The 2023/2024 tall ship Pelican of London Atlantic crossing was truly an adventure under sail! For the sixth winter season, the Pelican has ventured across the Atlantic with 32 students from Ocean College. This German college focuses on hands-on learning in the context of sail training and the ship’s location, an alternative form of education that has proven to work wonders for personal development and accomplishment.
This year, Pelican departed Cape Verde at 1200hrs on the 31st of December 2023 and arrived in Saint-Martin in the Caribbean during the afternoon of the 15th of January 2024. The 2183 nautical miles were covered almost entirely under sail, with an average sailing speed of 6.2 knots, maxing out at 10 knots.
During these 16 days at sea, only nine out of 384 hours were travelled using the main engine! This means that approximately 98% of the crossing was powered by the wind, which is what Seas Your Future voyages are all about. Keeping up the sailing tradition is a unique experience for the students, and it also connects the past with the future by highlighting sustainable propulsion at sea.
The Seas Your Future Operations Manager, Lucy Grodie, partially jokes that:
“Perhaps we should invest into sails with solar panels to limit our carbon footprint even more!”
Perhaps the first step to investigate what is behind that nice thought is to find out how our ship’s carbon footprint for this voyage compares with other forms of travel.
A flight from Cape Verde to Saint-Martin is not straight forward and one of the cheaper options takes off at Sal in Cape Verde to Lisbon in Portugal and continues via Newark International, Boston and Fort Lauderdale in Florida (all in the USA) to St Martins. Using the ICAO Carbon Emissions Calculator and applying the radiative forcing factor of 1.9 recommended by DEFRA, the total carbon footprint per passenger would be 1.48 metric tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (t CO2e). For our group of 36 students and teachers on board, the carbon footprint for these flights would amount to just over 53 metric tonnes CO2e.
Using an average cruise ship (2500 passengers) travelling at 20 knots would take around 5.5 days and according to myclimate, our group of 36 would burn up just short of 63 t CO2e on a luxury cruise.
During the Pelican’s voyage, about 360 L diesel were used for propulsion and in addition, the generator that supplies the ship with electricity for cooling, cooking, drinking water production and navigation ran continuously, burning 2400 L diesel. According to Innovation Origins, 1 L diesel emits 3.31 kg CO2e, which includes the whole life cycle from production and distribution to combustion. For our voyage, this amounts to 9.1 t CO2e for the whole group.
To make this more comparable with a cruise ship, we can add an allowance for a mixed diet (2200 kcal per day per person) and low food waste (15%) and account for 3.8 kg CO2e per unit, amounting to 2.8 t CO2e for all students, teachers and professional crew on board.
Of course, full life cycle accounting includes all systems on board, such as cleaning and washing, materials for ship’s maintenance, crew changes and more. We’re working on that more generally and will report in due course. For the purposes of this account, let’s hazard a worst-case-scenario-guess and simply double what we calculated here, and our group got across the Atlantic with a footprint of nearly 24 t CO2e.
To place this into perspective, the average carbon footprint of northern European countries is 13 t CO2e per capita. On this basis, this 16-day voyage would have added approximately 5% to the footprint of each individual on the voyage, while a luxury cruise would have increased it by 13.3%.
In conclusion, travel is carbon-intense, sailing under power is slow but energy efficient (no surprises there) and Lucy’s desire to reduce diesel used by Pelican’s generators makes perfect sense. How that can be achieved will give us a lot of food for thought...