Running 100% on biofuel, Earthrace broke the world record for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe in 2008, taking just 60 days and relying on a team of international volunteers. Founded by Kiwi Pete Bethune, the Earthrace project was set up to test and prove the feasibility of renewable fuels in addition to drawing attention to the need for sustainable living.
Earthrace was built by Craig Loomes with a super lightweight carbon fibre wave piercing design. The long, thin hull – no greater than an adult human’s arm-span at its widest point – intended to cut through waves up to 7 metres underwater rather than ride on the surface like a conventional boat. The ‘horns’ at the back act like a snorkel and provide ventilation to the engine bay. The design was so efficient Earthrace was capable of going halfway round the globe on a single tank of biofuel.
Later on Earthrace was renamed the Ady Gil, as part of the Sea Shepherd fleet, and was famously destroyed by a Japanese whaling vessel in the Southern Ocean in January 2010.
In 2007 I set off on an architecture research trip to China without taking an aeroplane to minimise my carbon footprint, which was more of a fundraising gimmick than anything. I confidently arrived in Shanghai after three months on a train and hit the ground running. I realised how different I’d have felt arriving after a 12 hour plane flight, jet lagged with culture and climate shock, and realised I never wanted to travel by plane again. The following year at graduation I was a budding architect with an exciting new job lined up in Australia, 14,000 miles away. It was a long way without a plane, so how do get there?
I searched on Google and was struck by the image of a unique biofuelled boat. Having just broken the world circumnavigation record Earthrace was about to take off on a world promo tour to 120 cities between the UK and, wait for it, Australia. Bingo! I emailed the skipper and the next day went to meet the crew – ‘just for the weekend,’ he said. I didn’t go home for another 923 days.
We met all sorts of people, from Colombian Navy to school kids in Vanuatu and politicians in Australia. I learnt to wake board in the very middle of the Atlantic Ocean, got kissed by a humpback whale calf and went for a cheeky skinny dip in Richard Branson’s infinity pool. We entertained thousands of schools and spoke with the media in every city around the globe.
As amazing as the journey was, it also opened my eyes to many things I wasn’t expecting.
We saw rubbish floating in the ocean 3000 miles from land.
We saw island communities no longer eating fish for all the commercial vessels catching them offshore.
We saw locals risk their lives to transport packaged food and drink to their families.
We saw beaches covered in plastic instead of sand.
We met local people diseased from eating toxic reef fish and others exposed to nuclear waste.
We found dead fish and birds with stomachs full of plastic.
This was like nothing else I’d ever done. The onboard living quarters were incredibly tight for the crew – between 4 and 8 people – inside. It was often described by visitors as ‘claustrophobic’, yet for me it was the most open (minded) space I had ever been in.
Earthrace touched many people’s lives in 120 cities around the world. A quarter of a million people visited the boat, hundreds of schools, thousands of media channels. The Maori motto ‘kia kaha kia mana‘ meaning ‘be strong, stand for what you believe in‘ was the philosophy we lived by.
En route around the world we spent many days in open ocean staring out at the perfect blue, seeing the curvature of the earth on the horizon. There were no roads to follow. You pick your direction by reacting to a change in the natural environment around you. It was here that I realised that there was no fixed path for me in life.
Needless to say when I arrived in Australia architecture was far from my mind and all I wanted to do was clean up the world before building more stuff. At the end of such an amazing global journey I felt charged and ready to explode into action.