Wind and solar power are to comprise the sole sources of fuel for a forthcoming and ambitious round-the-world catamaran trip.
Intended to serve as a demonstration of the viability of fossil fuel-free operations, as well as an exciting voyage in its own right, the proposed World ECO Sail project is the brainchild of Jean-Marc Simiand, an experienced engineer and sailor. The three-year trip is provisionally planned to commence in October this year; starting at Cape Verde, Africa, Simiand will guide the catamaran westwards and down the Panama Canal in February 2017, advancing further west into Pacific waters and reaching Australia in July 2018, before passing South Africa and arriving in Brazil in March 2019. Then, heading up the US’ Eastern Seaboard, Simiand will call at Canada in May 2019, before crossing the Atlantic for the last few calls at Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Sardinia and Corsica, before ending the voyage at his native France in August 2019.
Abandoning fossil fuels
The idea stems back to 2010, when Simiand was working as an engineer at car and van manufacturer Renault. Prior to this, the chances of a successful, battery-fuelled round-the-world sail seemed slim to non-existent; the then available lead batteries simply lacked the power storage capacity to deliver in the field. However, as Simiand began to work with lithium-ion battery applications for the automotive industry, he correctly estimated that this technology could equally be applied to a small catamaran. As he puts it: “A world tour aboard a catamaran with zero emissions over a period of three years will be a world first…the objective of this project is to demonstrate that we can do without fossil energies on a sailboat, and that it is high time we abandoned them.”
In preparation for the voyage, Simiand commissioned French catamaran builder Fountaine Pajot to provide a customised version of Berret Racoupeau Yacht Design’s high-end Hélia 44 Evolution luxury cat concept. Fountaine Pajot has modified the boat accordingly, to accommodate Simiand’s choice of renewable energy-related installations and technical needs. The vessel measures 13.4m x 7.4m, weighs approximately 190kg and features a 1.15m draught and a 70m² sail area. When operating on sail power alone, the boat should prove capable of travelling at anywhere between 5-14knots, Simiand tells Ship & Boat International.
Battery power will kick in where wind power is difficult or impossible to access; for instance, across the 40nm distance of the Panama Canal. Simiand had considered the idea of a wind turbine but then rejected it, reasoning that such a device would not be able to compete with the power offered by modern lithium-ion batteries.
To this end, the cat will be fitted with a pair of 20kWh Winston 48V lithium-ion battery packs, drawing power from six 345W solar panels, supplied by SunPower. Each battery pack will comprise 16 Winston 3.2V LiFeYPO4 modules. This configuration will feed two Piktronik Podmaster Pro electric engines, rated 10kW each, via converters provided by Mastervolt, and driving a pair of Bruntons Autoprop propellers. Simiand estimates that this all-electric configuration will provide the cat with a service speed of 6knots and a range of 70nm at 5knots.
Bridge equipment will include broadband radar, courtesy of a Navico 24nm system, and AIS via VHF, to assist with collision avoidance. It is also likely that the cat will be fitted with an Inmarsat FleetBroadband 250 terminal; sufficient enough for Simiand to upload photos and video clips to the internet, enabling a diary of his progress, in a non-streaming capacity.
The craft’s technological attributes have all been sourced from existing solutions. Besides the technology mentioned above, Simiand’s best weapons will be his nerve and determination to complete the voyage.
However, there is still time for interested maritime parties to contribute to the project. Simiand explains: “For now, the principal support for the project is myself. [Navigation software provider] MaxSea has sponsored the project, in providing all maps and software for navigation around the world. I’d be very interested in any additional support, primarily from companies specialising in renewable energy technology.” He adds that sponsors are welcome to contact him, to assist in balancing out costs and making the voyage a reality. Although the intention is for Simiand to pilot the vessel solo throughout the trip, passengers could, in theory, be welcomed onboard at the various ports of call, enabling sponsors or interested parties to join in the adventure and carve out their own slice of marine history.