Perhaps even the most imaginative creators of many of the technologies that marked the progress of humanity in the last half century couldn’t have envisioned the existence of a vessel capable of sailing the ocean powered solely by renewable energy sources.

Nor could those who promoted the international boom in plastics production after the end of World War II, have imagined that at some point their waste (bottles, containers, shopping bags) would represent 80% of pollutants of the sea and each year cause the deaths of thousands of birds, turtles, and other species.

According to the results of several international studies carried out in the area known as Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the mass of plastic objects there is six times greater than that of plankton.

Other regions of the world also have high levels of marine pollution, associated with toxic, human-produced compounds, with a high presence of plastics, which often accumulate and drift in the ocean, simulating “small” islands.

As some studies suggest, if such a trend continues, by 2050 the oceans will contain more plastic by weight than fish.

Proposing solutions aimed at reducing the annual amount of plastic waste that reaches the sea and demonstrating with unquestionable evidence the possibility of sailing with clean energy, are among the objectives of the Swiss vessel, Race For Water Odyssey’s (R4WO) world tour, which set off from Europe on April 9, and arrived at the port of Havana July 20.


An innovative prototype of what could be the navigation of the future, the Race for Water Odyssey is propelled solely by the combination of solar, wind, and hydrogen energy.

Part of the crew aboard the Odyssey. Camille Rollin is second from left. Photo: Silvia Diéguez

The ecological catamaran has 500 square meters of solar panels on its upper deck and two outer wings, capable of supplying enough electricity to move at an average speed of approximately five knots.

It also has lithium batteries that store the energy captured from the sun in order to use this to navigate at night, or when cloudy skies predominate over certain stretches of its course.

During a tour of the ship, coordinated by the Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation for Nature and Humanity, during which there was a presentation of Cuba’s Aqualina project, Camille Rollin, in charge of the vessel’s scientific project, explained to Granma that the R4WO also has a state-of-the-art 40 square meter traction kite, which when unfurled reaches a height of 150 meters.

She explained that this offers an effective solution aimed at optimal use of wind to double the ship’s speed, given the right atmospheric conditions, and gain greater self-sufficiency in its movement.

Attention was also drawn to the vessel’s modern technology, designed to produce hydrogen from the processing of sea water. This gas, Rollin stressed, is stored in tanks as a reserve to transform into electricity when necessary, through two 30kW fuel cells. These maintain the charge level of the batteries or directly feed the propellers.

In Rollin’s opinion, the ship is a model of the transition towards alternative, non-polluting energy sources. The only waste produced is heat and water, she noted.

Belonging to the Race for Water Foundation, created in 2010 by Swiss businessman Marco Simeoni to promote the transformation of plastic waste into energy resources and raise awareness of the urgency of preserving the oceans, the R4WO arrived in Cuba from Bermuda, on the second stop of a five-year world tour, which will include a layover at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and the Dubai World Expo the following year.

Rollin stressed that it was very important for organizers to include Cuba as part of this first world tour aboard the Odyssey.

“As an archipelago with high maritime traffic in its surrounding waters, Cuba is very exposed to the environmental impact caused by the waste left behind by so many vessels, and we intend to open up spaces for collaboration in confronting marine pollution, especially in relation to the reuse or recycling of plastic waste,” the specialist explained.

“The other reason is that we are aware of the high scientific level of Cuban institutions linked to oceanic research, and we will take advantage of our visit to make joint short-term expeditions, as well as exchange experiences on waste management and the use of renewable energies,” she added.

The ecological vessel will remain in the country until August 8. The Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (Citma), the Swiss Embassy in Cuba, the Cienfuegos Environmental Studies Center, and the Race for Water Foundation all collaborated in organizing the visit to the island.

With a capacity for between 12 and 15 passengers, including crew and researchers, the R4WO’s silent propulsion is ideal for the observation of marine fauna, while its slow cruise speed offers highly favorable conditions to take samples and measure different parameters linked to water quality.