The Ecoracer 25 is the first modern recyclable sportsboat, an ORC winner which could help transform end-of-life fibreglass composites

This heartening story involves a crew of Italian sailing friends, who fostered a desire to do something different, to make a change. The fact that this Ecoracer ‘garage project’ has met with award-winning success is due to it using innovative sustainable materials which it then proved can work in a race-winning shape.

Arguably above that though, is the notion that it has taken a small startup to show the way forward and to shine a light on the dark and all-to-often brushed aside underbelly of conventional composite boatbuilding.

The crew behind it formed in 2012 as a sailing team on a Dufour 34 called Northern Light. In 2019 they established Northern Light Composites (nlcomp) to research and develop recyclable composites. Their first project was the most economical possible, an Optimist called ecoprimus, on which they could try out techniques and materials.

Just one year later they presented this prototype Ecoracer 25 at the Genoa Boat Show, as the world’s first recyclable sportsboat. Constructed from sustainable materials, largely flax fibre with a recyclable core, it went on to win the 2022 ORC Italian Sportsboat Championship on Lake Garda in its first post-lockdown season.

Upwind mode. The helmsman sits forward of the main trimmer for a clearer view. Photo: Ludovic Fruchaud/IMACIS

The fact that in-demand naval architect Matteo Polli is one of this team is also pretty crucial to the Ecoracer’s success on the water.

An ORC specialist who has designed winning yachts for Italia Yachts and Grand Soleil recently, Polli chose a contemporary shape with a particularly angular reverse bow and sheer, as seen on some of the latest generation raceboats – but did so for other reasons too, in particular the task of trying to combine greener materials with a lightweight construction.

“The aim was to design a racer that could compete successfully in the Sportsboat ORC classes being at the same time a fast and nice to sail boat,” he explains. “The real challenge was to build with eco-friendly materials that would have not allowed a super light construction weight.

“The characteristic shape exploits the use of chines to reduce the structural elements and therefore secondary bonding, which is a complex matter when using these materials,” Polli continues. “So keeping all this in mind I went for a high form stability hull shape that incorporated features to reduce shell areas like very low freeboards, a chamfered bow and shallow cockpit.”

Making a point. The forward chine acts as a sprayrail – “it prevents deep nose diving (a risk with such low freeboard), while allowing a fine entry,” says designer Matteo Polli. Photo: Ludovic Fruchaud/IMACIS

Ship in a bottle

When I asked why the 7.69m size was chosen, I was told it was because ‘the garage was not so big’! Built in Monfalcone, the Ecoracer 25 uses a cocktail of different materials, all aimed at trying to solve the problems related to end of life glassfibre composites. The hull is a mix of linen (flax), basalt fibre (from volcanic rock) and some recyclable carbon for increasing stiffness on a recyclable PU core.

Perhaps the most innovative ingredient is a new concept resin from Arkema, a thermoplastic which helps make the boat recyclable after use because the fibres can be separated from the resin again after immersion in a solvent. Unlike thermosetting matrixes, which can only be wasted at end of life, this new resin can “separate itself from the fibres and reuse the polymer with normal industrial processes,” reports nlcomp’s materials expert Andrea Paduano.

The deck is made from flax fibre, the decking from cork. The mainsheet is on a central ratchet block, with backstay and traveller controls led to camcleats on the side deck. Photo: Ludovic Fruchaud/IMACIS

“We decided to use bio-based fibres to reduce our carbon footprint and flax and cellulose fibres are the best candidates for a strong yet light composite material,” Paduano continues. The result is recyclable fibres and recyclable resin which can be reused to build composite parts again. It comes at a cost of around 7-8% more in weight over glassfibre but at a much larger gain with regards to the holy grail search for circular boatbuilding materials.

The composite was vacuum infused, while painting was avoided in favour of using films for the external coating. The mast, keel and rudder structures are made of aluminIum and steel, the engine is electric and the sails are filmless 4T Forte ‘sustainable’ types from One Sails (which can be broken down and reused).

Solar panel charges a battery for the bilge pump and electric outboard, which mounts below. Photo: Ludovic Fruchaud/IMACIS

Under sail

Designed to race with a crew weight of 400kg, the Ecoracer 25 backs up its sharp looks on the water. When I had my chance for a quick trial, there was only a few knots of breeze, yet it still proved enough to actively enjoy the sailing. We easily matched the 3-4 knots upwind, before gennaker sailing at 5-8 knots, the minimal wake parting from the transom at around 6 knots.

It’s ever so slippery, fast and enjoyable to helm, just what a sportsboat should be. Alberto Mariotti, our Italian European Yacht of the Year jury representative, sailed in 15 knots and clocked double figures with the gennaker.

Two deck winches are used for sheets, with cross-sheeting angles to trim from windward. Photo: Ludovic Fruchaud/IMACIS

However, I’ll leave the final thoughts on this extraordinary boat to another jury member, Morten Brandt-Rasmussen from Denmark: “The Ecoracer 25 project points the finger where it hurts. Let’s face it – leisure boats of today are not in any way the green product that the industry claims. Without changes the leisure boat market will be regulated and potentially fade away. The 100% recyclable Ecoracer 25 has shown that it’s possible to turn green for real.”

The future Ecoracer 30

After scooping a special European Yacht of the Year sustainability prize, the eco-focussed Boat of the Year at the Boat Builder Award at METS, and the Design Innovation Award at Genoa Boat Show with the prototype Ecoracer 25, nlcomp and Matteo Polli have now designed a larger 9.15m production version.

The Ecoracer One Design 30 is the first recyclable one-design sportsboat. Optimised for ORC, it has a retractable keel and electric propulsion. It uses nlcomp’s rComposite method, a thermoplastic matrix combining carbon fibres for the hull and linen fibres for the cockpit, which is guaranteed recyclable. The prototype will be unveiled in late June at the Ocean Race finale in Genoa and will cost €130,000.

Ecoracer 25 specifications

LOA: 7.69m / 25ft 3in
Beam: 2.75m / 9ft 0in
Draught: 1.80m / 5ft 11in
Displacement: 1,150kg / 2,535lb
Sail area: 40m2 / 431ft2
Price: approx €80,000

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