Monaco Solar Boat Challenge: A sustainable future for sailing?

Story highlights

  • Monaco club hosts solar challenge
  • Solar-powered boats can reach 50 km/h
  • Event takes place from July 14-16

(CNN)It's an event that organizers hope will make environmental waves.

From July 14 to 16, The Monaco Solar Boat Challenge, organized by the Monaco Yacht Club (YCM) and supported by the International Union of Powerboating, seeks to steer a path towards a more sustainable sailing future.
    The event pits some of the world's most innovative sailors against each other as they compete to register the highest speed in hand-built boats powered solely by solar panels.
    "Today it was really raining like hell, but we still pushed the boat to limit -- we managed a top speed of 52.4 km/h (32.5 mph)," Gerard van der Schaar, the 2015 winner, told CNN after a day of practice.
    The annual improvements are impressive, too. Van der Schaar's 2016 practice time already marks an increase of almost 10 km/h (6 mph) on the speed that saw him set the benchmark for the International YCM Speed Record for Solar Boats in 2015 -- clocking a speed of 23.9 knots (44.4 km/h) over a set course of one eighth of a nautical mile.
    But the Dutchman believes the boats have far from reached their limit and is confident the technology can continue to break records in the future.
    "In 2006, when we had the first Solar Boat Race, the top speeds were 15 km/h," van der Schaar recalls. "First we thought if we get it to 50 km/h then that's a good mark, today we passed that. I think in the future we will go to 55, 56 and maybe even 60 km/h."
    However, this advanced technology doesn't come cheap and if you would like to take part in next year's edition, then be prepared to part with up to €150,000 ($165,000).
    And while the competitive racing provides great entertainment for those watching, the main objective to is create sustainable sailing for the future and eliminate the carbon footprint left by luxurious mega-yachts -- marine diesel contributes around 20 pounds of CO2 per gallon, according to conservation group, Sailors for the Sea.
    The principality -- whose Port Hercules is routinely packed with super yachts -- has led the way in sailing innovation. The first powerboat meeting -- organized by Prince Albert I, an experienced sailor himself -- was held alongside royal yachts more than a century ago.
    Although the objectives of technological advancements may have shifted, "the desire to embrace innovation has not," the YCM said in a statement.
    It's a sentiment echoed by van der Schaar who believes the technology to make sailing greener is approaching faster than people might think.
    "It is actually quite close," he explains. "My company supplies e-batteries for super yachts and, especially in Monaco and Italy, we are pushing this technology further.
    "We have contacts with a lot of large boats who want to have a chip or full electric. Hybrid is really upcoming because if you have a super yacht, you also want to have a silent mode for eight hours, so you can go swimming without the diesel oil in the sea.
    "We see that people want large batteries to achieve this. It's still not 100% green but the transition to being more electric is coming."
    Focusing on this week's competitive action, van der Schaar is confident of ruling the waves in his green machine once again.
    "Yes, our boat is in good condition (to win)," he says. "But, I must say, we are now also in close combat with another team. Normally we have a bigger difference, but now it is very close.
    "So in Monaco it will be really exciting."
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