Scientific missions aboard Race for Water

With samples of microplastics continuing to be taken of the surface water for the “Plastisphère” project (NIOZ), there is also an ongoing mission relating to the waste floating in the sea as well as samples of microplastics being taken between Concepción and Easter Island (UCN and ESMOI)

Since leaving Concepción, Diego Alonso Valverde Labarca, a Chilean scientist from the Universidad Catolica del Norte (UCN) has joined our crew aboard Race for Water to complete 3 different scientific missions between the Chilean coast and Easter Island:

  1. Estimate the abundance and spatial distribution of floating waste at sea
  2. Estimate the abundance of microplastics in the surface water
  3. Make a stopover at the island of Salaz y Gomez to list the nesting birds and the impact of plastic waste on these birds

These 3 missions stem from a scientific collaboration with Dr Martin Thiel, biologist and doctor of oceanography at the Universidad Catolica del Norte in Chile (UCN) and his colleague, Dr Guillermo Luna-Jorquera, co-director of the ESMOI (Ecology and Sustainable Management of Oceanic Islands).

Kim Van Arkel, the Race for Water Foundation’s scientific advisor: “We met Martin Thiel during our first stopover in Valparaiso during the initial Odyssey in 2015. At that point, we visited the young researchers who were fine-tuning a citizen-based science programme: “Cientificos de la Basura” managed by Martin Thiel. These youngsters, together with students and teachers, have applied a scientific method since 2007 in order to study the problem of waste along the Chilean coast”.

For its part, the ESMOI  is an institute working in close collaboration with the UCN (Universidad Catolica del Norte in Chile) to put together a strategy for sustainable management and conservation of the biodiversity of Chilean oceanic islands. Guillermo Luna-Jorquera’s primary contribution to the project is a study into the ecology and nesting of seabirds in response to the specific conditions of Rapa Nui and Salaz y Gomez. He is collaborating with Martin Thiel in a bid to understand the impact of waste on these seabirds.

As a result, an entire complementary study has been entrusted to Diego for this long crossing with the Race for Water between Chile and Easter Island.

Kim van Arkel: “Due to the poor conditions encountered between Concepción and Robinson only a few samples were able to be taken. Fortunately, since leaving Robinson the seas have calmed down a bit and every day the crew assists with the launch of the net and monitors Diego’s observations about the content of the samples and the seabirds encountered with great curiosity.”


Focus on the protocol followed at sea

For the first mission, the estimate of the abundance and distribution of the floating waste at sea is pinpointed through the continuous observation and surveillance of the water surface from the deck of the vessel. Diego is using the so-called ‘transect’ method to determine the surface sampled and the density of the floating materials using the position and distance in relation to the vessel.

For the second mission, which involves estimating the abundance of microplastics in the surface water, Diego has brought along a special net called an ‘AVANI’ net. Thanks to its special shape, it can be used at a speed of over 4 knots, which means the vessel’s progress doesn’t have to be halted as this is its average speed.


The samples taken for the “Plastisphère” project are still underway

At the same time, our own sailors regularly take samples of microplastics from the water surface for the “Plastisphère” project with the help of the classic Manta net on-board. A few electric blue Copepoda and other plankton of strange colours make up their latest harvests (Read our last article about the Plastisphère project )

Kim van Arkel: “We’re keen to find out more about their discoveries and we hope the weather will be mild for their stopover on the island of Salaz y Gomez so that Diego can complete his 3rd and final mission before Race for Water arrives in the land of the Rapa Nuis.”

“Hello land, this is the sea!”

Margaux Chalas, in charge of material support and supplies aboard, has picked up her virtual pen to share with us a few episodes about life aboard and her present experience:

“Nearly eight days ago, last Friday, we bid farewell to Juan Fernandez and to land for the next 20 days at the very least. It was an emotional moment for us as this island struck even more of a chord than we care to admit, a little corner of paradise with its landscapes intact and its modern inhabitants with their open minds, who are both warm and touching. It has a very special fauna and flora, coloured by the balance between humans and animals rubbing shoulders on a daily basis. The wild horses come and graze the football stadium and roam around the barbecues. The village dogs act as guides during hikes, the endemic sea lions approach us without much trepidation, the fish swarm under the landing stage. Day after day, the whole village come along and pick up their lunch thanks to the one or two lines left out at the end of the dock; the mothers with their kids after school, the grandfathers and their grandchildren, friends, work colleagues and then the incorrigible fishermen in the early morning, who are on site from dawn. It’s a fairly routine activity for them! Some of those who are less sensitive to the cold go swimming and free-diving, always around this same ‘larder’. One might be forgiven for thinking there’s an endless supply! On several occasions we were under the impression that the fish were just waiting to be caught!

