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Energy Observer, the legendary catamaran, celebrates her 40th anniversary

by Energy Observer 19 Apr 2023 05:28 PDT
Energy Observer © Photo d'archives

Launched in 1983, Energy Observer celebrates this year her 40 years of longevity with multiple records.

From the fastest racing catamaran in the world in 1994 to the first autonomous energy vessel since 2017, discover the incredible story of this vessel that has become an ambassador of positive solutions for the planet.

Prestigious skippers

40 years is a ripe old age for a boat. While commercial ships live between 25 and 40 years - the bigger they are, the shorter their life expectancy - racing boats have much longer life cycles. Their cutting-edge construction, often optimized and modified during their careers, and their high-performance design turn them into machines with multiple lives.

Built by Canadair in Canada in 1983, the famous aircraft manufacturer, under the name of Formule TAG, Energy Observer has had a prestigious lineage of skippers. The first winner of the Route du Rhum, Mike Birch, was the pilot of this revolutionary machine of her time. Mike shared his final farewell during the last Route du Rhum, a nod to a destiny marked by the multihull revolution, his historic victory on a small yellow trimaran over Michel Malinowski's long monohull having left its mark. The boat, designed by Nigel Irens, showcased high technology and composites. 24m long, and built-in Kevlar on Airex foam and carbon fiber, she weighed less than 10 tons for more than 440 m2 of sail area. The boat was fast but underwent a long development period punctuated by dismastings and other fires, but above all, high performances, such as the 24-hour speed record of 512.5 miles in 1984.

A world record

In 1992, Sir Peter Blake decided to increase the size of the boat to 25.90m to break the round-the-world speed record, the famous Jules Verne Trophy. In duo with Robin Knox Johnson, another British legend of ocean racing, the ship will eventually break off in South Africa. It then became supported by Enza New Zealand, which decided to lengthen it to 28m! Thus re-inflated, the catamaran won the Jules Verne Trophy, the true grail of ocean speed, in 74 days, 22 hours, and 17 minutes (14.68 knots average speed) during a Dantesque duel with Olivier de Kersauson's trimaran in 1994.

As it became the fastest boat around the world, the large catamaran was bought by British sailor Tracy Edwards in 1997, who attempted the Jules Verne Trophy again with an all female crew but ended up dismasting.

Tony Bullimore, eternal ocean racer of his majesty, bought her in 2000 and lengthened her to 102 feet, or 31 meters, to participate in The Race, the millennium round the world race, then in the Oryx Cup starting from Doha in Qatar in 2005. Left fallow for a few years, she was finally taken over and deeply redesigned by Victorien Erussard and his teams in 2015 to become Energy Observer.

A vessel at the service of the energy transition

The vessel went from 15 to 35 tons, with larger hull volumes and a central nacelle molded as a racing trimaran. Many architects participated in this transformation, including Marc Lombard and Marc Van Peteghem, who also carefully designed her aerodynamics and hydro performances.

The objective is no longer about speed but about energy autonomy. After vertical wind turbines and the testing of several propulsion technologies, the catamaran will have smaller wings in 2019 of 32 m2 each, compared to the more than 400 m2 of her previous life! Developed by Ayro, they are fully automatic and much more efficient, prefiguring the rigs of the future, like each of the on-board systems, a complete hydrogen chain, a state-of-the-art solar production, variable pitch propellers, and multiple innovations.

A longevity record

If Energy Observer's hulls have already covered the equivalent of several round-the-world trips, often at very high speed, and have shown exceptional reliability, all these onboard systems can also claim longevity records. No hydrogen chain has remained under high pressure for more than 50,000 hours and 50,000 nautical miles in such harsh conditions.

The thousand onboard sensors, the electrical and control network, the 24v and 400v batteries, the motors, the water makers, or even the electrolyzer (first onboard electrolyzer in 2017!) have almost all clocked up these 50,000 hours of operation since their installation, in the most terrible environment (85 degrees Celsius this week in the hulls) an unprecedented performance far from the specialized laboratories and facilities.

With the 40th anniversary of the vessel, the teams also wish to celebrate all the technological partners who have participated in this feat of longevity by constantly pushing the limits of durability and reliability! It's been over three years since Energy Observer is far from her bases, another record for these innovative technologies, which prefigure the energy systems essential to the energy transition!

Key figures of Energy Observer 2017-2022

  • Launching: April 14, 2017, in Saint-Malo
  • Distance covered: + 50 000 nautical miles
  • Number of stopovers: 77
  • Number of countries: + 40
  • Number of village visitors: + 350 000

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