Sailing amid offshore wind farms

Published on February 23rd, 2021

by Tom Cunliffe, SAIL
Here in Europe, the general feeling about green energy from offshore wind turbines has moved on after an initial surge of general skepticism. Concerns raised over cost, threats to seabirds, wind interference and the rest have to some extent been answered, and it’s hard to argue with the bottom line.

Take the London Array as an example. This, the world’s largest offshore wind farm of 175 turbines, spreads its wings far out to sea off the Thames estuary. Its average delivery is around 1 gigawatt per day, and in a good breeze it can shove out 1.5 gigawatts, powering half a million homes across southeast England. In its first winter, it saved the equivalent of 1.3 million tons of CO2 from conventional power plants.

It’s hard to argue with figures like those. But what about the difficulties for mariners? It’s these that concern sailors. Wind farms, as they proliferate in European waters, are not always sited clear of yacht routes. So, are we allowed to sail between the turbines, and if they are a prohibited area, how are they policed? Beyond that, how physically dangerous are they to small craft? Are our masts vulnerable to being sliced off by whirling carbon blades? Can our keels snag by high-voltage underwater cables?

In the end, compiling lists of political doubts and physical fears is pointless. Wind farms may not always be sited where we’d have wanted them, and sometimes they are a downright nuisance. But regardless of what we may think, more are coming, both in Europe and the United States and those that are already here are here to stay. So, what do they actually mean in terms of sailing among them? – Full report

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