Anchors Aweigh: Earthrace

Earthrace is a 78 foot trimaran which is trying to set a world record for circumnavigating the globe in a powerboat. The record is 74 days but skipper Pete Bethune wants to do the 26,000 miles in 65 days. The interesting part for treehuggers is that the speedboat will run on biofuels and will be carbon neutral. Moored out at the far reaches of the Thames, in the shadow of the (former) Millennium Dome, Earthrace set sail yesterday for Valencia, the starting place of the race. We visited the boat and spoke to the Kiwi captain about his journey and environmental beliefs.

First the boat: it looks like a Batmobile and travels at a speed of 10 to 15 knots, which is slow, sort of like driving at 17 mph. They are doing this speed for ecological reasons; to burn less fuel, so less emissions. Two and a half tons of biofuel are stored in the bow for ballast and stability. It is designed to slice through the water "like a knife through butter". When there are 3-5 metres of waves above the boat and coming over the windshield, it is "really cool" but when there are more than that it is like a wall of water and can be very scary. The crew all stay inside during the voyage; two in racing-car style captain's chairs, one on a beanbag and one standing. When the waves are smashing down it is brutal and violent and hurts. Bethune said that they once had 12 metre waves and he wouldn't want to do that again.

The outside of the boat is waxed to keep barnacles off, which could cut down on the speed. They use biodegradable antifouling materials made of canola so that marine life won't be poisoned. Biofuel gas is picked up at each of the 13 ports that they stop at. It has to be shipped into some places because it is not locally available. Port stops have to be kept down to a minimum, since the clock is ticking, even while they are getting food and gas on board for the next stretch.

Inside, the boat is small, read cramped, being about three and a half people wide. The galley kitchen is basic, consisting of a kettle, hot plate and microwave and toaster. Food is local, picked up at each of the ports where the boat stops. A simple recycling system of 4 bins has just been set up and 20L of water is stored on board. .

There are 4 narrow bunks for sleeping. The floor is covered with a hemp composite. There is an axe on the wall because the only way of escaping if the boat capsizes is to chop a hole in the hull. The signatures covering the walls are those of students who had visited the ship.

We asked Pete Bethune about the conflict between driving a motor boat and claiming to be environmentally friendly. Obviously he has thought about this a great deal; he wants to reach a bigger audience. He believes that the public will make changes gradually. If they see cool technology and an amazing boat, they can connect with that. The fact that it is environmental and green is almost secondary initially. Your "average bloke" is a hard demographic to tap into. To make a comparison with expensive sports cars; the Tesla is flashy and people are attracted to that, then they pick up on the green part.

For him, it is not just about biodiesels; cumulatively he wants to make a difference: increase awareness of the environment and the sustainable use of resources. We wished him well on the eve of his journey; with few storms and following winds. :: the Earthrace

Tags: Biofuels | England | London