Selectivity rules in organic chemistry have been inferred largely from nonaqueous environments. In contrast, enzymes operate in water, and the chemical effect of the medium change remains only partially understood. Structural characterization of the “ladder” polyether marine natural products raised a puzzle that persisted for 20 years: Although the stereochemistry of adjacent tetrahydropyran (THP) cycles would seem to arise from a biosynthetic cascade of epoxide-opening reactions, experience in organic solvents argued consistently that such a pathway would be kinetically disfavored. We report that neutral water acts as an optimal promoter for the requisite ring-opening selectivity, once a single templating THP is appended to a chain of epoxides. This strategy offers a high-yielding route to the naturally occurring ladder core and highlights the likely importance of aqueous-medium effects in underpinning certain noteworthy enzymatic selectivities."