The oceans help to regulate the world’s climate by absorbing and transforming heat and greenhouse gases. But have they taken all they can take? In the coming years, a team of scientists will be sailing on a state-of-the-art research vessel – designed by Lorenzo Argento and built by Michael Schmidt Yachtbau for the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry – to find out.
Known as EXP 72 during construction and christened Eugen Seibold after the German marine geologist, this 22 metre explorer sailing boat was financed by the Werner Siemens Foundation. Launched in June 2018, she is currently being fitted with computers and lab equipment ahead of her maiden voyage to the Canary Islands and the Cape Verde archipelago to collect and analyse air, seawater and plankton samples.
Eugen Seibold compares to other explorers like a ballet slipper to a combat boot. Despite her sleek and graceful appearance, this ocean-going sailing yacht was designed to navigate in remote oceans and will be used as a working boat by her crew of two sailors and six scientists.
“The Max Planck Institute obtained funding from the Werner Siemens Foundation to build an explorer yacht that would be much different from the research boats that they had used before,” says Milan-based yacht designer Lorenzo Argento. “Recognising that there’s an inherent contradiction in taking large motorised explorer boats to uncontaminated areas for environmental research, they had requested funding for a sailing boat with a backup hybrid diesel/electric propulsion system. Because no matter how conscientiously a motorboat is run, it will still disturb and pollute the ecosystems it navigates in.”
The Institute and Foundation looked for a builder who had the experience – and passion – to create such a specialised vessel. Argento had already worked with Michael Schmidt Yachtbau designing the Brenta 80 Cool Breeze, a yacht with interiors by David Chipperfield that Schmidt built for himself after selling his shares in Hanseyachts. They fitted the bill.
For Argento, it was the new challenge that was attractive. “In my field usually you’re designing either a racing boat or a cruising yacht,” he says. “Racing boats only have to be winners; no one really cares what they look like if they get results; often the only input from the owner is the name. In cruising yacht projects your client gives more input and may make decisions on the basis of your suggestions, but essentially you design the boat they want. But a working boat is different. You have to stay functional, keep your feet on the ground, do what’s needed. So I happily accepted this new challenge.”
The brief was for a sailing yacht that could host two crew members and five to six scientists. It needed to be sturdy and have sufficient water and fuel autonomy to be able to operate for four to five weeks in remote areas. About half of the boat was to be used for accommodation, the other half for lab equipment that would be used to analyse water and air samples.
“I designed Eugen Seibold with helms both on the deck and inside a raised doghouse so that crew and researchers can view the environment and operate the vessel while staying fully protected from the elements,” says Argento. “The boat has a kind of gantry arch at the stern that’s going to be used for dropping and hauling research equipment, and a small step in the transom where a researcher can stand close to the water.”
Hatches are raised from the pine and there’s a non-skid deck so that water is sure to wash off even in rough conditions. And because scientists are not necessarily sailors, the boat has especially robust stanchions and guardrails.
“Below deck I paid special attention to work paths,” says Argento. “The aft area has the captain’s cabin and space for labs, the galley is amidships and the researcher’s accommodation is fore of the mast. Everything is very simple and functional.”
Professor Dr Gerald Haug of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry wanted to create the greenest research vessel possible in Eugen Seibold and to that end this sailing boat will also have an experimental diesel/electric motor fitted with a large propeller that generates electric power during navigation. Electricity produced when the boat is sailing at over eight knots will then be stored in an 80kWh lithium battery to provide energy for roughly 10 hours of specimen seeking and to run the computers, mass spectrometers, multi-sensors, refrigerators and freezers in Eugen Seibold’s on board lab. “This is a case of a small group creating a new technology that could have a huge impact. It’s a creative push to do something new,” says Argento. “There will be obstacles to overcome, but it’s an important initiative. It’s positive that someone is thinking about creating a boat with long-range autonomy and close to zero environmental impact and actually building it.”
“I designed _Eugen Seibol_d so I’m really not the one to say if it’s a beautiful boat or not,” concludes Argento. “But for sure it’s an interesting one because of the story it has to tell.”