We received several lovely presents from the island’s inhabitants. The administration team had a glass plaque engraved for us. The restaurant owner association gave us a signed book on the island’s endemic plants by Phillipe Danton.

Today is Wednesday, our 5th day at sea. The sea is flat calm in stark contrast with the previous trip from Lima/Valparaiso! There’s a long swell with downwind conditions and for the past two days the aft solar panels have been raised and we’re using them as sails. As such, we’re consuming the minimum amount of energy (between 4 and 6 KW) with a cruising speed of nearly 4 knots!

The kite won’t be flying over the coming days unfortunately as the mast foot is showing some signs of weakness. As such we’re in the midst of repairs and as we’re having to work up top for that so we’ve set up a temporary tent to protect any lamination that is still fresh from a potential squall!

For the past two days, the sun has been rather slow to show itself. The new moon and its lovely crescent shape won’t be enough to light our way. The overcast conditions aren’t helping our energy charge, but we’re counting on the skies clearing soon. In fact, since early afternoon, there have been a few breaks in the cloud, resulting in some pretty dazzling peaks in our energy production!

The sunsets and sunrises have been alternating with those of the moon to our great delight.

We’ve had the chance to witness an incessant ballet of seabirds such as petrels, albatrosses and the Nazca booby with childlike wonder.
Anne Lechantoux, alias “Toux”, saw a massive albatross yesterday morning, which has a very different coat to the others so we christened it the “Albatoux”! Attached is a photo of the massive specimen and even Diego has rarely seen such a large one. Compared with the giant petrel, which has an average size of 1.5m, you soon realise just how big a creature it is!

The big birds watch the launch and recovery of the Manta net with a curious eye and that’s when they’re the closest to the boat. The smallest of them skim just over our heads and are increasingly assured and cheeky!

With every passing day, we’re gaining ground to the West and the temperature is rising to our delight! We’re crossing through the meridians on this flat calm ocean and gradually stripping off the jumpers and the socks in the process!



When we left Juan Fernandez, the average temperature was 12°C and as I write to you we have a balmy 22.5°C!!

Aboard the boat, we’re trying not to slip into routine; the days fairly quickly become much of a muchness in this type of crossing. Viewing documentaries about our next stopovers has led to a series of discussions, as has the weather and technology. We’re trying to maintain a little link with land thanks to various pieces of news from our nearest and dearest, which gives us a sense of what day it is! On top of that, to punctuate the weeks, we keep Sundays free, albeit with watches of course, but the meal is transformed into a brunch and we’re all free to do as we choose. In this way, the boat is filled with the aroma of pancakes or cakes, each of us taking the time to appreciate our free time.

See you soon,

Margaux, your devoted reporter without borders



Robinson Crusoe Island  : Post stopover testimony

Having left Talcahuano, Chile’s primary military, industrial and fishing port on 31 July, after a month-long stopover, Race for Water launched into her Trans-Pacific crossing. The first leg of this journey led her to tie up at a legendary island, that of Robinson Crusoe located 700 kilometres from the Chilean coast within the Juan Fernandez archipelago.
The ten-day stopover really struck a chord with the crew of the Race for Water Foundation’s ambassador vessel. Analysis.

“Isolated, the small community of some 800 inhabitants lives on the mountainside on an island that looks just like the backdrop for a film about dinosaurs”, explains Annabelle Boudinot, second in command of the vessel. “The countryside here is both beautiful and unique. There are special species of plants on the island, that are both large and luxurious. Moreover, the national park which encompasses native forest is recognised as a Unesco world heritage site. They have also developed some protected marine spaces, enjoyed by the sea lions, which have recolonised the beaches to the south of the island. Interestingly, this is a local species. Indeed, the sea lion with two coats, has gone from near extinction, with some 40 specimens in the sixties, to several thousand specimens today. This has shown the locals how important these measurements are and how effectively they protect the environment.”

