The future power of yachting
With COP26 and the debate over climate intensifying, yachting is not standing still and – as one French female captain is proving – it only takes one individual’s leap to make change happen.
“If you want to change behaviour,” begins Chloé Zaied, “you need to go to the market. My goal is to enter the market really fast to change behaviour.” It’s a bold statement – but then Zaied, who is founder and CEO of a company called Hynova, is a bold woman. Her vision is to build the world’s first commercially available, series produced, hydrogen powered leisure boats, and it’s a vision that is about to be made reality in a shipyard in La Ciotat on France’s Côte d’Azur.
A qualified captain, the 30 year-old Zaied’s passion for the sea and its fragile ecosytems is infectious, and it is what drove her to develop and build a working, 42-foot hydrogen-powered demonstrator which she spent the summer of 2021 cruising along the south coast of France. “I devised not only a brand of boats,” she enthuses, “it’s also a dream – my dream, actually. I am a sailor, and I’m really lucky to work in an amazing place in the south of France called the Parc National des Calanques, near Marseilles. It’s a very amazing place,” she continues, “with a very rich but fragile ecosystem. I really want to preserve that place, and I love my job – taking people by boat and showing them the Calanques and the ecosystem – but I get upset because I am also contributing to the pollution.”
Zaied’s dream took shape three years ago, centred on her love for the Calanques but inspired by the idea of being able to keep cruising while still respecting the planet. It’s the dream that many current and next-generation superyacht owners alike share. We see it reflected in innovative and provocative concepts from famous design studios and superyacht builders around the world, from designer Sam Sorgiovanni’s hydrogen-powered Project ZeRO launched in Monaco this September, to the striking 81.75-metre Pure concept from Dutch icon Feadship, which has been designed to potentially switch to hydrogen from as early as 2024 as the technology develops, and then to fuel cells by the end of the decade.
What Zaied has done, though, is to show that the future is possible now. Her 42-foot demonstrator looks much like any other large dayboat tender, weekender or superyacht chase boat, perfect for cruising the coast, exploring bays and swinging to the anchor with a cocktail in hand in the company of friends. But beneath the aft sunbed lie long tanks containing hydrogen in gas form, a fuel cell, batteries, and electric motors driving the propellers. “The demonstrator is proof that it’s possible,” Zaied says. “And it’s important to note that this is not a prototype – this is fully certified.” This is no slouch, either – Zaied’s demonstrator can reach 25 knots, or can cruise at a more economical speeds for well over 100 miles between fuel stops.
Zaied’s dream for Hynova has been to take the demonstrator and turn it into a production model with hydrogen power. “The goal is not just to have clean propulsion,” she offers, “but also to have eco concepts in the materials used, and even in the hull. In my heart I’m a sea lover and I really love to wakeboard, so I also like to go fast – the key to the Hynova line was therefore to have performance, ecology and character.” Reconciling those three elements proved challenging – increase performance and more often than not you will create something that is not ecologically sound, for example. However, extensive design studies – and the influence of Zaied’s “girly touch”, has created a gorgeous, flowing and flexible 40-footer. It’s a bold vision for boating’s Fossil Free future – hydrogen power’s sole emission is pure water.
Naturally, Zaied’s ambition and determination raise a more provocative question – is the boating world ready for hydrogen, and if you buy a Hynova, could you even fuel it? If it seems to many of us a bit like a leap into science fiction, land transport has actually already started to make the transition. Many cities now boast hydrogen powered buses in an attempt to clean up inner city air quality, and many land transport solutions such as lorries and trucks are also beginning to make a transition to hydrogen. Similarly, in Europe hydrogen is being considered for traffic moving on inland waterways and the major river trade routes. Clearly, we are further into the future than many of us realise.
It is exactly this that Zaied set out to prove last summer. “We did a tour of the Mediterranean from Marseille to Monaco over a couple of months,” she enthuses. “We did nine stops for fuel,” And while at first the harbours were concerned, at least one of them – Cannes – is now considering adding hydrogen to its fuel dock. “That was the story of the demonstrator,” Zaied says. “We kept at sea for two months to educate people about hydrogen, and that’s important both for the hydrogen ecosystem and for boating, because boating has to change.” Fortunately, with the passion and vision of people like Zaied – and designers and shipyards and superyacht owners, and more – one can’t help but feel that boating is changing already, and for the better.