When a German businessman set his sights on building a solar-powered boat to circumnavigate the globe, he called on Kiwi design company LOMOcean to make it happen.
Auckland-based LOMOcean naval architects and yacht designers drew up plans for the radical $NZ36 million PlanetSolar superyacht, which is due to set off on a world-first, solar-powered, global circumnavigation attempt in April 2011.
LOMOcean director Craig Loomes didn’t know much about solar-power when his Auckland design company was approached to build a catamaran capable of circling the globe on no more than the sun’s rays. Now he’s well aware of the cutting-edge solar technology that will propel his company LOMOcean’s design around the equator from April next year. LOMOcean started work two years ago on the design of the PlanetSolar superyacht, unveiled in Germany in February. The catamaran’s German owner and French and Swiss skippers say, at 31m long, 15m wide and weighing 75 tonnes, PlanetSolar is the largest solar-powered boat in the world. Construction began in January 2009 at Knierim Yachtbau boatbuilders in Kiel, northern Germany, necessitating more than 100,000 man hours. The catamaran features more than 500sqm of solar panels, but the design was not only about creating the first vessel to circle the globe on solar power. After the circumnavigation challenge, PlanetSolar will be kitted out as a luxury vessel for use as an air-conditioned superyacht capable of hosting 50 guests and sleeping 12. The boat has a price tag of around $NZ36 million.
A variety of challenges PlanetSolar presented a variety of challenges for LOMOcean, not least of them creating a boat that was both technologically-advanced and luxurious enough for a second life as a luxury pleasurecraft. LOMOcean is owned by former boat builder-turned-designer Craig Loomes, his wife Kirsty, who is the company’s financial controller, and composite structural engineer and business mind Andr Moltschaniwskyj.
The company grew out of Craig Loomes’ childhood love affair with boats. He built boats after leaving school, and, over the years, became recognised for a flair with design and build projects. He designed and built a range of yachts and powerboats – from fizzboats, to plywood kitsets, to the “Tournament” brand of sport-fishing vessels. About 12 years ago, he got so busy designing boats he no longer had the time to build them. “I still have yearnings to go and create something with my own hands.” But the emerging design opportunities were invigorating and brought new challenges and a new kind of satisfaction. The turning point came courtesy of Ultimate Lady, a multi-million dollar 26m wavepiercer, which won the International Super Yacht Society Design Award in the 23m to 32m power category in 1998. The award saw LOMOcean recognised as one the world’s top superyacht designers. Ultimate Lady was the last boat Craig Loomes physically helped build. It was in the late stages of the Ultimate Lady project that Moltschaniwskyj, previously a longstanding consultant to Loomes, joined what was then Craig Loomes Design Group.
The new company name LOMOcean (pronounced L’m-ocean) incorporates the first two letters from both Loomes and Moltschaniwsky’s surnames. The company is based on the top floor of Richmond Yacht Club in Westhaven Marina, where Loomes says he looks out the window every day and gathers inspiration from the flow of boats in and out of the marina. The three directors are joined by another four staff, working across as many as 15 distinct design projects at once. Increasingly, LOMOcean’s work is for offshore clients, including superyacht enthusiasts, ferry operators and the navies of Malaysia, Indonesia and Egypt.
The company follows each project through from contract negotiation and initial design and construction, to launch and commissioning. “They are our creations, our babies in a sense and we tend to become quite attached to them,” Loomes says. For this reason, it was very difficult for the LOMOcean team to watch footage of the 24m tri-hull Earthrace, now known as the Ady Gil, colliding with the Japanese whaling support vessel MV Shonan Maru 2 in January. The LOMOcean-designed Earthrace currently holds the world powerboat circumnavigation record. It completed the trip in 61 days in 2008, powered solely by biofuel. Earthrace played a pivotal role in securing LOMOcean the deal to design PlanetSolar.
The German client and financier behind the PlanetSolar project was in Hamburg, discussing his desire for a radical, forward-thinking design to achieve his dream of solar-powered circumnavigation. A mutual associate mentioned LOMOcean and suggested the client have a look at Earthrace, which was in Hamburg at the time and moored down on the dock. That was just two years ago. “When people decide they want a yacht or commercial vessel, they want it now and they don’t want to wait too long,” Loomes says. The PlanetSolar project necessitated some quick learning from the LOMOcean team on the distribution of solar energy, and how to cram as many solar cells as possible onto a boat. PlanetSolar will be able to reach speeds of around 25kmh in ideal, sunny conditions, but will average around 15kmh on a circumnavigation expected to take 140 days (not including port stops) and cover 44,000 kilometers. Loomes says work is flowing in more easily and with more consistency with each passing year. He and his fellow directors plan to grow LOMOcean and hope to continue to enjoy a variety of projects, from commercial to military to world record-setters to pleasurecraft. For all the publicity surrounding the 2011 circumnavigation plans, Loomes doesn’t expect PlanetSolar will be a springboard to a whole new solar-powered market. He says most boat-owners are interested in speeds well-beyond 15kmh and the cost of solar power is currently prohibitive, but the project will build awareness of the benefits of solar and other non-polluting energy sources. -NZTE
It will also serve to further bolster LOMOcean’s international profile and it has presented the design team with a challenge which Loomes says they have delighted in. “It is a challenge and we like challenges. Every day there is a mountain to climb. There’s something to be achieved that hasn’t been achieved before.”