Polar Sea — sailing without polluting

Is pol­lu­tion-free trav­el a utopia? Christophe Brière, a UTC grad­u­ate and Sophie Gal­vagnon have decid­ed to take up this chal­lenge. Their solu­tion: to pro­duce an ultra-effi­cient sail­boat equipped with mea­sur­ing equip­ment, to com­bine tourism and sci­en­tif­ic research. In 2025, they will head for the far North!

“There is always a frus­tra­tion among pas­sen­gers regard­ing their car­bon foot­print, and more and more peo­ple are aware of the fact that they can trav­el less but bet­ter. These are the words of Christophe Brière, who grad­u­at­ed from UTC, major­ing in mechan­i­cal engi­neer­ing in 2010 and who has just cre­at­ed the start­up Polar Sea with Sophie Gal­vagnon. The ambi­tion of this start­up is to offer low-car­bon tourist and sci­en­tif­ic cruis­es in the Arc­tic Cir­cle by 2025.

Although the project real­ly start­ed last year, the idea of asso­ci­at­ing boats and sus­tain­able devel­op­ment is not new for Christophe: “I have been sail­ing ever since I was a child, and I went to engi­neer­ing school to work in the nau­ti­cal and sail­ing sec­tor. Fail­ing to be good at rac­ing boats, I chose to be good at build­ing boats!” At UTC, he chose to fol­low CCs in entre­pre­neur­ship and project man­age­ment. “I had a project, called ‘Boat’A Green’, which con­sist­ed of devel­op­ing an eco-designed plea­sure boat,” he explains. I there­fore chose the rel­e­vant CCs, which helped me to struc­ture myself, because they offer a “box of knowl­edge” that I can use to help me devel­op my project. But in entre­pre­neur­ship, you have to find not only the right project, but also the right tim­ing and the right team.

And for Christophe, the tim­ing was not yet right for cre­at­ing a com­pa­ny: “I start­ed work­ing in ocean rac­ing, as a mechan­i­cal and com­pos­ite engi­neer with­in the GROUPAMA sail­ing team. I did my end-of-study intern­ship there, and I was hired direct­ly after­wards to work on the con­struc­tion of the car­bon fibre boat. For a young engi­neer from UTC, it was a child­hood dream! It was also very respon­si­ble, because the parts we were design­ing were going to go around the world, and if they were to break, it would com­pro­mise the whole race.

After this first expe­ri­ence, Christophe decid­ed to change his life and did a VIE (vol­un­tary pro­gramme) at the French Polar Insti­tute, spend­ing a year in Sval­bard. I fell in love with the polar regions,” he says. I changed direc­tion after this VIE, but I con­tin­ued to go on cruis­es as a polar guide. It was on one of these cruis­es that I met Sophie in 2018. At the time an employ­ee of Total, Christophe began work­ing with Sophie on their start­up project: “We start­ed it as a side-project, evenings and week­ends, then I moved to 80% for a year, until we made the con­cept viable and had enough pos­i­tive signs to launch our­selves full-time, which has been the case since May 2022.”

The first objec­tive of the two part­ners is to have a boat built to meet their very spe­cif­ic require­ments. Our boat will be a small lin­er 70 metres water-line, with sail propul­sion, for 36 pas­sen­gers and about 20 crew mem­bers,” explains Christophe. The sails will prob­a­bly be rigid (sim­i­lar to an aero­plane wing set ver­ti­cal­ly), 5 for the size of our boat, and cov­ered with solar pan­els. This is because when we cruise in the Arc­tic Cir­cle, it will be day­light all the time, so the solar pan­els will be very efficient.

Con­struc­tion of the first boat is expect­ed to begin in the sum­mer of 2023, with the first cruise two years lat­er, depart­ing from a loca­tion that could be reached by a low-car­bon means. Lim­it­ing car­bon emis­sions as much as pos­si­ble is indeed Christophe and Sophie’s main objec­tive. My first piece of green advice is to stay in France,” says Christophe. But we know that peo­ple will always con­tin­ue to trav­el, so we might as well offer them ser­vices that will allow them to trav­el bet­ter. We would have 80 to 90% less impact than a tra­di­tion­al cruise. After that, we must be hon­est, a cruise will always have an impact, so the aim is to be trans­par­ent about what we man­age to do in terms of reduc­ing our car­bon footprint.

To fur­ther lim­it the envi­ron­men­tal impact of their cruis­es, Christophe and Sophie had the idea of cou­pling them with sci­en­tif­ic cam­paigns: “The accept­abil­i­ty of this type of cruise can only be achieved if you have a pur­pose oth­er than tourism. Part of the tick­et price will there­fore be used to finance sci­en­tif­ic mis­sions on board the boat. The aim is to bring sci­ence with us, with 4 places reserved for sci­en­tists, but also with auto­mat­ed sci­en­tif­ic instru­men­ta­tion, to take a con­sid­er­able num­ber of mea­sure­ments in open source. It is a good idea that requires a lot of spe­cif­ic arrange­ments in the boat: plank­ton nets, winch­es, space for mea­sur­ing equip­ment, a dry lab, a freez­er for the samples…

It’s a large-scale job that requires a lot of per­son­al sac­ri­fice, as Christophe con­firms: “My per­son­al life is tak­ing a big bang, more than I imag­ined. But it’s real­ly excit­ing and I still have time to sail, for­tu­nate­ly! We wish him good luck!

Le magazine

Novembre 2023 - N°61

Activité physique, nutrition & santé

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