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Can Ireland’s Wind Power Drive Modern Trading Ships?

20th April 2020
The Folkboat Jester as created by solo pioneer Blondie Hasler to set an easily-handled Chinese junk-style rig. Jamie & Mary Young of Killary Adventure Centre sailed her across the Atlantic for their honeymoon cruise The Folkboat Jester as created by solo pioneer Blondie Hasler to set an easily-handled Chinese junk-style rig. Jamie & Mary Young of Killary Adventure Centre sailed her across the Atlantic for their honeymoon cruise

The wind is free. No-one disputes that. But harnessing its power can be a very expensive business, particularly if you’re trying to do it at the top level of international competition writes WM Nixon. Yet at a more mundane level of sailing, with auxiliary sail power working in support of electric main engines, we should surely be able to develop cargo-carrying vessels which can work along the coast of Ireland and across the oceans with a minimal carbon footprint.

Their very existence would increase environmental awareness. And their regular functioning could possibly even include an element of Sail Training in their crewing. With this in mind, in a remote and very special place on the Connacht coast, some ideas and proposals of increasing importance have been developing.

Jamie Young of Killary Adventure Centre in far northwest Galway is one of Ireland’s most experienced seafarers, with his nautical skills allied to extensive aspects of mountain-craft to give him an unrivalled overview both of the realities of seafaring, and the techniques of training and leadership.

With the Adventure Centre’s Expedition Yacht being the alloy Frers 49 Killary Flyer (one of the best boats ever in Irish waters), his knowledge of the waters west of Greenland is unrivalled. And while many expect him to be among the first skippers in his category to circumnavigate Greenland, he says it may be some time yet before that happens, for although the passage on Greenland’s west and northwest coasts is slowly clearing north towards Cape Morris Jessup, the ice on Greenland’s far northeast coast continues to present an impassable challenge.

2 killary flyer in ice2Killary Flyer among the ice of West Greenland. An alloy-built Frers 49, she has been a successful offshore racer (overall winner of the 1988 Round Ireland Race) and a very effective expedition yacht

But the Greenland challenge and its deeper implications is only one of many items on the Jamie Young agenda. As he mentions in the following article, his extraordinarily varied and extensive CV includes a period when he and his wife Mary were the core professional crew on shipping magnate Huey Long’s Maxi Ondine.

Huey Long was notoriously parsimonious, so much so that we may do an article about it someday, for Don Street is another Irish-connected sailor who had to deal with it. Yet despite his penny-pinching approach, Long accepted that when the big boats from the small but very keen fleet of Maxis wandered the earth alone like dinosaurs in search of top-level glamorous competition, the most economical way to do the lengthy delivery trips was with minimal crew and entirely under engine.

Crews cost money, Maxis were organized to be sailed with large crews, and their sails were ultra-expensive. So the least expensive method of voyaging was to have a substantial auxiliary engine which was installed in such a way that, at the end of a long delivery, it could simply be lifted out and replaced with a new one. This was standard practice. Yet the business of being just two aboard as the big boat thumped her way through all sorts of weather across the empty ocean towards the next big event could be a soul-destroying business.

3 maxi ondine3The Maxi Ondine, skippered by Jamie Young

So not surprisingly Jamie’s enthusiasm for eco-friendly means of getting about the seas and oceans in a commercially and possibly socially-useful manner with a positive reliance on sails easily handled with modern technology has become ever-stronger over the years. He takes up the story: 

The Sail Trading Project

By Jamie Young

The pull of the sea is strong and once hooked, it becomes central to your being. Very few of my broad family have or had the faintest interest in the sea, but after my first sail in the late 1950s with one of my cousins, I was hooked.

That cousin happened to be Wallace Clark, renowned for his definitive book about cruising round Ireland. But back in the 1950s, Sailing Around Ireland was yet to be published (it first appeared in 1976), and I was just a small boy who’d been brought along with adults to be taken for a sail somewhere off the coast of Northern Ireland, a small boy who was simply put under the foredeck of the daysailer on which this family obligation was being fulfilled. Yet I became hooked on sailing because of it.

What followed was a continued fascination with the sea and voyaging in various capacities and places: sea kayaking around Cape Horn; sailing Blondie Hasler’s special junk-rigged Folkboat Jester to the USA with Mary for our honeymoon; working as Skipper on the Maxi Ondine on many oceans; solo participant in another engine-less boat in the ’76 OSTAR - and solo return; the AZAB to the Azores and back; the Three Peaks; and many other voyages that I felt lucky to be able to enjoy, including more recently two to the West Coast of Greenland.