On this the 9th stopover for the Race for Water Odyssey, 110 people were welcomed aboard, including 72 of the 147 students that make up the island’s college. This group of students was tasked with learning how to preserve the oceans and raise awareness among the other students. It’s a project to keep watch over the oceans. A video of their time aboard was made so as to share the tour with all the other inhabitants of the island.

Visit and clean-up of the southern beaches on Sunday 5 August

Annabelle: “Accompanied by Felipe Paredes, a correspondent for the National Geographic on the island, we visited the beaches to the south of the island, which are the most affected by the floating waste due to the marine currents. We visited the Arenal beach and the Baie del Padre beach. There we collected several kilos of waste, the bulk of which was fishing net remains.
We also noticed that the sea lions like to play with this waste, which can injure them unfortunately. They can get pieces of net trapped around their neck and then as they grow, these sea lions die from strangulation.
Thanks to Felipe, we were able to rescue one of them, as he managed to isolate the sea lion, hold onto it and remove the rope which was strangling it.”


Waste management:

The principle of waste management on the island up to now has involved landfill sites, albeit with an attempt to sort the aluminium, plastic and glass. During recent years, several initiatives have been put in place: distribution of compost bins around the island’s homes and the installation of ‘clean points’ offering waste sorting bins. Unfortunately, for several months, the sorted waste (aluminium, plastic, glass and cardboard) is no longer gathered on the mainland. They are still collected on the island in the hope that things start moving again. In addition, there is still a lot of work to be done to raise awareness about waste disposal since, to date, 90% of households do not sort the rubbish in their bins.

Annabelle: “Today, deforestation of the ground with the aim of creating more landfill sites has been too significant, leading to landslides, which is uncovering the waste already buried. The town is attempting to replant so as to shore up the ground again, but that takes time… At the waste collection centre, we noticed that the waste is burning continually in open sites. The presence of organic and recyclable waste proves that sorting and composting is certainly not a habit among the locals. Equally, the skips containing the glass are amassing without any solutions going forward”.

The island generates 325 tonnes of waste a year: 20% is recyclable and 15% is plastics. With the arrival of Race for Water, it was easy to gather various protagonists around the table and discuss numbers and stats, which have enabled Marco Simeoni, President of the Race for Water Foundation, as well as Olivier Lepez from the partner company ETIA, to carry out an early study to see whether the instalment of a high-temperature pyrolysis machine designed to transform plastic waste into electricity, would be timely. The findings suggest that over a 15-year period, the machine would enable the current cost of electricity to be maintained, whilst processing all the island’s solid plastic waste. The machine’s operating capacity would generate 5% of the island’s electric needs. To be followed…

Various institutions on the island also benefited from Race for Water’s presence to create change and share their tourist-related problems. Though the island welcomes 1,200 tourists on the island every year, the locals would like to increase the volume a little and above all develop selective sorting and sustainable tourism. A few ideas have been discussed with this in mind, such as the implementation of a waste tax, enabling the waste generated by tourism to be recovered, or instructions attached to take the waste to the local traders, and finally the installation of a water fountain associated with the sale of reusable water containers.

We have to admit that, when it came time to leave this remote island, the desire to change and to learn was omnipresent. Our visit brought a lot of hope and now it’s down to us all to help turn these ideas into reality and shift the boundaries.

Race for Water has cast off and is continuing her journey across the Pacific.

Making for Easter Island, the crew led by Pascal Morizot comprises Annabelle Boudinot, second in command, Anne Le Chantoux, sailor, Margaux Chalas, in charge of logistics and Martin Gavériaux, on-board engineer.

Pascal Morizot: “The course we’re planning on taking is not the shortest (great circle route), rather it is a route slight further North to take us above the low pressure systems so we encounter conditions that are best suited to Race for Water. The hours of sunshine will improve throughout our delivery trip, but we’ll be keeping an eye on our consumption and trying to be as efficient and quick as possible with a view to making our ETA of 31/08 at Easter Island.
We have to make a short pit-stop at the islet of Salas y Gomes, which is located 200 nautical miles from our ultimate destination. This is for Diego Valverde Labarca, the scientist who is accompanying us on our journey and has to make a census there of the number of frigate birds.”


