In my 15 plus years in the catamaran industry, I've seen many things change for the better, and many thi
ngs that have stayed exactly the same in boat designs. There are always familiar discussion topics that come up: daggerboards versus keels, bridge-deck clearance, luxury versus performance, helm placement, safety, etc. Over the last 10 years, and especially recently, the idea of "going green" in sailing voyages keeps coming up. And while some very smart engineers have dedicated great time and effort to developing reliable, redundant electric driven propulsion systems, one thing continues to ring true - nothing has worked very well so far. There is still no "green" system that I would feel comfortable with in offshore long-distance sailing.
First, let's consider what going "green" on a boat really is anyway. We are talking about sailboats, right? If sailboats sailed better wouldn't that be the real answer to going green? If your boat is designed well, has proper foils, both under, and on top of the water, the boat will save a significant amount of energy. The more easily driven a yacht is underway, the greener it is, unless the materials used to create that easily driven yacht are decidedly not green. So step one in going green is to get the fastest and most easily driven yacht you can afford, provided the yacht gives you the payload and comfort at anchor you need to sustain a satisfying life onboard. These things are always a trade-off, of course, and one's sailing agenda and budget will generally reveal the best options available on the new or used market.
But any yacht that hopes to call itself green needs to have sensible electric consumption on board that is primarily fueled by solar and wind input. Boats should be designed to carry what we need to live and cruise, and still sail well. Imagine if your boat actually went faster and better, with the engines off! Isn't that what we can learn from the America Cup boats? Three or four times windspeed? If we could get our boats to just go windspeed, they would be relative rockets! Considering that, it can be seen that in order to go green in the water there must first be better sailboats and
you as fans of multihulls should demand it, because as shown in the America's cup, the technology is there. Often, however, it is wiser and better to build a longer and leaner boat with cheaper less exotic materials than a shorter and lighter boat with more costly materials. Sadly, no matter how you slice it, faster boats do cost more money generally as it costs more to build a boat light and strong than it does to build one fat and slow. If performance is not an issue, you can use cheaper cores, cheaper resins, cheaper furniture, cheaper rigs and sails, cheaper bulkheads and floors, and on and on.
Me personally, I've never been keen on having a diesel generator drive an electric motor, and then having a backup generator so that if the first one fails, you won't get caught at sea, all with a massive battery bank. And, in adding all that, you have now increased the weight of your boat, killing the sailing performance even further. The point being, the quest for going green in a sailboat starts with having a boat that really likes to sail. Remember when you learned to sail, and your little boat didn't even have an engine? Consider now having small and light engines on your vessel, and how it would improve your sailing performance.
This all starts with the end in mind. You either think light and sailing performance consistently from the start, or you think luxury and never mind the weight. It's understood that many people value luxury more than performance, with sailing capability being less important than having a wonderful vacation home. And, of course, there is nothing wrong with this logic, but these kinds of boats are never going to be green boats. In fact, when I first got started in this business, a typical 47-foot cat had 27-HP motors, then we went to 40-HP, and now many this size are running 75 HP turbos. Why? Because the boats are getting fatter and fatter and heavier and heavier. These are not green boats - unless they are sailing with the wind aft of the beam in 18 plus knots of wind! And again, that is ok if you only plan to putter around the BVI, the Med or the Bahamas. A motor sailor offers great comfort at anchor and less cost at the expense of speed underway and generally comfort underway. But if you plan to really voyage, and green means something to you, go light, go efficient and go fast.