S/Y Black Pearl Captain On the World's Greenest Superyacht
The iconic 106.7m superyacht Black Pearl has been dubbed the greenest and most technologically advanced sailing yacht in the world, not to mention the largest. We caught up with Black Pearl’s Captain Justin Christou to hear more about the innovative features and practices of the yacht justifying this title, and the remarkable benchmark she is serving to the yachting industry and beyond.
When we catch Justin on the phone on a grey Friday afternoon, the captain is enjoying a quiet moment amidst an intense few days at the Damen ship repair yard in Vlissingen. With Black Pearl due back in the water in just a couple of days and preparations set for the Owner to come onboard, Justin 's enthusiasm is already tangible as we begin our conversation.
‘One of the things we love doing most, after sailing Black Pearl, is talking about her,’ he says. Justin has spent the last two and a half years at the helm of Black Pearl with his co-Captain Chris Gartner, an experience he describes after an illustrious career sailing everything from classic yachts to motor yachts as ‘the feather in the cap’.
The first topic on the agenda is fuel saving. Known for her ability to sail transatlantic without a drop of fuel, Justin is full of praise for the Black Pearl’s acclaimed Dynarig sail system. ‘These rigs are amazing. We don’t have these large triangular main sails which are near impossible to reef unless you have all hands on deck. When we’re sailing, we put sails in and out almost hourly - it’s unbelievable.’
The benefits of the Dynarig go far beyond ease of use, however. ‘What that means is we’re constantly sailing with the perfect sail plan for wind conditions,’ Justin goes on. ‘We’re never hemmed in by our sail plan to be forced to turn the engine on.’
The significance of this is huge, allowing the sailing yacht to reach her full potential regardless of conditions. And in case of long stretches of light weather, Black Pearl has a backup plan.
The superyacht makes use of an intelligent regeneration system by trailing propellers in the water and producing electricity through the gear box. ‘In essence it’s a shaft generator. As we’re sailing we can use that electricity to run the house load, or if there is more we can use it to charge the Energy Storage System (ESS).’
The result is that Black Pearl can claim to be entirely self-sufficient. Regenerating energy to run onboard operations or propel the yacht in the case of light wind conditions, there is virtually no need to use a drop of fuel thanks to a highly intelligent Energy Management System (EMS).
The Owner’s insistence on sustainability as an in-built feature is apparent throughout. Not only is Black Pearl able to produce enough energy to run fully self-sustainably, not a drop of that energy is wasted. A comprehensive heat recovery system has been designed to convert excess heat from systems such as the generators and main engines to elsewhere on the yacht. ‘We take the heat from any system that produces it, run it through the system and use it for a multitude of different things, from heating accommodation to the jacuzzi and showers.’
Incredibly though, it does not stop there. Justin and his crew are vigilant in their efforts to implement greener practices onboard Black Pearl, from a strict zero policy towards single-use plastics to the trialling of new ‘eco-products’. ‘Where we can, we use the highest concentrate and largest size containers available,’ he explains. ‘The interior team recently went to an Ecover store - they take all of our containers and refill everything down there.’
‘The products themselves are also all proven to be friendly to marine life. We have a zero discharge sewage treatment plant onboard which is sensitive to PH levels and chemicals. The cleaning products we use have to be friendly to the sewage treatment plant and ultimately the environment.’
Evidently Black Pearl’s operations are in safe, sustainable hands. We were curious to know whether Justin had a sense of the same approach from elsewhere in the industry.
‘One thing we really see is marinas being super keen to recycle,’ he says. ‘It’s great when a marina gets a hold of us and wants us in their marina because they’re trialling their new green practices.’
Justin tells us of one traditionally commercial facility in Amsterdam, Eggerding Terminal, where the yacht passed through just last week. The facility, which has recently installed over 7000 solar panels to power its new shore power system, has traditionally catered to commercial ships but is looking to capitalise on the growing strength of Amsterdam’s refit sector by appealing to large yachts. ‘They were super enthusiastic to have us hooked up to their shore power system. It’s a huge statement to say not only are we green, but we’re attracting greener vessels too.’
Black Pearl certainly serves as the finest form of validation for the sustainable agenda. But has the superyacht inspired real change amongst other owners in the industry?
‘We are constantly getting calls from captains whose owners are interested in refitting their old sail boats or building new sailboats. They want to know if they can exchange their battery banks for our lightweight ESS, how it is integrated in and so on.’
‘But what is really exciting is bridging the gap between industries. We have heard from the likes of Greenpeace as well as freight ships, to see how the Dynarigs work and if they are feasible for them.’
The significance of this, that Black Pearl can ‘give back’ to the commercial industry for which the Dynarig was first designed, holds meaning for our entire industry. The owner himself, Justin adds, is extremely invested in this goal.
The example set by Black Pearl would never have been possible without the ambitions of her visionary Owner, as well as his realistic understanding of compromise. ‘He’s built a green vessel and he wants to operate it as such,’ says Justin. ‘When we have direction of where to go next, the time given for us to do it is very generous. He realises as a sailing ship we’re at the mercy of the wind gods, and will encourage us as much as possible not to turn the engines on.’
‘It’s taken a lot of hard work from a number of key players,’ Justin adds. ‘Derek Munro from Divergent Yachting has managed the build from day one, for example, and still works very closely with us to ensure Black Pearl is the industry leader in green practices.’
Of course, the example set by Black Pearl would never have been possible without serious effort and research from a host of dedicated players. Moran Yacht & Ship, who sold the project and wrote the technical specifications for the yacht, acted as a driving force in implementing the green technology of the yacht.
This attitude of hard work and dedication has come to define the team at the helm of Black Pearl. Justin and his crew are not interested in the easiest or quickest means of getting the job done, firm in the knowledge that setting an example requires intelligent solutions and determination. It is testament to the owner’s vision and Captain and crew belief in it that Black Pearl continues to be such a wide-reaching source of inspiration today.
"We take the heat from any system that produces it, run it through the system and use it for a multitude of different things, from heating accommodation to the jacuzzi and showers."