Modern engineering makes it easy to reduce boating’s environmental impact while saving money at the same time.

If there’s one thing that boaties value all over the world, it’s clean water and healthy aquatic ecosystems. Our love of the water and everything in it comes naturally, as can be expected for people who spend as much time as possible floating around on the stuff.

We like to think that we are a responsible lot, and collectively, we probably do have a greater sensitivity to clean water than most. But there are always things we can do to take even greater care of the resource. For even though boating is a low-impact way of enjoying the outdoors, new innovations and technologies continually make it possible for us to reduce our eco-impact even further.

Sound good? Then let’s dive in – and check out some all-new ways of checking our own environmental footprint on the water.

Vinyl wrapping is becoming a popular alternative to conventional anti-foul paint, and it’s pretty slippery as well.


While everyone wants to keep marine growths from fouling the bottom of their boat, no one wants to impact anything else in the process. That’s exactly why a number of bottom paint manufacturers have begun offering completely non-toxic alternatives to the traditional biocides. This stuff isn’t just healthier for the environment, it actually works really well to boot.

Traditional bottom paints work by leaching chemical biocides that kill marine plants and organisms they contact. Growths that try to adhere to a painted hull wind up absorbing a snoot-full of the stuff, and promptly fall off and die. Effective? You bet. Nice? Not so much.

Traditional bottom paints formulated with cuprous oxide and other similar copper compounds come in two basic forms: ablative paint, which is designed to wear off and constantly expose fresh layers of biocide, leaching copper into the environment in the process, and non-ablative paint, which doesn’t physically erode but also leaches copper into the water in order to work.

How much? Estimates suggest a 30-foot sailboat will leach about a kilogram of copper into the water each year, and that can lead to trouble when boats are found in concentrated environments like marinas. Copper levels can quickly build up the point where they exceed government toxicity standards.

It’s all about minimising your impact on sea life and the environment.

Each year in Europe nearly 150,000 tonnes of anti-fouling paint containing biocides are used.


Next-generation bottom paints like Ecominder and NS-1 from ePaint, which the company notes are used by the US Coast Guard on its aluminum boat fleet; Hydrocoat Eco copper-free bottom paint from Pettit; Pacifica Plus and Fiberglass Bottom Kote Aqua bottom paints from Interlux; and ColorKote, Monterey and Mission Bay bottom paints from Sea Hawk protect boats from marine growths without leaching toxins into the local environment. So, they don’t harm the nearshore fish, plants and invertebrates that are essential to the overall health of aquatic ecosystems.

Another option is to just skip the paint altogether and use tape instead. A Belgium-based company is hoping to capture a chunk of the anti-fouling product with a completely new approach that relies not on leeching poisons, but on making boats too slippery for marine growths to adhere to.

MacTac – the company that has lined kitchen shelves for decades and decorated millions of student notebooks with its peel-and-stick colored vinyl – offers a new, patent-pending antifouling barrier product called MacGlide that protects boats by making the hull so slippery that growths simply can’t adhere. Because it contains no biocides, MacGlide is said to be safer both for the environment and the boat yard employees who come into direct contact with it.

Sold in rolls, MacGlide self-adhesive film sticks to the hull like tape, and is applied on overlapping layers from bow to stern. Once the hull bottom is fully covered, a finishing varnish hardens it to form an armour-like seal that’s said to last far longer than traditional bottom paint.

Research the various options for anti-foul paint. Some are friendlier than others.

Growths can still cling to the hull when the boat is tied up to the dock, but once the hull begins moving through the water at more than seven knots, water pressure makes it impossible for the beasties to hold on, sending even tough customers like barnacles and mussels sliding down the hull to simply fall off at the transom.

“Thanks to its non-stick properties, MacGlide anti-fouling protects the hull from the colonisation of marine micro-organisms without spreading toxic substances into the ocean,” says MacTac business development manager, Daniele Perotti.

“It is 100% biocide-free. Each year in Europe nearly 150,000 tonnes of anti-fouling paint containing biocides are used. One square metre of anti-fouling paint contains on average 15 grams of biocide, and each gram of biocide pollutes 10,000m3 of water. Now consider that a 30-foot yacht has an immersed surface of plus or minus 25m2 and it's easy to appreciate the impact on marine life.”

As an added bonus, the product reduces friction, allowing boats to pass through the water more easily as a result of lower drag. This allows a higher top speed, while simultaneously reducing annual fuel costs by anywhere from five to six percent.


Most of us don’t give a second thought to our sacrificial anodes – those curious knobs of raw metal found on outdrives, shafts, rudders and other components that dangle under the boat. Yet anodes are pretty cool devices.

Metal corrodes in water as a result of naturally occurring electro-chemical reactions. Anodes are made from metals that have a particularly attractive electro-chemical voltage range, so these corrosive reactions tend to concentrate on the anode while skipping other adjacent metal parts. It’s like catering a kid’s birthday party by serving cake and broccoli at the same time – the cake gets devoured, while the broccoli escapes untouched.

Anodes have traditionally been made of zinc – to the point they’re universally known as ‘zincs’ rather than by their proper name. The problem with zinc is that it can be quite harmful when found in high concentrations, such around marina docks.

Exposure to elevated levels of zinc has been found to be highly toxic to plants, invertebrates and fish, for example. Worse still, zinc anodes typically include some amount of cadmium, which has been associated with serious illnesses including kidney disease, atherosclerosis, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.

In boat-intensive locations such as a marina, the collective impact of zinc anodes can pose a threat to sea life – aluminium anodes are a popular alternative.

Fortunately, zinc isn’t the only option when it comes to protecting our running gear. Aluminum anodes, for example, are completely non-toxic and even more effective than zinc, which is why they’ve been adopted as standard equipment by every outboard and sterndrive engine manufacturer in the world today.

Beyond being more effective, aluminum anodes last up to 50% longer than zinc anodes of comparable size. Aluminum is also much lighter in weight, and what’s more, it costs less. There really isn’t a downside to it, which begs the question why anyone would use continue to use zinc.

For those who want the ultimate protection, magnesium anodes are an even more effective option for boats that operate strictly in fresh water. Magnesium offers an exceptionally active electro-chemical voltage range, giving it a substantial protection edge that surpasses that of zinc and even aluminum. The downside is a higher cost, being pricier than zinc and near twice the price of aluminum.


If there’s one thing sure to annoy your neighbours, it’s being that guy – the one running the generator all night long to power the air conditioner. You may be nice and cool, but no one else in the anchorage can sleep thanks to all your noise. And that’s fair enough since, in all likelihood, you probably can’t sleep over the noise either.

No wonder a growing number of boaties are ditching the onboard generator altogether and replacing it with an AC inverter and a bank of lithium-ion batteries. Today’s high-capacity lithiumion batteries are powerful enough to run the air conditioner all night long, and without any noise, without any fumes, and without any need to get up in the middle of the night to refill the fuel tank in your underwear when it runs dry at 4:22am.

Lithium-ion batteries blow away traditional lead acid or gel cells in every possible way, starting with run times that are two to three times longer – giving them ample capacity to run energy-sucking appliances like air conditioners for eight to 10 hours or more.

They also last around seven times longer. Where standard deep-cycle cells have a typical life span of around 500 charging cycles before they need to be replaced, lithium-ion batteries can last over 3,500 cycles before giving up the ghost. Although they are more expensive to buy, lithium-ion batteries last for many more seasons than lead acid or gel cells – saving money in the long run while simultaneously reducing the number of dead batteries going into landfill. Talk about a winning combo.