4 jamie young4Man of the mountains, man of the sea - multiple adventurer Jamie Young of Killary. He feels that traditional sail training may have had its day and that to be meaningful, it now needs to be allied to some form of commercial sailing.
The stories and the reasons that surround these experiences are for another time. But all seem to have led to a specific interest which has led to many queries branching outwards towards an exciting and necessary future in what I call ‘Sail Trading’.

Having been part of the big boat racing circuit - albeit 40 odd years ago - I remain fascinated by the latest racing machines, including short-handed, solo, fully crewed, Round the World, and America’s Cup. Yet I can’t help but wonder why this fast-adapting technology cannot be put to another parallel use, and create efficient cargo sailing/renewable energy combination vessels.

And I would include creating some tech to prevent the increasing prevalence of vessels, sail and cargo, hitting and killing marine life or causing damage to both parties, for although this gruesome image results from a whale and ship collision, does anyone think when an IMOCA 60 at thirty knots is damaged by its keel hitting a whale, that the unfortunate whale is not also seriously and possibly fatally injured?

whale boatThe tragic result of vessels in a hurry – a fatally injured whale impaled on the bow-bulb of a big ship
We can no longer have contempt for our natural environment, and as foils increase speeds to be seen as lethal cutting instruments, we should pause for thought…. Since we now have digital Doppler radar that can spot a buoy miles away, where is the responsibility and options to make a positive contribution to sustaining ocean wildlife? As Gandhi said: ‘There is more to life than just increasing its speed’.

6 whaleshield image6The Future Oceans group have created the Doppler radar Whaleshield
On a more positive note and back to ‘Sail Trading’, there is now a growing effort to consider again using the wind to power cargo vessels and ideally, it’s time for Ireland to get involved as an island nation, bearing in mind the historical trading activity between France and Iberia from Ireland’s west coast, from which the likes of Grace O’Malley and Daniel O’Connell greatly benefitted.

An interesting Irish connection that has blossomed into a regular transatlantic trade - both goods and passengers - is the Brigantine Tres Hombres. She was once a ferry to the Aran Islands from Galway in the ’70s and called Boidin. But she did start her life in the Baltic, and I am sure has many stories buried in the woodwork of her long life. She was discovered abandoned in Galway docks, towed back to Holland and slowly rebuilt to modern standards into the vessel you see today.

7 tres hombres7The commercial sailing ship Tres Hombres is the former Aran islands ferry Boidin
There are encouraging new builds, with some based on traditional lines as in the project CEIBA in the jungles of Costa Rica. This is fast taking shape, the difference being that she will have an electric auxiliary motor powered by renewables. The pictures show what the outcome will be, and she is now framed with the photo showing the full size lofting floor beside her present build. Her trading plans are more local to Costa Rica and around the Gulf of Mexico, but who knows what more distant opportunities may arise.

Barque 8The Costa Rican Three-Master will be run as a commercial trading vessel9 HullThe Costa Rican three-master is in build in traditional timber style
There are also a number of forward-looking projects that are looking at new technologies or adapting existing ones and these are equally fascinating. Energy Observer was originally a Nigel Irens catamaran from 1983, perhaps best known as ‘ENZA New Zealand’ when Sir Peter Blake and Sir Robin Knox Johnston set records with her. After only just returning from an initial round the world, she has been lengthened and further adapted for another four-year circumnavigation using purely renewables, while most interestingly creating hydrogen via solar as part of the motive power, which will also be augmented with rotating sails which are called ‘Oceanwings’:

10 observerOriginally the Nigel Irens catamaran ENZA New Zealand, Energy Observer has been lengthened for a second circumnavigation entirely using renewable energies and her oceanwings rotating sails
More interesting again are two orders for sail-assisted large cargo vessels for a particular transatlantic route, mainly machinery deliveries. The first build is recently announced and under way from Neoline:

11 three masted Two of these sail-assisted large cargo vessels from Neoline are currently in build

What I am most interested in initially is the build and operation of a multi-use sail trading vessel based on the current Votaan 72 example under construction in France. This is being built in the Alumarine-shipyard at Saint-Nazaire, near Lorient in Brittany.

The Votaan 72 is planned to have a 35-ton cargo capacity - 72 feet long - made of aluminium so minimum maintenance costs - nearly 100% recyclable - Two masts - 4 crew.

