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Ethical Dilemmas

We recently reviewed our position on a whole swath of decisions which we have taken consciously and sub-consciously as we have been setting up our cruise and charter business.

It was an interesting process. and brought into focus a number of issues we have been ducking for some time.

So what is an ethical decision and how do you decide the best path. The abstract definitions of deontological, virtue and teleological ethics don't really help very much. In the end we can only trust in out intuition or 'common sense' and do what we think is right. Our decisions may have only a tiny impact on the world in general but they do directly and indirectly effect our customers and partners and of course ourselves.

Our overriding responsibilities are treat our customers, partners and the general public with respect and to avoid actions which will have a negative effect on their collective wellbeing. In particular we have reviewed environmental considerations and commercial relationships.

Carbon footprint

Our first area for review was our environmental impact. This falls into two parts, the efficiency of our cruising operations and our of season periods.

Cruising impact

We have done an simple CO2e calculation for our typical cruises including travel options for guest arrival and departure. The diagram shows different guest travel options against a standard 6 day bareboat charter in Turkey (6 people sharing ) and a Caribbean cruise (based on Carnival's own figures for an economy cabin) The comparisons are stark and we think reinforce our claim to be an eco-cruise company. This is not to say we couldn't do better and some of options in the following sections will impact on our cruising footprint.


This is a tough one. We resisted the hair shirt approach of operating without engines. It is simply too restricting and potentially dangerous. Modern harbours do not offer the space or shore based support for sail only ships and the cost of hiring overpowered tugs for manoeuvring in port is prohibitive. Historically sail only vessels particularly sailing barges have a suffered numerous disasters on lee shores which suitably sized auxiliary power would have prevented.

We looked hard at all electric propulsion when we built Snark but it simply wasn't viable five years ago. Even now the costs are very high. A 67 tonne ship needs a lot of power to make way against a strong wind and large waves and in the end this is our safety criteria. To do this with electric motors required substantial stored power, batteries are expensive and can only store a few hours of power, hydrogen fuel cells are complex, introduce a high risk system onto a simple vessel and are still in their infancy.

Recharging either of the above with solar, wind or water turbines will only work with significant rest periods. So many electrically propelled vessels fall back on diesel generators. These theoretically operate at maximum efficiency unlike direct propulsion engines. However there is a fallacy in this argument. Properly sized and used direct diesel propulsion will operate close to its optimum performance and transfer the maximum power to propulsion. Indirect power is just that and the losses in conversion from generator to battery to motor are all significant.

So in the end we have modern high efficiency low emission turbo diesel engines with high efficiency propellers. The best strategy we can manage at present is to minimise our engine use and sail whenever we can. Not such a bad thing really.


Our other power uses are for cooking, chilled food storage, water heating and pressurisation, and space heating. We decided at the outset to avoid using butane gas systems for both environmental and safety reasons. While in harbour we try to connect to shore power, the most likely way to obtain an efficient sustainable green supply of power.

For off grid operations we have looked at onboard wind and solar generation but this would not come close to providing the continuous power we need for a commercial sailing vessel and is disproportionately expensive and complex to operate. So in the end we have to rely on diesel generator and minimising usage. We use the waste heat from the exhaust to provide hot water for washing and heating etc.

Winter space heating is our biggest energy use. Snark is well insulated and needs about the same space heating energy as a modern house. We have a heat store tank that supplies hot water and underfloor heating ( I know very posh) but how to heat this. We need to be flexible.

  • In our current berth we are on the mud half the time so have no continuous sea water supply. This limits the use of the water cooled generator.

  • Also in a deep Devon valley we don't see the sun on deck for five months of the year so solar heating is out.

  • We have a solid fuel stove with a back boiler which is our current main heat source. This is labour intensive, dusty and even with eco fuels way down the list for environmental considerations.

  • We have a small 5kw diesel boiler for quick hot water production without firing up the 15kw generator.

  • We have 6kw immersion heaters which work if we have a suitable 32A shore supply, not available at our current berth.

So, our next step is to look at two things.

  • Change our berth to a floating location with a constant supply of sea water for cooling and heating and a sunny position for passive and possible active solar heating,

  • Investigating water to water heat pump technology to exploit the potential of sea water heating.

Both of these require additional investment which relies on us having a successful season.

Marketing and social media

Obviously truth, transparency and clarity are core values here. So we have tried to be honest and open about what we are offering customers and price the events at what we believe is a reasonable level, having in mind the cost of running Snark, our own needs and security, the quality of the experience we offer and much more.

Having seen the evidence being presented by media whistle blowers related to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media sites we have taken the decision to stop interacting with Facebook and Instagram both commercially and personally. We haven't been on tick tock and will not be going there. This is a difficult decision given the reach of these platforms but one we feel is important in representing our position.

We are sticking with Twitter and LinkedIn for now. . We know they are far from perfect but they seem less manipulative and in particular they do not seem to intentionally promote negative messages.

Dietary considerations

While we have respected others decisions on diet, both from animal welfare and environmental perspectives, we have until now both remained committed omnivores and this has ben reflected in our menus.

However the evidence on the negative environmental impact of animal farming whether on land or at sea is irrefutable and we have decided to cut way back on animal proteins. So no red meat, organic dairy and local sustainably caught 'wild' fish only. We are luck to live in Devon with its meadow based dairy industry and near the coast so have a good fresh fish supply chain available. When cruising we will have to rely on the fishermen and local agents for supplies.

We try to source our fruit veg and grains, including flour, from organic sources with explicit ethical frameworks. Not always easy and certainly not the cheapest approach and I can't deny that I do miss a good bacon sandwich!

Banking and financial services

If we can support ethical banking and avoid companies that invest in fossil fuel and other non-sustainable businesses we should do so. We have started the process of transferring our accounts but it takes time to both identify and then establish working relationships with the more ethical banks. After all they have to avoid being seen as greenwashing for non-sustainable interests. So watch this space and hopefully by the New Year we will be on the right side on this.


Even though Snark is built of steel and lined in wood we use lots of toxic chemicals and plastics in her rigging, finishes and operations. There seems to be an inevitable relationship between higher performance and more environmentally damaging materials. The historic natural alternatives are not commercially available and so all we can do is take care to minimise distribution and dispose of waster properly.

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