So who said it ain’t easy being green? Thanks to forward-thinking engineering and old-fashioned innovation, anyone can greatly reduce their environmental impact out on the water. BNZ


Downunder Takeaways


A look below the waterline can reveal cling-ons that could devastate our marine ecosystems. They’ve also spawned a confusing clutch of local body rules and regulations to fight them. Story by Lindsay Wright.


They’re the bane of many boating people and the legions of local body officials tasked with keeping track of them but, as pest invaders go, they have some catchy nomenclature. There’s Mediterranean fanworm (Sabella spallanzanii), Japanese kelp (Undaria pinnatifida) and the much less exotically-named leathery sea squirt (Styela clava) and chances are, if you haven’t cleaned the bottom of your boat lately, you may be taking some of them along on holiday with you.
Keeping your boat’s underwater parts clean can save fuel – and avoid a heap of biosecurity hassles.

Go for a walk around any marina in the Auckland area and almost every underwater piling or pontoon surface will be crowded with the Medusa-like fingers of Mediterranean fanworm. A Belgian sailor once told me that “they should call this Auckland fanworm – I have never seen it like this in the Med.” But in the Med they probably have predators.
Mediterranean fanworm (there is a smaller, native species too) were first noticed in Lyttelton Harbour in May 2006 and MAFBNZ (now MPI) embarked on a $3.6m campaign to eradicate the pest using divers and monitoring sites. In 2009 the programme was extended to cover a small population that had been reported in Auckland’s Viaduct Basin, but further investigation showed that the entire Waitemata Harbour was riddled with fanworm. The eradication programme was stopped in 2011, once the enormity of the task became obvious.
In its inexorable spread through our coastal waterways, the fanworm was soon detected at Marsden Cove Marina and Port Nikau (Whangarei).

Most local bodies have their own regulations to cover travelling boats and it pays to check these beforehand. Some require evidence of recent antifouling or bottom scrubbing; a boatyard haulage receipt or proof of antifouling purchase within a specified period before their visit. Most accept a receipt or certification of a diver’s bottom scrub.
In the boating mecca that is the Far North, much of the enforcement is done under the auspices of the Northland Marine Charter, a consortium of local slipways, marinas, ports and boating people.
At the Bay of Islands marina in Opua, boats are checked by trained staff on arrival and owner/skippers asked to fill out a questionnaire to ascertain the risk of infection. If there’s any doubt the boats can be inspected by divers using snorkels ($40–$80 per hour) or, for larger vessels, the marina website says that teams of three divers can be brought from Auckland ($890 travel each way) and $2700 a day. There are also local dive contractors, some of whom were flat-out at last year’s Bay of Islands Sailing Week scrubbing bottoms. Otherwise, haul-out and scrubbing facilities are close at hand.

The over-riding legislation covering marine biosecurity though, is the Biosecurity Act 1993 which makes it illegal for any person to sell, offer for sale, breed or multiply any marine exclusion pest. No person shall knowingly release or transport marine pests and any person who sees a marine pest – or suspects their presence – is required to report it to the relevant local body or Ministry of Primary Industry (MPI).
But in Northland enforcement is stricter than the actual law requires – any infiltration of marine pests could put paid to the area’s aquaculture and tourist industries.

“That’s the law – but our preferred option is to focus on education,” says Kathryn Lister, Northland Regional Council Biosecurity Manager Marine and Strategy.
“It’s pretty fragmented at the moment, but a discussion document came out in March 2019 aimed at having one nationwide set of rules to cover fouling and pest eradication. That’s our vision. We’ve been working on it for years, so – fingers crossed – it’ll come to fruition soon.
“It’s very difficult to get rid of these things when they’re already here – that’s what biosecurity is – limiting what’s here. Plants and terrestrial pests are normally visible, but we don’t know so much about what’s growing under the sea.”
Meanwhile it pays to check the regulations with the local body at your destination before you go – or keep your boat’s bottom clean.
Another pest weed known to grow round our coast is undaria (Undaria pinnatifida), which is also known as Japanese or Asian kelp and considered a delicacy in some eastern countries. It was first noticed in Wellington Harbour in 1987 and since then has spread around the coastline. It is widespread in Rakiura Stewart Island.
MPI has issued licences to breed the weed (also known as the gorse of the sea) in “selected areas that already have heavy growth of this seaweed.” It is found in the tidal or subtidal zones down to about 15m and, like so many invasive marine pests, is a native of our major trading partners in the NW Pacific.
Another nasty little number inveigling its way into our tidal zone is the leathery sea squirt (Styela clava – or clubbed tunicate). It was first discovered in the Viaduct Basin in October 2005 and shortly afterwards in Lyttelton. It was also found on the bottom of a boat that had sailed from Auckland to Picton and around the Hauraki Gulf and Northland.
It too is a native of the NW Pacific but was spread around the region by increased shipping traffic during the Korean War in the 1950s. It was identified in Australia in 1972 but it took several decades for it to turn up here. Since then the pickle-like pest has made up for lost time – spawning every 24 hours in water over 15-degrees C and competing with other filter feeders for food and space. It’s readily identifiable and plans are afoot to eradicate the unwanted pest.

But this year, out on Aotea Great Barrier island, some 50nm from Auckland, where the locals pride themselves on their pristine coastline, another sea squirt species was found by Auckland Council biosecurity staff doing a regular check of Port Fitzroy.
Clavelina oblonga was likely introduced by unwitting boat people last summer, says Samantha Happy, the Council’s senior biosecurity advisor. “Using the piles at Smokehouse Bay to scrub their boat bottoms. That is now a forbidden activity. Hopefully it’s limited to that one small area and we can nip it in the bud before it becomes widespread.”

The presence of many of these maritime undesirables are attributable to commercial shipping pumping out ballast tanks en route to load cargo but a protocol forbidding that practice has been applied to the Hauraki Gulf and some other coastal areas.
Auckland Council has pamphlets and source materials which are available from most marina or council offices and outline rules and regulations pertaining to hull cleaning and different standards which must be met in certain areas and excellent illustrated guides with information on the pest species to look out for.
MPI publishes a handy ring-bound and laminated New Zealand Marine Pest ID Guide which is robust enough to withstand shipboard use, rock pooling or beach patrols.
What better holiday activity for the family than to spend time on pest patrol – hunting the several crab and clam species that plague our coastal waters?
Maybe you’ll come across a colony of Chinese mitten crab (similar to our splendidly-named native hairy handed crab) or the voracious Northern Pacific seastar (Asterias amurensis), a maritime Genghis Khan.
It’s our playground so we should be looking after it.


Want seaweed with that?

Supplementing your diet with seaweed could relieve medical problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), metabolic syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, say researchers at the Nelson-based Cawthron Institute.

awthron is leading a new research programme – He tipu moana he oranga tangata: Revealing karengo as a high-value functional food – in collaboration with Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and Wakatū Incorporation. The research is investigating the potential of a modern, high-value industry based around karengo – a native edible seaweed.
The facility’s Dr Tom Wheeler says hundreds of varieties of native seaweed grow wild along New Zealand’s coast, but little is known about their composition or bioactive potential. “Our research will reveal the nutritional profile and potential health benefits of karengo, to help Māori enterprises identify the most promising karengo species for development into high-value extracts.
“Karengo is related to nori, a popular Japanese seaweed that’s high in protein with health-promoting antioxidant effects, so this sets some expectations around what nutritional treasure we might find through our analysis,” he says.
The research will identify the species with the most promising health-promoting bioactivities for relieving chronic inflammatory conditions such as COPD, metabolic syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.

