Plastic pollution: Have you caught a 'bagfish' lately?

A ’bagfish’ swimming close to the surface - just where your propeller or keel might catch it...
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Sailors for the Sea is an organisation started by sailors for sailors, whose mission it is to educate and engage the boating community in the worldwide protection of the oceans. This first article about 'Sailing and the Environment' talks of the ubiquitous 'bag fish' that abound in many enclosed waterways and often in the ocean, and is courtesy of Sailors for the Sea:

Seaweed, plastic bags, balloons, all of these items have been blamed for slowing a boat down. Whether or not this is due to an anxious sailor, the fact is plastic debris is becoming more common then ever and it can slow your boat down. For our first Sailing and the Environment post we thought about plastic bags and different ways they have proven to be a foe to the boating community.


For any boat with an engine, a plastic bag can prove to be a costly problem. The water intake can suck up plastic bags, which causes overheating and leads to serious damage if unnoticed.

In some harbors, sailing through the current line can be similar to visiting the local dump. This affects all sailors, as extreme current relief is needed to make it worth sailing through the debris and risking what may catch on your keel.

Some sailboats have tried to combat these problems with innovations such as the kelp cutter. Melges 32’s, 24’s, and 20’s, all have a thin blade on the front edge of the keel, when the boat feels slow, the smallest crew member leaves the rail, pulls the blade up and down to cut the debris and clear the keel. A great innovation but does it work with a plastic bag?

We recently caught up with Moth sailor Anthony Kotoun after just finishing a race. Anthony said, 'Plastic bags can stop us faster that any other debris in the water, and when you are sailing at 20 knots anything you hit is dangerous.'

During the event he was talking about almost every sailor ran into a problem of having trash caught on their foil. For the moth sailor this is a timely incident. To remove the trash they flip their boat or stop and sail backwards. Plastic bags have also proved to cause more serious problems than merely losing a race.

Moth world champion Bora Gulari seemed to have the worst luck with the bag fish. His first run in caused his rudder to rip off. A second incident, with an unidentified culprit, caused a severe crash where he ran into his shroud, cutting his face and requiring medical attention.

Seeing as bag fish were everywhere, they seem like the No.1 suspect.

So what can you do?

* Ban the plastic bag, in your home, on your boat, at your marina! As a boater reduce the risk of having bags fall into the water by never using plastic bags.

* Have a trash pick up plan for your regatta or sailing club. Whether this means having pool cleaning nets for trash that floats by or dedicating an hour when sailors contribute their time to clean up a beach, no matter how much trash you remove, it all makes a difference.'

* Tell us: Have you had any run-ins on your boat with plastic bags? What do you do to help prevent this problem?

To join, donate or read more about all the activities of Sailors for the Sea, http://sailorsforthesea.org!click_here.