What “going green” in yachting really means

As the announcement of The Cabrinha Quest loomed, Pete Cabrinha asked me to write up the expedition’s mission statement.  On the surface, operating a five year kitesurfing expedition should be a pretty easy mission.  But chasing the horizon, bagging some waves and moving on is a hollow quest and after doing pretty much just that for the last thirteen years, seeing what we’ve seen out there- well this time, the mission goes a lot deeper.  And it’s one we’re taking very seriously.

So after a lot of thought, and a lot of re-writes, here’s where we ended up:

The Cabrinha Quest is a seafaring expedition to seek out the world’s most remote and dynamic kitesurfing and surfing locations. A quest to experience native cultures in their natural state. To consciously explore the Oceans of the world with passion, integrity, and sensitivity to the cultures and ecosystems we inhabit.  To build awareness, global concern, and inspire solutions to the environmental crisis.

Three years ago we were sailing from the Andaman Islands 1200 miles across the southern tip of Sri Lanka and India to the Maldives.  We were literally sailing on an Ocean of garbage.  Whether it was floating from India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand or where didn’t matter. What mattered was that there was junk EVERYWHERE.  I didn’t see a clean patch of ocean for the entire trip of eight days.  Haven’t seen a pristine beach in over a decade.  We hear a lot these days about the gyres- areas of the Oceans that due to currents kind of round up all the crap the 7 billion people on the planet are leaving behind.  The Pacific gyre is estimated to be the size of Texas.  Here’s just a small example of what this kind of reckless behavior is doing to just one species- the great Albatross:


So first we’ve got to be honest with ourselves- we’re part of the problem.  A BIG part.  People think sailboats are a lot greener than stinkpots (motorboats) because at least we use the wind. Ok- that helps, for sure.  But take just a quick look at how they are made and things get ugly quickly.  Discovery is a 57 foot long, 30 foot wide 22 ton catamaran- made out of fiberglass, which is basically plastic.  Think massive surf board, with a lot of plumbing.  People who lay up fiberglass, which is highly toxic often get epoxy poisoning- or cancer, or often both.   Paint, metal, canvas, combustion engines, tanks, electrics, rubber, generators- a ton of resources mined, shipped, molded, fabricated and eventually- thrown away.  All of that stuff takes a massive amount of energy (usually provided by coal) and water to produce.  Imagine what it’s doing to the environment in shipyards around the world with little or no regulations.  All that waste going right into landfills or directly into the ocean.

Our new superstructure paint and Eco Speed bottom paint

All of this is pretty depressing.  How can we fulfill out mission of “building awareness and global concern…” while contributing to the problem?  Seems pretty hypocritical.  As I see it we have two choices.  1)  Abandon the project.  This one would clearly have the least impact, but if we do we’d hardly be able to raise any awareness of what’s happening out there.  So we’ve decided to take option 2)  Do the very best we can, and be totally transparent about what we get right, and where we can improve.  And hopefully- compromise as little as we can.  This takes three things- stubborness, money, and a lot of research.  Going “green” gets pretty complicated when you start weighing up all the factors.  Electric motors instead of combustion?  What about batteries?  Wiring?  What if the boat sinks- better to have steel motors or lead-acid batteries living on the ocean floor?

engine installation

Dropping our refurbished engines back in

Discovery has been on the hard since early November, and with her new skipper Seon Crockford since early December.  Seon’s background in permaculture and extensive knowledge in boatbuilding has guided our “cradle to cradle” approach to the refit to make her a lot more ecologically sensitive as she heads out again this weekend.  Our first green decision was simply deciding to stick with her instead of trading up.  The ultimate in recycling is using what you’ve already got!   Lots of little things like adding an herb garden and worm bin to gobble up all our organic waste will radically reduce our waste profile.  We’re going to brew our own beer and soft drinks- which will eliminate approximately 1800 bottles and cans per year- which saves enough energy to power a typical home for 15 days.  Glass bottles take one MILLION years to break down in a landfill- we won’t be buying ANY.  By eliminating waste we eliminate the need for plastic garbage sacks.  And you wont find our chef putting food into plastic bags at the market either.

Making our own drinking water saves 12,410 Megajoules of energy a year.   And leaves some 3600 plastic water bottles from being purchased and discarded.  We’ve nearly doubled our solar energy capacity, which should nearly power all on board equipment without the need for combustion generators or engines.  Each six months we’ll add up what we’ve used, what we’ve saved, and where we’ve abused and get back to neutral by buying carbon credits, planting trees- or whatever it takes.

new engines and new gensets

freshly painted engine rooms and one of our new ultra-efficient gensets

One of the most toxic things boats use is anti-fouling paint.  Nearly every boat at sea has to annually haul out and replace this industrial soup of heavy metals and carcinogens to keep the little sea critters from latching on for a ride.  We’ve stepped up to a new product called “Eco-Speed”, a paint-like skin that lasts for 10 years.  To the inside of the hulls we’ve mounted ultra-sonic modules (powered by our solar panels) that put out a signal that keeps the critters looking for other homes.  Annoying for them to be sure, but much better for their world view, which is of course the ocean.

Eco Speed Bottom Paint

Eco Speed bottom paint- non toxic, lasts 10 years

But to house those solar panels we built a large hard dodger out of foam and fiberglass.  We’re leaving our old generator in the yard and replacing it with two every efficient generators which in the long run saves considerable diesel fuel- but leaving behind a big motor for a landfill- well that puts a big mark in our negative column.  The interior received a full sanding and fresh new coat of rather earth-unfriendly varnish… The list of bad is long, but we’ll keep trying to topple it with the good.

Discovery, pre hard dodger installation

You, our audience will be the judge.  Let us know of other ways we can improve.  We promise this- we’ll do the best we can.

Posted from Ceuta, Spain.

About The Cabrinha Quest

Introducing The Cabrinha Quest- a seafaring expedition to seek out the world’s most remote and dynamic kitesurfing and surfing locations. A quest to experience native cultures in their natural state. To consciously explore the Oceans of the world with passion, integrity, and sensitivity to the cultures and ecosystems we inhabit.
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8 Responses to What “going green” in yachting really means

  1. Rob Brouillard says:

    I love what you guys are doing, and the new updates are killer. Although this may not be of use at the moment it may serve some use in the future. My buddy Travis Wallace has a company that is starting to use the heat exhaust from diesel engines to generate power for the boat, which then lessens the load on the flight generators, meaning they use less fuel. It may worth looking into next time your doing some updates.



  2. Ian Brown says:

    Hi Gavin, Jody and team

    Terrific as always to get your well written account of progress

    You guys are about as positive as it gets and we all love it !

    Look forward to hearing more about the eco-efforts you are putting in

    safe sailing !


  3. Samuel says:

    Think about the logistic impact you’re making. Consider that most solar-panels for example may have been manufactured in China where environmental concerns in the process of manufacturing may be non-existent. Add on top of that the panels being shipped to your dock in Europe requiring cargo-ships sailing half way around the world…
    Where are you headed next? Are you importing something from Brazil at the moment while you’re going there next month? It may be comprehensive in terms of dry-docking all-over again, but but pure human labour is by far the most conserving form of energy: we almost all have some extra body fat to burn so if you can hoist the panels on board closer to their origin you may consider that…? (I scrape the sea-critters off the hull myself once a month wearing a snorkeling mask…)

    Your new mission statement is great and I look forward reading all of your updates! Try to give very concrete suggestions for conservation that people can directly apply in daily life. Also for me as a boat-owner I’m looking forward to the great ideas and resources I might find reading about your quest (already brewing my own beer!).

    Keep up the awesome work! Your Odysseys have been a great inspiration!

    • Hi Samuel,

      These are great points and believe me we have considered them. The panels we sourced in Europe, but many of the things like our new toilets were purchased in the US and shipped. We’re trying to keep track of the total carbon impact on all levels. Not an easy task, but we’re trying to be as comprehensive as we can. I really, really appreciate your comments and thoughts on this. We’re learning as we go, and will continue to make improvements where we can. For example, many of the small things purchased for the boat in the US I have been lugging across the Atlantic in my suitcases! Probably not the greenest way, but better than FedEx!

      One of the coolest projects we have going is the garden and worm bin. All of it was made from the scraps from the new hard dodger. Photos soon!



  4. Amberley says:


    Have you considered giving talks to local schools when you are near land? You and your crew are heroes to young kids, living an amazing dream and you have a great deal of influence over them. Going into schools and sharing videos like the one you posted here, encouraging them to form groups to constantly check and clear the beaches of garbage in their local area can go a long way to helping clean our oceans, give them a meaningful focus and give them something to do that is outside of themselves. I think young people will listen to you as they no doubt will have respect for you are and how you live (i.e. authentically, with congruence and passion).

    Keep passionate,

    • Hi Amberly,

      I really appreciate this thought and really appreciate your compliment. We are planning a lot of community-related activities with Discovery this time around- beach cleanups, plastic education, sustainable fishing conferences…I haven’t however considered speaking here at home. And I should. Not sure how I’d get started, but this is something I will explore. With Jody’s photos, I’m sure we can put together some awesome talks. We just did a talk in Maui that went down really well and was super fun. So it’s on the radar…

      Thank you!!!

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