“”The privilege of getting to sail on this solar-powered boat again”

Raphaël Domjan, a Swiss eco-adventurer, has been passionate about adventure and exploration since his childhood. Today, Raphaël is an eco-adventurer and speaker and through his SolarPlanet foundation, he’s committed to the protection of our planet, our biodiversity, our atmosphere and our environment in Switzerland and around the world.

In 2004, Raphaël came up with the idea to complete the first circumnavigation of the globe in a solar-powered boat. In February 2008, the funding for the boat was in place thanks to the support of one man, Immo Stroeher, a solar energy enthusiast. Between September 2010 and May 2012, PlanetSolar, now rechristened Race for Water, and her 5 crew, completed the first circumnavigation of the globe in history using solar energy. He travelled 60,000km across all the oceans, powered solely by the energy from our star, the sun.

Raphaël Domjan, who was aboard Race for Water during the trip from Concepción to Robinson Crusoe Island, shares his thoughts with us:

“Race for Water has been at anchor in the bay of Robinson Crusoe Island in the Juan Fernández archipelago for some 3 days now. Protected by the winds and swell of the South Pacific, which really shook the solar-powered boat about during the passage from Concepción, I have discovered an incredibly inspirational island. In fact, I’d never dared hope that one day I might be lucky enough to make landfall here! As such, reaching this legendary island, secretly lost in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with the boat, the ex-PlanetSolar, which between 2010 and 2012 enabled me to complete the first round the world using solar energy, is a privilege I still dare not believe! Thank you to Marco Simeoni and the crew of Race for Water for allowing me to experience these unique moments alongside them and be part of their fabulous adventure. Their values and their commitment to the preservation of the oceans are precious and command admiration. Knowing that this boat, which I’m so fond of, is now being used to serve their cause makes me very happy given how much my commitment to the daily promotion of renewable energies is in keeping with their struggle against plastic waste, both of them with a view to preserving our environment.

Aboard the boat, I find the same atmosphere that I experienced during my 2-year circumnavigation of the globe, as well as the fabulous welcome from the people encountered when the boat makes a stopover. With her strange form, this solar-powered boat is reminiscent of a spaceship and never ceases to amaze wherever she drops anchor. And Robinson Crusoe Island is a very beautiful planet on which to make landfall!!

This islet surrounded by cliffs has great appeal to summit lovers like me. Each of these peaks, stretching heavenwards and often concealed in the clouds of the austral winter, are an invitation to climb. Below, part of the island has eroded away due to the goats imported centuries earlier, which have decimated part of the vegetation… But around the bay of San Juan Bautista, the only village on the island, the vegetation is lush. The island’s endemic species appear to come straight from another geological era, from ancestral times… And it wouldn’t really come as a great surprise to see a dinosaur rock up amongst the gigantic leaves of the amazing plants that populate the island!

The island is not very touristy and it is as if it has been spared the march of time. Unfortunately, electricity here is produced exclusively by a generator… In this way, the inhabitants are entirely dependent on fuel for their energy, which has to be imported from the mainland. And yet, the wind and the sun would be free energy, available in abundance, and it would enable them to be self-sufficient in terms of energy. Often, the problem lies in the initial investment required to fund the cost of solar installations, which would be the key to their self-sufficiency and sustainability in terms of energy. I dream that these types of islands become small-scale examples of what we must put into practice on a global scale to achieve a sustainable way of life…

In a few days’ time, I’ll leave Robinson Crusoe Island and Race for Water on a small plane. I’ll leave this boat and her crew to carry on with their mission. However, I’ll always remember the aroma of the salt sea spray of the South Pacific that I tasted aboard this silent boat that brings hope and solutions wherever she sails.”

Live on Radio Colibri!

Annabelle Boudinot, second in command, and Marco Simeoni, President of the Foundation, were invited by journalists from the local radio station on Robinson Crusoe Island to give an account of the state of the plastics in the Oceans and present the Race for Water Foundation’s missions. Annabelle shares her experience

We meet in the central square and a pick-up draws up and hails us. We begin the climb: “Since the tsunami the population has lived up in the hills and only shops and businesses set themselves up at sea level,” the driver explains.

Indeed, in 2010, a devastating 12-metre wave surprised the inhabitants whilst they slept… Since then, the local authorities have taken steps and the population lives up in the hills; only the shops and businesses remaining low down. A rocky mud track leads us towards the radio station and the engine roars during some of the hill starts. Shaken about, we quickly switch to 4×4 mode.

