By Captain Donald Lawson
I am an avid sailor, educator, and in just a few months, I’m going to become the first African American man to attempt 12 world records, including the fastest person to sail around the globe, solo — thanks to a clean energy-powered sailboat.
Growing up in Baltimore, I didn’t spend as much time near the water as you might think for living in a coastal community. But, when I was nine I had the opportunity to go sailing with the Living Classroom Foundation’s Lady Maryland program. This event introduced me to sailing and changed my life forever. The sense of freedom I felt steering the boat that day has stayed with me for all these years — it has influenced my dreams and shaped the direction of my career.
The Captain of the Lady Maryland told me I could sail around the world one day — and I believed him.
From a young age, I noticed the stark racial and socioeconomic disparities of the boating and sailing community around the East Coast. Over the years, I have seen very few people of color on the water sailing, racing, or competing. In fact, African Americans currently hold ZERO world records in sailing and there are very few opportunities for young people of color to experience the joy of sailing as I did.
As I went on to attend Morgan State University and studied engineering, I had the opportunity to teach sailing at the Downtown Sailing Center, Getaway Sailing and the US Naval Academy. It was important for me not only to excel on my own but to change this system. With my captain’s license from Annapolis School of Seamanship in hand, I was ready to share my knowledge for sailing with my community and invest in sharing my passion with young people — just as my mentors Bruce Schwab and Dame Ellen MacArthur had done for me. I have spent years teaching and inspiring young people of color about the maritime industry, careers on the water, and the joy of sailing.
But, it wasn’t easy. Even with all my personal success as a sailor and educator, I struggled to find acceptance and support in certain areas of the maritime community. I was often doubted, rejected, and scrutinized for being a different face on the racecourse. But through the struggle, my drive only became stronger and my goals more meaningful. I knew it was my mission to change this narrative for others. That’s why I worked every day to give minorities and low-income students access to resources that I didn’t have starting off.
And now, I am ready to do even more to change the sailing and boating community by beginning my journey to become the first African American man to set multiple world records in sailing. During this process, I will educate, inspire, and promote businesses owned by minorities and businesses that support the community.
What’s more, I will prove that you can win when you use sustainable energy sources by sailing with boats powered almost entirely by 100% clean energy.
One thing that my decades of sailing experience have taught me is that being eco-friendly is not only a personal moral obligation but also an advantage when sailing. My racing boat will be equipped with solar panels, hydro-generators, a wind vane, and a biodiesel engine. Each clean energy system will offer major speed and efficiency advantages at certain points of my voyage. In addition,
I’ll be able to go 15% to 25% faster than the average sailor since I won’t need to carry large quantities of fuel.
2020 is a big year for me, my team, and my sponsors. In the next few months, we will acquire the boat that will carry me through these records, and in the spring not only will my journey begin — but I will start a speaking tour to share my stories with communities across the country and make sailing more accessible for all people. And the educational opportunities don’t stop there. I will also be creating three separate documentaries with my non-profit partner, Independent Arts and Media, to chronicle my journey and create interesting, educational materials for sailors and non-sailors alike. Our first Documentary entitled: Dark Seas: The Legacy of African American Solo Sailors, will look into the stories of sailors who came before me, the history and rules of record-breaking and finally my program and our goals.
Becoming the first African American man to set a world record in sailing AND the fastest man to circumnavigate the globe means more to me than personal gain. It means elevating my community and bringing honor to my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. It means becoming the kind of role model to the young members of my community that I wish I had in my childhood. It means uplifting and carrying businesses and organizations that are led by and support people of color through this victory with me. But the most important goal I want to achieve is to leave a lasting Legacy in the world — and inspire others to follow their dreams to do the same.
I am very grateful to have my team’s first set of partners: LCV, Harlem Brewing Company, Living Classroom Foundation, WSSRC, Alyte Consulting and IAM for believing in me and the vision.
There is still an opportunity for additional businesses and organizations to join our crew! If you are interested, feel free to email us: email@example.com
If you want to get involved and support Captain Lawson with his project, please donate to his documentary fund: https://www.artsandmedia.net/cause/dark-seas-documentary