Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Helpin' a buddy attempt a green circumnavigation

  I like to think of myself as a pragmatic environmentalist. Yes I work for an oil company in the oil industry, and have for over 20 years. I also have roots as a biologist and have been active as a commercial fisherman, hunter, hiker and general nature enthusiast for most of my life. I was good enough to work as a teaching assistant in a field botany class as an undergrad, based on my knowledge of plants and trees of New England, because field guides made good presents to a nerdy teenager who liked walking in the woods more than going to a mall. 

 Thing is, I tended to butt heads with environmentalists a lot because so many idealistic kids have a religious rather than scientific understanding of ecology, human behavior and economics, all things critical to environmentalism.  Hell, I can have a far greater positive impact as an oil company employee than I  ever could as a shitty low-level student and scientist. I get to influence people's decisions and I get to see how people who depend on harvest of natural resources interact with the environment. I get a louder voice by being able to contribute at the tip of the spear when it comes to things like, say, keeping oil out of the water. The fundamentals. 

    Human ecology and human ethology is a critical component to understanding conservation science and environmentalism.  You can't expect people to be interested in qualitative concepts like carbon footprints when survival is their main focus. You reserve that for people who aren't 3 missed meals away from having a dead kid and you protect the vulnerable among US to effect change in qualitative concepts like environmentalism. This is simple game theory stuff- the rising tide that lifts all boats concept, that making improvements that foster sustainability can't come at a cost beyond what people are willing AND able to pay. As an example, new, green power-generating technology tends to be expensive and impractical as sole-sources of  energy. Solar panels aren't awesome at 2am. Wind generators kill birds and don't work well in low or high winds. Batteries are... sensitive, dirty AF to make, and shitty at storing power in some circumstances. Only through testing, thoughtful design and proof of concept does sustainable energy become more useful and practical, which is a perquisite for it becoming acceptable for wide use. Green energy must contribute to making people THRIVE more than survive, or, like those automatic seat belts on cars in the 90's, they  become things that that the rest of us laugh at WASP's for using. Practicality is key. 

     As of right this moment, nobody has yet to be able to circumnavigate the world using only green energy generating technology. Boats are a brutal testing platform for sustainable energy products, and that makes them arguably the best testing platform there is. Green energy generation is hard, expensive and impractical just at the moment. But it's improving, and it improves through testing, trial, and trial and error. The power requirements to propel a boat hull through the water using electricity generated and stored only by wind, sail and regenerative current (basically the propellers turning as they're dragged through the water while under sail), are beyond what that of a battery bank can easily store, let alone to have enough surplus to say, power a GPS, cook and leave the navigation lights on at night. 

     A professional sailboater named Jimmy Cornell tried to do this on a sailboat called the ELCANO, a boat designed to be self-sufficient enough and rugged enough to be used in a circumnavigation using green power generation. He failed after just a few weeks, finding his very carefully designed boat to be too flawed for what he wanted to do, namely to be a demonstration platform that could both  keep the lights on and faithfully follow in Joshua Slocum's footsteps. 

    Enter my friend Peter Lukursky. Peter is a former mechanical engineer (and reformed attorney) who has been living a minimalist lifestyle very well on a sailboat for the past 8 or so years. He's a Youtube star with over 100,000 subscribers. People tune in to his channel to see him living on pennies per day sailing around the uncharted and unpopulated coast of the hellish part of Australia as well as through the eastern Caribbean, having a great time and basically being the unofficial spokesman of simple and sustainable living on almost a zero budget. Guy's the real deal, someone who catches his own food and supplements it with dry goods purchased sparingly every few months. 

    I surprised myself by getting on board with his idea. First off, I like the guy. He's the right mix of crazy and crazy smart, and he's a human punching bag that doesn't give up. No BS, guy's been sunk, starved, spent 70-some days exiled and chased out of every country that he tried to seek refuge in during covid. (including Haiti and Cuba; things were that desperate). In the past year he's been hit by lightning at sea, which blew a hole in his boat and damaged everything, then got a raging case of month-long covid, then hit by lightning again (frying the little bit of electronic gear he had been able to purchase to replace the stuff bricked by the first strike), and then got covid again for a month. 

 I've mentioned him before here. I enjoy his channel. It's funny and fun, despite the serious challenges life has thrown at him, and he's about as close to living in harmony with nature. as it comes. Perhaps the best testament to his character is that he is very accepted by the very poor native Guna indio people, who allow him to fish and anchor and visit their islands because he will always stop what he is doing to help them as needed. When a family owns only a dugout canoe with a sail made of found rags and tarp pieces, the clothes on their back, one spearfishing gun and one dive mask, and nothing else in the world, having someone who will fix their dive mask or spearfishing gun using  spare parts ( that they can't acquire and he can barely afford to replace), that person becomes a lifeline. So that's Peter. 

  So, using his knowledge of engineering, sailing and sustainable living, Peter Lukursky is setting out to succeed where Jimmy Cornell failed. He will modify an existing boat design that is in the public domain, build it in aluminum, equip it with only the absolute minimum of utilities and furniture, and power the boat only with electricity derived from wind and sail using existing technology that has, thus far, never been implemented in such a way as to be sustainable over time. 

     There are sailboats with electric drive. Some have sailed modest distances too, between stops to charge the batteries with diesel generators or shore power at a marina. To date electricity has yet to be demonstrated as a viable method of powering long-distance cruising.  The aim of Peter taking up the Elcano challenge is for him to be the first, and to document every step of the way in his entertaining style, such that it can become repeatable. 

     I really wish I were a better non-technical writer. I'm likely far too retarded after 20 years of oil vapors to be able to write creatively enough to describe how interesting this all is.  Just go check out his channel, "Sailing Into Freedom"  

I promise you'll like it. 

  Now, my whole reason for writing is that Peter, at the urging of some friends, has started a Kickstarter to help underwrite the boat build. Normally I'm far, far too cheap a prick to give anyone a penny of my money, but I put a chunk of change in myself to help support the project. One, because I have about a 1000 hours of viewing enjoyment of his channel over the past few years because it's better than TV, and Two, because we actually NEED technology demonstrators that bridge the gap between tech and practical use while being easier on the environment too. Green energy is a great idea, if it can be made to actually be fuckin' useful for once.  It has to be just as worth it to field this technology as it is to deal with the positives and negatives of a diesel engine with an alternator slapped on it. I believe that it can be, eventually, but the only way to get there is through creative projects that have both practicality and demonstrated utility. This is a major step in that direction, to turn concepts into workable components. 

     You can contribute here if you like the idea and if you watch Peter's channel and think he's the guy to do it. 

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