Monday 22 August 2016

What floats SME's boat?

Last week I visited the Isle of Wight. I took the big old car ferry. As it left Southampton port, it was dwarfed by the behemoth container ships headed for China and the berthed oil takers pumping their cargos to the nearby oil refinery. With its gas flares and funnels, the refinery loomed like an alien palace – possibly beautiful, but not by standard human aesthetics. Next, the ferry passed a sizable fossil fuel power station, with the pylons heading off towards Southampton. As the ferry approached the Isle of Wight, the ugliness spawned by our efficient economy was replaced by a thing of beauty enabled by our prosperity: hundreds of sailing boats out for Cowes week. It was sunny and breezy and a gorgeous day for sailing. Dozens of identical red-sailed dinghies hugged the coastline. The old man sitting next to me on the ferry deck explained to his grandchildren that these were the sailing school boats.

Arriving in East Cowes port, to the left is a museum, which is on the site of the boatyard where the hovercraft and flying boat were first invented and built; to the right were the offices of SME (Sustainable Marine Energy), where I could spot someone having their lunch. I couldn’t resist trying my luck for an interview. My timing couldn’t have been more fortunate. There were very few people at the office – some were in Orkney installing the SME prototype onto the moorings they’d installed in June, using their own rock anchor method (see photos below). Others were of course sailing in Cowes week. Luckily the managing director Jason Hayman was there. I asked whether he had drawn the short straw in being stuck in the office. He said he’d actually just come back from Orkney and would be sailing himself later in the week.