Balancing logistics with sustainability

Published on May 13th, 2023

by Kevin Gunn
Over this past school year, the STEM for Others class at Ursuline Academy in New Orleans (New Orleans, LA) has been working on designing and building a more sustainable sail for Haitian fisherman.

They are currently using old donated sails from the United States, or whatever fabric they can get their hands on, including plastic garbage bags. More about the full scope of the project can be seen in the previous Scuttlebutt article.

After building prototype sails made out of Cotton Duck Canvas and Top Gun, a UV resistant synthetic material more commonly used for boat covers, they were tested in the 420s at Community Sailing New Orleans. The students made a video call to fishermen in Haiti to discuss the results, but in the end neither fabric would fit their needs.

The major constraint is that the fishermen need to carry their sails to and from home everyday. If they leave the sails on the boat, they would certainly be stolen. The cotton sails would be far too heavy when wet, as they absorb water, and the Top Gun would be too heavy and expensive in any condition. Neither would be easily carried by hand over a great distance.

While the class wanted to make a sail that was either biodegradable or longer lasting than dacron, the class decided that meeting the needs of the fishermen was most important. A new dacron sail will still last far longer than an old donated sail, and will also allow the fishermen more time to fish, rather than re-cutting and sewing together old materials. A win for the fishermen and the environment.

The class got to work building a main and jib to the dimensions of the boats used in the Haiti Sailing Cup, an annual regatta for the fishermen in their fishing boats. This past week, a representative from Haiti Sailing Cup was in New Orleans and came to the Ursuline campus to receive the new sails.

Over the upcoming summer, the sails will be used in Haiti for the regatta and for general fishing. The Haitians will give feedback on how the sails performed so that a new class of STEM for Others students and sailing team members can improve on the current design and continue to build new sails for the fishermen.

As sail materials are expensive, the class would appreciate donations to buy materials and a more powerful sewing machine:

Typical Haitian fishing boat with sails made out of garbage bags.

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