Archive for November 16th, 2018

Those Flying Boats Fight The CO2 Catastrophe

November 16, 2018

California, while burning, in a never seen before way, builds (some) electric cars and installs a significant solar electric production capability. However, there are other ways to advance the struggle for more ecological tech. Competing sailboats is one way.

A competition of sailboats is organized from Saint Malo, France, to Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, every four years. It’s open to all transoceanic sailboat categories, “ultimes”, multi-hulls, monohulls IMOCA, etc… as long as there is only one person on board. Prizes are attributed in each classification category.

Up to four years ago, the fastest boats were giant trimarans. Now, no more. A new, even faster category, has blossomed: enormous flying maxi-trimarans, known as “Ultimes”. Other boats also fly onto of foils, including monohulls…

Banque Populaire Flying Giant Trimaran flying at the start of Route du Rhum… Against the wind… Notice it leaves little wake, relative to the motor boats escorting it. The same boat left floater, high up in the air in this picture, would tear apart in a storm at 70 km/h, a few thousand kilometers later…

An object in a liquid is slowed down by friction, all along the hull. If one can reduce the surface of the object rubbing against the liquid, one can go faster. Thus the Ultimes rise above water on wings (which fly inside the water). 16 tons of boat rest on just a total of 4 square meters of foils. (Wings can be much smaller in water, and enable to fly at much lower speeds, as water is 1,000 times denser than air…)

So what? What’s the wisdom to be extracted from all this tech avalanche?

Well, we, humanity, are a tech avalanche. No tech, no wisdom. Or then just that of an orangutan.

Ah, yes, we are killing the planet.

It’s going to get way worse, in the next decades, as the man-made CO2 climate catastrophe enfolds. Predictable and predicted! Picture by author, last January, Tahoe:

Maritime transport is one of the main sources of CO2 pollution.

The technology developed by these (mostly) French boats could be applied to cargo boats 10,000 times heavier.

Same flying boat in action, foils in evidence.

Nothing to smirk at: the sailboats can fly at 80 kilometers an hour (50 mph), using just the wind. Not just pushed by the wind, but even zigzagging into the wind.

It’s not without risks: the “ultime” Banque Populaire IX (pictured) lost its left floater, while in a storm, in the middle of the Atlantic, and immediately capsized. Shortly before that, it was flying with minimal sails at 70 kilometer and hour, in five meters seas. (A fisher boat recovered the captain, an expert capsizer, and brought him to Portugal, two days of motorboat away.)

At least two other flying boats capsized because of storms in the same race, one, skippered by a British sailor hit rocks off Guadeloupe shortly before the end. Alex Thomson, who placed second and third prior in the Vendee-Globe, solo around the world race, had forgotten to charge his shockwatch. So he overslept in his 20 minutes sleep, and got woken up when his boat hits the rocks. Thomson was leading in the monohull category, and was in fourth place overall behind two ultimes and one multihull. The international jury gave him a 24 hour penalty for using his motor to extract himself from the reefs…) Another boat captained by the Normande Claire Pruvot was hit by a cargo ship which recovered her 45 minutes later…

Overall, the death rate of these sailing adventures is now very low. Capsizing has become a well mastered art, with insubmersible boats, and immediate alerts. It was not always this way: the famed solo sailor Alain Colas disappeared on the same Route du Rhum, 40 years ago, while leading it. His boat, then the world’s most advanced multihull, could sink, it was made of metaL, and sink it did. Colas’ last message, in a terrible storm, was that he was surrounded by mountains of water.

The reason sailboat tech has not been applied much in large transport has been mostly political, as usual. Maritime transport was long excluded from pollution rules, thus used the very worst oil residue refineries produced… this is the highly polluting “bunker” fuel. Rotating sails can be used (they exploit the fact that if wind slips faster on one side of an object, a low pressure occurs, just as where the wind slows down, so molecules pack up, and higher pressure happens. This is why rotating balls have curving trajectories.) Rotating sails enable at least 10% savings.

Investing massively in wind tech for major boats has an element of risk, so government should help. Northern Europe has mandated stricter pollution rules.

Recently a giant cruise ship, the largest in the world, made in France, berthed in Marseilles, France. It was computed that it polluted as much as two million cars, that is of the order of the entire Provence region of France.

Air transport will also have to be improved, with electricity (hybrid planes, recharging while descending, etc.) Yes, that depends upon batteries. But, as with antibiotics, much more public research investment have to be done. One can’t just let private companies do it all. The rumor has it that Samsung has improved battery tech considerably with graphene (charging in minutes, and with 40% more energy storage). Right, graphene was discovered thanks to government research funding. But more public funding is needed.

A 62 year old Frenchman, Francis Joyon, won the Route du Rhum this year. A few miles from the end, his boat was just a few boat lengths away from Gabart, a young sailing and engineering genius who had been 200 nautical miles ahead earlier on. But Gabart’s most modern boat was “broken”, with a missing foil on the right, and a missing safran on the left. The competition was nearly delayed, because the storms piling up in the Atlantic were so numerous and so nasty (still another consequence of the climate catastrophe).

Francis Joyon of France set a new record time for the 3,542-nautical mile Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe solo transatlantic race from Saint Malo in Brittany to Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe. At the helm of the maxi-trimaran IDEC Sport, Joyon completed the solo race in seven days, 14 hours and 21 minutes, beating the existing course record by just 46 minutes and 45 seconds (Gabart and Joyon mostly slowed down by storms; the other four ultimes were damaged, or capsized, although two restarted after repairs over a few days in Spain).

That Frenchman Joyon holds the around-the-world world record in a sailboat; less than 41 days (with a team)… It was his seventh participation in that competition, and his first win… Gabart, and many others, wants foils to be controlled automatically in real time: it will allow the boats to fly more safely and better. Right now regulations forbid automatic wing adjustments (although they are central to modern aviation… The reason is that it will cost money to have adaptive foils, and that will advantage the wealthiest, and that’s seen as unfair by the competition authorities at this point. Joyon won with an older “Ultime“; the three most recent “ultimes” broke, although Gabart was able to cross the Atlantic with his “broken boat”…)   

Gabart’s MACIF boat flying. Gabart placed second with MACIF, seven minutes behind Joyon. MACIF had lost its left wing… Those boats can sustain 70 km/h in 5 meters seas…

High tech moguls from Silicon Valley informed me years ago (before Elon Musk), that only software was really high-tech (Musk is changing that perfectly dumb perspective). The rest of tech was obsolete, they reckoned. Material high-tech was not high-tech, according to those mentally deficient characters obsessed by software. But software without hardware can’t exist, and they progress together. Flying sailboats use ever more electronics, and will probably soon use active flying surface, quite a bit similar to those the BFR, the Big Falcon Rocket of Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to use when re-entering the atmosphere at 11 kilometers per second…

Patrice Ayme