With the 2012 Vendee Globe currently approaching Gouph Island, at which point the fleet will make the turn east, round the Cape of Good Hope, and begin their circumnavigation in earnest, Spain’s Acciona 100% EcoPowered piloted by Javier Sanso is currently sitting in ninth place approximately 565 nautical miles behind current leader Armel Le Cleac’h aboard Banque Populair. It is a good position for Acciona. After all seven of the initial 20 entrants have already retired from racing and Sanso is very much in striking distance of the leaders with the race still in the infancy stages. However in the spirit of sailing Globe fans around the world should all really be rooting for Acciona.
For those who don’t know Acciona is a very special boat. The typical Imoca 60 burns about 400 liters of diesel fuel during the three-month, 25,000 mile Vendee Globe. Acciona on the other is powered entirely by renewable energies. The boat’s hydraulics, motors, navigation and communication systems are all fueled by solar, hydro, and wind power devices on board the vessel. The boat features two hydro generators under the stern, solar panels along the the gunnels, and two wind turbines on the aft quarters. Sanso expects to be faster than the competition in the early stages of the race due to not carrying the extra 400 liters of diesel oil, but slower in the later stages when the other competitors burn off their fuel because Acciona itself is slightly on the heavy side due to their extra systems. Given this Sanso would probably like to be slightly higher than ninth right now, as this would seem to be his time to make ground, but team Acciona has at least proved to be a competitive vessel thus far, and what it is doing gets back to the roots of sailing which is why everyone should be pulling for them.
ClarkSail is a marine media organization not an environmental advocacy group. Our team is all for sustainability, but readers are not going to hear those view points preached on this website and that is not why we are such fans of Acciona. The fact of the matter is that Acciona is special because what they are doing is what sailing is all about. Sure one of the goals of competitive design is to keep getting the boats going faster. The continuing search for new methods of harnessing the wind and improving performance is why people are so fascinated by sailing in the first place – that search for the extra 0.1 knots. But at some point when your burning 400 liters of diesel fuel isn’t it alien to the spirit of the sport? The whole idea behind sail boats is that they aren’t power boats. They dont need to pour an entire checking account into their fuel tank just to get out on the water. That’s sort of the point. They use the wind and the weather with varying levels of efficiency and thus the human being exploits his environment to accomplish his goals without destroying it. That’s what it’s all about.
Now this is not to say that the sailing community should put a halt on progress. Speed will always come first. Breaking down barriers and continuing to improve efficiency is the core of high performance sailing. If there is a new way to squeeze half a knot out of boat it should be done. Whether it’s environmentally friendly or not is another question. However one of the ways one defines a sail boat is “not a power boat.” It shouldn’t need tons of diesel to operate. Acciona understand this mode of thought. “Our advantage is that we are environmentally friendly,” said Sanso in an interview with Sailing World Magazine earlier in the year. “We are trying to change the tendencies of the ocean races held after the Globe. If it can be done in the Globe it means that all the race boats could have eco-efficient systems like ours. After all most of our systems are available off the shelf.” Now most big racing boats do use at least some fossil fuels. Canting keels and what-not are important for performance and the hydraulics use diesel oil to operate. But maybe they don’t have to. After all sail boats are not power boats.