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Back to basics: Climate activist Thunberg’s voyage to New York

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Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg poses onboard the Malizia II sailing yacht at the Mayflower Marina in Plymouth, southwest England, on Tuesday. BEN STANSALL/ afp

Back to basics: Climate activist Thunberg’s voyage to New York

Facing two weeks at sea, eating freeze-dried food and using a bucket as a toilet, Greta Thunberg admits a racing yacht is not the most comfortable way to cross the Atlantic.

But the 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist is ready to take the only transport she can that produces hardly any emissions to get to a UN climate summit in New York.

“I went out test sailing yesterday and it was very fun. So I think it will be quite an adventure,” she said aboard the 18m Malizia II racing yacht, moored in the southwestern English port of Plymouth.

It was her first time sailing, and she did get seasick, but she said “you have to expect that”.

Pierre Casiraghi, a member of the Monaco royal family, has offered the yacht’s services for free for the 3,000 nautical miles to New York and will skipper it with German sailor Boris Herrmann.

A monohull racing yacht with foils that help it lift out of the water, Malizia II was built in 2015 but has since been fitted with state-of-the-art solar panels and underwater turbines.

They generate more than enough electricity to power its navigation instruments, autopilots, water makers and an on-board ocean laboratory that tests the water for CO2 levels.

Inside it is dark, cramped and functional. It has been slightly adapted for Thunberg, who will be travelling with her father Svante and a filmmaker, with the addition of two hammock-style bunks, mattresses and curtains.

There are no cooking facilities, beyond a small gas stove to heat up water to rehydrate freeze-dried packs of vegan food – the only fossil fuel used on board.

The toilet is a blue plastic bucket, inscribed in black pen with the words “Poo Only Please” which is used with a biodegradable bag that can be chucked overboard when used.

“The living technique on this boat is a bit like a camping situation in the mountains, you have a mattress and a sleeping bag, a head torch and that’s it,” said Herrmann.

He admits that some people think it is “crazy” to take three people with no sailing experience on such an arduous journey, but says he has no fears for their safety, only their comfort.

‘Unheard of’

Herrmann has sailed around the world three times and will be supported by a team on land, monitoring the boat’s movements and weather.

The yacht can travel at up to 70km an hour, but Hermann says they will take it a little easier, averaging more like 20km per hour throughout the journey.

He is also taking a slightly longer route than usual to try to avoid the worst of the storms.

While it is designed to tilt for a faster, smoother ride, Malizia II – named after Casiraghi’s ancestor who took over Monaco, known as the “wily one” – has a 4.5m canting keel, which makes it hard to tip over.

“Safety is not really an issue,” Herrmann said on board, as he made his final preparations.

“It’s more that this is something that has never happened before, that someone with zero sailing experience goes on such a boat across the Atlantic – it’s unheard of.

“That just shows something about Greta – many of the things she does are unheard of.”

Thunberg herself is not scared, saying she is only concerned about not getting in the way.

“I think I will spend my time reading a lot, and sitting and looking at the ocean lots. And just go around the boat,” she said.

The yacht has a tiller that can be used manually, but the technology on board makes it more like flying a plane than sailing.

“The autopilot is on, the boat is sailing and then we look at the weather forecast and the energy production and consumption, we check if all the systems work well, we keep [a] look out,” Herrmann said.

“For that we take shifts, probably one hour on, one hour off, we alternate sleeping.”

“The objective is to arrive safe and sound in New York,” he adds.

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