The gleaming, fluorescent-green topsides of the superyacht Inouï may scream luxury at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup held in Porto Cervo, Italy every year. But this 108-foot sloop represents a growing standard in superyacht racing, where the sweet spot is just over 100 feet, with couture interiors disguising precision carbon-fiber construction. Expenses are rarely spared in this world of superyachts. The parties at the Rolex Cup’s host, the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, along the Mediterranean waters of Sardinia, rival the most magnificent gatherings in Cannes and Saint-Tropez, two other seaside havens in the region. There is a recent undercurrent of change in this rarified community, however. Many coming to Porto Cervo for the race every year are trying to prove that luxury isn’t always excess by creating more efficient designs and managing their events and yachts in a more sustainable way.
“We feel, as a club, that we carry a responsibility to promote the sport to the younger generation,” said Jan Pachner, the secretary general of the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda. “But it goes hand in hand with environmental concerns.” Costa Smeralda’s board, like those of many clubs around the world, will be voting on a series of sustainability proposals that will change the way the Porto Cervo clubhouse and the club’s Virgin Gorda station in the Caribbean are managed and run. Already the club has worked to eliminate single-use water bottles and other disposable items often featured at event parties. Beach cleanups are also now regular fixtures on the calendar.
Pachner had said on an earlier occasion that the environment was not a consideration when the club was created 50 years ago. “Now we agree at every board meeting that it’s at the top of the list and urgent,” he said. The club had considered partnering with a large organisation specialising in helping to create a sustainability plan, but members decided to “walk the talk” themselves and redirect the club’s goals toward sustainability.
The club does not own the marina it uses in Porto Cervo, but the board has begun addressing day-to-day practices to increase recycling and to reuse food waste from events.
Costa Smeralda was convinced to move forward on changes relating to sustainability by a visiting fleet of racers in the 52 Super Series in June. The series showcases professional teams racing the most technically and physically challenging monohull yachts in the world and it has a partnership with 11th Hour Racing, an organisation that promotes sustainability and ocean-health awareness in sailing. As a result, the series requires teams to not only reduce their carbon footprints and waste, but also to work with host clubs around the Mediterranean to do the same in the running of their events. Sailors in the Super Series have made pledges to 11th Hour Racing to share resources, using shuttle buses or their own bicycles to get around a venue. Portable water filtration systems are used to fill personal water bottles. And all race documents are digital.
Pachner believes the impact of changing their practices at regattas goes further than just influencing those who race in Porto Cervo. “How many people you reach in a sailing season produces quite an impact,” he said. There will be 800 sailors on the 65 yachts racing at the Rolex Cup and the Maxi 72 World Championships. Other regattas can bring 3,000 sailors to the club for a week-long event.
Philippe Briand, Inouï’s designer and one of the most sought-after superyacht architects, sees the trend toward higher-performance luxury yachts as a move in the right direction for sustainability. “All of these yacht owners are concerned about waste and resources,” said Briand, who has designed America’s Cup contenders and cutting-edge ocean racers. “When an owner is building a sailing yacht, he has already reduced the carbon impact using wind. The main thing today is to use the sails more than the engine.” He said that the construction of superyachts shifted from aluminium to carbon less than a decade ago, as owners became more competitive and events began to spring up around the Atlantic. This shift allows him to utilise the philosophies he developed when designing boats for solo around-the-world races.
In 1989, Briand designed a 60-footer, Fleury Michon X, for Philippe Poupon to compete in the inaugural Vendée Globe, a spectacular challenge to race solo and non-stop around the world. These boats pushed the limits of self-reliance, using wind turbines and solar panels to help a diesel engine generate energy to power autopilots and navigation equipment for more than 100 days at sea. Today, power generation on Vendée Globe boats has virtually eliminated the need for diesel-powered electricity generation.
In addition to small wind turbines and solar panels, Briand said hydro power generation is now being considered in luxury yachts too.
It is hard to believe that superyacht owners will be happy with solar-panel-cluttered decks and buzzing wind turbines. But Briand said consuming less energy could be more attractive than one may think. “If the design is right, the new owner will invest and play with new forms,” he said and added that the fleet of new giants racing in the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup are bringing in a new era. “Plenty of new ideas are waiting. More and more, we go forward. And more and more, we are at the beginning.”