Eco yachts: green to go, by Tristan Rutherford
Camper & Nicholsons SEA+I Magazine, October 2019
Guests won’t be eating mung beans aboard eco yacht Blue Vision. “Our chef trained at Quattro Passi,” explains Captain Nick Powell, referring to the double Michelin starred restaurant that clings to the Amalfi cliffs opposite Capri. “His formative years were spent bargaining in fish markets and making tuna sashimi.” Aboard the latest generation of sustainable superyachts, being green doesn’t mean living in 1973. “We’re simply sailing into a more balanced future,” continues Powell. “That means less noise and less fumes, but more Thai massages and organic ice cream.”
In the yachting industry, mercantilism has long trumped environmentalism. However, as repeat clients charter Blue Vision, going green is seen as a lucrative niche. The 44m Benetti is a cross between Monaco’s Thermes Marins and a luxury Indian ashram, which can sail to every tranquil bay from Morell in Menorca to Mirista in Montenegro. Guests who book a sun-kissed blowout end up detoxed by morning yoga, Bamford toiletries and a complete absence of parabens and plastics. Plus an unrivalled cellar of organic wines.
Providing an ecologically sound context is taxing, admits Captain Powell. “It’s more than just banning plastic drinking straws”. The eco-list aboard Blue Vision includes providing guests with bamboo toothbrushes, filling steel bottles with purified water and linens washed in eCover cleansers. “On the positive side, guests seem more relaxed with less toxins around them,” claims Powell, “so that’s the first battle won.”
In the search for absolute serenity, Powell’s team take environmentalism several steps further. Sustainable fuels are sourced from Eazy Bunker, which plants trees across the United States to offset every litre used. “We use automotive gas oil, which releases far less sulphur than marine gas oil,” explains Powell. Carbon consumption can be an education in itself. If quizzed by guests, Powell will share the fact that cruising at 12 knots uses 240 litres per hour. While at 8 knots, fuel consumption is halved. “We’re not the St Tropez express,” jokes Powell, referring to the yachts that power from Port Hercule to Plage Pampelonne in 60 minutes flat. “But if guests want to cruise past Cap Ferrat, the Lérins Island and the Esterel cliffs, spotting dolphins and falcons enroute, we’ll lay on the binoculars and nature-spotting apps.”
Quite naturally, off-the-grid itineraries are preferred by guests aboard Blue Vision. As Powell explains: “This summer we’re circumnavigating Sicily with in-depth tours of the Aegadian and Aeolian islands.” Imagine a Slow Food quest for unique island bites including stuffed squid, fresh swordfish, hand-picked mulberries, ricotta salata and giant capers. These foodstuffs will be paired with Malvasia wines from Lipari’s sea-cooled vine terraces, where grapes are sun-dried for extreme flavour then fermented into lip-smacking whites.
Dining well appears to be a cross-generational aspiration. Most older charter guests own an Ottolenghi cookbook and request modern Mediterranean menus of za'atar roasted chicken breast, or fresh burrata with blood orange. Millennial clients have often eaten in tennis star Novak Djokovic’s vegan restaurant in Monaco and want to emulate his diet - and physique.
In such locations experiential activities abound. “Some guests want to recharge in the sun”, explains Powell. “Others are eager for pasta making classes, group snorkels at dusk, or visits with the chef to Palermo’s Ballarò market.” For Powell a personal favourite is the tiny Italian island of Palmarola near Ponza. “It’s an hour from Rome yet it’s entirely uninhabited except for yachties kayaking into uncharted caves to forage for sea urchins.” Ocean environmentalist Jacques Cousteau christened it “the most beautiful island in the Mediterranean Sea”.
Alas, it would be disingenuous to suggest that luxury yacht guests are saving the planet. “We can reduce waste and emissions as much as possible, but not eliminate them,” Powell admits. And unless clients are travelling to Blue Vision’s home port of Nice on the direct TGV from Brussels, Paris or Milan, or on the non-stop sleeper from Moscow via Minsk and Vienna, there are flights to consider.
Captain Powell claims that only top-down measures from governing bodies like the International Maritime Organisation can reduce pollution across the board. “The IMO can insist on exhaust scrubbers on the next generation of new build yachts, just as automotive bodies rule on vehicle emissions. They could also push for research on hydrogen fuel cell technology and energy recovery systems.”
Some luxury vessels have experimented with biofuels and solar power. On other yachts generators are switched off at night in favour of low-impact batteries, so sailors sleep to the sound of lapping waves, not an electronic hum. Again, such measures are as much about the bottom line as green niceties, as the fickle price of Brent Crude has fluctuated between $28 and $114 over the last five years.
A push from customers might also lead superyacht manufacturers to greener pastures. One of the most coveted launches in 2018 was Oceanco’s Black Pearl, a 107m eco-yacht. Thanks to DynaRig masts and energy collection stations, she can skip across the Atlantic on just 20 litres of fuel - at speeds of up to 30 knots. Boat builder Lürssen also seeks to protect the oceans central to its success. The German company have introduced catalytic reduction filters to lower nitrogen, soot and noise levels on new yachts to far below industry limits. They were also the first firm to utilise waste engine heat to operate a vessel's desalination system for drinking water.
Perhaps the most futuristic idea comes from Dutch shipyard Feadship. Their concept yacht, Breathe, mimics nature by using whale fin stabilisers and a curvaceous hull to reduce fuel consumption by up to 40%. Meanwhile zebra stripes cover her surface areas in stark black and white tones, creating air currents that naturally cool the yacht. We can all raise a glass of Blue Vision’s organic Champagne to that. Not least as it’s André Beaufort Grand Cru Réserve, which Decanter rated an 89.
Tristan Rutherford writes about luxury yachts for Camper & Nicholsons SEA+I Magazine, Superyacht News and others.