“The Race for Water vessel is how I want to see the future of marine technology, the future of marine research, and the future of humanity. “

 

Hans Peter Arp, scientist for one of the JPI Oceans study programm, entrusts to you his feeling about the Race for Water solar vessel.

“Imagine that you are standing on a large deck, completely covered with solar panels, and beyond that is only the sea and the sky. There was a moment in the deep blue waters off the coast of Cuba like this, when I contemplated this sight, feeling the gentle rise and fall of the oceans, at this interface where this technological achievement of man was easing over the surface of the ocean, leaving no damaging ecological trace. It left me with a sense of immense freedom. It was hard not to feel optimistic for the future of humanity. With boats like this in future, we can advance, explore, and experience the world, without causing harm.

 

That was just the top deck. The Race for Water crew have put an amazing amount of work and energy to making this vessel a scientific platform. Down below, the space is vast and bright, in fact much of it is yacht-level luxury. At the very roomy rear-deck is where we launched and deployed our sampling equipment. Though we did not yet need large equipment, there would be room enough to bring it in future. In addition, there was a spacious cabin that served as ‘wet laboratory’, having access to running water (fresh, using the solar powered desalination system on board), sinks, refrigeration, electricity (solar powered, of course!) and large tables to place all our laboratory equipment. It is a well-thought-out and pleasant research platform.

 

A huge highlight was the crew itself. The captain and crew went out of their way to help us get our samples, from driving that extra mile, to coming up with solutions to sudden problems that emerged, to giving us several excellent hands on deck. They often gave the impression that they were there exclusively to assist the scientists. There was an excellent level of attention paid to safety at all times, particularly during sampling.  Outside of the scientific work, the crew was full of humour and kindness. The food was great too! Being a predominantly French crew, the food they prepared was always a mix of locally bought ingredients and French haut cuisine. We had many pleasant evenings with the crew both on the boat and off.  Because the crew was so dedicated to the cause of understanding and minimizing the harm of plastics, it gave us a shared purpose and common ground. It is rare during scientific expeditions at sea to have a crew that is so in touch with our research needs, so enthusiastic, and so accommodating.

The platform was also an excellent opportunity to gain attention for our research, both locally where we were doing the research, and abroad. The Race for Water media team documented with high quality images, videos and interviews our sampling mission, and with the help of local contacts, ensured that our research was shared with the local community. Further, the attractiveness of being on the boat made several other researchers interested in the JPI Oceans WEATHER-MIC project. I have to admit that many of my colleagues are quite envious with my collaboration with Race for Water. In this way, Race for Water helped us raise awareness among the widest possible audience, from the public, to stake holders, to research funders.

The Race for Water vessel is how I want to see the future of marine technology, the future of marine research, and the future of humanity. It is initiatives like Race for Water, and their flagship vessel, that we need to address the ultimate and common aim of preserving our oceans, fragile as they are.” Hans Peter Arp

 

 

The Race for Water Optimizing mode: learn all about the hydrogen

 

For the past two weeks, the Race for Water has benefited from its share of cabling, various checks and work on its hydrogen generator. From a revamp of the storage systems to the painting of the hulls, everything has been carefully considered with a view to increasing the boat’s self-sufficiency in terms of energy independence! Inevitably, this is crucial to the success and safety of the future Pacific crossing from February 2018…

Ingeneers and technicians are working on hydrogen system

Following an Atlantic crossing, navigation between the hurricanes and 6 stopovers, it was high time to focus on improving and reviewing Race for Water! On-board with the Race for Water technicians right now: the teams from Swiss Hydrogen and Barrilec, a company working on electrotechnology on warships in Lorient. “On-board, they’re busying themselves with the electronics connections and the handling of the hydrogen system. These two companies comprise highly efficient people with a huge amount of advanced skills”, comments Jean-Marc Normant, chief operations officer. Thus far, the hydrogen system has always been in its test phase, without being connected to the vessel due to a lack of certification. “In this way, the connecting up of the systems will enable us to test them in situ so as to testify to their performance”, explains Jean-Marc Normant. The next stage? Simulations of the electrolysers are planned for the end of this week.

