Neil and Hayley Millar at the Durban Yacht Mole with their daughters Olivia-Jane, 8, and Georgia-Mae, 18 months. Picture: Leon Lestrade
Neil and Hayley Millar at the Durban Yacht Mole with their daughters Olivia-Jane, 8, and Georgia-Mae, 18 months. Picture: Leon Lestrade
Neil Millar cleans up plastics on the sand bar in the middle of Durban harbour. Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency (ANA)
Neil Millar cleans up plastics on the sand bar in the middle of Durban harbour. Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency (ANA)
Durban - For World Oceans Day last Friday, which focused on the dangers of plastics in our seas, many Durbanites were involved in clean-ups.

But one Durban family are taking it a whole step further. They’re going to be sailing to many of the world’s plastic hotspots, raising awareness about the dangers of plastics and documenting first-hand on their Facebook blog and YouTube channel the effects of the plastic epidemic.

Neil and Hayley Millar will be involved in today’s clean-up in the harbour. But the avid sailors will leave at the end of August for Trinidad and Tobago, once the boat is ready.

“We are trying to create awareness of plastic pollution and the state of our oceans - the problem is people. You need to change habits. You need to look at plastics differently,” said Neil.

He runs a Facebook page called Winds of Change. “The other day a woman wrote to me saying: ‘Every time I see plastic, I feel terrible.’

“‘Good!’ I said.”

A building contractor, Neil has been sailing since 2001 both locally and internationally, including racing to Cape Town, as well as completing an oceanic crossing to the US where he sailed and worked for a period.

“It’s a case of we’re packing up to reach for a dream,” he said. “We want something different from life. We don’t want to wake up, drop the kids at school at 7am and go to work. We want to grow and experience things.

“Sailing is a lifestyle. Every day there is something different, something new to see.”

His elder daughter, Olivia-Jane, wants to study marine biology. “She’s grown up with the ocean. This will give her a first-hand insight into marine life,” said Neil.

He grew up as a surfer. “My dad was an avid surfer and beach-goer. My uncle sailed to Costa Rica and never came back. I’ve been on the beach since I was that big.” He waves his hand a few feet from the ground.

Recalling the best times doing the 4-8 shift on an Atlantic crossing, he said: “You get to see every sunset and sunrise. You sit on your own; it’s so humbling and therapeutic.”

He’s had his own boat and been racing with the Point Yacht Club for years. He sold his yacht a year ago and has bought one in Trinidad and Tobago.

“It’s 41-foot and we need to get it in the water. Once it’s ready and hurricane season is over, we’ll be off,” he said.

The family plan to sail the Caribbean for a few months before heading to the US for the season there and then head for the Mediterranean where the plastics problem is particularly bad.

“We’ve planned a year, but at the end of the year, who knows?” he said.

He joined the fight against plastics two years ago.

“The issue sort of found me. I’d be talking sailing and I’d see the beaches. The whole nurdle thing really grabbed my attention.

“And it’s got worse since I started sailing. I’ve sailed through islands of plastic and you only need to see the stream of plastic in the bay. It sucked me in. It’s horrendous.”

He pointed out that there’s an island of plastic the size France in the South Pacific, pulling out a quick slideshow which shows some of the horrors of plastics in the ocean.

With his Facebook page and a YouTube channel, Neil hopes to document their lifestyle. “We will show what we see, both the beautiful parts and the bad parts. And through our experiences, build awareness,” he said.

His wife, Hayley, admitted that the family was taking a big step. “I’m very nervous, but it will be nice to have some purpose in life. What better way than to show my children that dreams can become a reality?”

She plans to home-school their children, but the rest will be “life-skills”.

She too “grew up in the harbour”.

“My grandfather bought a boat. I love sailing and the ocean, and now my kids can experience that,” said Hayley.

On the couple’s first date, Neil took her racing. “I thought I’d never see her again,” he said.

Hayley is looking forward to an “awesome, amazing experience to see what’s out there”.

“There are 3000 families sailing with kids. It’s the way to see life. You don’t have a back yard, well, you do but it’s not grass, it’s water,” she said, adding on the plastics issue: “You don’t want to stick your head in the sand. If you want to make a change, you can’t just let someone else do it. Every little bit adds up to a huge impact. It all starts at home.

“Through our lifestyle, we’ll show people how we’re living that change.”