This sailor, surfer, and CEO of nonprofit Sailors for the Sea spends his days teaching fellow mariners how to protect our waterways.

By Melissa Feldman
March 26, 2010
Photographer Leslie Richter

CL: One of your most successful projects is Clean Regattas, a voluntary certification program that encourages sailors to follow certain sustainability practices. How exactly does a regatta go green?

DP: Use nontoxic cleaning products. Cut down on plastic waste by using refillable bottles. Require that all boats carry bilge sponges and fueling spill pads in case of accidents. All of these actions reduce pollutants and can save money. We had more than 40 regattas participate in 2009, and our goal is to double that number this year.

CL: What can the everyday boater do to help?

DP: Store oil-absorbing pads on your boat to make sure spills never reach the water. (A single quart of oil can create an oil slick on the water's surface as big as three football fields.) Clean fish only at approved stations. Use nontoxic bottom paints, which keep organisms from sticking to the boat's exterior without poisoning them. People are always surprised by how easy it is to adjust their daily activities.

CL: Sure, it might seem easy, but it still takes work. Why's it worth the extra effort?

DP: All seamen have a special love for the ocean, and that means taking care of it. Marine life is affected in ways most people don't realize. Untreated garbage, for example, breeds bacteria that deplete the water's oxygen level.

CL: All-time-favorite sailing expedition?

DP: In 2000, my girlfriend, Kim, and I raced together at the Cork Race Week in Ireland. I hid an engagement ring in my sail bag and proposed to her while hiking outside Kenmare. We've been sailing together -- and happily married—ever since.

CL: You also surf, swim, and paddleboard. Why this passion for watersports?

DP: They let me ride the two powers of nature—wind and water—that I've spent my adult life working to keep clean.