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Iron Topsail

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail-World AUS 21 Nov 2021 13:00 PST
Now in black - SR13 © Composites Constructions

Often it's simply just, The Smelly. Yes. The humble auxiliary... Without it we'd be lost, and yet it can be treated with such disdain. One question could well be, for how much longer? If it were an employee, it would have found another job long ago. If it had been your partner, its departure would have been marked by one hell of a serious storm, and the residual damage would be akin to waiting for the vegetation to regrow, and the buildings to be erected once more, after said cyclone had passed, many a season ago.

Now nothing is as cheap or easy to use to extract energy from, as a litre of Diesel. Wind generators and solar panels have done their bit, as too reductions to the house draw courtesy of things like LEDs. However, if you want to turn the winch via button, cant the keel, or pump in tonnes of water to the gunwale tank(s), then chug-a-lug it is. Plain and simple.

Yet, The Times They Are a-Changin' (and thank you Bob while we're at it). ZF, Torqeedo, and Beneteau's Excess Catamaran brand have just received a Boat Builder Award during METS, for the application of the former two companies' Deep Blue 50kW saildrives into the latter company's Excess 15 cat.

The saildrives offer clean, quiet, powerful thrust and manoeuvrability. Docking and sailing is now easier and more environmentally friendly than ever. Especially when you consider the number of Euro-ports most obviously, that have banned the iron topsail in all her forms. The drives also supply efficient hydrogeneration, keeping the on-board system charged whilst under sail.

Clearly this is no longer solely the domain of daysailers. Oceanic cruisers and racers are clearly seeing it, and more importantly, making it happen. Immediately, one is drawn also to the very soon to be launched Carkeek 43 known as Scarlet Runner (13) that we have featured in Fashionably Black and earlier in C43, but it's not an AMG.

Now SR13 went down this path not simply because of a future-tech thing, but because kilo for kilo it all made sense. Batteries, motors and drives are now in the same sphere of mass as donks, coolant, and fuel. Now we're talking. And SR13 is not just running the propulsion and lights, let alone USB sockets for gizmo 1, 2, 3, and 4, for there are electric winches on board. OK, so there are motors to drive them, but there are no pedestals, shafts and gearboxes; for a boat like her wants to go fast, and unwanted kilos are in the very same class as those on an African long distance runner. Not going to happen. Wheat is a treat, after all...

Take me somewhere

Well ships burn crude oil. They can give it names like ship oil and others, but in the end it is the very stuff as it comes out of the ground, or sea floor. It actually does not burn instantaneously, without a heap of air, and heat, which is why it passes through pre-heaters before going off to the combustion chamber, which in the case of ships can be 800mm in diameter for some real two-stroke grunt. That smell when you go behind a ship at sea is why it can often be referred to as sweet crude, as well. (Just don't mention the toxins.)

Things that go bang

Run down to the local feed and agriculture store looking to buy this much fertiliser, and the authorities are likely to get there just as soon as you have asked for the goods.

Now ammonia might not rate in the same way as carbon based juice, but it is more energy dense than Hydrogen, and also zero emission as well. It can be made from renewable energy sources, and works as a fuel cell like Hydrogen too, so the parallels are distinct. However, there are also serious advantages, and this is why shipping is red hot for the stinky stuff. If liquefied, Hydrogen has to be stored at what is near enough to absolute zero. If in a gaseous state, then it will be under 700 bar of pressure. By way of reference, a super serious turbocharged road car might run at 2-3 bar.

Ammonia however, can be stored at a more conventional -33 degreesC as a liquid, and just 9 bar as a gas at +20 degreesC. That's going to make a difference, and probably allow for the fuel to be stored below decks. Handy. The supply ship Viking Energy looks to be set to enter service in the latter part of 2023.

If there is any drawback, it is that ammonia is made up of one part Nitrogen to three Hydrogen. To do its job it is firstly split into the two elements, then burnt with air to make electricity, where the by-product is water. The residuals are sent through a catalytic converter (expensive metals) where they say that under optimal reaction processes there will be no oxides of Nitrogen released to the atmosphere, which is one of the big issues with carbon fuels burning. Key word is optimal, and remember that the metals in said converter are hideously expensive, and you'll need a fair bit of them too.

LNG - Liquefied Natural Gas - so definitely not propane for your BBQ

Bringing a distinctly new meaning to the phrase, get high on your own supply, especially if one of these carriers ever goes up. There's a reason they're double skinned, the spheres are lined in silver so as to be inert, and chilled to 'the walls of a brass humpy' type level of -161 degreesC. Still a fair way of absolute zero of course (-273 degreesC), but well frosty none the less. Change those parameters, drop a bomb on said ship, or torpedo it, and the result is literally thermonuclear. Good thing the Americans keep a very close eye on their Mk48 fish.

At any rate, work continues on LNG Carriers using the greener fuel, and Storylines, which is one of the new breed of apartment style private liner/yachts is also going to be LNG powered.

Carbon credits

Liquefied Carbon Dioxide (LCO2) is not a fuel source. Yet. Perhaps. Maybe. It is an area of shipping set to expand as a direct result of carbon dioxide capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS), which is seen as an effective means to achieve a carbon neutral world. LCO2 carriers will play a pivotal role in the value chain by transporting LCO2 to storage sites and facilities for utilisation. Now, if you could take the Oxygen off the structure for use in the transport you could do two birds with one stone. Yes the propeller is spinning atop of my hat.


Forever to be inexorably linked to one thing - Hydrogen - the first element. Over a lifetime ago there was a wee problem, and the core issues are, and always will be there. However, we have moved on from Duesenbergs and world conflagrations. PowerUP have shown us the way, and you can see that here and here.

Also, look out soon for our Managing Editor's interview with PowerUp Founder, Dr. Ivar Kruusenberg, which was done at the very recent METS show in Amsterdam. It is great that Mark Jardine went there, and the fruits of that are some really good pieces of information, like the video below where Ivar explains how it all works.

Two things remain. All of this will seriously help yachting's green credentials. Yes. It is costly for now, but as we have demonstrated, it's a-happening, so a big thank you to all those who have poured the bucks in. And thank you Aldous Huxley, as well. For without your book, there may not well be one of the world's most quoted lines. Now. Let's push on to see what we can find...

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Finally, many thanks for making Sail-World your go-to choice. We're always here to keep pumping out the news. Stay safe, and enjoy your time on the water.

John Curnow
Editor, Sail-World AUS

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