We pull up in front of a small house overlooking a big antenna. The view across the bay is fabulous, the ocean oscillating between deep blue and a greeny-blue, the earth drawing on the ochre, tinged green by the conifers. The reddy-orange flowers add a few bold splashes of colour. The island’s vegetation reminds me of Madeira, hardy and Mediterranean-like.

The house is only lived in over the summer months with a very simple kitchen and a small lounge with a breathtaking view. There are decorations made from bubbles of blown glass. The local journalist explains: “They wash up on our beaches, but we don’t know where they come from!” To my mind, they are from fishing net floats; who knows, as we make our way back up the Pacific, perhaps we’ll discover their origin!

We enter ‘the studio’; one table, two chairs, a computer broadcasting music over the airwaves, and a rudimentary mixing desk.


“This station was fitted out by an amateur radio operator who made landfall on the island. He left us the equipment so we could create this radio station, which is obviously the only one on the island! We broadcast music on Fridays and we have an hour-long programme where the topic is open. This week the topic will be Race for Water. Twice a week, the island’s news is read out! If people want to make something known, they’re free to do so.”

We’re joined by two women, who are also in charge of the interview and the broadcast and naturally everyone is an amateur. There is a great deal of enthusiasm and pleasure! With an hour-long live broadcast, our arrival is appreciated!

On the way back, we stop off at the waste collection centre… And there we get a glimpse of another reality… Stay tuned for the next episode!





Legendary island ahoy

Annabelle Boudinot, second in command:

“After 3 and a half days at sea, we’re now within sight of Robinson Crusoe Island Juan Fernández.

It’s 03:00 hours in the morning, Chile time, I’m going on my watch and Martin is giving his up. We can make out the island, a dark mass for now. We cannot see a lighthouse; there is one, but the range is very small. What’s the point of shining a light if no boats are passing?

Clinging to this rock, how many boats do the 500 souls see pass by here each year? There must be supply ships, but visitors like us…?

In any case, there’s no doubt that we’re the first solar-powered boat to grace these shores!

Alone on the bridge, in the thick of the night, even though my eyelids are heavy, I realise how lucky I am to be here, to go and meet these people who live on this remote island that culminates at a height of 1,900m.

Virgin land for many years, it was discovered by Juan Fernández, a Spanish sailor of a galleon for the Spanish crown, which was getting rich on the gold of South America at the time. The Spanish stopped off here to stock up on fresh water and get excessive supplies of wood. With the land no longer being firmed up by vegetation, mudslides ensued. The Spanish also moved their goats in, which ended up grazing on any remaining vegetation. Later on, the freebooters at the service of the English crown rediscovered it, seeing it as a stopover and a strategic hiding place.

Alexander Selkirk, a Scot, was marooned on the island one day, his fellow crew opting to abandon him there when he expressed concern about the teredo (woodworm) on the ship. He was later proven to be right to worry as the English boat sank some time later for this very reason.

Alexander thought that an English boat would pass by there in the coming months. In reality though, he had to wait there 4 years and 4 months, responsible for his own survival and reading the bible so as not to lose his ability to speak the language. Back in London, he went on to meet Daniel Defoe and was said to be the inspiration for the story about Robinson Crusoe.

The lights of the village are becoming more distinct in front of me. It’s time to wake Anne and I’ll go back to bed and recover my strength for the remarkable day ahead that awaits us in a few hours’ time…”

Approaching Robinson Crusoe Island

Race for Water is approaching the Juan Fernández archipelago and Robinson Crusoe Island, which it is set to reach over the course of today.

Anne le Chantoux, sailor aboard the boat: “Over the past two days, we’ve had an average breeze of 25 to 30 knots, with fairly rough seas.

Conditions were too dangerous to launch the Manta net but Diego, the Chilean scientist who is accompanying us as far as Easter Island, has still managed to carry out his observation of the birdlife. He spends about 8hrs on the bridge closely monitoring the ocean in search of marine birds.

The sea is gradually becoming calmer. Our average speed during this delivery will have still equated to 5 knots though, which is very pleasant compared with the 2 knots between Lima and Valparaiso. 🙂

At sunset today, we were accompanied by whales. They were right alongside us for fifteen minutes or so, swimming close to Race for Water… a beautiful sight!”