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Future of Boating - Green beneath the skin

Conventional looks disguise a smart design and best practices in a yacht that inspires greener cruising

Conventional looks disguise a smart design and best practices in a yacht that inspires greener cruising

Cruising the blue while being green is the topic du jour. It is an idea that spawns innovative ideas and exotic-looking craft that point toward a brighter and cleaner future.

But what about technology that is readily available? You know, the stuff anyone can pull off the shelves of marine retailers or order online. Is there a way to think it all through and apply good products and best practices to turn a fossil-fueled motoryacht into a nautical version of the ultra-low emission vehicle?


 Safira takes a subtle approach to achieving sustainability.

Sparkman & Stephens, the venerable New York design firm, thinks such an idea is more than merely a vision. Safira, one of the company’s most recent designs, is a 129-foot expedition yacht that doesn’t betray its green ambitions with exotic looks and gee-whiz gadgetry. The design brief called for a small carbon footprint to be achieved with subtle and incremental improvements across the board, from furniture and cabin layout to the treatment of waste water and exhaust fumes.

“My wife and I believe climate change is happening through global warming, [which is] caused by greenhouse gas emissions from human activity,” says Safira’s owner, Anthony Bakker, founder and CEO of software company Blackbaud. “We want to reduce, recycle and reuse whenever possible and live in a more sustainable, environmentally sensitive way.”

So far so good, but how can a vessel be called “green” when it doesn’t use renewable energy for propulsion? Bakker says he considers an expedition yacht the right vessel for his cruising needs, but admits omitting wind power may sound “hypocritical” to some. He doesn’t rule out the use of a kite system or some sort of auxiliary headsail on the forward mast to help with propulsion and reduce fuel consumption. But in his opinion, Safira should be seen as a showcase for the application of best practices and smart technology, thus setting an example for sensible design.

As relative newcomers to boating, Bakker and his wife, Linda, grew fond of the luxury of superyachts through chartering. Then they owned Mosaique, a 164-foot motoryacht by Turkish builder Proteksan Turquoise, and Muse, a 123-foot Palmer Johnson. Next up is Safira, which is under construction at Newcastle Shipyards, of Palm Coast, Fla. Delivery is expected in the summer of 2010. Cost had yet to be determined.

Safira’s hull is steel and superstructure aluminum. The vessel is powered by twin 1,800-hp Caterpillar C32 ACERT diesels and Schottel STP 330 pod drives for a cruising speed of around 11 knots and a top speed of 13.5 knots. S&S says this propulsion system, although fully dependent on fossil fuel, is still more efficient than hybrid diesel-electric propulsion because pod drives reduce drag by eliminating rudders, struts and shafts while improving maneuverability.

“We like to think that we came up with a pretty efficient hull design,” says S&S principal designer Bruce Johnson. “We tank-tested similar hulls with interchangeable transoms and decided to go with one that is slightly submerged, similar to that on a commercial vessel.”

Johnson says S&S evaluated a Skysail kite system for auxiliary wind power, but has shelved the idea for now because it was costly, complicated and “required some kind of agricultural equipment on the foredeck.”

Use less, save more

Bigger windows, ports, skylights and deck prisms admit daylight into the interior, which cuts back on the number and size of light fixtures. To minimize the heating effect of direct sunlight, exterior windows use double-pane glass with energy-efficient and UV-

resistant coating. To reduce heat absorption from sunlight on the aluminum superstructure, the exterior will be coated with low-solar absorption paint. Insulating pipes, walls and floors; weather stripping; and sealing doors and windows should further reduce the need for heating or cooling. To minimize direct and indirect energy consumption, the interior lighting system will use fiber-optic technology, LED lamps, xenon bulbs, occupancy sensors and dimmers.

Another goal was creating a healthy environment, as defined by Green Star and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a green rating system for sustainable building practices. Materials for Safira’s interior must be organic, natural, recycled, sustainable and renewable. Wood has to be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (EcoTimber or equivalent). Paints, finishes and adhesives must emit either low or no volatile organic compounds, and carpeting must be from natural wool, organic cotton or equivalent materials. Wherever possible, glass, horizontal surfaces, plumbing hardware and fittings are made from recycled material like glass (IceStone, EnviroGlass), paper (PaperStone), concrete (ConcreteWorks, Sonoma Stone) and aluminum (Eleek).

Clean output

Better efficiency means smaller energy demands, which shrinks the size of the generators and the fuel bill. Renewable energy sources such as wind and sunlight, although not used for propulsion, will contribute to the generation of electricity. Appliances have an Energy Star or similar efficiency rating, and dedicated battery banks will handle high short-term loads, such as startup of the air conditioning system.

The clean theme aboard Safira continues all the way to the engine exhaust and the discharge ports. Exhaust will be treated with a soot burn-off system and filter, and black and gray water will be recycled by an Agrimond Marine Dragonfly system. Potable water comes from an SLCE low-energy consumption watermaker, while hot water will be produced with the help of wind generators, photovoltaic panels and heat exchangers. Energy-recovery ventilation will regulate interior temperature and humidity, while engine rooms, kitchen hood and heads are vented outboard.

S&S says it also encourages water and energy conservation during construction and sensible building practices that are easy on workers and the environment — for example, proper ducting, venting and shielding, and the use of recycled, sustainable, recovered or recyclable products, including reclaimed and/or salvaged timber. Johnson maintains that taken separately, none of the elements appear to create spectacular advantages, but together they add up to an impressive list of accrued benefits that measurably improve sustainability when compared to conventionally equipped vessels of similar size and purpose.

While yachts the size of Safira are emblematic of luxury, the focused attempt to design and build such a vessel with environmental sensibility in mind is anything but. It is the way things are headed in the future, and the future is now.


LOA: 128 feet, 11 inches

BEAM: 28 feet

DRAFT: 8 feet, 2 inches


POWER: twin 1,800-hp Cat diesels

SPEED: 13.3 knots top, 11.1 knots cruise

FUEL: 17,300 gallons

WATER: 3,025 gallons

price: to be determined


• Schottel GmbH Propulsion Systems:

• Hug Engineering (exhaust filtering):

• Dragonfly Water Treatment Systems:

• Awlgrip (low solar absorption paint):

• SLCE watermakers:

• Lopolight (exterior lighting):

• Xenon Architectural Lighting:

• Furnature (organic cotton, linen, furniture):

• Green Building Council:

• Green Star:

• Energy Star:

• Newcastle Shipyards:

• Sparkman & Stephens: