Just over a week ago, one of the world’s most grueling races got underway off the coast of Africa. Eleven teams, including five International Monohull Open Class Association (IMOCA)-class racing yachts, departed Alicante in the Canary Islands for the first leg of a 32,000-nautical-mile (60,000-km) route that includes a 12,750-nautical-mile stretch between South Africa and Brazil through the Southern Ocean. The crews have little in the way of creature comforts beyond freeze-dried meals and a bucket for a bathroom. Along the way, the boats will collect scientific data on the state of our oceans, from dissolved gases like oxygen and carbon dioxide to microplastics.
IMOCA-class boats are 60 feet (18.3 m) long and feature a single hull made from carbon fiber. In addition to sails, the yachts have retractable foils that lift the hull out of the water above 18 knots (33 km/h) and allow a top speed of 35 knots (65 km/h) or more. Designers have some freedom with the hull and sail shape, but everyone has to use the same design of masts, booms, and static rigging.
Mālama is one such boat, and it’s crewed by the 11th Hour Racing team. In addition to collecting data on climate change, the team worked to minimize the carbon impact of building the yacht itself, experimenting where allowed with lightweight, sustainable materials like balsa or composites made from flax. “I like to think of where can we use renewables that actually adds performance to the program,” said Simon Fisher, navigator for the 11th Hour team.