Building sustainable sails for Haiti

Published on February 2nd, 2023

Students at Ursuline Academy of New Orleans (New Orleans, LA) are building sustainable sails to help the environment and subsistence fishermen in Haiti.

Ursuline Academy has a class called STEM for Others, which teaches STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) through a hands-on, service-learning project that ties classroom curriculum to service.

This year, the class has partnered with Community Sailing New Orleans and Sails for Sustenance, a non-profit organization that collects used sails in the United States and ships them to Haiti to be used by Haitian fishermen, who largely rely on sails to power their boats.

Sails for Sustenance has had an enormous impact on the lives of the fishermen, but the question became how to do better than giving the fishermen sails that were already near the end of their useful lives. There is also another big problem–the sails they receive are usually made out of petrochemical products, which contribute to the plastic pollution in the Haitian fisheries when they break down.

After studying the causes and effects of plastic pollution in the oceans, and the history, economy, and daily lives of Haitian fishermen, the Ursuline Academy students began learning about how sails are made and work so they could develop a solution.

Students recently completed two prototype mainsails that were tested in the 420s at Community Sailing New Orleans.

One sail was made from cotton duck canvas, which is biodegradable. Another prototype was made from Top Gun fabric. While the Top Gun fabric is synthetic and more commonly used for boat covers, it is UV resistant, so it should last significantly longer than traditional sail materials such as dacron.

Both sails worked well, with the next step for the class is to video conference with the Haitian Fisherman to get input, and then select the fabric to build a sail that will be sustainable.

The STEM for Others class is raising funds to purchase the materials needed to build their next sail, which will be shipped to Haitian fishermen through Sails for Sustenance. If you would like to help, consider donating here:

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