The Future is Electric

The start of a new year ­– and a new decade – is a logical time to launch a new project. Having celebrated the 500thanniversaries of the voyages of Christopher Columbus in 1992 and Vasco da Gama in 1998, I have decided to sail the historic route of the first circumnavigation achieved by Ferdinand Magellan and Juan Sebastián Elcano 500 years ago.  In fact, the Basque sailor should be credited with the first round the world voyage, as he sailed with Magellan from the start of the expedition in 1519, took over the leadership of the expedition when Magellan was killed in the Philippines, and completed the voyage in 1522. In recognition of that fact, my project is called the Elcano Challenge, and has been acknowledged as an official event by the Spanish Quincentenary Commission of the first round the world voyage.

Magellan and Elcano circumnavigation

A further aim of this symbolic voyage is to be the first circumnavigation completed by a fully electric boat, something that would be very much in tune with the current concern for the environment. My new boat will be called Elcano but with a play on words: EL.CA.NO!   ELectricity. CArbon. NO!

This would be my fourth and probably most challenging circumnavigation as I plan to do it on a fully electric boat, with no diesel engine or generator, and a zero carbon footprint. To the surprise of many of my friends I took the difficult decision to switch from a monohull to a multihull. I did this primarily for the reason that a light catamaran would ensure higher average speeds, which will be essential for the regeneration of energy; the propellers charging the batteries while sailing. Also, a catamaran has a larger available surface to display solar panels, thus providing a clean and efficient additional source energy.

EL.CA.NO! will carry around the world the urgent message of our times:


To reinforce the major significance of this message, the crew of EL.CA.NO! will take an active part in a range of research projects, all related to the current climate crisis.

The voyage will follow faithfully the historic route by stopping only at the places visited by the original expedition. After a start in Seville in October 2020, and a stop in Tenerife, the route will continue to Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo and Puerto Julian before transiting the Magellan Strait.  After a symbolic stop at Punta Arenas, the voyage will set off on the long passage to the island of Puka Puka, in the Tuamotu Islands. A stop will then be made at Guam, in the Mariana Islands, before arriving at the mid-point of the voyage at Cebu, in the Philippine Islands. A symbolic visit to Mactan, where Magellan was killed in 1521, will conclude the first part of this commemorative voyage.

The second part of the voyage will start from the point where Juan Sebastián Elcano took over the command of the expedition. After calling at Palawan, Brunei, Tidore, Ambon and Timor, the modern EL.CA.NO! will cross the South Indian Ocean to Port Elizabeth, in South Africa.

Having passed the Cape of Good Hope, the voyage will turn north, cross the equator to Ribeira Grande in the Cape Verde Islands, then head for Sanlúcar de Barrameda and finally Seville. The 30,000 miles voyage is expected to last 8 to 9 months, with a departure in October 2020 and an ETA in July 2021.

On completion of the voyage, EL.CA.NO! will make a symbolic detour to Getaria, Juan Sebastián Elcano’s place of birth in the Basque Country, as a tribute to the man who was the first to sail around the world.

The new Outremer 4E is based on a mixture of features taken from the Outremer 45 and 4X, but with several modifications. Many of the building features will ensure that the result will be a light boat, ideally around 9 tons. As in the case of my Garcia Exploration concept, I am aiming at a comfortable, easy to sail boat by a short-handed crew.

Propulsion and regeneration will be provided by two electric saildrives rated at 15 kW each and developed by the Finnish company Oceanvolt. The system has been well tested and will meet my expectations of ample and reliable energy regeneration under sail.

  Jimmy Cornell with the Oceanvolt team at Vantaa, Finland, 14 January 2020


Back to Top