Interview: Corentin de Chatelperron, Nomad of the Seas

© Nomade des mers

WITH HIS BOYISH APPEARANCE AND A TWINKLE  IN HIS EYE, CORENTIN DE CHATELPERRON LOOKS LIKE HE JUST FINISHED ENGINEERING SCHOOL. BUT THIS 32-YEAR-OLD TURNED SAILOR IS ALREADY BUILDING HIS THIRD BOAT. NEITHER A PASSION FOR SAILING NOR HIS ORIGINS IN BRITTANY MADE HIM TAKE TO THE SEA.

In 2009, the young man left for Bangladesh to work as a volunteer in the shipyard of Yves Marre, a  French boat-builder whose experience in the region made him question the quality of fishing boats built of imported wood. Every time there was a storm, the boats would sink. This observation motivated Corentin to look for alternatives. He researched composite materials, especially jute – a natural fiber produced from grass-like plants – used widely in the local industry. Plans developed for Tara Tari*, a sailboat incorporating 40% jute. This other, smaller Tara was the starting point for Corentin’s adventures. He sailed from Bangladesh to France in 2010, and proved the resistance of his boat, inspired by traditional Bengali boats. Before that crossing, Corentin had never sailed alone: “I had a done some sailing with friends, but I wasn’t a fan of solo navigation. But I love sailing for adventure! Tara was in fact a real source of inspiration for me, and fueled my dreams for a long time.”

After 6 months of navigation, Corentin developed a new project: to build Gold of Bengal, a boat entirely constructed of composite jute, “the golden fiber.” He wanted to show the mechanical performance of the material and sollicit industrial interest for this innovation. But that’s not all: he wanted to experience life in complete autonomy. His team installed various “low tech”* systems on board and then he set sail again, with the intention of growing potatoes,  desalinating water, and cooking fish in a solar oven aboard. Thus began a new voyage between Bangladesh and Indonesia, with 2 hens in cages as his only companions.

Corentin recounts the rest of the story:

Can you explain what “low tech” means, and why the team of Sea Nomad, your next boat, is interested in it?

We all lived in Bangladesh for several years and realized the strong potential for development of so-called “low tech.” Often these are innovative techniques that can provide access to basic needs such as water, energy or food, and can be made available to everyone.

Through our projects we’re trying to show that using low-tech represents innovation, and not degrowth! In fact, these inventions concern 90% of the population. From an economic point of view, this could represent huge potential markets, affecting billions of people.

We realized that ingenious inventions with high potential have been imagined by do-it-yourselfers, often isolated. It would suffice to put these people in contact with a designer, or some slightly higher-tech specialists, to develop, communicate and promote their research.

During your second expedition aboard Gold of Bengal, you tried to live independently…

Yes, but it didn’t work out as expected because I was alone and didn’t have all the necessary skills. I’m  an engineer and handyman, but each type of low-tech requires a specialist.

What innovation proved most effective on board?

The most convincing for me was hydroponics – cultivation without soil. This technique shows the potential of low-tech development. Hydroponics is used most often on an industrial scale, as high tech  in greenhouses, to rapidly grow vegetables like tomatoes. But the same skills can be used as low tech, and made accessible to everyone. Aboard the boat I grew plants in coconut fiber mixed with water and fertilizer. Hydroponics uses 10 times less water than traditional growing techniques. It’s a great system!

Can you tell us about the new boat project for which you are currently seeking funding?

The boat will be called  “Sea Nomad,” a 59-foot catamaran that we’ll build in France with Roland Jourdain’s team. They work with flax fiber. We will combine the 2 types of fibers: jute and flax.

We want to develop a research agency concerning low-tech aboard. For 3 years, we’ll sail and make stopovers around the world to discover these innovations. We’ll stop in places where, from a geographical and cultural standpoint, there’s an interest in studying a particular type of low tech. In Mauritania, for example, we will observe how people respond traditionally to the lack of water.

 In what way does low tech represent solutions for the future?

On all the islands I visited in Indonesia aboard Gold of Bengal, the population can’t manage to grow their own food. Vegetables are imported from Sumatra, where they’re produced in monoculture. The islanders have to find jobs to earn the money to buy their vegetables. They are dependent on Sumatra to meet one of their basic needs. I think management of these needs on a local level would be beneficial, and hydroponics could be a technique to pursue. By democratizing low tech that meets basic needs, we could take a step towards more sustainable progress.

Interview by Noëlie Pansiot

*Tara Tari: means “fast” in Bengali.

*Low tech: (from the English “low-technology”) refers to simple, inexpensive and popular techniques  that often make use of recycled materials.

 

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