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Yachtsman Sails 4,000-Miles to Antarctica & Back Without Fossil Fuels

14th July 2021
Pequod, a restored 28-ft steel-hull sailboat during the fossil free voyage from Buenos Aires to Antarctica
Pequod, a restored 28-ft steel-hull sailboat during the fossil free voyage from Buenos Aires to Antarctica Credit: João Paulo Barbosa

Manuel Pardi recently returned to his home port of Buenos Aires in Argentina after a three-month 4,000-mile voyage in Pequod, a restored 28-ft steel-hull sailboat, to the continent of Antarctica.

And he did it sustainably with no fossil-fueled engine or generator on board.

Instead, the boat was equipped with a Torqeedo all-electric auxiliary propulsion system, which was recharged by solar and wind energy underway.

Pequod, a restored 28-ft steel-hull sailboatPequod, a restored 28-ft steel-hull sailboat

Actually, this was Pequod’s second trip to Antarctica. The first was undertaken in 1987 by the sailboat’s original builder and owner Hernán Álvarez Forn. When Pardi started to plan his own voyage to the icy continent, he discovered Pequod abandoned and in a bad state of decay. He befriended Forn and together the two of them, with Francisco Gigena, an old traditional boatbuilder, worked to rebuild Pequod and make her seaworthy again.

Unfortunately, Forn died in November 2020 at the age of 94, just a couple of months before Pardi was due to set out on the voyage to Antarctica.

From the outset, Pardi wanted a boat that would be ecologically friendly and self-sustaining. “I wanted to get to the most pristine place on the planet without polluting,” he said. “My goal was to go to Antarctica generating zero carbon emissions.”

In rebuilding Pequod, they removed the old diesel engine and replaced it with a Torqeedo Cruise 4.0 pod drive with a folding propeller and a Torqeedo Power 48-5000 lithium-ion battery. For charging at sea, they installed an array of highly efficient solar panels, a 350W wind generator and a hydro generation system to create electric energy from water flowing beneath the boat. Naval-Electric SAS of Buenos Aires was responsible for installing, integrating and commissioning the complete electric system, which also included a battery monitor, charger, inverter, DC/DC converter and solar charge controllers, all managed by a mobile app.

Manuel Pardi in the tender powered by a Torqeedo outboard electric engine Manuel Pardi in the tender powered by a Torqeedo outboard electric engine

Pardi and his two crewmen got underway on the first day of 2021 and arrived at Deception Island on the coast of the southern continent on 17 February, after a harrowing sail across Drake’s Passage with 10 to 15 ft swells.

“The strong northwestern winds and mountains of water around us all made Pequod look like an ice cube in a cocktail,” he said.

Pardi and his crew enjoyed a few restful days on the beautiful and spectacular volcanic island. Before departing for the return voyage, they honoured the family’s request and scattered the ashes of Pequod’s builder and original skipper, Hernán Álvarez Forn. They arrived back in South America in late March.

“The voyage provided convincing proof of the feasibility of an all-electric ocean-going sailboat with renewable recharging,” said Nicolás Fóthy, CEO of Naval-Electric SAS. “Pequod did not even carry an auxiliary fuel generator. That’s why this expedition is a milestone in sailing this latitude.”

Power 48-5000 batteryPower 48-5000 battery

“The Torqeedo system and the solar and wind generators performed flawlessly under challenging conditions of cold temperatures, high winds and heavy seas,” Pardi said. “We mostly were under sail, but we ran the Torqeedo drive during periods of calm and for manoeuvring in and out of narrow channels. It was a fabulous feeling to be gliding smoothly through the pristine waters of Deception Island with no noise, no exhaust fumes and no fuel sheen on the surface.” Team

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About Electric outboard engines

The direct-drive component in electric outboard engines means that the electric motors are incredibly efficient compared to conventional marine combustion motors, operating with considerably higher torque whilst using less power.

Without any need for gears, cooling systems and moving parts the motors are maintenance free, highly efficient and economic to run.

As a result, electric boat engines are becoming more popular on Irish waters as the world transitions from fossil fuels to green energy.

To date, popular electric engine sizes have been trolling engines typically used by fishermen on lakes.

These marine engines are available in models that can be used in fresh water and sea water, for your boat or kayak.

Electric motors are Ideal for fishermen because they are quiet and create little in the way of disturbance 

Popular electric trolling models range from 30lb thrust to 55lb thrust in a range of shaft lengths.

But use is becoming broader now in 2021 and electric outboard engines are being used on small runabouts and RIBS where electric outboard engine sizes are getting bigger.

Outboard electric engines are economical and environmentally friendly. Battery technology is also improving at a rapid rate meaning they are becoming smaller and lighter and run for longer.

Built in hydro-generation provides alternative recharging options whilst under sail are also options meaning the electric outboard now has a home on the stern on small yachts and dayboats too.

As far back as 2014, Torqeedo owner Jack O'Keefe from Cork Harbour told Afloat readers of his sailing adventures in a Drascombe Coaster dinghy and how after swapping from a petrol version the rewards from his new electric outboard engine are less noise, no smells, more stowage, better sailing performance and a motor that can be started by a small child. But it's still not silent, there's a whine he says here 

Popular brands in Ireland are Torqeedo, ePropulsion, Pulsar and Minn Kota but there are more arriving all the time as the technology advances