Around The World On Eighty Whales
In the golden age of sail, overweight crew could be a treasure. "Sandbagging" is an expression stemming from the yacht racing wheeze of illicitly shifting heavy ballast to make a handicapped boat go faster when the wind rose. It was perfectly legal, however, to order all hands to sit on the windward rail, making 300 pound Bluto's handy in a pinch. No longer. Now one wannabe marine speedster is having liposuction-- but not to lighten ship.
Many a sailor has gotten tanked before, but Captain Pete Bethune is having his midriff squeezings refined into the human equivalent of whale oil to add to the fuel of his power trimaran. He aims to kick its racing diet up a notch as he goes flat out for the biofuel Around The World marine speed record.
Alternative fuel delirium may rival America's Cup fever, but when it comes to sportsmanship, turning marines into marine diesel just to win a blue ribbon is sailing pretty close to the wind-- especially since the race begins in Valencia.
The orange salesmen in that balmy port are so aggressive that the Spanish Navy is forced to eat their wares for dessert several times weekly. The glut is such that Valencia's alternative energy authority, clearly envious of La Mancha's erection of a 100 Meter windmill, is planning a 37.5 million liter a year marmalade-to-ethanol plant to run public vehicles. Whether their exhaust will cure scurvy remains to be discovered.
Though Bethune wants to " do a positive project run on biodiesel and take it round the world... to stand up to the oil industry... to make sure the production of biofuels is sustainable.â there may be a better case for running the race on orange peel oil than cannibalized cholesterol.With the EEC's surplus butter mountain already looming , global warming threatens to extend Spain's glacier of frozen blood orange juice faster than sea level can rise.
His boat is bizarre as his taste in biodiesel. Earthrace's s 78 feet of carbon fiber looks like a Batmobile out of hell, sporting M-16 bullet holes from a run-in with Nicaraguan pirates, and bloodstains from a fatal, but environmentally friendly, collision with a Guatemalan shark fisherman during last year's abortive record attempt. Bethune was let out of jail with a warning and a moby fine. Its tanks hold two and a half tons of whoever or whatever oil , but the 1160 horsepower engines devour that in a few days running at 40 Knots. Though designer's swore its prow would cut waves "like a hot knife through butter" in practice, Bethune told Robert Booth, of Britain's Guardian :
"It's nothing like that,in big seas it is brutal and violent. We had a big storm in New Zealand with 12 metre waves and we had five metres of water on top of the windscreen here. The surge of energy works its way through the boat as it goes through the wave."
The poundings left one crew member with kidneys so bruised that he urinated blood for 10 days, and another with a dislocated shoulder and cracked ribs...The only way of escaping if the boat capsizes is by hacking a hole in the hull with an axe which hangs ominously on the cabin wall."
Though ecologically sound as Rugby players eating their dead, Green Liposuction needs corporate sponsorship to realize its potential as a consciousness raising tool. Could Richard Branson upgrade Earthrace's attempt into a full fledged Round The World Race, with rules giving Virgin Atlantic Ahab 25,000 boats one tankful of biofuel at the start, and requiring them to harvest the rest at sea?
Guided by Google Satellite Maps, skillful captains might skim their craft from one pod of whales to the next, liposuctioning humpbacks to refill their tanks. In a pinch ,racers may elect to board cruise ships instead, and prey on the larger passengers found afloat in tourist class swimming pools. At the finish line, the biofuel torch could be passed landward to Londoner Andy Pag , who has fine tuned his truck engine to race to Timbuktu on fermented chocolate waste.
This seems fair enough from the racer's point of view, but what can be done to level the playing field for the whales , once the race re-establishes their niche in the ecology of alternative fuel markets ?
Extinction no longer threatens the humpback, but with so many drawing such deep royalties as PBS role models, movie stars and bank logos, today they can't be too rich or too thin. The time has come to make cetacean obesity history, for as oil prices rise in the long run, the only way to save the whales is to get them in shape to outrun their pursuers. Forget liposuction. Humpbacks need personal trainers