We are as rapt as any sailor with the 2016 Vendee Globe.
Who can resist this most serious test of sailing ability? We’re glued to our smartphones and PCs, following the global match racing that every four years brings us bizarre and beautiful footage of the craziest, most daring, mostly French, solo sailors blasting around the globe, unassisted, in high-tech, insanely powerful machines.
But we as boat designers have a deeper backstory to explore in this 2016 Vendee Globe. There’s a serious hybrid-engineering angle going on deep in the fleet. Foresight Natural Energy, skippered by 33 year-old Conrad Colman, is trying to lap of the globe with a mixed-hybrid electric motor driven power system that harnesses water flowing over an outboard prop. Fellow Vendee skippers have been impressed with Coleman’s drive, that also uses a solar panel and a hydro generator. And we’re pulling for Foresight Natural Energy.
We think it will have direct application in the boats we build for our clients.
Now some bad news: Colman is not having an issue-free ride with his hybrid power technology. On December 5th, the skipper woke up to black smoke in the cabin. He traced the smoke and found solar charge controller that was on fire. Coleman doused the flames with his fire blanket. (You have one on board, don’t you?) But the blaze took down his electrical system. And with it his autopilot that died with a single faint beep. Right away, his boat went into a crash gybe, that pinned the craft on its side. Colman had the presence to produce this mind-boggling video of him winding up the headsails and dousing the main to get the boat up and on her feet. And it took several more hours to get the sail plan organized, and the boat moving again.
The video is worth studying to see that no matter how bad your day might be, Mr. Colman’s was worse. The other silver lining here is, Colman solved a system problem in seriously conditions.
We hope his technology will prove stable during the rest of the race. It’s an exciting idea.