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Though boating has been around since before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, technology has turned its man-powered beginning into a gas guzzling industry. The invention of the diesel engine certainly made maritime life much easier, but has also negatively affected the environment. The emissions released by boats, largely from shipping vessels, have contributed to climate change. As with all technology, the diesel engine has become outdated and it’s time for new inventions to take over. Recent movements for greening the planet have led to innovative, eco-friendly technology that is sure to take boating back to its roots.
Green power generators
GreenBoats and Nautitech recently teamed up to design a green catamaran, the GreenCat 54, that’s as high tech as it is stylish. The boat runs off a carbon-neutral power generator that uses the wind, water and sun to power the vessel’s engine, provide air conditioning and filter a constant supply of clean water. It has completely eliminated the need for a diesel engine as well as creating a power source for the entire boat.
Planet Solar created a boat completely powered by solar energy called the Turanor. The vessel, which is the largest solar-powered boat, completed a trip around the world in 2012. It did it without an ounce of fossil fuels. Instead, 537 square meters of solar panels on its surface provided all the power the Turanor needed to make the journey.
Low emission engines
Twizzle, a luxury yacht, was built without a carbon footprint. The construction and materials used to build the vessel were completely eliminated by the purchase of carbon offsets, such as those you can purchase from suppliers such as Reliant Energy. It also emits near-zero emissions from its engine. The ship is fitted with a catalytic converter and soot filter to minimize emissions and discharge into the ocean. Any emissions that are created are immediately offset by purchase of renewable energy credits.
Electric engines have been around for over a century, but lost popularity due to the ease and low price of diesel engines. However, now the tables have turned. Diesel prices have risen significantly, and with impending climate change risks, many are seeing the savings of electric engines. Plus, if you power your electric engine with solar or wind power, you can have a zero-emissions boat!
Research and production of alternative fuels for cars seems to be increasing every day, but seafaring vessels have yet to achieve so much attention. Biofuels seem to be the most likely green fuel candidate for boats. Biofuel is created by generating power from decomposing plant waste. Though biofuel is most commonly used as ethanol, the BoatU.S. Foundation determined a blend of 20 percent biofuel (also called biodiesel) and 80 percent petroleum diesel will improve engine performance and reduce emissions.However, fuel lines need to be replaced more frequently with the combination, it may cause erosion and the mix is more expensive than diesel.
Dutch shipping company Maersk and Progression Industry have teamed up in an attempt to create a more viable alternative fuel for boats. They plan on using lignin, a component of plants with the highest energy yield. However, no one has discovered how to harness the element to create energy. If Progression Industry can figure it out, Maersk will purchase 50,000 tons of the fuel.
Until now, America’s Cup racing has been a series of one-off contests between rich men with big egos. Larry Ellison appeared to fit that mould, but after winning the Cup he has shown far more originality and daring than any previous holder, with a desire to make a permanent mark on the viciously competitive world of commercial sport.
US citizens may not realise it, but Super Bowl’s big audiences of a little under 100 million TV viewers are small beer. Soccer’s FIFA World cup final draws audiences more than twice as large, and cricket is amazing. The 2011 World Cup match between India and Pakistan was watched by more than 1 billion viewers.
However, it’s not how many people watch that counts in business terms. It’s what they’re worth to the promoters. Larry and his team have a huge challenge on their hands, and they’ve had an uphill battle almost all the way. It may seem odd to think of him as the cheeky upstart – a billionaire whose yacht was taller than the waterfront hotels in front of which it was parked during the Venice AC World Series event last year – but that’s what he is in this context.
First, he has had to turn the America’s Cup into something that can be made to appeal to a wide audience that knows nothing about sailing, let alone about racing sailing craft. At least he can follow a precedent here. Both the Volvo in-port races and the Extreme 40 Series catamaran races have shown that short courses which run close inshore with boats big enough to be seen, coupled with expensive state-of-the-art communications and the real-time video post-processing known as ‘augmented reality’, have created exciting television.
The ballgame promoters did make the first moves to help viewers see what was going on – mostly aided by Stan Honey, an accomplished sailor and navigator who brought his Stanford Research Institute experience of over-the horizon radar to the aid of Atari founder Nolan Bushnell in 1983 (the year the IBM PC was launched). He created what may have been the first on-board computer system, connecting twice a day to satellites in the days before GPS, ensuring Bushnell’s victory in the Transpac California to Honolulu race. A decade later, Honey got into the TV sports business, superimposing ‘reality-augmenting’ effects in real time – the blue glow and contrail that allowed viewers to keep track of the puck in ice hockey, the yellow first-down line for NFL, and other field game add-ons.
However, these are all simple 2D effects calculated from the views of fixed cameras. What Honey and his team have developed to enhance TV coverage of sailboat racing is vastly more complex and expensive. Everything depends on very accurate tracking in 3D of both the boats and the remotely-controlled helicopter-borne cameras – within centimetres, not the usual 5 metres or so of a standard GPS on a good day. The combination GPS and inertial navigation system in the helicopters is so state-of-the-art that the US Government regulates it like a weapons system, according to Wired.com journalist Adam Fisher.
