Turn the Tide on PlasticTurn the Tide on Plastic


March 28, 2018

7 min read
Words: Lucy Brock
Photos: Tom Powell

The Volvo Ocean Race is arguably the toughest competitive and mental sport there is. Lucas Chapman, 25, is one of 10 in the team ‘Turn the Tide on Plastic.’ With legs often comprising 20 days at sea, the race is a game of resilience and survival. We caught up with Lucas on his day off in Auckland to talk mindset, surviving on less and his first-hand experience of plastic pollution.

Tell us your story…

I grew up as a water baby, always in the water surfing, sailing – pretty much before I could walk. I started sailing when I was about three years old, then started competing in small dinghies around the lake before eventually working my way up into the bigger yachts and competing in the Sydney-Hobart yacht race. For me the Volvo Ocean Race was the dream and the pinnacle of the sport so I just wanted to go to the top. I managed to get a trial on one of the boats in this year’s race and managed to get a position, so here I am.

What is it that you love about being out on the water?

It’s sort of a love hate relationship. It can be a very extreme environment, but it also has a lot of beauty. There’s a lot of peace. You’re away from all phones, connection, TV – the hustle and bustle of everyday life. As a result, you really get in touch with nature. It can be a grounding experience.

  1. Parked up in The City of Sails.

“It makes ordinary life seem pretty easy when you’re facing strong winds that might be 60 miles an hour.”

Lucas Chapman on his day off in Auckland
  1. Lucas Chapman on his day off in Auckland.
The Volvo Ocean Race is often described as being one of the toughest, most brutal races. How important is mindset? What role does it play in something like this?

Yes, it’s arguably one of the toughest sports there is, so you do need to have a strong head. When it gets rough, cold and wet you’ve got to push through and dig deep mentally. It’s also a very competitive sport so you’ve really got to ride the highs and lows – it’s not always good – and you’ll often slip back in the fleet and a few positions but you’ve just got to keep pushing through. You’re getting a maximum of four hours’ sleep at any given time. Four hours on watch, four hours off watch. When you’re off watch you just try and eat and get as much sleep as you can. Usually you wake up, put all your gear on – it’s usually wet and cold – then stumble out on the deck and get fire hosed for a few hours and then stumble off watch to eat and sleep again. So it’s all about surviving and keeping the body ticking over.

Do you have any strategies or practices you use to get your head in the game? Anything you’ve learnt along the way?

Yeah definitely – and I’ve applied this to many things – doing visualization and deep breathing before an event keeps you in a good space. Just generally trying not to worry or think it over too much.

“All the plastic we use eventually ends up in our oceans and breaks down into micro plastics, polluting our waters and getting into our food chain as well.”

“You’re away from all phones, connection, TV – the hustle and bustle of everyday life. As a result, you really get in touch with nature. It can be a really grounding experience.”

What are some of the highlights?

I’ve been able to experience some pretty cool, extreme places that no one else would really go to. Down in the Southern Ocean there’s no one around. Facing the big waves and the strong winds, where no one else can go.

Does that put things in perspective? Being isolated in extreme conditions?

Absolutely. It makes ordinary life seem pretty easy when you’re facing strong winds that might be over 60 miles an hour. When you’re amongst that, being at home with a normal job seems pretty easy.

Can you talk to us about your team? You have a 50/50 gender split – how important is teamwork and understanding the dynamics of the team?

We have five males and five females on the boat. It’s about working to each other’s strengths. Where some people might fall short, others pick up and it’s all about working together to achieve one goal.

What would you say are your strengths? What have you learnt about yourself?

I feel as though I’m pretty level-headed most of the time, and I sort of don’t ride the emotions too much and I think that’s a strength offshore. It may hinder you a bit onshore (laughs) but offshore it’s definitely something you need. You need to have one set emotion and just keep plugging away.

Lucas Chapman in Icebreaker
  1. Lucas Chapman in Icebreaker.
You’re sometimes at sea for 20 days. Does that make you aware of what you really need? Does it make you look at what you take on board for survival?

Often the legs are 20 days long and we’re restricted as to what we can take with us. We only have a small kit bag that we can jam as much stuff into as we can. It’s really essential to get the right gear. I take three pairs of underwear for 20 days and rotate that around and make it work. You can survive if you’ve got the right gear.Collectively we could all get by with consuming less, and recycling and reusing things.

Tell us about the campaign ‘Turn the Tide on Plastic’…

We’re signed with the United Nations’ ‘clean seas’ pledge. We’re about spreading the message of reducing our uses of single-use plastic – cutting it out of our lives completely. So little things like not getting a straw with your smoothie or takeaway coffee cup at the coffee shop, things like that that we just don’t need in our lives. There are other alternatives that can save our oceans. All the plastic we use eventually ends up in our oceans and breaks down into micro plastics, polluting our waters and getting into our food chain as well. We’re spreading the message about the adverse affects that has on marine life and how we can reduce our impact.

Being out on the water, have you experienced it first hand?

Absolutely. Coming out of Hong Kong, it was pretty scary to see the amount of plastic in the water. We had numerous accounts of big plastic bags getting caught around our foils on the boat and plastic bottles floating by. If you look really hard you can see, in between the seaweed, little pieces of micro plastic – that’s probably the scariest part because it breaks down and then you can’t see it. We also have a water analyzer on board which sucks in sea water and filters it. We’re basically testing the micro plastics in the ocean around the world, collecting data and finding out where the most plastic is. Down in the Southern Ocean, where there is no one, we’ve still picked up traces of plastic. I think that’s what brought it home for me – there’s no one down there, yet it’s still affected.

What does nature mean to you?

Nature is a very important part of my life. Obviously without it, we would all not be here. So for me, it’s about looking after it and making sure we live in a symbiotic relationship with it, as previous generations have done. In the last while we seem to have overruled it. I think it’s powerful, and that the relationship we used to have with it can come back.

Turn the Tide On Plastic
  1. Turn the Tide On Plastic.

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