Jimmy Cornell Interview: The Elcano Challenge / Outremer 4X Custom “Aventura Zero”

We are very excited to publish our interview with legendary sailor Jimmy Cornell. Jimmy is in London currently while some modifications are being made his Outremer 4X to restart the Elcano Challenge. Listen here for an update about the Elcano Challenge as well as hear more about details of his choices and customizations as well as why this is such an important journey. Jimmy is an inspiration to us all and talking to him was a huge pleasure.

For more on the Elcano voyage see Jimmy’s website: www.CornellSailing.com

Today, I’m honored to introduce Jimmy Cornell. Jimmy, as you know, is a legend to so many of us in the sailing world, really excited to have you today. How you doing Jimmy?

Very well, thank you. I’m in London. Still cold, but the winter is going, and spring has come, so I’m very happy about that.

Good, good. Thank you for joining us on catamaransite.com today. For those viewers that haven’t heard of it, what is the Elcano challenge?

Very briefly, we’re celebrating in next year, 500 years since the completion of the first round-the-world voyage, started by Magellan in 1519 and completed by Juan Sebastian Elcano in 1522. My plan was to have a new boat built, the fifth Aventura, and sail around the world along the historic route. But this time in a fully electric boat, reflecting my concern for the environment, and trying to do something that would be relevant for these days and these times. This is how the idea was born and this is how I decided to have Aventura Zero built.

Aventura Zero

Why did you decide on the Outremer 4X catamaran for the trip?

It started as an idea. I looked around and I found out that there are indeed, now in production, electric motors built by a Finnish company, Oceanvolt. They have produced, for the very first time, a system where the motors do not provide only propulsion, but also regeneration. Meaning that when you are sailing, the propellers continue turning and produce electricity, this is put very simply. Because it’s linked not just to the electric propulsion aspect, but also to sailing, you need to have an efficient boat that can sail fast. That’s why I ended up with Outremer.

The Outremer is regarded as probably the best performance catamaran. There are other more comfortable, maybe bigger, smaller, and somewhat. Outremer has focused from the beginning on producing performance cruising catamarans.

Why a catamaran?

All my previous boats were monohulls, but in this case you do not need just speed to produce electricity by regeneration, but also you need to have enough surface to to display solar panels, so that’s another advantage of a catamaran. Bringing these two together, a fast performance catamaran and also one that can display a large amount of solar panels.

Leaving on October 24, 2020

What are the most important customizations that you made to the Outremer 4X?

In fact, we started with the basics. Then they were very quickly changed, because there were things that I wanted to have, and Outremer were very understanding that I like certain things. Also, I must stress that I came with the monohull sailor mentality, so I didn’t like certain things. I wanted them changed, so eventually we ended up with a prototype. It is neither the ordinary standard 45, nor the ultimate 4X. I believe it will be either Zero or E for electricity or electric.

You mentioned this a little bit earlier, but in your opinion, is a catamaran designed better than a monohull for reducing consumption and proving regeneration?

Certainly. If you want a fully electric, and I mean a fully electric sailing boat, you are better off at this moment with the catamaran over a reasonable size. Of course, if you have a much larger monohull which has the speed potential, you may achieve your aim. But you must never forget that the larger the boat, the more electricity you end up consuming. This is why a 48, it’s only the model is 45, is about large enough to arrive at the compromise between size and consumption.

How about the construction material? Is fiberglass a better construction material than aluminum?

Well, yes. My previous two boats were aluminum, and in fact it’s a very good material. I like very much aluminum or aluminium, but the problem is that even aluminium 45, in fact 48-foot catamaran, would weigh a lot more than eight-and-a-half tons. The Outremer 45 in my configuration, the weight of the boat is just under nine tons, and that would be very very difficult to achieve with the 45 or 48-foot aluminium or aluminum boat.

Aventura Zero’s Forward Looking Collision Avoidance System

So you decided to abandon your first attempt, can you tell us what was the most significant issue? Why that led you to make that decision?

The most important is also the essential aspect of this project, is regeneration. I want to take only part of the blame, that I was not more careful when I agreed with the boat. Yet, what kind of equipment should go on board? But at the same time, I was, it’s a strong word to use but I would use it, slightly misled by the company producing the motors that in fact, the regeneration wasn’t as efficient as I had expected. I was optimistic and maybe naive, so we ended up having quite a high consumption from the electric cooker, from the inverters, and so on.

When we started sailing, I realized that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to sail without stopping to recharge. I must stress, I did not have, and I refused to have, a diesel generator on board, so what we depended on regeneration by the electric motors. Also, I had a backup hydro generator, a sail gen, and of course the solar panels. Even the solar panels, I found that although I have 1300 Watts, it’s not sufficient.

So all these things combined made me decide when we arrived in the Canary Islands, in Tenerife, that I should really not continue, because we’re sailing into challenging areas like the Magellan Strait, and so on. I didn’t want to put the life of my crew, and my own, in danger. So I said, “Okay, let’s go back to the boat yard,” and do the corrections and improvements that I know should be done.

What I stress, which is very interesting, is we left Tenerife beginning of December, and we sailed non-stop to the boatyard in the south of France, 1540 miles, and we did not have to stop. We managed to keep going, and in fact, although it was initially very disappointing, by the time we got after 10 days to the south of France, to La Grande Motte, I had realized what I wanted all along.

But of course, it was still not good enough, so that’s why I decided, and we are now doing some changes and improvements.

For that sail back, did you really have to minimize your consumption? What changes did you have to make for that journey back?

We were very frugal. We didn’t use hot water, or making coffee, or whatever, any time we wanted. Also, I had a solar cooker which was very very efficient. It takes long, but it can cook food, and we’re really very very careful. We were much more attentive at the way we sail the boat. In fact, the boat performed extremely well, I was really really impressed.

Also, as a monohull sailor, I was very impressed at how the boat behaved. We were caught out on the way back towards France, by two storms of up to 15 knots of wind, and the boat behaved impeccably. I found the boat very very stable and really really, very very fast.

What are you currently working on at the Outremer yard to reduce consumption and improve regeneration?

That is the big challenge. When we set up the boat initially, the concept, with the advice of the boatyard, Outremer, we decided, rather than have the more efficient servo prop propeller developed by Oceanvolt, we should play safe, and have on the port side a Gori folding propeller, which is more robust, and have the servo prop on the starboard side. Now, the advantage of the servo prop propeller, is that it’s a variable pitch propeller, meaning that it would always choose its program to choose the optimum pitch. In view of the sea state, and especially the the wind strength, and this potential speed of the boat. The Gori propeller is a folding propeller. It works very well but it’s not so efficient in regenerating energy. We were very concerned because the servo prop is quite vulnerable having a variable pitch propeller setup. This is why we went with that on my return to the boatyard. We had already decided that I should now go for two servo prop propellers.

Oceanvolt’s ServoProp

Now, in fact, that has been done. It has been changed, it’s been installed already, and it is a new generation, which has a different configuration, works in a slightly different way. It is, so they tell me, more efficient.

Any idea how far out you are from making the modifications and feeling comfortable to launch again?

I’m going back. The problem is because of the coronavirus. Because of COVID, I’m blocked. I cannot move from London, we cannot travel, I cannot drive to France. I had the vaccination already, but I have to wait. As soon as I manage to get out of here, I hope in early April, I will be driving to France to test the boat.

I will not, as before, decide when I’m going to go. In fact, this time I’ll be much more realistic and skeptical, and I want to see how this new system works.

For me, the most important thing is no longer the around-the-world voyage, which I may not be able to complete, because time is running out. The most important thing is to show that the boat can cruise, it can be used, you can sell it without any concerns that you have only electricity available.

Still, I have this discussion and disagreement with the boatyard. I still insist that I want the boat to indeed have only zero emissions, that I don’t want to have a diesel generator on board. This is why we have to to find the solution, probably not now, but maybe in the next year or two. We might have a solution because a company in France is working now, on hydrogen generation, to having hydrogen-producing electricity by hydrogen.

So you’ve inspired a movement of sailors to also go emissions-free. In your opinion, how far away do you think we are from the average cruising catamaran being able to go fully electric?

Between four and six weeks.

Quicker than I thought!

I have done it! I have done it. I have sailed 1540 miles, precisely, from Tenerife. It’s about 750 miles to the Strait of Gibraltar, and we continued past Spain, past the Balearics, to the south of France, to La Grande Motte. We had two proper storms on the way, and we managed to do it.

So in the current configuration, rather I should say this, in the number one version, it can be done, we can do it. However, what can be done now, and this is something, the good news is that if we continue on the concept of not having a diesel generation aboard, you can go into marinas and charge the batteries. You have a very large bank, 56 kilowatts. You charge them and you hope. Certainly in some parts of Europe, certainly in France, the electricity you get in the marina is green. Much of the electricity in France, for example, is produced by renewable sources. Even in England, it’s already 50 percent produced from wind energy. Things are happening.

The compromise solution would be to actually accept the fact that you can’t go long distance, exactly like an electric car. You go into marina, you charge up the battery, and continue, but you still have to have a boat that is easily sailed or also handled. You also have to be prepared to sail. You don’t just, as it were, turn the key as soon as the the wind drops. You have to change your mentality. Then of course, to be also much more economical with the usage of your electricity on board, how you cook, how you live.

What is the biggest pain point for consumption when going electric?

I think the worst part of it is that everything is electric on board. You cook with electricity. You can compromise and continue to have gas, for example propane or butane, but then even that is a pollutant. I looked into fuel cells and to use ethanol, but even that produces a very small amount of carbon dioxide.

I want to be honest, this is the whole point. I don’t want to be accused that I’m attempting to cheat. This is what I told the boatyard. This one I keep saying that they’re not very happy with it, that I don’t want a diesel generator on board. So this is why one has to be very disciplined. What it is in everything else we do now. I mean, if you have an electric car, you have to be very careful. You drive it in one way in winter, when you know that if it’s very cold, you can’t heat the car or the batteries will discharge quicker. You just become very disciplined with everything else.

So I don’t think it’s a major problem, but you have to change your mentality. You have to change, basically like we have to change now, our way of life.

What is the key innovation that you feel will help make electric viable for everyone?

It’s a very difficult question, but basically batteries are getting better and more efficient and lighter. Electric motors are becoming more efficient. I hope that this new generation, which I haven’t tested yet, of Oceanvolt servo prop will be more efficient in producing and regenerating energy.

But basically, I want to stress, and this is something that we have to accept, we have to change our way of life. Not whether just by using an electric sailing boat, or an electric car, and so on. We have to change our mentality entirely every time we do something. We have to think, “can I even save a little bit of energy?” To really keep an eye on our carbon footprint, I think it’s very very important.

I don’t want to say fortunately, but because of the current pandemic, people are changing. These two things have to come together, we have to accept that there is climate change, and of course we have to deal with this virus. Because of this, people have woken up that Mother Nature is telling us something. Better take a notice of it, not just because of climate change and global warming, but also because we have really treated this planet badly. We might have to accept that we have to pay a price for it.

All right Jimmy, thank you so much for joining us today. To wrap up, people want to follow the latest on the Elcano Challenge. Where would you direct them to go?

It’s easiest to go to my website www.CornellSailing.com. All my reports over the last, more than a year, since I started working on this project are there. So please, just go to www.Cornellsailing.com.

Thank you all for watching today’s episode on catamaransite, featuring the one and only Jimmy Cornell. We wish you the best in your endeavors, and we’ll stay tuned to see how your journey goes. Thank you again, for joining us.

Great pleasure, thank you.

4 replies on “Jimmy Cornell Interview: The Elcano Challenge / Outremer 4X Custom “Aventura Zero””

I love the idea but I think going all electric is a mistake. Diesel-electric hybrids have been around for a long time and the concept works well. The energy density of diesel is just so much better than lithium and it vastly extends your range. You don’t have to turn on the diesel generator, but I think it’s smart for sailors slightly less experienced than Jimmy to have it as an option. Also it’s a mistake to think that there aren’t pollutants involved in the creation of lithium batteries and the rest of the boat too. CO2 is not the only pollutant.

Most want Electric propulsion to work, myself included. The sad fact is it just isn’t ready for primetime, but is getting closer. Current battery technology is too expensive and just doesn’t have enough capacity. Solar panels need to get a lot more efficient. If you need the Genset, why bother at all? When batteries have 10x current capacity, able to charge in 1 hour, and cost $100, they will have arrived and we won’t need sails.

Hi Bob, Thanks for commenting. Jimmy is certainly ahead of the times, and has succeeding I think already in getting people thinking and talking about zero carbon cruising. I wonder when battery prices go down such that installing electric motors is cheaper than diesels if catamarans will come standard with electric motors. Price is powerful motivator.

I really like propane as a cooking fuel. I had an experience one time on a delivery with an electric stove dependent on a diesel generator. Of course the generator broke some part in the middle of a two week passage. Avocado sandwiches for two weeks. No way to boil pasta even. All electric can be challenging, and propane is pretty simple, inexpensive, and reliable. It is a bit dangerous.

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