HVN National Science Challenge is funding the two-year programme, and its Professor Richard Mithen says harvesting karengo in a sustainable manner will lead to the development of new foods to benefit the health of New Zealanders and offer innovative export opportunities for business.
With more than 250 scientists, laboratory technicians, researchers and specialist staff from 26 countries, Cawthron is New Zealand’s largest independent science organisation, offering a broad spectrum of services to help protect the environment and support sustainable development of primary industries.
Meanwhile, seaweed has become the ‘star ingredient’ in Alaska and Canada, where kelp farming is already a thriving player in a massive global industry worth an estimated $6bn a year. Thousands of tonnes of different varieties of the plant are harvested around the world annually – with China and Japan the major exporters.
And the industry’s likely to be fuelled by growing interest in sustainability. Climate change – in addition to health awareness factors – is driving the movement towards plant-based diets. Studies have also demonstrated the effectiveness of seaweed in animal feed as a way of reducing methane emissions. It is also being tested for properties that can mimic fossil fuels or plastics.

When cat's paws grow claws

Sometimes waves are gentle and undulating. But they can become monsters, turning a pleasant cruise into a roiling hell. This often leads to an unexpected boat sale. Matt Vance asks what’s behind their fickle action?

Ocean waves are curious things.
In a cosmos full of different kinds of waves, ocean waves are one of the few that are obvious to the human eye. For the most part, they are on a scale and speed we can relate to and for that reason, if you ask a small child to draw a wave you will not get the complexity of a sound or infrared wave, but a simple blue crayon ocean wave.
While landlubbers see waves as merely a backdrop to an ocean scene, sailors know it is the one thing that more than others will determine the motion of your boat and the morale of the crew. For a boatie, the difference between a great day on the water and abject misery will be largely a function of waves.
The source of all this motion is the wind. At its essence, the wind is the earth’s way of distributing heat around. In the hot areas, the air rises and causes low pressure. In the cool areas air descends and causes high pressure.
Wind is a perpetual attempt to equalize the two systems and in doing so it keeps our climate and planet habitable. On land, the influence of wind is mostly ignored, yet when it blows over the sea it becomes the sculptor of waves and the engine of currents. Wind brings the ocean to life.

Victorian poet, Algernon Swinburne, wrote of watching “The wind’s feet shine along the sea.” While not a sailor, he was most definitely a sea-gazer of the first order. When wind moves over the surface of the sea it has an instant effect on its motion and its ability to reflect light. For the sailor reading the effect of wind on water is a fundamental literacy.
It provides understanding and a glimpse of the near future for those whose movement and safety is entirely based on the wind. To a person of the land, this may seem like sorcery and on more than one occasion I have been confronted by the statement, “But you can’t see wind!” I refer them to Swinburne but it seems the mention of obscure Victorian poets just confuses them more.

Wind blowing over open water will set up a wave train. And like an old Holden Kingswood, it will have a three-stage gearbox. The first stage is the capillary waves. These are the first corrugations you notice as a new breeze gets up. They are caused by slight speed and pressure differences as the wind blows over the surface.
Once the wave has formed the wind is able to further build the wave height by the pressure difference between the windward and leeward sides. These capillary waves are fighting the surface tension of the water and it is this tension that will make them disappear as fast as they are made if the wind ceases to blow.
This surface tension also means they look like sine waves, their troughs and crests linked together in near-perfect curves. This uniformity means capillary waves are great reflectors of light. Their darkening of the water to windward is a sure sign that a light puff of wind is on its way.
As these capillary waves strengthen they grow into the second stage of wave formation called seas. These are the one most commonly encountered in a boat and can range from a reassuring rhythm to a steep and impenetrable slop that can lead to a wet ride and turn your crew green.
Unlike the sine wave shape of the capillary wave, surface tension has less of an influence. The backs of the waves are flattened by the wind while the faces are steeper on their leeward side. Their shape is said to be trochoidal.

The development of seas is rarely uniform in direction or speed, resulting in a confusion of wave heights, directions and wavelengths. A new sea always has this confusion about it and it’s not until the wind has been blowing constantly or stopped altogether after a long time that these seas will develop into swells.
While capillary ripples will die quickly after the wind stops, seas have a longer life. As they propagate away from their area of origin, seas naturally sort themselves out into groups of common direction and wavelength. The sets of waves formed in this manner are known as swells.
The lulls are the component waves cancelling each other out while the sets are the swells being amplified by the component waves being in sync. The larger ones have a greater wavelength and can travel much faster, which is why the onset of a heavy swell sometimes precedes the storm systems that create them.
A fully-developed sea has the maximum wave size theoretically possible for a wind of a specific strength, duration and fetch. The longer, harder or greater distance over which the wind blows, the greater the potential to develop a sizeable swell.
This is why the Mediterranean with its short fetch produces short, sharp swells and the Southern Ocean with its infinite fetch consistently produces the largest swells in the world.

If there is wind that is providing more energy than that required to create a fully-developed sea the extra energy is dissipated by the breaking of some of the seas and the creation of whitecaps. In an extreme squall, you will see this dissipation expressed as a sudden haze of spray as the tops of the waves are blown into the air.
Any kind of current flow will have a dramatic effect on both seas and swells. If the current is with the waves it will tend to lengthen and flatten them. If the current is against the waves it has the effect of shortening and steepening the waves. You can see this effect on any harbour in New Zealand as the tide starts to go out against the sea breeze.
When this effect is scaled up you get the likes of the Agulhas Current sweeping down around the bottom of South Africa and confronting the swell and wind of the Southern Ocean south-westerlies producing large breaking swells, which have claimed more than a few ships.
As a swell nears the shore and begins to feel the bottom (i.e. the wavelength is less than half the water depth) it will begin to slow down and stand up. This phenomenon will ensure that no matter what angle waves approach the coast it will refract to break near parallel to it. Refraction will also concentrate the wave energy on headlands and dissipate the wave energy in bays and is one of the primary shapers of our coastal landscape.
At any one time, there are several different swell patterns and directions on the open sea. The shorter they are, the closer they have formed, the longer – the more distant. This effect alone gives the sea a vitality that no lake can touch. To look at the open sea in this way is to look at the past, present and future, all in one take and in this sense render it similar to stargazing.

A surfer rides a 15m wave  in Northern California.

Whether you notice them or not, waves will set the mood of your boat. They will determine the difference between a good day and a miserable one on the water. Others of you will develop a fascination for them and spend more time than is feasible watching them.
You will begin to see beauty and pattern in equal measure and if you venture into the Southern Ocean you will see waves of a size that will briefly stop your heart with their power. You will become a wave watcher and join a small secret society dedicated to the peculiar effects of wind over water.

The Southern Ocean


In 1953, with the stroke of a pen, the most important ocean on the planet disappeared.



The truth is the Southern Ocean had been shrinking for some time, retreating south and being eroded in increments. As gales roared over its waters and legions of albatrosses wheeled across its skies, bureaucrats and policymakers were busy plotting its demise.
It all started back in 1914 when the newly-formed International Hydrographic Bureau attempted to agree on borders and names for the world’s oceans and seas. Although this sounds like the basis for a Monty Python skit, it was a serious attempt at defining ownership of the unownable. Ten years later, in the great human spirit of letting nothing be wild and free, the Bureau produced a publication entitled Limits of Oceans and Seas.



