“For nine days, I sailed on a school boat to experiment with a low-tech project”

Posted on Nov 23, 2022, 7:00 AM

“Originally from Brittany and aware of the challenges of global warming for a long time, I chose to join Sciences Po Rennes for the variety of courses offered. I specialize in it by going to the transitions campus in Caen, a decentralized school entity, where I can combine training in environmental and urban planning.

At the beginning of the year, an extraordinary project was proposed to us: a trip to Denmark to carry out impact projects, with the possibility that part of the class would go there by boat. I then thought of the project developed by Corentin de Chatelperron, ‘the nomad of the seas’ [le nom de la série qui le suit depuis 2015 sur Arte, NDLR]. He traveled around the world on a sailboat, with the goal of meeting current low tech.

Low tech are approaches or systems that meet a need, are accessible (in terms of cost and technicality), fixable and durable. The goal is to be able to make and repair tools yourself or use simple but effective methods on a daily basis.

Clay, hacksaw and tin

I want to experiment and develop a concrete project. Then I explored several possibilities. First, the idea of ​​a solar oven but the uncertainty of the weather, especially at this time of year in northern Europe, led me to reconsider what was available. So I became interested in the ‘rocket stove’ (literally ‘rocket stove’ in French). A wood-burning fireplace is used for cooking and heating water.

The interest is to make it only with recycled materials. I collect some nested cans, insulation, rivets [éléments d’assemblage, NDLR] to hold the pot… And I started building the ‘rocket stove’ with my father’s help, the weekend before starting. After many trials with cuts without a saw adapted to the metal, we managed to nest the cans. All that’s left is to isolate.

There are different insulation possibilities: artisanal cement, rock wool… I choose a mixture of clay soil and straw, like the orange houses common around the Mediterranean. The advantage of this material is its solidity because once dry, it can be easily transported. The downside: it’s quite heavy. So to lighten the stove, I put a layer of ash in the middle, another lighter natural insulator.

The wood-burning mini oven on the left, ready to use, on the right under construction.Mathilde Bourdon

Once done, the prototype is stored on the boat. Heading to Denmark for the first group, more precisely the island of Samsø. I am one of those who go there by land by bus (more than 20 hours by road), while others leave by bicycle. There, we meet to visit the Energy Academy. A mandatory step on this island that works entirely thanks to renewable energies.

At the end of this visit, it was time to board for the group (9 students, 3 skippers), of which I was a part, taking the sailboat back to Normandy. For two weeks, the Aztec Lady became our home.

Herbal tea for everyone

The departure is almost immediate to get ahead of the worsening weather. So we quickly arrived at the Kiel Canal, the place of inauguration of my low tech project. Goal: make herbal tea for everyone.

Step one: I lit a fire in the hearth of the rocket stove. Then I wait for the water to boil, and despite the wind, it works! I also noticed the effectiveness of the insulation, you can touch the stove without burning. However, I notice that the insulated ash side allows more heat to pass through. But it is useful to experience yourself.

Another mission for me while crossing: think about other low-tech tools to incorporate into life aboard. I was quickly confronted with the reality of this type of boat, which is more touristy than experimental. A water desalinator can also be useful for changing seawater into fresh water, but the quantities collected are still not enough to sustain the entire crew.

Mathilde Bourdon sailed for two weeks from the Danish island of Samsø to Caen with 8 other students from the transitions campus, an entity dependent on Sciences Po Rennes.

Mathilde Bourdon sailed for two weeks from the Danish island of Samsø to Caen with 8 other students from the transitions campus, an entity dependent on Sciences Po Rennes.Annaelle Quiniou

After evaluating the feasibility of various projects, I decided to focus my thoughts on food preservation, a real problem on board, where there is a lack of space to store food. On the crossing, I talk to skippers who are also interested in this kind of method and show me their conservation methods.

The experiences shared with the crew are particularly rewarding, both personally and professionally. They helped me and my classmates a lot in developing our respective projects. Conducting an experiment in an ecological, societal or scientific vocation is a sine qua none condition for joining the Ecole en Bateau.

In line with my low tech project, other student sailors collected marine trash to recycle it into works of art or educational tools, others preferred to study carbon sinks in the sea or measure the chemical composition of water that may be particularly polluted. in these coastal areas crowded with ships.

Low-tech DIY workshop

Our joint adventure does not stop when we return to Normandy. After the trip, the projects will come to life. Some through an exhibition, a feedback publication. For me, the goal is to leave free access to the results and instructions for use to raise awareness of low technology.

My ambition now is to organize low-tech do-it-yourself workshops or cooking workshops at the transitions campus in Caen to introduce other school students to these technologies and democratize their use . »

To remember

If you also have a good (or not so good) story to tell, don’t hesitate to contact us: redaction-start@lesechos.fr

And to read other inspiring testimonials, HERE .

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