Environmental awareness has become fashionable overnight.  Paper is being replaced by algae, shirts are made from hemp and single use plastic is an absolute no-go.  It is easy to make simple day-to-day changes to limit your carbon footprint, but what about when it comes to purchasing the yacht of a lifetime?

Over the last five years, there has been a step-change in the stereotypical sailing yacht buyer. At Spirit Yachts, we have seen more and more eco-conscious clients coming to us knowing from the outset that they want a yacht constructed in an environmentally friendly way.

On the one hand, we are working increasingly with motor yacht owners looking to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions, and on the other hand we are being approached by sailing yacht owners wanting fully sustainable yachts.

Eco-minded owners come to us having done their research. They expect the systems and appliances that run in their eco-friendly homes and cars to translate onto their yacht. Living green has now become a way of life for these UHNWIs.

Spirit Yachts has a long history of environmental awareness. Since the company was founded, the methods and materials we have used are considered low impact. This is the fundamental reason why we build from wood not GRP. 

Spirit Yachts has a long history of environmental awareness. Since the company was founded, the methods and materials we have used are considered low impact. This is the fundamental reason why we build from wood not GRP.

As a company, we have committed to improving our carbon footprint by continually reviewing all our materials, processes and systems. Examples include investment into lighting, tools, insulation and recycling.  We have installed low pressure sprayers that apply more product to the yacht instead of it dispersing into the air. Over 50% of our staff cycle to work and we donate scrap wood to Suffolk Wildlife Trust for hedgehog habitats. When you start obsessing over the details, you can find ways to reduce environmental impact everywhere you look.  There is always more that can be done, but we are on the right track.

Embarking on an eco-yacht

Before starting a design, we work closely with an owner to develop criteria for their yacht. Who will be sailing her, where and in what conditions?  When it comes to eco credentials, we examine each element of a yacht to see how we can improve its environmental impact. This is broken down into three stages: construction, operation and end of life.

As discussions progress, owners start to get excited about the prospect of silent nights with the air con on and the generator off (if there is one) or a day’s sailing without having to run the engine to charge the batteries. If there is a need to run a diesel engine, it is vital to make sure it is correctly loaded to produce maximum output for the amount of fuel consumed with the lowest emissions.

We work closely with all our suppliers, as well as collaborating with the automotive industry, to create bespoke solutions. After months of research, we are now starting to use an alternative to teak, a material produced in Wales called Lignia. In our view, this could be a huge change for the industry.

The Spirit 111 is our flagship ‘eco yacht’ and will be the first Spirit to launch with a Torqeedo electric propulsion system. A 100kW motor will propel the yacht silently for up to 40nm at eight knots from battery power alone. While sailing, the propulsion system will regenerate the four BMW i3 lithium battery banks by rotating the propeller shaft whilst the yacht is under sail. The owner will be able to cross the Atlantic living in total comfort without starting the generator.

The Spirit 111 will also have OneSails 4T Forte sails, the only recyclable sails on the market, and Lewmar winches that can run on an Eco mode using the Vortex reservoir to reduce the amount of oil in the system by 90%. This reduces the weight and saves the amount of oil required for servicing.

The Spirit 111 will also have OneSails 4T Forte sails, the only recyclable sails on the market, and Lewmar winches that can run on an Eco mode using the Vortex reservoir to reduce the amount of oil in the system by 90%. This reduces the weight and saves the amount of oil required for servicing.

The electric propulsion is exciting but it’s not the real focus. The goal is to ensure everything works in harmony; from the sustainable timber we build with to the water heating system, air conditioning, fridge/freezer insulation, sails, winches, lighting and hydraulics. It’s about delving into the detail, from the construction materials and processes to the systems onboard.

End of life

The final surprise is the end of life issue. Rarely do we find an owner who has considered the environmental impact of their yacht at the end of its life.  Why would you, when you’re eager to start the build and go sailing?

The final surprise is the end of life issue. Rarely do we find an owner who has considered the environmental impact of their yacht at the end of its life. Why would you, when you’re eager to start the build and go sailing?

It is claimed that Europe has one of the largest concentrations of recreational craft in the world, with over 6 million in the European Union alone. It is estimated that as many as 95% of these are made from fibreglass (Source: RYA). Fibreglass is a very complex material and is almost impossible to recycle; it is toxic to burn. A fibreglass yacht is going to struggle to claim that it features eco credentials as it is fundamentally missing the point of the lifetime impact it produces.

Wooden yachts not only stand the test of time, they pose no threat to the environment at the end of their lives.  Spirit Yachts was founded 25 years ago and the very first Spirit ever built is now up for sale.  She has been well maintained and looks like she is less than five years old.  As an aside, over 87% of Spirit’s yachts are still with their original owners, so it is rare that these yachts are put on the brokerage market.  They are yachts for life rather than a phase or another commodity.

Until a sustainable, cost effective way of recycling fibreglass is established, end of life is one of the biggest threats to the survival of the yachting industry.  It is single-use plastic on an enormous scale.  With wooden hulls, it is possible to strip the yachts of all fittings (to be recycled) and the remaining timber can be cut up and used for a multitude of purposes from furniture to fuel.

What does the future hold? 

Yachts designers, builders and marine suppliers will continue to innovate to produce more eco-friendly, sustainable materials, systems and processes for construction yachts. In return, yacht owners and buyers should challenge marine companies to deliver more eco-friendly solutions on every level. The automotive industry is leaping ahead with new technology to offer a plethora of electric cars and hydrogen electric buses. The technological advances they are finding are perfect for the marine world; the yachting industry needs to take notice and grasp the opportunity.

The automotive industry is leaping ahead with new technology to offer a plethora of electric cars and hydrogen electric buses. The technological advances they are finding are perfect for the marine world; the yachting industry needs to take notice and grasp the opportunity.

At Spirit, we will launch the Spirit 111 this summer and learnings from this project are already being applied to two other yachts currently in build. A hybrid Spirit DH65 and a Spirit 44E (electric) will launch in 2020.

The Spirit 44E will be a fully electric yacht, with solar panels integrated into her deck and sails, and she will have no hydrocarbons onboard. Regeneration will depend on sailing speed, but it is realistic to see 1.5kW whilst under sail. The regeneration is the equivalent energy required to boiling a kettle; one of the highest power-consuming appliances you would find on a yacht, or in your home for that matter.

As far as Spirit is concerned, wooden yachts using electric propulsion and smart power generation are the sailing yachts of the future.


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