Voltan 12The Votaan 72 is building in France in aluminium
This project is of a size and scale that makes it possible from several directions: finance - maintenance - crew - access – materials. And it shows that with breadth of vision, we can think of it in multi-use terms. And what does ‘Multi-use’ mean? To make this a viable enterprise in the first instance, the roles envisaged would be:

  1. Cargo vessel between set ports on a common route. This might suit a corporate body that is prepared to ship by ‘traditional’ means and benefit from this exposure - with professional marketing input.
  2. As a marketing tool for a selection of companies to different ports where a mini ‘trade show’ can be held - again with professional marketing input - at those chosen destinations.
  3. As exposure to the sea for trainees not just from a traditional perspective of sea time, but access to transferable skills more modern in nature - and skills not confined to the marine sector.
  4. These skills would consist of: use of the comprehensive digital tools now available to mariners - interspersed with use and understanding of traditional methods of navigation and weather forecasting - and dealing with life on board out of sight of land and with no TV/internet…..
  5. This process could be increased by having the ability to adapt the vessel from a crew max of 6 on regular routes, while also adapting the cargo area to a max of 12 passengers on more defined sailing experiences.
  6. This would be all about the spirit of adventure and youth development, but with a modern twist that could include the transferable skills mentioned.
  7. Part of this would, therefore, be the ability to ship at set times the adventure sports equipment which allows for shore experiences. (Kayaks - camping - photography - etc.), and the possibility of research projects that can contribute to the development of further climatic solutions.
  8. Encourage a program of plastic & general rubbish collection on some of Ireland’s more remote coastline locations and islands.

voltaan 13The Votaan 72 cargo space can be re-purposed to provide extra crew accommodation
With some regret, I am further of the opinion that traditional sail training or personal development style voyages and ships, while they have their place, are not where the future lies in this area, and certainly not in Ireland. We have to excite and encourage by osmosis and foster a lifelong interest in all things maritime, including an interest in adopting new technologies in other areas that lessen mankind’s climate footprint.

There may be other such uses, but the initial emphasis will be on variety while the project crystallises. This is based on the first instance, however, it is planned, that once the concept stabilizes, a more complete and structured program will emerge.

Because this concept is what you could call a “Re-emerging Trend”, with the correct business structure it is possible that after a number of years the vessel would be sold on and another ‘improved’ version built. Maybe: bigger - more efficient - using now established cargo routes - re looking at possible technological advantages - looking towards new and/or different markets.


The overall monetary concept is to create a self-financing model of operation, and indeed - in time - to make it a profitable enterprise. This will require accountancy skills way beyond my level of competence, however, though I might have notions…!

As my Arctic sailing vessel ‘Killary Flyer’ is presently berthed at the friendly and efficient Mooney’s Boatyard in Killybegs, whenever I visit I am amazed at both the size and complexity of the huge fishing vessels moored up. Never mind the international examples raping the west coast on ‘MarineTraffic’, surely there must be a financial lesson there?

Thus, there are a couple of models to consider:

  1. Tax-efficient trading company based on purely commercial considerations, suitable for corporate investment. Trading with varied high-value cargo - not time-specific between set ports.
  2. Sourcing funds from an EU project. These might be a little light in view of current circumstances globally…
  3. Crowdfunding to the Irish - and other - diaspora. This is a comparatively new method of raising funds, but with my purchase of an electric bike via Indigogo last year - where they managed to raise €16M – it certainly provides food for thought.
  4. And crowdfunding comes - as far as I am aware - in two styles: creating a product that funders get at a discount when successfully launched – it’s basically seed money.
  5. Or where the visuals/story created are the story, which is funded via regular online postings. It is now longer possible to ‘disappear over the horizon’ thus, as Point F above, one of the skill sets to be developed by groups is social media engagement. With new satellite launches now regular and Inmarsat/Iridium prices falling, it is expected this would be a key tool of contact and interest in real-time.
  6. The purpose of this project/article, therefore, is to demonstrate that we are on the cusp of further strong sea transport evolution and Ireland should get on board and use its island position to develop this capacity and help benefit and encourage some of the youth of today, in an economical and affordable manner.

As the author, I intend to work away at the concept and believe this article will prompt others to get involved and I would encourage any reader to get in touch with queries - ideas - and help with the financials… Most of my ideas, whether it was sailing to Greenland or sea kayaking around Cape Horn, or indeed setting up a business in the west of Ireland during the ’80s, were greeted with astonishment. But here we are….

Nothing is set in stone at this stage and I am always receptive to solid worthwhile input, indeed I thrive on it.

Do we want to be one of the leaders of the pack in both modern youth engagement and exploring small vessel renewable trade?

Published in Power From the Sea Team

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Ireland's Offshore Renewable Energy

Because of Ireland's location at the Atlantic edge of the EU, it has more offshore energy potential than most other countries in Europe. The conditions are suitable for the development of the full range of current offshore renewable energy technologies.

Offshore Renewable Energy FAQs

Offshore renewable energy draws on the natural energy provided by wind, wave and tide to convert it into electricity for industry and domestic consumption.

Offshore wind is the most advanced technology, using fixed wind turbines in coastal areas, while floating wind is a developing technology more suited to deeper water. In 2018, offshore wind provided a tiny fraction of global electricity supply, but it is set to expand strongly in the coming decades into a USD 1 trillion business, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). It says that turbines are growing in size and in power capacity, which in turn is "delivering major performance and cost improvements for offshore wind farms".

The global offshore wind market grew nearly 30% per year between 2010 and 2018, according to the IEA, due to rapid technology improvements, It calculated that about 150 new offshore wind projects are in active development around the world. Europe in particular has fostered the technology's development, led by Britain, Germany and Denmark, but China added more capacity than any other country in 2018.

A report for the Irish Wind Energy Assocation (IWEA) by the Carbon Trust – a British government-backed limited company established to accelerate Britain's move to a low carbon economy - says there are currently 14 fixed-bottom wind energy projects, four floating wind projects and one project that has yet to choose a technology at some stage of development in Irish waters. Some of these projects are aiming to build before 2030 to contribute to the 5GW target set by the Irish government, and others are expected to build after 2030. These projects have to secure planning permission, obtain a grid connection and also be successful in a competitive auction in the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS).

The electricity generated by each turbine is collected by an offshore electricity substation located within the wind farm. Seabed cables connect the offshore substation to an onshore substation on the coast. These cables transport the electricity to land from where it will be used to power homes, farms and businesses around Ireland. The offshore developer works with EirGrid, which operates the national grid, to identify how best to do this and where exactly on the grid the project should connect.

The new Marine Planning and Development Management Bill will create a new streamlined system for planning permission for activity or infrastructure in Irish waters or on the seabed, including offshore wind farms. It is due to be published before the end of 2020 and enacted in 2021.

There are a number of companies aiming to develop offshore wind energy off the Irish coast and some of the larger ones would be ESB, SSE Renewables, Energia, Statkraft and RWE.

There are a number of companies aiming to develop offshore wind energy off the Irish coast and some of the larger ones would be ESB, SSE Renewables, Energia, Statkraft and RWE. Is there scope for community involvement in offshore wind? The IWEA says that from the early stages of a project, the wind farm developer "should be engaging with the local community to inform them about the project, answer their questions and listen to their concerns". It says this provides the community with "the opportunity to work with the developer to help shape the final layout and design of the project". Listening to fishing industry concerns, and how fishermen may be affected by survey works, construction and eventual operation of a project is "of particular concern to developers", the IWEA says. It says there will also be a community benefit fund put in place for each project. It says the final details of this will be addressed in the design of the RESS (see below) for offshore wind but it has the potential to be "tens of millions of euro over the 15 years of the RESS contract". The Government is also considering the possibility that communities will be enabled to invest in offshore wind farms though there is "no clarity yet on how this would work", the IWEA says.

Based on current plans, it would amount to around 12 GW of offshore wind energy. However, the IWEA points out that is unlikely that all of the projects planned will be completed. The industry says there is even more significant potential for floating offshore wind off Ireland's west coast and the Programme for Government contains a commitment to develop a long-term plan for at least 30 GW of floating offshore wind in our deeper waters.

There are many different models of turbines. The larger a turbine, the more efficient it is in producing electricity at a good price. In choosing a turbine model the developer will be conscious of this ,but also has to be aware the impact of the turbine on the environment, marine life, biodiversity and visual impact. As a broad rule an offshore wind turbine will have a tip-height of between 165m and 215m tall. However, turbine technology is evolving at a rapid rate with larger more efficient turbines anticipated on the market in the coming years.