Captain James Cook was one of the first to prove that the southern region of the globe was composed of a single great ocean. This came as a disappointment: he had been hoping to find the fabled continent Terra Australis.
When his voyages of the late 1770s produced nothing but endless sea dotted with tiny islands, the ocean was given over to whalers, sealers and sailors. These men gave it a multitude of names, among them Great Southern Ocean, Grand Ocean and the frighteningly descriptive Southern Icy Ocean.
Things remained that way until 1919 when the Bureau officially named it the Southern Ocean. Its northern boundary was drawn to neatly touch the coasts of South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
The naming of the ocean gave formal recognition to what every sailor had known all along – that this was a singular, distinctive and significant body of water − but the Bureau
was never to reach such heights of common sense again.
At each subsequent meeting, it pushed the boundaries of its neighbouring oceans south, until in 1953 the Southern Ocean disappeared altogether.
Since then there have been attempts by the International Hydrographic Organisation – as the Bureau was renamed in 1970 – to reinstate the Southern Ocean but disagreement has always broken out among the delegates. Today such disparate parties as Encyclopaedia Britannica and the CIA recognise the Southern Ocean while the National Geographic Society chooses to ignore it.
As you may have guessed, all this naming and drawing of boundaries is complete nonsense. The Southern Ocean has a presence that moves north and south with the seasons. Its howling west winds can reach up as far north as 35° South latitude in the southern winter and retreat as far south as 50° South in summer. For those who sail there, the ocean is felt as an unnerving and almighty power, a tightening somewhere deep in the gut.
It was the sailors who frequented these waters in the days of sailing ships that named the latitudes of the Southern Ocean – the Roaring Forties, the Furious Fifties and the Screaming Sixties. They were describing the only thing that matters in this ocean, wind.

These were no sailor yarns, like those of sea serpents, dreamed up to scare the pants off landlubbers; these winds were real and went some way to making this the most feared ocean on the planet. Even today, among sailors, to say you have sailed the Southern Ocean is equivalent to describing a descent into hell. Their eyes will be bright and they will take you aside and ask “What was it like?”
That the Southern Ocean is one of the most consistently windy stretches of water on Earth is largely due to heat and pressure. The equatorial regions receive the vertical blaze of the sun and so have an excess of heat. The polar regions have a deficit of heat. Wind is the atmosphere’s attempt to even out the difference, like the thermostat of an air- conditioning system.
Where the air is cool it descends, causing high pressure; where it is hot it rises, causing low pressure. Because the planet is rotating the big masses of air and water do not follow a straight line but rather a spiral, which whirls towards the left in the southern hemisphere and toward the right in the northern hemisphere. This gets complicated very quickly and is the reason meteorologists earn their money.

Over the interior of Antarctica, it is cold, which means the air can do only one thing and that is descend. On the edges of this large polar high there are low-pressure systems that drag warm air south and shunt cold air north as they spin the relatively warm sea air upwards.
Seen from the expansive view of a satellite map it looks like an icy kingdom surrounded by a marauding pack of spinning hounds which circle it, like the perimeter fence of a drug lord’s mansion.
It is the northernmost edges of this pack of hounds, known to meteorologists as ‘deep low-pressure systems’, which force a continuous flow of wind from west to east. As each low-pressure system passes, the flow goes from the warmer north-west to the cooler south-west and back again; always some version of west and always lots of it.
The waves these westerly winds generate are among the largest on the planet. The strength of a wind and the distance it has travelled − a combination known as ‘fetch’ − determine the height of waves.
A small lake has a short fetch so it is capable of generating only a sharp chop, even in strong winds. An ocean such as the Atlantic has a few thousand nautical miles of fetch so it can generate a sizeable swell. When the Drake Passage opened up 30 million years ago it gifted the Southern Ocean an infinite fetch.

This is the one ocean that has no land to break up the sea’s endless circuit. Even on the calmest days, it has a constant heave from the west. On the worst days, the size of the swell can make your heart stop.
All that wind has an effect on the surface water of the Southern Ocean. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current, like the wind, is in a constant drift eastward. Measured at 11,332 nautical miles long it is actually a continuous loop that moves over 130 million cubic metres of water a second. That is over 100 times the flow of every river stream and creek on the planet combined!
It is one of the major redistributors of energy, like a giant flywheel at the bottom of the world keeping the air-conditioning system going. This circumpolar current is also the baseline which drives the Indian, the Atlantic and the immense Pacific Ocean gyres which reach up as far as the equator.

Below the surface currents of the Southern Ocean, there are other currents, driven not by the wind but by differences in density. Antarctica is one of the few places in the world that produces deep water; this is the cold salty water that forms as the sea ice leaches out its salt and is the densest seawater on the planet.
Its density allows it to sink to the bottom which averages about 4,000–5,000m deep for most of the Southern Ocean. This sets in chain the circulation of the entire world ocean system. The only other place that can boast the production of deep water is Greenland. While the circulation of the world’s oceans is an endless conveyor belt, it is believed that deep water formation is critical to kick-starting and maintaining this immense transfer of energy.

You don’t have to sail the Southern Ocean to guess that with all this water moving about there will be some spectacular collisions. The most impressive is the Antarctic Convergence zone, where cool dense Antarctic water moving north meets the relatively warmer water of the Subantarctic and creates an undulating ring of confusion up to 26 nautical miles wide around the Antarctic continent between latitudes 48° and 61° South.
As the Antarctic water drives under the subantarctic water, the vigorous mixing that results brings bottom nutrients to the surface, making the place one of the most productive zones in all the world’s oceans and a bonanza for marine life.
For those who venture across it, the convergence zone denotes a change in the soul of the Southern Ocean. South of it the sea temperature drops, the fog rolls in and all hope of the north is lost. Things get serious with little chance of rescue: there is now a vast distance between you and the rest of humanity.
Further south again and the first of the sea ice is encountered. At about -1.8oC seawater freezes and forms pancake patches of ice that congeal into a solid frozen surface up to 120cm thick.

As winter approaches, vast swathes of the Southern Ocean freeze over, expanding the footprint of the Antarctic continent by up to 20 million square kilometres. By late January the ice breaks up and is flushed north to dissolve into the wider Southern Ocean. This expansion and contraction create one of the largest annual events by mass on the planet.
If you speed up satellite images of the growth and disintegration of sea ice on a computer, what you see has a remarkable resemblance to a beating heart. This could be dismissed as the pure fancy of a Gaia theorist were it not for the fact that, beneath the vast structure of winter sea ice, a miniature upside-down forest of marine growth forms each spring as the sun penetrates the ice, injecting large quantities of biota into the Southern Ocean.

Despite all this physical enormity, we still know very little about this ocean. It circles Antarctica and acts as a violent mixer of the earth’s air and water. It is the one ocean that links all of the others; it is the one feared by sailors. Despite this impressive collection of traits, it remains firmly incognito.
While we could blame the International Hydrographic Organisation for this, there’s also another reason. On this ocean, humans can exist only in transition. The idea of real settlement is absurd: staying put is hard to achieve in an ocean hell-bent on picking you up and tumbling you east.
So the ocean sits well out of sight at the bottom of the world, and any eyes drawn its way are blinded by the gleaming white of its glamorous companion, Antarctica.


Water shortages are becoming increasingly common in a world reeling under global warming and climate change. There aren’t any easy solutions – but for one South African city, a proposed fix borders on the fantastical.

Cape Town is one of South Africa’s largest cities and desperately needs fresh water. In 2018, after three years of severe drought, the city of four million was at risk of becoming the first in the world to run out of municipal water. Severe restrictions were introduced.
Thanks to recent rains, these have now been eased – slightly – with limits increased from 50 to 70 litres per person per day. Still, the shortages have savaged the region’s economy, particularly the tourism and agricultural sectors. Crops and livestock numbers have been radically reduced, and an estimated 30,000 seasonal jobs have been lost. No one believes the drought was a one-off.
South African Nick Sloane – a 56-year-old professional marine salvage master – has proposed an unusual solution to alleviate future droughts: kidnap a monster Antarctic iceberg and use tankers and tugboats to tow it to Cape Town, where the meltwater will hydrate the thirsty city.

