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Environmental impact - choice of materials

Started by rolandw, 03 Jul 2023, 01:00

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My everyday job revolves around sustainability and the circular economy in transport and so I am continuously reminded about the impact that our choices of material make and will make to our environment and our climate. I believe that N12 owners, illustrated by their choice of boat, will be more interested in sustainable living than the average Brit. I am therefore hoping that we could take an environmental lead in sailing by controlling the use of materials through our class rules.

It doesn't take long using your favourite internet search engine to reveal the sort of impact that GRP and more fancy construction methods are having; when it is no longer possible to sell on that plastic boat, it gets abandoned close to shore and gradually decays leaving significant quantities of micro-plastics floating around to poison us and other creatures. Nearly all the studies into the environmental impact of small marine craft recommend that the best form of lightweight construction for the environment remains plywood with low impact epoxy.

We know that wooden boats remain desirable and have a much longer life than GRP. We do, afterall, have an active Vintage fleet but I can't imagine anyone wanting to keep afloat some of those early GRP boats that are now beyond competitive life and are languishing in the corner of our dinghy parks unused.

We have an interesting situation where, apparently, there are no moulds for composite construction as they have all been destroyed. Unless new moulds are made, the most cost effective means of construction would be to follow Simon Hipkin's lead and make using ply.

I would like to suggest that we look to restrict the materials that we build our hulls from in order to protect our environment. I'd like to suggest that hulls are made primarily from wood bonded together with bio-resin. We could allow glass fibre or, if they develop sufficiently, bio-fabric tapes to cover joints but could easily limit their use to within, say, 35mm of any joint. Bio-resin is an area that is fast evolving but I've used Entropy (a West Resin's brand) and GreenPoxy (a Sicomin brand) very successfully; we would have to have a moving minimum standard for what equates as "bio" epoxy as this area develops. Epoxy filler materials for fillets, fairing etc would still be needed.

I would not propose any restrictions on materials for centreboard, rudder and assembly or rig but I guess these could, in time, be looked into.

I would suggest grand-fathering any boat made or issued with a sail number before the introduction of such a change.

Would you greet the suggesting of an addition to rule 5, Hull Construction, with howls of anguish or would you give it your support?

Tim Nunn

I have worked in the surf industry for 30 years and we're going through this very process world wide moving to bio resins and foam/constructions methods based on organic/biodegradable substances, mostly coming from algae and mushrooms. Not sure the issue is with a small class like the N12 though, it's more with toxic mass production of RS/Laser/Topper style boats coming out in huge volume (I'm not against these boats, just the production techniques)

The bigger environmental issue is Neoprene though, surfing is moving towards Yulex completely plant based material, and now as good/better than neoprene. The sailing industry (except Gul) are light years behind, Neoprene is firstly a big co2 producer but also the production is massively damaging to human health, check out - - the largest cancer cluster in the world is due to the factory which has made three quarters of our wetsuits and other Neoprene products, yet we are as an industry ignoring it. So I think this is an area we could make much more impact in the short term. 

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