 

H Y D R O G E N

A sort of travelling crane has been installed over the vessel to work on the hydrogen cell

Thanks to the hydrogen generator, the sailing teams will use the surplus from the solar electric production to purify sea water (H2O) before electrolysing it in order to separate the oxygen from the hydrogen. The latter will then be stored under pressure in bottles in order to be converted into electricity, on request, using a fuel cell. This electricity will then supply the same motors as the solar panels. “This work involves an impressive amount of high technology! A sort of travelling crane has been installed over the vessel and enables the teams to easily open and access the hydrogen battery,” says the chief operations officer. In December, the boat will be moved to a floating dock in order to be lifted out onto the hard so the antifouling on her hulls can be repainted.

All teams together for a better self-sufficiency

When sailing in tropical waters, barnacles and algae very quickly attach themselves to the hull. The resulting drag can be considerable for a vessel, increasing its energy consumption by 20% to reach the same speed. “Upkeep of the hulls is a not insignificant stage in increasing self-sufficiency in terms of energy!” says Jean-Marc Normant. It’s a programme that is progressing without incident, as evidenced by this comment from the chief operations officer by way of a conclusion: “So far, so good!”

Studying the ocean plastic pollution: all about the life of the Race for Water scientists!

Over the past two weeks, six European scientists from the Ephemare project have been aboard the Race for Water vessel to study the plastic pollution of the oceans. What are the protocols, the aims and the techniques used?  Explanations from Bénédicte Morin, teacher and research at the University of Bordeaux.

 

Six European scientists from the Ephemare study project sampling beaches to learn about plastic pollution.

Race for Water (R4W): What have you come to study in the waters around Guadeloupe and how is this approach breaking new ground?

Bénédicte Morin (BM): We’ve come to study the quantity, the type and the toxicity of the microplastics present in various environments within the ecosystem. We’ve tested four of these environments: sand, sediment, water and biota (the latter corresponds with individuals living in the marine environment). During the 2015 odyssey, we studied pollution via microplastics from the beach environment the world over. This time, we’re interested in having a global vision of the plastic contamination through the study of various areas spanning the same sampling site.

 

On board, the first analyses !

R4W: How do you obtain samples of microplastics in these different areas?

BM: On the beaches, we use a quadrant technique, which means delimiting a zone on the beach so as to quantify and then qualify the microplastics present on site. With regards to the surface of the water, we tow ‘nets’ behind the vessel. We collect microplastics or plankton, very small organisms at the root of the food chain, according to the size of the mesh for each net. In order to test the sediment (gravel, sand or mud found at the bottom of the water), we dive down and pick up a sample of the soil with the help of a Van Veen grab. To round off our work, we bought some fish from the local fishermen and then dissected them so we could analyse the presence of microplastics in the digestive tract. We were able to take samples from organisms such as sea urchins and oysters near the beaches sampled.

 

Studiing sand and sediment to understand all cycle of plastic pollution.

R4W: What results have you amassed from this sampling?

BM: For now, we’ve only completed the ‘harvesting’ stage. All our samples will be sent off to our universities in Italy and France. The characterisation of microplastics is a procedure that is carried out in a laboratory environment and requires a certain amount of time.

However, we’ve chosen to study two sites in Guadeloupe: one on the eastern seaboard of the island of Basse Terre and the other on south-eastern seaboard of the island of Marie-Galante, so those that have debris from the Atlantic washing up on their beaches. We’ve observed a greater abundance of macro and microplastic on the eastern seaboard of the island of Marie-Galante probably linked to the waste carried along by the currents that make up the North Atlantic gyre, which notably include a vast amount of fibre from fishing activities. The Basse Terre site, despite being located on the Atlantic coast, is probably protected from the waste by the neighbouring island of Grande Terre.

 

Propulsed by renewables energies, the Race for Water vessel is used by scientists to study plastic pollution in Guadeloupe.

R4W: In conclusion, what do you think of this oceanic campaign with the Race for Water Foundation?

BM: Quite frankly, I’m delighted and I’m sure my colleagues are too. The vessel is incredibly spacious and we can carry out some high-quality work on her, added to which the teams aboard the boat have given us a very warm welcome. It’s just extraordinary to be able to carry out oceanic studies without any environmental impact and noise-free thanks to this vessel being propelled by clean energies.