Nick Sloane

Sloane is no stranger to manhandling large objects at sea and is perhaps best-known for orchestrating the refloating of the Costa Concordia, the unfortunate Italian cruise liner that capsized off the Tuscany coast in January 2012, killing 32 passengers.
For Cape Town, he says, he’d have to find the ‘right’ iceberg – one measuring around 1,000m by 500m by 250m and weighing 125 million tonnes. It would contain enough ice to supply 20% of the city’s annual water demand.
His proposed gamble is supported by an international team of glaciologists, oceanographers, engineers and financiers. The plan – titled the Southern Ice Project – has an estimated $200 million price-tag, and much of this will be met by two South African banks and Water Vision AG, a Swiss water technology and infrastructure company.
Note that Sloane’s concept is centred on Antarctic icebergs (rather than Arctic icebergs) – and not only because of their geographic proximity to the southern tip of Africa. There are other crucial fundamentals: Antarctic bergs are typically much larger than their Arctic cousins and, because they are often ‘tabular’ they tend to be more stable. Arctic icebergs are irregular and often riddled with fractures that could result in splitting or flipping.

An aerial view of the Costa Concordia salvage operation. The wrecked cruise ship was rolled off the seabed and onto underwater platforms.

On the face of it, capturing an iceberg to quench a parched city’s thirst sounds like a great idea. Consider that Antarctica ‘calves’ more than 100,000 icebergs annually. The volume of water they contain – estimated at around 2,000 billion tonnes – is greater than the total global annual consumption of freshwater. Effectively, the melting icebergs represent wasted freshwater – water which contributes to rising sea levels.
But how practical is towing a 125-million-tonne iceberg 1,600 miles through some of the planet’s most ferocious seas? Unquestionably, the project will be expensive – but it could also be dangerous, especially if the berg unexpectedly flips over, cracks or collapses en route.
“The issues are going to be its size and the fact that it’s going to start melting as they go along,” says Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the Earth Science and Observation Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. “There are ways for the iceberg to break once it starts to get warm that are difficult to control.” He is not involved in the project.

And even if the tow does work, there is the small question of payment. Cape Town’s local government is sceptical of the project’s viability, citing the obvious cost and risk issues. Other options, such as desalination, are cheaper.
But as Sloane points out, “the water situation in some parts of Africa is getting worse all the time. It’s certainly not getting better. Twenty or 30 years from now,
I think towing icebergs will be a regular thing.” He has invested more than $100,000 of his own money into the Southern Ice Project.
Assuming the plan does gain traction though, and if cities and countries are forced to entertain left-field alternatives to water supply, how would the iceberg tow work?

Iceberg Capture
The team, says Scambos, would use satellite data to identify the best-size iceberg on course for Gough Island, halfway between Antarctica and Africa’s southern tip, located about 1,600 miles west of Cape Town. Many icebergs track along this route – drifting towards Gough Island – because of the prevailing winds and currents. Sonar and radar scans would reveal any structural flaws.
If the iceberg passes muster, two tugboats would trap it with a $25 million net of ropes made of Dyneema, a supermaterial that’s buoyant and suited for low temperatures, friction and tension.
If netted successfully – no small feat given that 80mph winds can create monstrous waves in this part of the world – the iceberg would be dragged by two supertankers, each developing around 20,000hp, and each tethered to a tugboat to aid steerage.
This bizarre procession of ice, supertankers and tugs – travelling at around one knot – would follow the currents to save on fuel, first using the eastward Antarctic Circumpolar Current and then dragging the berg into the north-flowing Benguela Current, which would deliver the entourage to Cape Town.

The challenge is daunting, but “I do think they’ll be able to move a large iceberg,” says Scambos, “because, in part, the ocean’s currents are in their favour. If it could be made to work in any location, that path from the Antarctic Peninsula to Cape Town is probably one of the best ones. The other good one that really has a shot is Perth, Australia.”
November and December are the best months for the tow, when the Southern Ocean is a little more docile. Still, the crew would need to take many precautions. For one, meltwater could pool on the top of the iceberg as it’s being towed, which could cause the ice to fracture. “If they’ve read through the literature, they should probably cut some trenches and make drains to make sure water doesn’t accumulate on the upper surface because that can cause problems,” adds Scambos.
The entire trip would likely take 90 days, says Sloane, and given known melt-rate, the iceberg would be some 8% smaller by the time it reached its destination. There, it would sit in the cold Benguela Current offshore, where it would be moored and wrapped in a mammoth skirt to protect the ice from the elements.
If successful, the prize is pristine polar water. “It’s fantastically fresh and clean,” says Scambos. “Most of the water is from hundreds to thousands of years ago.”
Machines operating on top of the berg would then churn it into an ice slurry that would be shipped to shore on container ships and put into municipal reservoirs. Sloane’s team says the iceberg would supply 55 million kilolitres a year, more than 150 million litres a day.

A huge chunk of ice calves off an Antarctic ice shelf.

The proposal has a few things going for it, says Matthias Huss, a glaciologist at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. “The iceberg would release its meltwater anyway, so why not use it for drinking water supply? Also transporting the water in the form of a block of ice is likely more efficient than shipping liquid water.”
Still, the prohibitive cost likely means this won’t be a long-term solution for Cape Town’s water woes, says Tad Pfeffer, a glaciologist at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado Boulder. “Whichever way they do it, it’s going to be really expensive. Economically, it’s probably not all that good an idea, except in a dire emergency.”
Many would argue that – for the Southern tip of Africa – the emergency has already arrived.

This article first appeared in Live Science. Additional reporting by Lawrence Schäffler.


Forest & Bird is heartened that 90% of respondents to a Department of Conservation survey support changes to whitebaiting regulations.

“This level of public support bodes well for finding solutions that will help ensure our unique and threatened native fish have a future,” says Annabeth Cohen, Forest & Bird’s freshwater advocate.

DOC’s public survey was supported by feedback at public meetings, the Whitebait Working Group and consultation with Māori. The findings will become a discussion document for public consultation later in the year.

“The future management of our native fish species is such an important issue, and it’s great all New Zealanders will have an opportunity to have their say,” says Cohen. “We know our whitebait species face many threats, including habitat loss, pollution, climate change and physical barriers to their migration. Fishing is yet another pressure, and it’s one we can easily do something about.”

Forest & Bird has participated in the Whitebait Working Group alongside scientists, commercial and recreational fishers, and other stakeholders. “As part of the working group, we’ve advocated for a moratorium on commercial whitebait fishing to be included as an option for the public to consider,” says Cohen. “But we’re open to considering any solution that improves the status quo, which is a largely unregulated industry dealing in threatened native fish.”

She hopes new regulations will be in place by the time the 2020 season opens.

Whitebait comprises five different species of migratory galaxiid fish: Giant kōkopu, banded kōkopu, shortjaw kōkopu, kōaro, and īnanga. Four out of five of these species are in serious trouble.


One man’s rubbish, so the old adage goes, is another man’s gold. In some cases, though, the riches aren’t material – their worth is in experience and life-lessons. Decades ago, as a young boy determined to learn the arts of hands-on seamanship, Lindsay Wright found a berth on the scow Success, gathering rubbish and gash (galley scraps) from ships in Port Wellington.

All the waste was quarantined so, after chugging around the overseas ships, we’d motor down Evans Bay and discharge at a wharf where our cargo was incinerated. It was a great ship-handling education, going alongside the towering steel hulls in all sorts of weather while crewmen craned their refuse to land on the Success’ deck. Drums of borscht from the Russians or chow mein from the Chinese.

The 21m hard chine scow was built by D.N. Darroch at Stanley Bay, Auckland in 1925 – the last and the smallest true scow built in New Zealand. Originally named the Alwin G, she’d never had a hold and with a draft of about a metre, she had some handling idiosyncrasies that would make a saint swear.

Her two 4LW Gardner diesels developed 60 Clydesdale horsepower and drove through 2UC Gardner gearboxes, each with enough metal to build a Toyota Starlet. The controls were two large bronze levers that protruded from the front of the wheelhouse: in neutral they were straight up and down, a two-handed shove moved them to the right to engage forward gear and another two shoves in the opposite direction clunked them through neutral and into reverse.

The throttles were operated by rods with little plastic knobs on top that poked from the top of the dashboard. Pulling them upwards as hard as you could gave full throttle and all the way down was idle. Our 1,200rpm cruising speed was somewhere in between.

Steering was by a traditional wooden ship’s wheel with a diameter that almost matched my height. Turning it moved a heavy chain on a sprocket, out to a turning block on deck beside the wheelhouse and back on each side through other blocks and onto the tiller arm. So each turn of the wheel entailed dragging 20m or so of heavy steel chain across the deck before it even began turning the rudder.

As deckhand I wielded a spring line which was armed with a heavy steel hook on the end. As we neared a ship I would slip the hook into whatever was in reach: an open porthole, steel eye welded to the ship’s topsides or scupper edge.

Once fast to the ship, I’d spring Success to a standstill while Jack MacDonald, the skipper, gave several blasts on the horn and the ship’s crew scrambled to lower their rubbish to us. On calm days Jack would let me manoeuvre the unwieldy old scow, an operation akin to conducting an orchestra of hyperactive violinists.

With not much boat in the water and the wheelhouse right aft, Success tended to take charge at slow speed – so you’d nose in towards the ship as fast as you dared, push the throttle knobs down, take one engine out of gear, rattle clunk some helm on, lift the throttle knob for extra shove, put the opposite engine astern and lift the knobs to give full astern on both – then close the throttles, de-clutch the engines and run down on deck to use the spring line.

Jack would stand in a corner of the wheelhouse and watch with a grim look on his weathered face. “You’re going to kill yourself with that bloody spring line one day,” he’d say – which was his way of saying “Well done.”

One day as we chugged down Evans Bay, drums of refuse lining the bulwarks and the two of us in the wheelhouse, Jack, in an unusually talkative mood, pointed across the harbour and said: “I joined the Pamir there.”

I hadn’t known he’d been on the legendary Finnish barque which was seized as a WW ll war prize by the New Zealand Government. “Wow – that must have been great – a real sailing ship,” I replied.

Jack grunted. “Signed on as bucko (ordinary seaman) for the last trip – back to England after the war – across to Aussie and then round the Horn.”

“What was it like?” I asked, keen to hear about the last commercial windjammer rounding Cape Horn, towering masts and clouds of sail.

“Huh – we were in the Southern Ocean – getting along at 12 – 15 knots and I chucked a bucket over the side for water to do the dishes. Bloody thing filled with water and dragged me the length of the deck – couldn’t hold it. I let go of the lanyard at the break of the poop deck.

“The mate was on watch and saw the whole thing happen – he jumped down from the poop deck into the waist and gave me a good clout behind the ear. I had to make a new bucket during my time off on Sunday and they docked the cost of materials off my wages.

“And they logged me. The big ship’s log lay open on a desk in the aft cabin with an entry ‘Bucket lost overboard due to carelessness by O/S J. MacDonald,’ and I had to sign it.”

In those days (1948) an entry against a crew member in the log could spell the difference between signing on a ship or being passed over for some other seaman.

On arrival in the post-war dowdiness of England, Jack spent a few months “on the beach” before signing on for passage home in foreign-going steamers. “Bloody great,” he grinned at the recollection, “you got to spend your whole off-watch in bed.”

He continued his upward ascendancy “through the hawse pipe” to able-bodied seaman, second mate, chief mate and master of Union Steam Ship Company vessels on the New Zealand coast.

Jack had been widowed and took the job on Success so he could stay close to home and raise his family.

We neared the wharf, vague through the rain-streaked windows. “You’d better get your bloody lines ready,” he ordered.


Success/Alwin G is still around, currently on the hard in Nelson. A group of maritime heritage enthusiasts is investigating her possible purchase with a view to restoring her.

It’s estimated around 130 similar scows once plied New Zealand’s harbours. Commonly referred to as ‘trucks of the sea’ they were the backbone of maritime transport and played a major role in the country’s early development. Of these, only three original scows remain – the Jane Gifford, the Alma and the Success.

Beautifully restored, the Jane Gifford is a popular tourist attraction in Warkworth, north of Auckland.


It’s estimated around 130 similar scows once plied New Zealand’s harbours. Commonly referred to as ‘trucks of the sea’ they were the backbone of maritime transport and played a major role in the country’s early development. Of these, only three original scows remain – the Jane Gifford, the Alma and the Success.




The Venta Maersk, carrying a cargo of frozen fish, arrived in St Petersburg in August, having left Vladivostok (Russia’s Pacific port city) days earlier.
Experts say this Northern Sea route could be quicker for ships travelling from east Asia to Europe (rather than via the Northwest Passage over Canada) because it was likely to be free of ice sooner due to climate change. It could reduce the east Asia-Europe shipping route from 21,000km (via the Suez Canal), to 12,800km, shaving transit time by 10–15 days.

A.P. Moller-Maersk is the world’s biggest shipping group and the Venta Maersk, says Palle Laursen, the organisation’s chief technical officer, made the journey as a one-off trial. “This provided exceptional operational experience – and the ship performed well in the unfamiliar environment.
“Currently, we do not see the Northern Sea route as a viable commercial alternative to existing east-west routes. Today, the passage is only feasible for around three months a year which may change with time. Furthermore, we also must consider that ice-classed vessels are required to make the passage, which means an additional investment.”

Rodney Russ: Southern Ocean Explorer

Russ has spent more time in this ocean than most and has shown more people its beauty than anyone else I know. To say he is a passionate advocate for Southern Ocean wildlife conservation is the understatement as wild as a wandering albatross.
Russ’ story starts not in the depths of a Southern Ocean gale but on the banks of the Waimea River near Nelson. He was a farmer’s son who had a healthy fixation on the birdlife of the river.

In the early 1960s a local contractor excavating gravel was asked by a small boy not to work near a pied stilt nest. It was a first attempt at conservation and the beginnings of a life that would be dedicated to opening awareness of the wildest and loneliest reaches of the planet.
Russ’ youth was spent between his desire for the outdoors and enduring the stuffy rigours of Waimea College. When the principal of the college suggested he might be wasting his time in the classroom, Russ took the hint and left school.
While expectation was that he would go farming, it was his passion for wildlife that drew him into applying for a Wildlife Service internship. The Wildlife Service was a small department under the Department of Internal Affairs and as it happened a breeding ground for most of the great names in New Zealand wildlife conservation.
In 1972 when a fellow trainee pulled out of the New Zealand, Australian and United States Auckland Island Expedition, Russ was asked to join for a three-month stint on the Sub-Antarctic Island. “I loved every minute of it. Tears streamed down my cheeks when we left and I promised myself I would return,” he says.
It was the first of many expeditions to the islands and it was where Russ earned the nickname of ‘The Evinrude Cowboy’ for his abilities as a Zodiac helmsman among the big swells and treacherous coastlines of the Southern Ocean.

