The Ocean Race Summit and the Power of Storytelling

The cancellation-consequences of Covid have been wide sweeping. Our sailing schedule is a bit of a mystery and has been since February, and events and sustainable activations we had been planning were lost like so many things to uncertain travel and an abundance of caution. The Ocean Race’s second Ocean Summit was one such casualty, slotted to take place in the Hague, Netherlands, last week, but forced to transition virtually to the Zoom platform.

The Summits excel in giving attendees quality face time with some of the world’s leading conservationists and ocean enthusiasts, but sadly it wasn’t to be. That said – was the digital derivative a compromise? In my opinion, not at all.

There was a litany of high-quality material from a large and diverse primary panel. 11th Hour Racing Team was represented on the main stage by Charlie, with Damian and I jumping into some smaller breakout panels called Action Groups, largely constructed to encourage discourse and conversation.

I was lucky enough to join two all-stars of marine storytelling, Celine Cousteau, the granddaughter of Jacques Cousteau, who has carved out her own legacy producing wildlife stories that invoke the same sense of ocean awe that her grandfather pioneered, and Cristina Mittermeier, wildlife photographer and esteemed National Geographic Explorer. We were there, with moderator Aryn Baker from Time Magazine, to discuss the significance of telling stories about the ocean. Personally, (besides being a bit star-struck) it was fun and validating to tie sailing, sport and the relevance of athletes to the work we all consider to be essential: spreading the message of a planet in need.

We have to take advantage of the fact that in 2020 everyone is digitally enabled. Stories connect people with information in new and exciting ways, people who may live thousands of miles away from the ocean, and they can create emotional responses that inspire action. We need to show people why the ocean is so vital, and why it’s at risk – and we need to show them what they can do to help. If we can make people feel a passion for the ocean and everything in it, regardless of where they come from, if we can make them understand how important it is and take ownership in their day to day decisions that impact them, we are on the right path. This is what Richard Vevers and Chasing Coral got so right. There is one part attraction and one part education to his movie, and you can’t help but be moved – even if you have never seen coral before in your life.

And athletes these days are as much influencers and storytellers as they are competitors, and when it comes to reaching the next generation they hold oft-unrecognized sway. The sailors of today must inspire the sailors of tomorrow to respect their playground in a way we did not when we were growing up. And capturing their imagination through multimedia, dialogue and competition, well, that is my world and it’s an important time to be in it.

My biggest takeaway I think, this being my first Summit involvement, was how much the Whitbread/Volvo Ocean Race/Ocean Race has evolved from being just a race, to being about so much more. We at 11th Hour Racing Team are aware of our responsibility to “do more,” and it’s exciting to be a part of a larger movement that shares those same values. We have no choice but to keep plugging away.

You can catch a complete replay of the segments here: