what we are designed to do. We are incredibly resourceful and will find a way to survive. But human civilization as we know it evolved only in the last 10,000 years, during an unusually stable climatic period that enabled reliable agriculture. What’s at risk is not the species, but our civilization.

      Personally, I am not sanguine. It is pretty clear that our political systems, due largely to the very natural head-in-the-sand denial instinct, cannot respond effectively to the problem.

      I only pray I am wrong about this.

  9. John Loop

    I will not support anything You do in the future. Stay on land. Commie Marxist Yahoos telling the world how to live.

  10. Mike B

    Greta and the hippies are right. The world needs the USA to act on green initiatives and CO2 reduction/capture NOW.

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