His tenacity got him noticed and he was part of some ground-breaking teams that worked on saving the Chatham Island black robin and the kakapo and the Campbell Island teal.
In the late 80s, the Wildlife Service was absorbed into what would become the Department of Conservation. With the focus moving away from fieldwork to paperwork and a young family to feed, Russ made the unlikely break into the world of theology.
He studied at Knox Theological College at the University of Otago and it was during his university holidays that he took up work as track warden and as co-coordinator of the National Parks and Reserves Summer Holiday programme in Dunedin. This work sparked an idea to form a company taking nature-loving tourists to Fiordland by launch.
“These early expeditions reconnected me with my love of the ocean. They focused my thoughts on the Sub-Antarctic and how much I would enjoy sharing these islands with visitors,” he says.
“We operated our first expedition to the Auckland Islands for a group of penguin lovers from Japan. We combined that cruise with a census of the rockhopper penguin colonies on the Auckland Islands.”
This theme of tourists and travellers making a valuable contribution to conservation continues to the present day and is at the core of what would become Heritage Expeditions.

Finding suitable charter ships for the Sub-Antarctic was always a challenge, as the Southern Ocean demands a lot from a vessel. Initially Heritage Expeditions used the Acheron, the vessel Russ had first travelled to the Auckland Islands in 1972.
When the Acheron became too small, the company switched to Pacific Ruby (nicknamed the Rolling Ruby) chartered from Youth with a Mission. She spent half the year spreading the gospel in the heavenly waters of the South Pacific, the rest as a charter ship to Heritage Expeditions battling with the hellish seas of the Southern Ocean.
“Those early years were fun. We kept one step ahead of the authorities who were determined to put us out of business.”
In 1993 the business took a large step up when it signed the charter for a 48-berth Russian research ship Academic Shokalskiy. This required a guarantee of one hundred days work each summer, which forced the company to expand into taking expeditions to the Ross Sea and East Antarctica.
With the bank not interested in such a high-risk activity, the venture was funded in the first season on cash flow. The Shokalskiy quickly became a feature of the Southern Ocean, as did the entire Russ family with Russ’ wife Shirley running logistics and his sons Aaron and Nathan taking to expedition travel at an early age.
Ten years later a new charter agreement was signed on Shokalskiy’s sister ship Professor Khromov and Russ began researching the possibility of running expeditions to the Russian Far East.
A few companies had tried and failed to get a foothold in eastern Russia, as the area had always been off-limits during Soviet times, due to the presence of military bases and the proximity to the United States.
At the best of times doing business in Russia is a complex and frustrating undertaking and it was pure tenacity and hard work that got them there.
“They say in Russia that nothing is allowed but everything is possible,” says Russ. “I think it sums things up well. There are a lot of rules and regulations, and it can drive you crazy sometimes, but there are so many opportunities. It’s an incredible part of the world.”

His last voyage under Heritage Expeditions docked in Lyttelton Harbour earlier in 2018. It marked a 40-year career in the wildest places on earth and also set in train his retirement project.
Not comfortable with a lie down and a cup of tea kind of retirement, Russ has spotted a niche in the market for smaller groups focused in remote locations with an emphasis on hands-on conservation. With that in mind he has commissioned the construction of an 80-foot, sail-assisted expedition vessel named Strannik, which is due for launching later this year.
It is a clear case of back to the future for Russ. “Unless we share the wilderness and wildlife of this planet’s land and oceans with people we will never get their support for conservation. Conservation grows out of communities and we must share it in a way that is both responsible and informative.“ While it is one sailor’s mantra it is quite possibly a sketch of our future on this planet.

RIP Diesel?

A bit like Mark Twain who famously declared that media reports of his death were exaggerated, so too reports of the demise of the diesel engine might be a little premature. Story by Lawrence Schaffler.

Anyone monitoring the health of the international automotive sector over the last 18 months will be forgiven for thinking that dieselpowered vehicles face immediate extinction.

Consider this selection of media headlines:
• ‘Historic end’ for combustion: Volvo says all of its cars will use electric after 2019    • India to see only electric cars by 2030
• France wants to ditch gas, diesel-powered cars by 2040
• Britain bans gasoline and diesel cars starting in 2040
• China says it will stop selling internal combustion engine cars
• Toyota will electrify entire vehicle lineup by 2025

Everyone’s familiar with the emissions/climate change drivers at play here, and even if you’re sceptical about the science, it does raise an intriguing question: what does a growing anti-diesel brigade mean for the recreational marine sector?

In New Zealand – as in many countries – the vast majority of 10m-plus boats are powered by diesel donks. Are these engines – many of them admittedly a little long in the tooth – to be legislated out of existence? Are even the latest-generation engines to be banned from new builds?
Well, as always, it depends on who you ask.

A somewhat more upbeat perspective on the diesel engine’s future came earlier this year at the Intermat Expo in Paris – a massive international exhibition targeting the global construction and infrastructure industries.

One of the keynote speakers – Dr Kelly Senecal – is an American engineer and the co-founder of Convergent Science (developers of Converge software). The company specialises in CFD (computational fluid dynamics) simulations and, in particular, in ‘virtually’ recreating what happens inside a combustion chamber – when high compression ignites the diesel-air mixture as the piston reaches the top of its stroke.

The automotive industry is one of his major clients and he works closely with engineers on problems related to combustion modelling and other fluid flow phenomena. Thanks to insights gleaned from this research, Senecal preaches a different message about the future of diesel engines.
It goes something like this: “diesel engines are continuously improving and evolving – and have been for many years. They are nowhere near their optimum. With more research, they will run cleaner, with greater efficiency and improved performance. This is a time of opportunity for engine manufacturers.”

He reminded delegates that while European emissions standards for construction machinery have become progressively more stringent – beginning with the Stage I regulations in the late 1990s – the new Stage V regulations (effective next year) will introduce even tighter restrictions on carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide emissions.

These will drive significant improvements in the overall efficiency and performance of the diesel engine – and every sector using the engines, including the marine industry – will benefit.
Senecal stresses he is neither anti-alternative fuels nor anti-electric. Indeed, he welcomes the technologies and readily concedes that electric and hybrid vehicles will be fundamental to future transportation. But he is adamant that the diesel engine will also be there.

A diesel engine, he says, provides a unique combination of torque, reliability and convenience that’s unmatched by other technologies, and while electric and hybrid technologies are advancing steadily, they also have inherent problems which will have to be addressed.
These include concerns about the viable range of electric vehicles, the time needed to recharge batteries, the relatively underdeveloped infrastructure of recharging stations – and the need to find a way to decommission and recycle batteries safely and efficiently. Crucially, supplies of the vital ingredients that go into battery technologies – lithium and cobalt – are also limited.

Furthermore, battery production is not emission-free, nor is generating electricity for recharging batteries. The majority of the world’s electricity generation (around 70 percent) is still produced by fossil fuels – and will be for the foreseeable future. So to present electric or hybrid vehicles as ‘emission-free’ is a little disingenuous.
Senecal says the demonisation of the diesel engine that followed the 2015 ‘dieselgate scandal’ – when automotive giant VW was found to have fudged its engines’ emissions data – has been politicised, to the point where several governments are proposing an outright ban on petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles. He does not believe this is realistic.

Electric and hybrid technologies will continue to grow, but with continued R&D, internal combustion engines will become even cleaner and will remain at the heart of motive power for years to come.

“The margins are still there. We have to work towards constant improvement, especially now, as we stand at the cusp of the introduction of European Stage V regulations.”

Sub-Antarctic Shuttle

Not too many boats head south from Bluff, at mainland New Zealand’s southern extremity. But one yacht does so regularly, delivering researchers and scientists to some of the earth’s most desolate outposts. Story and photos by Lindsay Wright.

Voyaging in the Roaring Forties and Screaming Fifties demands a heightened awareness. Weather maps, the sky and barometer are consulted more often because, when the weather does come away, the change is sudden and often violent.
DSC_0899FADE (Small)
Mollymawks and albatross wheel overhead as the staysail ketch Evohe shoulders her way through the unending westerly swell. Squadrons of Cape pigeons and fulmars squabble around the stern.
The team of DOC sea lion researchers soon settle down for the 460km (248nm) slog to Enderby Island in the northernmost Auckland Islands. Most of the scientists have spent a hectic few months finalising plans for research projects, working out timetables, assembling all the provisions, personal gear and supplies needed for several weeks stay in a ruthlessly hostile environment. Almost everything that goes to the sub-Antarctic islands spends time at DOC’s quarantine store in Invercargill before being stowed in Evohe’s capacious interior.


Tightly-lidded 20-litre buckets and plastic cases full of scientific gear, bottles of liquid nitrogen for preserving biological samples, and jerry cans full of generator fuel come aboard to be stowed and lashed. Evohe is fresh from the slipway, her bottom scrubbed to get rid of any alien organisms that could corrupt the islands’ pristine underwater ecology.
The stout steel yacht has plied this route for about 20 years, in between traversing the North West Passage and other projects, and she feels good; like she’s looking forward to another Southern Ocean passage and job well done.
Now it just remains to reach Enderby, discharge all the gear and lug it through the amorous sea lions mating on the Sandy Bay beach and up to the DOC hut.
The trip down is quick and uneventful. It’s always good to have such knowledgeable and committed people on board. Like everyone who regularly works in the sub-Antarctic islands, they are enthusiasts – people who love the wildlife and wild ruggedness of New Zealand’s southernmost windswept islands.
DSC_0919 (Small)
I’d assumed that factory squid trawlers which scrape whole schools from the Auckland Islands’ sea floor were to blame for declining New Zealand sea lion numbers (also called Hooker’s sea lion, whakahao or rapoka). But no, one
DOC scientist said. The real culprit could be hookworms buried in the sand on the species’ breeding beaches.
The worms burrow through the female sea lions’ thick pelts and blubber to penetrate their lactation glands. When the pups take their first suck of milk, they get a dose of active worms which bore their way out of their intestines, leaving space for infection to enter.
“The pups get riddled with infection pretty quickly and die a slow, painful death,” she explained. “When we do autopsies on them – they’re full of pus.” Researchers have wormed test groups of pups with farm animal treatments and the sample groups have a much improved chance of living to adulthood.
Adult sea lions tagged at Enderby have shown up in mainland Otago colonies days later where chances of pup survival are better.
DSC_0930 (Small)
As our anchor rattles down to the sea floor off Sandy Bay, Evohe comes alive. Laptops are flapped shut in the saloon and yawning people emerge from the cabins. The big RIB is lowered from the davits and the shuttle begins.
Onshore, a beachmaster (predominant male), raises his head to inspect us intruders. The big males weigh 250-400kg and hold sway over harems of 25 or so females. Some of these turn their heads to fix us with their bloodshot eyes before slumping back onto the sand.
It’s hard to imagine these huge silver-grey furry slugs being New Zealand’s largest animal – and critically endangered to boot – or envisage them swimming 175km and diving to 600m for a feed of fish.
With all hands on deck, the people and their gear are offloaded in an hour or two but Evohe’s charmed life on this trip is about to end. The GRIB file weather maps show a system barrelling towards us with the onion peel isobars that are more normal in these waters.
We weigh anchor and motor south through Port Ross to shelter in Terror Cove. Soon a 50-knot nor’wester is screaming through the rigging and a light layer of sleet gathers on deck. January in the Auckland Islands.
DSC_0935 (Small)
Within 36 hours the system has passed and Evohe’s two 135hp Ford diesels power her out past Enderby Island and north to Bluff to do it all again. This time taking two albatross researchers to Adams Island at the southern end of the Auckland archipelago and more sea lion folk to Campbell Island. Once again a heavily-laden Evohe plugs her way out of Bluff, past Stewart Island and into the Roaring Forties – that band of latitudes named after the westerly winds that roar around the planet.
For years I’ve worn out guide books trying to identify the Southern Ocean’s sea birds – royal albatross from wandering, white-capped from grey-browed – without success. But one DOC staffer is a seasoned twitcher (bird watcher) and captures distant sea birds on his camera so we can enlarge them and pick out their features. We spend hours in the cockpit huddled over a guide book and I learn more from this trip than any other. A key to successful recognition of bird species is learning the “jizz” – broadly speaking, the way a bird behaves or flies.
DSC_0927 (Small)
At dawn a couple of days out of Bluff we motor between the sheer granite palisades of Carnley Harbour, anchor off the DOC hut on the southern side, and ferry the albatross folk and their gear to the rocky beach. In balmier latitudes the harbour would be a boating mecca – but I’ve seen the savage katabatic squalls it generates spin a heavy, steel yacht around and blow her back out the entrance.
The hut’s almost invisible from the sea but the researchers say they spend most of their time in a bivvy where the birds are – on top of the ridge that traverses the island.
“We’ve got to keep an eye on the weather – one time the wind got up from nowhere and we had to stay there for a couple of days because we would have been blown off the island if we’d try to walk down.”
Recreation is sharing a bottle of beer and a crossword puzzle in the hut. We’re the last people they’ll see in a while and it’s hugs all round before we turn and head south for Campbell Island.
We’re soon south of the Roaring Forties and ascending the parallels of the Screaming Fifties. Luckily it’s pretty benign for 24 hours or so until we nose into Perseverance Harbour – the long inlet that almost bisects the island.
The disused Metservice base and adjacent DOC hut look like cardboard cartons dumped in the scrub. The wharf has been deemed “unsafe” and the planking’s been removed, so we nose the laden RIB in among some slimy rocks and lug buckets and boxes up to the hut.
By the time we head back down harbour, a 25-40 knot westerly has risen and sends a steep chop into Davis – where a sea lion colony slumbers on the rocky point. We power the RIB hard against the rocks while people leap ashore and we begin throwing buckets of gear across as the dinghy slides up and down with the swell on slimy green tendrils of kelp.
Eventually all the gear is landed and carried 60m or so above the high water mark to a relatively flat spot optimistically marked ‘campsite’ on the DOC map. “You’ve got to put all the gear in shelter,” an old DOC hand says, “in case the wind gets up and blows it away.”
The next study site is a stretch of coastline named (by someone with a sense of humour) east- and west-Paradise. Young male sea lions play around us or rub against the RIB while we shuttle the equipment ashore. Finally Paradise is peopled and there’s a colourful pile of equipment, a generator, fuel, personal effects and food on the rocks. Once again it’s hugs all round and we power back to Evohe to ready the boat for the passage back.
“We’ll walk around the head of the harbour to the hut for Christmas – then walk out to Davis and spend the rest of our time out there,” the team leader told me. I looked at the terrain – it was like saying “we’ll shoot up to the summit of Mount Everest for smoko and be back in time for dinner.”
DSC_0951 (Small)
As we swung the ship’s head towards the harbour entrance small patches of colourful tents had sprung up among the scrub and the pile of gear had gone from the beach. The scientific team would be working hard in some of the wildest weather you can imagine. And loving it.
At 3am a few days later Evohe was berthed in Otago Harbour with the lights of downtown Dunedin reflecting off the water. At least we’d be home soon, thankful that the Southern Ocean hadn’t dealt us any of the thrashings of previous trips, instead rewarding us with wonderful wildlife and scenery.