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The Green Scene

Sparkman & Stephens' Bruce Johnson tells an illustrative story. Recently, a prospective customer stopped by to chat about building a new boat. According to Johnson, the guy wasn't in the least dissatisfied with the relatively new megayacht he currently owns—he loves her and uses her a lot. And he wasn't looking to downsize to a smaller, less-expensive vessel either—the guy's one of the honchos of a major computer company and has "plenty of cake," as Johnson colorfully puts it.


So why something new? "Hey, I'm loaded. I'm rich. I can afford whatever I want," he told Johnson, "But when you go into a marina for fuel and they hand you a bill for $30,000, it gets the attention of even a high-roller like me. I mean, I'm tired of this crazy stuff. It's impractical. I want a yacht that's more economical to operate."

Johnson's not sure what the guy will ultimately do. He may decide on a comparatively efficient, wind-assisted mega-motorsailer. Or even a sailboat, pure and simple. But in any case, he'll most likely wind up with a vessel that's more environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient than the one he has now.

And Johnson's totally cool with all this. Sparkman & Stephens, a fabled outfit with a design sensibility and reputation that stretches all the way back to the second decade of the 20th century (see "Engineered Tradition," November 2007), is not exactly unfamiliar with the burgeoning emphasis on green design, construction, and engineering that's transforming the marine industry these days. Indeed, the firm, famous for a string of fine, diesel-powered motoryachts, is working on a new line (a 90-, a 125-, and a 150-footer) of fuel-efficient motorsailers for Burger Boat Company. Johnson says another S&S project, a newly launched slo-mo, single-engine Queenship 60, consumes 1 gph at 6.5 knots and approximately 10 gph at 10 knots and is poised to capture the hearts, minds, and wallets of downsizers. And yet another project, the 129-foot Safira, currently being built at Newcastle Shipyard in Florida, is so thoroughly jampacked with green features that she may qualify for RINA's touted Green Star rating.

Even a short list of these features is an eye-opener. It includes state-of-the-art equipment for recycling (without dumping) gray and black water; photovoltaic panels for electrical energy collection; emissions-nixing exhaust filters and catalytic converters for the main engines and generators; bilge-water filtration and oil-separation systems; special reflective paints and high-falutin' insulation materials; the usage of natural fabrics, woods, and recycled materials inside; and a highly efficient, highly maneuverable Schottel pod-drive system (with propellers on both ends of its slim center section) that promises to cut fuel consumption by approximately 20 percent compared to a straight-inboard vessel.

But Sparkman & Stephens is not the only marine enterprise making the green scene today—not by a long shot. With the goal of creating a "new yachting ethic," Italian builder Ferretti has just launched a new hybrid propulsion system. Debuting in the 72-foot Mochi Craft Long Range 23 (see "Silent Revolutionary" on page 74 for the exclusive first test) but arguably destined for larger Custom Line and CRN motoryachts, the sophisticated system offers five separate operational modes via a melange of diesel engines, generators, asynchronous electric motors, battery packs, inverters, and computer controllers. By far the most impressive of these is the Zero Emission Mode wherein the Mochi's props are powered exclusively by a two-ton, 550-volt lithium-ion battery pack, a device that can be charged either dockside or via onboard diesel and can provide energy for up to nine hours when topped off. "It is a very exciting thing," says communications manager Corrado Delfanti, "we have quietness, reduction in greenhouse gases and emissions, better economy, and the possibility of increasing all-electric range as battery technology improves."

Another Italian builder, Azimut, is taking on the green ethic from a different angle. It's experimenting with a hydrogen fuel cell-powered genset on a 50-footer, which is said to improve fuel economy and cut carbon dioxide emissions. Instead of carrying hydrogen fuel in high-pressure cylinders inside the boat or producing it instantaneously via an HOD (Hydrogen On Demand) system, Azimut's fuel cell uses a device called a reformer to extract it from gasoline stored in a dedicated tank. (Second-generation versions will extract it from diesel fuel.) Whether or not Azimut makes the jump from fuel-cell-driven generators to hydrogen-powered main propulsion units any time soon, it's likely the company's accomplishments thus far will at least help others succeed with all-hydrogen boats in the future.

Of course, there's way more to the green scene than mere engines, motors, and fuel cells. Arising from the commercial-shipping realm is an exciting new product that, in a sense, revives the age of sail, but with some rather high-flying extras. With the goal of reducing marine fuel consumption and "improving environmental friendliness at sea," the German firm Skysails is introducing large, hydraulically actuated kites for megayachts. Consisting of a "towing kite" that flies at altitudes of 300 meters (985 feet) or more, a long, synthetic hawser, a bow-mounted hydraulic launch-and-recovery device, and a computer-backed control system for automatic operation, Skysails are currently being tested on merchant ships (reportedly, they cut fuel consumption on long passages by 10 to 35 percent, depending on altitude and wind conditions) and, according to Sparkman & Stephens, will most probably make their megayacht debut on Safira.

With less pizzazz perhaps, a variety of efficient pod-type drive units are also making the crossover from merchant ships to megayachts. In addition to the Schottel system mentioned earlier, Finland's ABB is marketing Compact Azipods (with one propeller per pod, not two) and has already installed them on the 90-meter diesel-electric megayacht ICE, launched by Lrssen Shipyard in 2005. Not only do ICE's Azipod units bolster efficiency and minimize noise and vibration, they energize a Dynamic Positioning System that, in concert with waterjets (instead of a conventional bow thruster), produces nearly silent electronic anchoring, so the hook need not be dropped in environmentally sensitive areas.

A comprehensive list of all the green products and services pouring into the pleasureboat marketplace these days would challenge the research capabilities of this writer and lay well beyond the scope of a comparatively short article like this. Nevertheless, there are two more high-profile offerings that simply should not be ignored. First up is the Dragonfly closed-loop sanitary system—meaning there's no pump-out required. Ever. It just had its first installation on a megayacht, the 370-foot Le Grand Bleu. Manufactured by AJT/Agrimond of Cape Canaveral, Florida, and the brainchild of Agrimond president and ex-NASA wunderkind Alfredo Teran, Dragonfly uses specially selected but wholly natural microorganisms to transform sanitary waste into pure water. It already has proven itself onboard several commercial vessels plying Florida's coastal waters.

Then there's San Diego-based megayacht refit specialist Knight & Carver's Eco Solutions, a green-scene department headed up by Russ Grandinetti, the former build-captain and one-time skipper of the 317'7" Limitless. In addition to non-polluting bottom paints and clean products for K&C's megayacht-repair customers, Eco Solutions offers retrofittable Dragonfly systems from Agrimond as well as air-purification and related products from RGF of West Palm Beach, Florida that maximize onboard air and water quality by eliminating mold, odors, and bacteria via the delivery of otherwise benign hydroperoxides.

Products like these would have gotten short shrift a decade ago. And so would many of the other developments, products, and services we've managed to touch on here. But that was then! Today's world is shifting toward environmental friendliness with juggernaut inevitability.

And make no mistake—megayachts are shifting as well.

ABB(011) 35 8 10 22 22110

Agrimond(321) 783-7989

Azimut(011) 39 011 931611

Burger Boat Company(920) 684-1600

Ferretti(011) 39 0543 474 411

Knight & Carver(619) 336-4141

Schottel(011) 26 28 61 0

Sparkman & Stephens(212) 661-1240

RGF(561) 848-1826


  • Builder: Sparkman

This article originally appeared in the January 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.