Have you ever been on a sailing boat? Did you go fast, or far? I doubt you ever went as far, or as fast, as the amazing solo sailors of the Vendée Globe. That’s a yacht race that’s often called “the toughest in the world”. And it started this week, as it does once every four years.
Like a flock of giant seabirds, 33 sailboats, built to almost fly over the waves and survive huge ocean waves, set off from the region of Vendée in western France. Each sailor will sail alone, barely sleeping, for perhaps three months, going all the way to the bottom of the world and – if they’re lucky – back again.
Let the wind blow
It may seem just like a crazy sport with ancient roots, using wind to power boats as people have done for thousands of years. But in fact, those sails may point the way to the future…
How’s that? Well, meet Marc Van Peteghem. Marc has designed some of the most successful boats in ocean racing – including the last two winners of the Vendée Globe. And now he’s putting his know-how to work on another passion – cutting the amount of pollution made by the big ships that carry things around the world.
Lots of what we use every day has come from the other side of the world – clothes, machines and so on but also cocoa, coffee, tea and so on. Nearly all of it comes on ships which use heavy oil as fuel. They pump out loads of carbon dioxide, adding to global warming.
Sails, 21st century style
Marc says we can cut those carbon emissions by using wind power. Not in the way that ships used to be in the olden days, made of wood and powered only by sails. But by adding tall structures, almost like aeroplane wings standing upright. These catch the wind and give the ship extra speed, letting its engines use less oil.
Marc’s building his first ship to carry a very fast cargo. Can you guess what? If a sailing ship is a fairly slow way to transport things, the thing Marc’s ship will carry is perhaps the fastest…
It’s a space rocket! That’s right, Marc’s building a sailing ship, the Canopée, that will carry parts of an Ariane rocket, which is made in Europe, across the Atlantic to South America, where the European Space Agency has its launch site at Kourou.
Marc says that just a few years ago, people would have thought he was crazy to suggest putting sails on a big ship. “Now,” he says, “Shipowners are listening to us.”
Take a look at this video which explains how Marc’s new giant sailing ship works:
Oceanbird prepares to take wing
Marc isn’t the only one trying to help the planet by moving big cargoes with the power of the wind.
In Sweden, a shipbuilder showed off plans last month for the biggest sailing ship in the world. Due for launch in four years, the super-modern Oceanbird will be able to carry 7,000 cars – and produce only a tenth of the amount of CO2 of a normal container ship.
Wind-delivered chocolate, anyone?
Do you remember we learned last year about a 100-year-old sailing ship that had started carrying wine from Portugal to England? Well, the idea continues to grow.
A brand-new sailing boat called the Grain de Sail is about to set off from Brittany, in western France, for New York. It will carry 15,000 bottles of French wine to America and then pop down to the Caribbean to bring back 50 tonnes of raw coffee and cocoa.
It’s the idea of two brothers, Olivier and Jacques Barreau, who have a coffee-roasting and chocolate-making business. They want to show that it’s possible to make chocolate without hurting the planet. We wish them fair winds!
A boy who dreamed of ships…
Marc designed the ship that will transport parts of the Ariane space rocket from Europe to South America.
WoW!: As a boy, what job did you want to do when you grew up?
Marc: This one! Already when I was 9, I knew I wanted to design boats. That’s the age when I started to sail.
WoW!: Why build a sailing ship to carry cargo?
Marc: I have 5 children and I worry about how the world’s climate is changing. I wondered if there was something that I could do to reduce the pollution from shipping.
WoW!: The “sails” on this new ship are… a bit special!
Marc: Yes, they look more like the wings of a plane! They work like a sail but are more efficient. It uses a lot less fuel, thanks to the wind.
A lot of what we buy has travelled on a ship which burns heavy oil and so adds to the carbon dioxide (CO2) which causes global warming.
Learning from our ancestors about using the power of the wind to move ships could cut emissions – even if ships continue to need their engines too.