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‘Green’ building – the future of boatbuilding?

Paying lip service to ‘green’ concepts is one thing but boatbuilder Friedrich Deimann of Greenboats is doing it in earnest, as Sam Jefferson discovers

 

“A couple of years ago when I started out in this business people patted me on the back and said ‘good luck with that’,” Friedrich Deimann of Greenboats reflects: “Now, things have changed; people say ‘why aren’t more people doing this?’ or ‘how can we use these methods on mass produced yachts?” Deimann is talking about his innovative new approach to boatbuilding which involves taking the basic premise of fibreglass boatbuilding using laminates of fibre glued together and replacing the toxic glass matting and epoxy with sustainable alternatives. Anyone who has been to a boatyard recently and seen the many small boats abandoned, decaying but stubbornly refusing to biodegrade will understand how important this concept is. At present, Friedrich Deimann and his company Greenboats is at the forefront of this new technology.

“I was always into sailing from a young age,” Friedrich reflects: “As soon as I left school I went to started an apprenticeship in boatbuilding. It’s something I enjoy, but, let’s be honest, working in fibreglass is horrible – a really unpleasant materiel, not to mention unsustainable.

“My main motivation was therefore to find a replacement for glassfibre, which is why I started some research. Given my origin in wood constructions, I looked for other natural materials that can provide the same strengths as glass fibre. In my research I found that flax has been used for centuries, but not much in composite despite its incredible characteristics.”

Starting with that basic premise, Friedrich moved forward working with the University of Bremen in the early research phases of the project. It was while Friedrich was casting about for ideas that he struck up a partnership with Alex Vrolijk, the motormouth entrepreneur behind Bente Yachts whose father was one half of the influential Judel/Vrolijk design house. “This was back in 2013 and, back then, Bente Yachts wasn’t much more than an idea and some very shouty marketing.

“Alex was very open to new ideas, however, and we agreed to develop a ‘green’ version of their first yacht, the Bente 24. I therefore set to work in my garage to build the boat. As you can imagine, this was far from easy – it was a double garage but still…

The result was a very pleasing yacht; here you had a 24’ boat constructed entirely out of hemp, with layers of flax bonded with Greeepoxidharz, a linseed based epoxy equivalent. The decks were constructed from cork and the sails were also fully biodegradable.

I actually first met Friedrich in 2016 when test sailing the Bente 24 Green on Lake Constance. I was impressed. There were, however, issues not with hull, but the price.

“Perhaps the main problem was that the Bente Green was actually up against a standard production Bente 24. The hulls of the standard 24 were built in Poland using tried and tested ‘quick and dirty’ production techniques.

“On the other hand, we were building by hand in a garage, learning on the job in some respects and factoring in German labour costs. It’s a different game and it meant the price comparison was not good and, while many admired the Bente Green, they would end up going for a standard fibreglass model.

“In that respect, it was probably a mistake having a green option up against a standard version and that’s not a mistake we were going to make when we launched Flax boats.”

 

Sea change

A lot has changed since I first met Friedrich in 2016; environmental activists and a spate of natural disasters associated with climate change have pushed green issues much further up the agenda and the result is that, when Friedrich launched his all new Flax 27 day sailer at this year’s Dusseldforf Boat Show, interest was high.

“A lot has changed in a handful of years,” Friedrich reflects: “It’s not just an idea, it’s a movement. For me as a boatbuilder, that manifests itself in two different ways essentially; we are slowly experiencing a shift from cost focus to a focus on decreasing the environmental impact because of more environmentally conscious individuals (bottom up) and a top down pressure due to changing legislations. So, as in any other industry, boats will have to be built more sustainably in the future.”

If the environmental credentials weren’t exciting enough, there is the boat itself; the Flax 27 is a really elegant day sailer that promises sparkling performance. “Next to sustainability and the performance, aesthetics represents the third pillar that our own products are based on.” Friedrich enthuses: “Sailing on our boats not only feels exciting because of its high technology standard and performance but also offers a truly aesthetic experience. Flax fibre has a beautiful wooden look and the cork fillings come with a unique damping quality. That’s why we always say that sailing on the Flax 27 is a very tangible experience of the sustainable high performance.”

The follow up to hull number one also promises yet more performance, as Friedrich explains: “We want to push the boundaries of eco sailing and continue to work with the University of Bremen on new lightweight materials. As an example, we’ve been working on reinforcing linen fibre with Grafine to create an ultra lightweight laminate.

“So the idea for the next 27 is to produce an even lighter example that really showcases the performance potential of a sustainably built yacht.”

 

The future

The key for the future in Friedrich’s mind is to push production costs down so that it is easier to compete with more traditional methods of construction: “As I said before, modern fibreglass production is done on the ‘quick and dirty’ principle. If we are going to compete, we need to increase the efficiency of our production techniques in order to compete on a level playing field with those production techniques.

It’s a challenge, but I am learning all the time The last 10 years have been an enormous learning process, learning from the industry, the materials, and the people that I worked with.

 

Flax – the facts

Greenboats are constructed using sandwich construction in much the same manner as a traditional fibreglass yacht. The big difference is that flax laminates are used instead of fibreglass and the core of the sandwich is cork instead of foam. Compared to other natural fibres available on the market, flax fibres are not only by far the most tear-resistant, but also comparable in, tension and buckling to conventional glass fibres.They also supply valuable linseed oil, with which a large part of the oil base in the epoxy resin can be replaced. Cork is used not only in the core but on the deck and this, again, is fully sustainable as it is taken from cork oaks harvested in Spain and Portugal. Cork oaks do not have to be cut during harvesting, so the use is very gentle for trees and forests. Instead, they are peeled every nine to twelve years, which does not suffer from the tree. As a material, cork is light and flexible, adapting to almost any shape. In the event of a leak, cork has additional advantages due to its water-repellent properties.

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