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Winds of Change: is Wind Power the Future of Cruising?


The cruise industry's stated intention is to achieve net zero carbon cruising by 2050, and whilst we see a huge commitment to achieving this, it is generally accepted that we don't yet know which route will finally be adopted for propulsion. Many alternative fuels are being investigated, and the cruise lines are committing huge Research and Development budgets to help them achieve their targets. Surely wind power has to be a core alternative? We discuss wind power and its potential for the future of the cruising industry.

Ships have been sailing the world for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, and carbon fuels were only introduced in the last 200: surely wind power has to be a core alternative? In the world cruise fleet we have some fantastic wind powered options: Star Clippers, Sea Cloud Cruises, the Windstar sailing yachts, Ponant's original yacht Le Ponant and more are all able to cruise under sail, and a fantastic experience it is.

But of course there is a basic challenge: ships completely dependent upon wind power can be stranded and unable to move at the speed or in the direction required, and maritime history is littered with many a battle won or lost, many a voyage delayed.

windstar wind surf

Sail-assisted cruise ships can alternate between engine and wind power. Now we are seeing further investment in the wind-powered alternative, with a particular commitment from the huge shipyard Chantiers de l'Atlantique in St Nazaire, whose R&D division is working with a variety of partners on developing solid sails for use in both merchant and leisure shipping. This is the yard working with the Accor hotel group to build the 120-passenger luxury sailing superyacht Orient Express Corinthian, set for 2026 delivery, for which the steel cutting has just taken place (we have referred to this project before, using the name Orient Express Silenseas).

This will be the first sail-powered cruise ship to be built at St Nazare, using Solid Sails, with the ability to operate hybrid propulsion, running alternatively on LNG. The concept was first unveiled back in 2018, so work has been continuing on the project for some years: all the more exciting that the next step has been taken towards making this a reality. Without doubt, all eyes will be on this technology, and future possible developments, and it reflects a commitment from the French government to decarbonisation in the commercial fleet.

star clippers sailing ships in the caribbean

Meanwhile French cruise line Ponant is collaborating with start-up Farwind Energy to develop solutions for ship refuelling with renewable hydrogen. Ponant is owned by Artémis, the investment company of the Pinault family which carries out long term investments in companies with strong growth potential.

Farwind is developing innovative solutions to enable renewable energy to be supplied as close as possible to its point of consumption and its energy ship technology aims to produce electricity at sea from offshore wind, and transform it into hydrogen by the electrolysis of seawater. This partnership has a goal to commission Ponant's Swap2Zero project - an emissions-free ship concept - by 2030. This revolutionary approach, if successful, will associate a ship with her own source of renewable energy produced locally.

le ponant ship

Meanwhile at Norwegian company Hurtigruten, project Sea Zero is in a research and development phase, which lasts until 2025. Plans are focussed on wind and solar sails (the ships will be superpowered by northern Norway's Midnight Sun, shining for 24 hours day during the height of the summer), battery banks, an AI guided bridge, hidden thrusters, and underwater air lubrication.

Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising. Most recently she's cruised on Windstar and has also sailed with Silversea, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, SeaDream, Ponant, AmaWaterways and Aqua Expeditions. Her favourite destination is the Galapagos however she's also enjoyed cruises in the Mediterranean, Danube, Middle East, East Africa & Indian Ocean, Brahmaputra, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, the Mekong, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Caribbean and the Arctic. When she’s not travelling she loves reading, food and wine.

More about Edwina

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