There’s another big difference between Honey’s LiveLine system and the ballgame enhancers, which wasn’t in the original design objectives. In ballgames, it’s still the referee/umpire and his assistants on the pitch that provide and use the evidence they use for their decisions, but LiveLine is used to control sailboat races. A team of adjudicators uses its output to identify infringements, and it is used to define courses.
This controlling aspect of the system is critical to turning sailboat racing into a major TV attraction. One factor that always discouraged TV companies from showing live coverage of round-the-cans sailboat racing was the impossibility of committing to viewing schedules. Traditional races start with a long windward leg, which usually spreads the fleet out and reduces contention during the rounding of course marks, and marks are laid to anchors well in advance. A major change in wind direction before the start usually results in a postponement of around half an hour, while the marks are relaid to suit the new wind direction. A system such as LiveLine allows race organisers to use motor boats with accurate position-finding equipment to act as turning marks, which allows organisers to alter the course in minutes. Unfortunately, the organisers of the AC45 event in Venice last year got a little too enthusiastic about their new toy and decided to move a mark so close inshore that there wasn’t room for all the boats that arrived at the same time and a major crash ensued.
Extreme 40 Series races deliberately set out to encourage capsizes and collisions because it makes the races more entertaining (can you put your hand on your heart and say that the possibility of a major crash is not one of the things that attracts you to NASCAR and even F1?), but AC45s are rather more expensive and fragile beasts than Extreme 40s and cannot be patched up by the night shift in time for tomorrow’s race after an incident. For an AC72, a serious collision or even a bad capsize spells Game Over, as we saw with the first Oracle boat a few months ago. Organisers will have to walk a delicate line to maximise the excitement while ensuring that the competitors survive to the end of the event, but at least they now have the necessary tools.
Larry and his team needed a very different set of skills and a lot of perseverance to overcome another obstacle – politically-motivated obstruction. Previous cup winners have just left the host yacht club to get on with organising the next challenge as if it were just another regatta, but Ellison is using it as a pawn in a bid to turn round-the-cans sailboat racing into a major commercial sport. The challenge was similar to running the Olympic Games, but on a smaller scale. They had to drive the cumbersome processes that normally drag infrastructure and zoning decisions out over years and even decades, in order to select and develop parts of the San Francisco waterfront to the degree necessary to accommodate both competitors and spectators on the scale they needed. The original grand plan was reduced to a tenth of its original budget, consisting mostly of tidying up derelict waterfront, with San Francisco picking up the tab. At last, some local businesses are now seeing the potential and beginning to contribute.
With the product and the venue beginning to look credible, Larry and his team had to find a TV network prepared to cover the event. For established sports, the TV companies bid for rights, but Larry ended up paying for blocks of NBC airtime as if they were infomercials. However, things started looking up when the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences gave Honey and his team an Emmy for canned highlights that aired on NBC, and several European TV networks gave the Venice event full coverage, demonstrating how effective organisers using LiveStream could be in a live broadcast.
The current economic climate has undoubtedly had an impact on one other aspect of the Grand Plan – attracting competitors for both the Word Series in AC45s and the Challenge itself in AC72s. There were less initial entries than hoped for, and several have since dropped out. There is also a ‘chicken-and-egg’ aspect to this – competitors’ sponsors need to believe that they will get the publicity they are seeking, and the organisers need committed competitors to provide the entertainment they’re selling.
So what’s my prognosis? The enabling video and race control technology is now proven, so it seems to me that one day not too far in the future round-the-cans sailboat racing will become a viable commercial sport with networks bidding for rights to cover it. The America’s Cup World series could develop into a regular event – even with their wingsails, the boats are fairly rugged and the young teams who have been selected for the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup have shown that they can become competent in quite strong winds very quickly. Have you noticed how old hands always underestimate how quickly people in their late teens and early twenties pick up skills?
The AC72s in their current form worry me. The hulls flex visibly in moderate conditions, which isn’t too good when you’re riding on simple foils attached to them. My feeling is that the design needs further development, but that can’t happen before this year’s Challenge races, so there’s a significant chance that one incident, rather than the results of a series of races, will mark Game Over.
Larry Ellison and the Oracle team have dragged the America’s cup out of the slimy, stinking bog into which it was sinking, and they’re helping change professional round-the-cans sailboat racing as a spectator sport. There will be good times interspersed with plenty of mistakes, but whoever wins this year, I fervently hope they’ll carry on the good work.
The early days of the Vendée Globe saw the usual failures, often as a result of collisions or the stresses of sailing into very steep seas – such as keels breaking or rigs falling down. However, several of the boats that survived the trip to the south then started getting a problem we didn’t see 4 years ago – hydro generator failure.
In an effort to reduce the weight of diesel fuel carried for generating all the electricity needed to drive autopilots and desalinators as well as navigation and communications equipment, several boats are fitted with water-driven alternators that charge the boat’s batteries. All of the boats (or at least the ones that have suffered breakages) seem to have elected to fit one on each side, mounted on a bracket, using the leeward one on each tack. This has not turned out to be a wise decision – predictably, to my mind, given the number of times rudder ‘fuses’ have come into action.
