Clearly the world has an ironic sense of humour. Aside from the lighthouses at Cape Horn and the Falklands, I have not seen another human, vessel or sign of humanity since Kojiro when I was last in the South Atlantic. Who better then to welcome this zero emissions circumnavigator back in to the modern era than a very empty oil tanker heading due west to Brazil to fill up at the pump!
Cabo Frio, the point just up the coast from Rio, is home to one of the biggest Brazilian oil field with miles of densely packed oil extraction platforms, floating reservoirs and derelict machinery in an otherwise virgin ocean. I sailed through the field in 2012 during my first race around the world and was shocked by the huge platforms with towering flaming torches to burn off gas. The hissing spitting flames and twisted chimneys lit up the sky for miles around and made me think that perhaps the old map makers who scribbled "there be dragons" at the margins of the known world might have been right after all!
Alex Thomson and Rich Wilson recently discussed their energy production systems on the Vendee Live and Rich quipped that his diverse renewable sources of renewable energy (solar panels, wind generator and hydro-generators) had allowed him to use so little diesel to charge that he felt he was a tanker carrying hydrocarbons around the world. As you know, I have taken the principle a step further and renewable sources of energy have provided 100% of my energy requirements so far and I haven't heard the sound of an engine for 80 days!
I have done this primarily due to the double functionality of my Oceanvolt electric propulsion system. I am forbidden to use the motor to propel the boat during the race but it also operates as a hydro-generator where the propellor can open up when the boat is moving and spin the motor as a generator thus charging the batteries. It's the same idea as the Watt & Sea propellors that have become ubiquitous on ocean racing boats since 2010. Going electric did mean that I went without heat in the Southern Ocean and had to be careful with my energy use in the recent calms because I can't charge if the boat isn't moving, but these are small inconveniences on the grand scale.
The heat from the sun won't let me forget that I have now entered the tropics but this means that my Solbian solar panels are now also making a significant contribution to my energy production as well. I have prototype flexible solar panels on my mainsail but they quickly succumbed to the rigours of the sea and require more development. Even the Volvo Ocean Race boats are adopting the same mix of hydro generators and solar panels for the upcoming edition of the race and rumors suggest that the new fleet of Volvo race boats will follow their automotive parents into zero emissions as well.
Why is all this important? Well, sometimes we can't trust government to lead then we must turn to industry to provide products and solutions so that it's painless for consumers to make the eco choice. On this end there has been much progress. Tesla makes some of the best cars in the world, gas powered or otherwise. The Oceanvolt system provides a host of benefits for sailors to make it more desirable than conventional engines. The Foresight Group fosters innovative companies around the world that are helping to revolutionize the way that power is produced and consumed.
I hope to cross the finish line in a couple of weeks time to become the first to finish the race around the world without ever using fossil fuels to charge the boat. Given that this zero emissions tour has been achieved without weight or drag penalty this first eco lap will surely be followed by many more as the principle and technology become mainstream. More important however is the idea that if sailors can thrash once fragile electrical systems during a passage through some of the hardest conditions on earth and come back with electrons still flowing then there's little reason you can't rely on similar technology to drive to work everyday or lighten the load on the electrical grid with your own solar panels.