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Selden 2020 - LEADERBOARD

What next? Update on Aventura Zero plans - Is the aim of zero emissions achievable?

by Jimmy Cornell 6 Apr 2021 11:00 UTC
Aventura Zero © Jimmy Cornell

In the three months since I returned with Aventura Zero to the Outremer boatyard at La Grande Motte, in the south of France, I have received many emails expressing interest in the feasibility of achieving zero emissions on a sailing boat.

Many of those who wrote to me also expressed the hope that this promising project would not be abandoned and wanted to know more of what had gone wrong and what was going to happen next. Here are the answers to the most relevant questions.

Is the aim of zero emissions achievable?

Let me start on a positive note by stating unequivocally that that aim is indeed achievable. We did just that on the 1540-mile nonstop passage from Tenerife to France: we left with the battery bank at 95% capacity and arrived with 20%. For the last 10 miles of that passage and within sight of our destination we had headwinds and a strong current against us, so we had to tack and tack again, and also used one or the other motor to make headway. We made it and with still enough left in the batteries for an emergency.

Did you leave Tenerife with the batteries charged from shore power, and if so, was this not against your aim of true zero emissions?

This is indeed a potentially controversial aspect and my initial intention was not to do it, as it would go against my very aims. Eventually I was forced to realise that I would have to compromise. It happened on the first leg of the voyage to Seville when we were becalmed in the Mediterranean and I realised that there was absolutely no chance of us being able to recharge the batteries with just the solar panels.

So we stopped at Ceuta for a few hours and recharged the batteries. I was not happy about it but had to accept that, after all, this is what electric cars are doing and they still claim to abide by the zero emission concept. Doing the same with a sailing boat would be no different, and it would be an accepted solution for anyone planning to have an electric boat to be used in places where access to charging points would be easily available such as the Mediterranean, Baltic, the Great Lakes, or coastal cruising generally.

What was the main reason for the decision to interrupt your voyage and return to base?

By the time we reached Tenerife, we had sailed over 2000 miles and despite all efforts, we failed to maintain a sustainable balance between consumption and regeneration of electricity. I knew that Tenerife was the point of no return, as sailing south from there we would be committed to a circumnavigation and I felt that in its present state Aventura Zero would not be able to safely achieve the aim of zero emissions. I must add that I was also concerned about the uncertain Covid situation not only in South America but also in the Philippines and beyond, and I felt that it would be irresponsible to expose myself and crew to such a risk. Therefore, the only responsible thing to do was to return to the boatyard and make some essential modifications before resuming the voyage.

What are the improvements being made?

The most important improvement is replacing the portside folding propeller with an Oceanvolt ServoProp. There is already such a propeller on the starboard side but the one being installed now is the latest version and is supposed to be twice as efficient. This would be a great improvement, but I prefer to wait until I can do some proper testing and see if this is indeed the case. Because of the current travel restrictions both in the UK and France I cannot drive from London to the boatyard so this will have to wait until May. If all works out as well as promised, the regeneration capacity will be virtually doubled, and in that case I am convinced that Aventura Zero can become totally energy self-sufficient.

After your recent experience would you relent and have some kind of backup generator to charge the batteries?

Even as a backup I am still very reluctant to have a diesel generator, as the very aim of this project is to do away with fossil fuels. I did look into the possibility of a fuel cell but realised that even if it runs on green ethanol it would still produce some carbon dioxide emissions. Hydrogen would be an acceptable fuel, but while there are various projects afoot, they are still in the development stages.

If a diesel generator is not acceptable, should you not carry some kind of emergency backup such as a Honda generator?

I already have a backup, a Sail-Gen hydro-generator, which I know very well from my previous Aventura. Unfortunately I only realised after we had left that it was not charging anywhere near what I had been expecting. I guessed that the reason could have been faulty installation. That is being checked and put right now and will be properly tested when I get to the boat.

Will you try to reduce your electricity consumption?

I have already done my best but will try even harder, and indeed there will be several changes made that should reduce the overall consumption. However, I have been forced to realise that on a boat where all cooking is done with electricity, even with the best of intentions there is a limit to how much consumption can be reduced.

There is an announcement on the Outremer website that Aventura Zero is for sale. Does it mean that you have abandoned your sailing plans?

A well-known entrepreneur once said that whatever you possess should be for sale, provided the price is right. I don't entirely agree, but when I was asked by Outremer whether I would be prepared to sell the boat to someone interested in sailing in the GLY World Odyssey 500 round the world rally, and knowing that I wouldn't be able to do it, I agreed. This is also the point at which I ought to say that because of family reasons I recently decided to abandon my circumnavigation plans. It was a very difficult decision but there was no other alternative.

However, I am still determined to keep the Elcano project alive and make sure that Aventura Zero is indeed carbon neutral. I hope to report on that after the comprehensive testing program we plan to do in the Mediterranean this summer.

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