My question is why the designers chose to expose the generators in this way. These boats frequently do well over 20 knots for long periods, and even a jellyfish packs quite a wallop at that speed. I’d have thought it would make more sense to pass the water through a tube, with stop valves that allow you to dismount or replace the generator. It’s easy to make the water flow – leave the entry hole flush but put a slight lip on the exit, which will act like a dinghy self-bailer. When the generator is not needed, you could even allow air into the tube, creating a stream of friction-reducing bubbles pouring out of the exit!
I’m not going to discuss the technology or the design of this project. You can read about that on Richard Spillman’s Old Salt Blog or watch the video below. What interests me most is that the Greenheart Project to build a 220 ton zero-emission cargo ship is Open Source (no patent protection – they’re happy for people to build on their work) and part of the funding is Crowd Sourced.
Deliberately aimed at the low end of the market – effectively creating a modern replacement for the old trading schooners of the Pacific Ocean – they are doing what national aid organisations should be doing. They are using the resources of the countries they are setting out to help.
While I was in Botswana in pre-retirement mode after leaving a big multinational company, I contracted to a number of aid agencies working in sub-Saharan Africa, and to some degree they all shared a common approach:
- They were applying sophisticated first world technology to third world problems (I remember one country, on being offered laptops to help in a survey, pointing out that pencils and paper would be more use)
- They forbade the purchase of hardware from competing countries even if they were the established local suppliers (USAID insisted on supplying computing hardware from US manufacturers, not from Asian companies – even though the US stuff was often manufactured by the same or related Asian companies).
- A large fraction of the funds supplied by the aid agencies paid for hardware or services supplied by companies based in the aid-giving country.
Greenheart is building their first ship in Bangladesh. The country has adequate basic skills in the industry, and giving it the specialised knowledge involved in building a sail/photovoltaic-powered hybrid will ensure that the Pacific nations and other second- and third-world countries do not have their progress determined by the objectives and viability of a first-world country corporation.
I’m familiar with the Open Source concept in the world of software, which is ruled by copyright, but I haven’t seen examples of it being applied to hardware concepts, which are usually subject to patent law. I’ll be interested to see how Greenheart handles that. I imagine they’ll still have to put in the effort and funds needed to register patents, and then licence them freely. Otherwise, it seems to me that they run the risk of some patent troll deciding to cash in and ruin the whole game.
Bravo! Greenheart, and good luck! I recommend anyone with a bit of spare cash and a desire to contribute to the general enhancement of the whole world’s standard of living to join in the Crowdsourcing of this project – and your chances of getting a return on your investment are probably at least as good as any other option open to you in the current economic environment.
If you don’t understand why I claim that Greenheart is likely to contribute to the enhancement of everyone’s standard of living, read Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist. If Greenheart succeeds in its goal, trading among the poorer nations – particularly in the Pacific, where they are separated by long ocean voyages – will increase. which will increase their wealth.
And thank you, Emmanuel Berque, for bringing Greenheart to my attention via Facebook. I hadn’t been checking The Old Salt Blog regularly enough, so I missed Richard’s post on the subject.
I was at Cape Town Waterfront talking to a disappointed French support team before Franck Cammas and Groupama trailed in after a disastrous first leg. After all the hard work and excitement of designing and building the boat and getting her and her crew ready, this was an anticlimax. Picking the wrong route wasn’t the only thing to go wrong. In later legs, they lost a mast, and even had a split in the hull.
But by the time Groupama arrived in her home port of Lorient she was race leader. Cammas and his team had been getting better and better as the race progressed, and now Groupama was showing all her potential. Téléfonica had suffered rudder damage in a hell-for-leather dash in which four boats deliberately aimed for the strongest winds in a deep depression and kept pushing hard, each determined not to be the first to slow down.
Iker Martinez’ description of them ‘going along nicely’ just before Téléfonica crashed off a wave and broke a rudder was an indication of just how hard these boats get pushed. I’ve seen big boats sailing downwind as close to the limit in the Solent, but not in the open sea in northern Biscay. “Don’t talk to the man on the wheel”, they say. Too bl**dy right.
And then, just to show that Volvo crews really are made up from the world’s most competent and determined sailors, they replaced Téléfonica’s rudder, in a Biscay gale, in half the time a typical boatyard team would have done it in a marina. To no avail – the other rudder was sick, and they had to balance the rig to nurse her home at ‘only’ 15 knots or so.
Commenting on the Pro-Am and in-port races in Lorient, his old rival since Solitaire du Figaro days Alain Gautier commented that Cammas never, ever gave up. It was unnerving to have him even an apparently safe distance behind you – as soon as you made a mistake, he’d be on top of you. Both Kenny Read and Ian Nicholson can confirm that.
In both the Lorient in-port race and the Lorient-Galway leg, Cammas sailed to keep out of trouble and protect his lead – but he didn’t make mistakes, and was always close enough to profit when his opponents made theirs.
Franck Cammas doesn’t even need to finish the Galway in-port race to win overall, but I don’t mind betting that he gives us more excitement each time. What would you give to be one of the lucky guests in the last Pro-Am?