Fly-tipping and mangrove

 

“There was the Guadeloupe before, and after this experiment in the mangrove”, says Serge Pittet, CEO of the Foundation. Whilst it had been over a week since the teams from Race for Water had been criss-crossing the island in order to try to understand the problem of plastic pollution, the conclusions were supposedly rather positive: no massive piles of rubbish on the beaches, a few abandoned bin bags but not really any sign of fly-tipping. Everyone seemed to be breathing a sigh of relief. “You haven’t been to the right places,” retorts Julien, a fishing guide on the island. For several years, the young man has been bringing his fishing-fanatic clients into the mangrove with a ‘no-kill’ policy, a technique aimed at immediately releasing the fish after catching it. “If you like, I can call round to collect you at dawn on Monday morning to show you the reality”.

At 6:30am on the dot, Serge and Peter, the Foundation’s media man, climb aboard Julien’s little flat-bottomed boat. Initially running parallel to the refinery in Point-à-Pitre, it’s amidst a setting of vast tanks marked ‘heavy fuel’ and ‘residue’ that the explorers slowly make headway. In the distance, they can make out a beach, covered in macro-waste. “The ambient air smelt of hydrogen sulfide (H2S), but it would have been necessary to analyse the water and the sand”, explains Serge. According to Julien, this odour was due to the decaying green algae, a remnant from the recent passage of Hurricane Maria.

Heading deeper into the mangrove, Julien then takes them along a branch of the Rivière Salée (Salt River), which the fishermen have nicknamed “rivière caca” (poo river). “We were making our way along the dump at La Gabarre, which we guessed had a massive mound of ochre red earth behind it,” says Serge. “From a distance, the water just looked a little brownish. As we got closer, we discovered a large quantity of plastic waste of all kinds, abandoned cars, TV screens stuck in the sludge and even a dead animal”. For the first time since they’d arrived in Guadeloupe, the Race for Water teams discovered a fly-tipping site. According to certain sources, the latter has been around for many years and, though selective sorting of waste is now compulsory on the island, through ease perhaps some people are still disposing of their waste in the river. “Clearly, it’s important to continue raising awareness among the local inhabitants, explaining to them about the toxicity of plastic waste and helping them to take action. These findings repeated throughout this tour of the islands give meaning to the actions carried out by the Foundation,” says Peter.

 

Visit from a very special class

 

When Annabelle began her speech during one of the many visits from schools aboard the boat, little did she know that she would come face to face with such special students. “This particular class has been entrusted with the task of managing a protected marine area by the Ministry of National Education and the Environment”, explains Yanni Bardail proudly, director of the school. At just 10 years of age, these children have been carrying out activities in the area to help preserve it and raise awareness among the population in a bid to protect Loquet cove in St-François, to the south of the island. From the classrooms they head out to clean the beach, work with scientists, measure and collect rubbish and inform the local population about the need to preserve the fauna and flora along Guadeloupe’s coastline.

 

PLASTIC, THE NO.1 ENEMY

“On our beach, there are two types of plastics: those that people throw away and those which come from the sea”, explains one child. Aware of the importance of education, the students are raising awareness among the local inhabitants through information campaigns and display boards to explain the life cycles of the endemic species and take political action: “Last year, the town hall wanted to set up a tourist attraction on the beach. The students then wrote letters in order to explain the vital importance of this site for turtles, it being one of the rare egg laying sites,” said the Director. It proved to be a very successful action for these young children, which resulted in the attraction being moved to a less sensitive site. “We are training up the youngsters, who are environmentally-responsible, future scientists as well as tomorrow’s politicians,” says Yanni Bardail. “Being able to come along and meet Race for Water shows the children that they’re not alone and that other people are carrying out action too on a grand scale. They understand how important their action is, even though they’re still only children.” Inevitably this is a class that the Race for Water Foundation hopes to continue to follow. See you in January!

 

Mon École ma Baleine and the Guadeloupe’s Network of Marine Turtles alongside Race for Water to raise children’s awareness about plastic pollution of the oceans

Guadeloupe after Hurricane Maria

Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, Wednesday, September 20: Twenty-four hours after Hurricane Maria hit Guadeloupe

“I know what it’s like to ride out a hurricane, and I’ve done it every year since I was born. But this time, it’s different. The hurricanes are stronger and more frequent. We’re emotionally drained and we know that hurricane season isn’t over yet. Since September 10, two Category Five hurricanes’ Irma and Maria have hit the Antilles, causing massive destruction on Saint Martin and Dominica. As we stand at the reception desk of the waterfront hotel in Pointe-à-Pitre, the manager describes the situation to us, including the fact that there’s no running water or Wifi. Along with Race for Water’s land-based team, we’ll spend our first night in Guadeloupe in this hotel ; Race for Water is still out at sea, to avoid the worst of the hurricane. We’re all exhausted and we head to bed.

Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, Thursday, September 21: The calm between storms

We get up at dawn and head toward the city to assess the damage. Although it looks like most buildings were spared, Maria’s wrath is clearly visible: the streets and sidewalks are blocked by downed trees and branches, and boats are washed up on the shore. The sky is the color of lead and the humidity is crushing. But all the same, we feel lucky when we think of the storm’s magnitude.

Before noon, Race for Water appears over the southern horizon. Franck, Luce, and Annabelle have been waiting for her, and they talk to the marina staff about finding a different mooring, since the violent winds caused some damage in the port. Aurélie is here with us to welcome Race for Water into port, and she’s thrilled to be able to get out of the house. “The government had asked us to stay indoors with enough food and water to last until the curfew was lifted.” She tells us about a hair-raising night, with wind gusts up to 200 kilometers an hour. But her house had no serious damage. “We were really lucky. But the western part of the island that we call Basse-Terre was hit much harder. The road to it is cut off,” she tells us.

By early afternoon, Race for Water is moored and we rush to greet the crew. They were able to chart a course around the massive storm, and conditions were relatively good. They’ve barely disembarked from the ship when they’re all asking, “How are conditions on the island? Was there a lot of damage?” To answer that question, we have to go to the hardest-hit area.

 

Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe, Saturday, September 22: Life gets back to normal

In order to understand the damage caused by the hurricane, and to study the plastics pollution that the storm caused, we leave at dawn for Basse-Terre, on the western side of the island. “It should be interesting to look at the mouths of the rivers and the beaches nearby, because trash always piles up there when it rains a lot,” says Peter Charaf, media coordinator for the Race for Water Foundation. We take a road through a dense forest, and the trees around us are completely shredded. It’s as if the wind came through like a buzz-saw, crushing entire swaths of vegetation as it passed. Along the coast, the roads and waterfront neighborhoods are littered with boulders, rocks, and sand. A resident in Trois-Rivières tells us, “Our houses are really well-built, and only ten roofs blew off.” The beaches are covered with driftwood and we see a few pieces of discarded plastic. There’s some pollution, but not much. A young man sits in front of his wooden hut holding a broom. He tells us, “In Bouillante, NGOs and local residents came to clean up the trash. We all want to preserve the oceans and we know that plastics waste is a problem.” This is good news for the Race for Water Foundation, and it shows the impact of regular beach cleanups. It’s only been a few days since a Category Five hurricane came through and the countryside is a mess. But life in Guadeloupe is beginning to get back to normal. It’s fortunate that the people of Guadeloupe are environmentally aware, but some neighboring islands aren’t so lucky.

 

In Guadeloupe !

Today the Race for Water vessel arrived in Pointe-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe) where the Odyssey aims to bring support and solutions to the local population. Dock next to the Memorial ACT, the navigation was intense further to the passage of the cyclone Maria.

Return in images on this last navigation between the Dominican Republic and Guadeloupe.
https://youtu.be/jvoNcQzJNnc
When you’re told there’s an emergency…

 

Second in command in rotation with Anne-Laure, I’m in Paris at the moment. I should be above the Atlantic, heading for Guadeloupe. The flight is postponed of course to give Maria a chance to roll through leaving a trail of destructive madness in her wake. It leaves me the time to think about our planet and our mission.

Three destructive hurricanes: Harvey, Irma and now Maria, and the season’s not over yet… This year has been particularly rife with hurricane activity on the Atlantic seaboard and a storm is also taking shape on the Pacific coast towards Mexico. The hurricanes in question have again managed to set the records tumbling in terms of wind strength, stirred-up seas and rain with the obvious consequences and the damage inflicted.

And this sad crop of records is the same right around the planet, with dangerous weather phenomena increasing in frequency and in strength globally and in worrying fashion. How is it possible that some still doubt that climate change exists?

Our planet is so beautiful, it seems so obvious to me that we need to protect it, that we need to take action… Obviously, you have to question what one little person, a little human being, can do against 3 hurricanes, against the climatic imbalance.

It’s easy to let yourself get overwhelmed, let it get on top of you. That’s not how I see it though. I want to fight, I want to participate, I want to do my bit. I don’t know what state Guadeloupe will be in on our arrival, but I’m sure we’ll be able to take action. Assisting the locals all we can if need be and presenting our mission of course.