The Renewable Electricity Support Scheme is designed to support the development of renewable energy projects in Ireland. Under the scheme wind farms and solar farms compete against each other in an auction with the projects which offer power at the lowest price awarded contracts. These contracts provide them with a guaranteed price for their power for 15 years. If they obtain a better price for their electricity on the wholesale market they must return the difference to the consumer.

Yes. The first auction for offshore renewable energy projects is expected to take place in late 2021.

Cost is one difference, and technology is another. Floating wind farm technology is relatively new, but allows use of deeper water. Ireland's 50-metre contour line is the limit for traditional bottom-fixed wind farms, and it is also very close to population centres, which makes visibility of large turbines an issue - hence the attraction of floating structures Do offshore wind farms pose a navigational hazard to shipping? Inshore fishermen do have valid concerns. One of the first steps in identifying a site as a potential location for an offshore wind farm is to identify and assess the level of existing marine activity in the area and this particularly includes shipping. The National Marine Planning Framework aims to create, for the first time, a plan to balance the various kinds of offshore activity with the protection of the Irish marine environment. This is expected to be published before the end of 2020, and will set out clearly where is suitable for offshore renewable energy development and where it is not - due, for example, to shipping movements and safe navigation.

YEnvironmental organisations are concerned about the impact of turbines on bird populations, particularly migrating birds. A Danish scientific study published in 2019 found evidence that larger birds were tending to avoid turbine blades, but said it didn't have sufficient evidence for smaller birds – and cautioned that the cumulative effect of farms could still have an impact on bird movements. A full environmental impact assessment has to be carried out before a developer can apply for planning permission to develop an offshore wind farm. This would include desk-based studies as well as extensive surveys of the population and movements of birds and marine mammals, as well as fish and seabed habitats. If a potential environmental impact is identified the developer must, as part of the planning application, show how the project will be designed in such a way as to avoid the impact or to mitigate against it.

A typical 500 MW offshore wind farm would require an operations and maintenance base which would be on the nearby coast. Such a project would generally create between 80-100 fulltime jobs, according to the IWEA. There would also be a substantial increase to in-direct employment and associated socio-economic benefit to the surrounding area where the operation and maintenance hub is located.

The recent Carbon Trust report for the IWEA, entitled Harnessing our potential, identified significant skills shortages for offshore wind in Ireland across the areas of engineering financial services and logistics. The IWEA says that as Ireland is a relatively new entrant to the offshore wind market, there are "opportunities to develop and implement strategies to address the skills shortages for delivering offshore wind and for Ireland to be a net exporter of human capital and skills to the highly competitive global offshore wind supply chain". Offshore wind requires a diverse workforce with jobs in both transferable (for example from the oil and gas sector) and specialist disciplines across apprenticeships and higher education. IWEA have a training network called the Green Tech Skillnet that facilitates training and networking opportunities in the renewable energy sector.

It is expected that developing the 3.5 GW of offshore wind energy identified in the Government's Climate Action Plan would create around 2,500 jobs in construction and development and around 700 permanent operations and maintenance jobs. The Programme for Government published in 2020 has an enhanced target of 5 GW of offshore wind which would create even more employment. The industry says that in the initial stages, the development of offshore wind energy would create employment in conducting environmental surveys, community engagement and development applications for planning. As a site moves to construction, people with backgrounds in various types of engineering, marine construction and marine transport would be recruited. Once the site is up and running , a project requires a team of turbine technicians, engineers and administrators to ensure the wind farm is fully and properly maintained, as well as crew for the crew transfer vessels transporting workers from shore to the turbines.

The IEA says that today's offshore wind market "doesn't even come close to tapping the full potential – with high-quality resources available in most major markets". It estimates that offshore wind has the potential to generate more than 420 000 Terawatt hours per year (TWh/yr) worldwide – as in more than 18 times the current global electricity demand. One Terawatt is 114 megawatts, and to put it in context, Scotland it has a population a little over 5 million and requires 25 TWh/yr of electrical energy.

Not as advanced as wind, with anchoring a big challenge – given that the most effective wave energy has to be in the most energetic locations, such as the Irish west coast. Britain, Ireland and Portugal are regarded as most advanced in developing wave energy technology. The prize is significant, the industry says, as there are forecasts that varying between 4000TWh/yr to 29500TWh/yr. Europe consumes around 3000TWh/year.

The industry has two main umbrella organisations – the Irish Wind Energy Association, which represents both onshore and offshore wind, and the Marine Renewables Industry Association, which focuses on all types of renewable in the marine environment.

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