We’re spreading our message of hope, sharing the energy transition solutions, which we’re trialling day after day on the boat. Indeed, these renewable energies are enabling us to make headway calmly but surely, which enables us to move the Race For Water platform around for hosting guests and exchanging with them.

We’re showing that it’s possible, that we have to believe in it, that solutions exist, and of course, as if we needed a reminder, that there’s an emergency… I hope that Guadeloupe will be in a state to listen to our message, and if this isn’t case, I hope that those who are not affected by these climatic disasters will.

Annabelle

 

New hurricane alert from MARIA resulting in a delayed arrival in Guadeloupe!

The summer season in the Antilles arc is often punctuated by a string of tropical storms. Though this is a familiar phenomenon, it is no less impressive and this year appears to be particularly intense and unusual. Indeed, the specialists agree that the frequency of these meteorological events and their violence are nothing short of exceptional.

Officially starting on 1 June, the 2017 hurricane season in the North Atlantic Ocean is set to extend through until 30 November 2017 according to the World Meteorological Organisation.

In the meantime, the various weather forecasting centres are continuing to send out alerts about the formation of these low pressure centres and their evolution.

In this way, on Sunday 17 September, the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) confirmed that storm MARIA has moved up to the status of a hurricane.

This latest hurricane is due to pass the Antilles arc and more especially Guadeloupe this Monday evening. The red alert has been triggered in Guadeloupe. As a result, on Friday Pascal Morizot and the crew of Race for Water took the wise decision to adopt a course a long way to the south of the zone in question. This longer and safer detour will enable them to circumnavigate this tropical low, which will generate heavy seas and winds bordering on 150-180 km/hr as it rolls through.

Aboard the boat, all is well and you can track Race for Water’s course on the cartography, which is accessible here: http://tracker-odyssey.addviso.org/fr/

The latest ETA is scheduled for the afternoon on Thursday 21 September in the Marina du Fort in Pointe à Pitre.

Hurricane Irma: the decisions taken for safety reasons

On 7 September, hurricane Irma struck the Dominican Republic. A week prior to this date, whilst we were moored in the military port of Santo Domingo, busying ourselves with boat maintenance and checks for wear and tear, that day’s weather report alerted us to the fact that a potentially dangerous weather system was forming. Given the forecasts, we abandoned our plan to sail to Samana, to the north of the island. Indeed, the grib files clearly showed a vortex forming, which was set to grow over the coming days. The ensuing period only served to confirm the approach of hurricane Irma. On the weather charts we were watching the fierce winds sweeping across the heavenly islands as they turned into a hellish situation, severely impacting on the local populations. The first consequence of this in the port of Santo Domingo was that the entire military fleet moved to a more sheltered zone.

Grib file indicating the strength and direction of the winds from hurricane Irma

 

We ended up on our own on what had turned into a long, deserted dock. We studied and checked the various options possible, but nothing seemed to us to be suitable for such a special boat. Indeed, the floats on the Race For Water are ‘wave-piercing’ and sit very low to the water, the deck barely 70cm above the surface. This unique feature meant that we couldn’t keep our fenders in position in the event of heavy seas. As such, we couldn’t tie the boat alongside with such little protection. One of the possibilities was to leave port and sail due east in order to distance ourselves from Irma, but that didn’t seem necessary in our view.

SIT AND WAIT

As a result, we took the option to remain in the military port. We positioned the vessel at anchor, stern facing towards the dock, which was a good distance away, tripling up on the mooring warps for added safety. The harbour authorities were quite concerned by the fact that we were staying in the military port. However, the forecasts were not a worry for the south coast of the Dominican Republic where we were located. Irma’s trajectory was due to take her to the north of the island. 20 knots of southerly wind were announced, whereas we had 35 knots of established wind in reality. When the wind picks up like that, well beyond the forecasts, it’s a little worrying. However, the weather isn’t an exact science. It does make you wonder how far it’s going to increase to. At that point, we decided to add our towing warp to the mix so as to bolster up our mooring system. “Too strong never failed” as any sailor will tell you. Shortly after that, the wind eased and dropped back down to the forecast 20-knot southerly wind.

The stormy skies of the hurricane have rolled through now. Aboard the boat we were all too aware of how lucky we were to be on the right side of the island. The port of “Sans Soucis” or ‘No Worries” is aptly named….

Jean- Marc