Zebu is the world’s first tall ship with the electric motor. Built 82 years ago in Sweden, it has a wooden brigantine of Baltic Trader design. It was a part of the Operation Raleigh international student training expedition and had sailed around the world from 1984-88 for the same. It is now anchored in Royal Albert Dock, Liverpool.
It was built in 1938 at the A B Holms shipyard in Råå, Helsingborg, Sweden to transport cargo such as timber, paper, and iron ore around the Baltic Sea. During the Second World War there was some speculation that it was also used to smuggle refugees and arms in support of the Polish Home Army.
After the war its rigging was removed, and a diesel motor was installed to continue its life on the waters of the Baltic until the late 1970s.
The National Historic Ships site says “During the early 1970s Zebu was used recreationally and had been converted back to a Ketch rig and became UK registered. She came under the ownership of Mr Nick Broughton in 1983 who had her refitted as a 1870 replica Brigantine at Lowestoft in preparation for her use during Operation Raleigh.”
Operation Raleigh was a four-year round-the-world expedition, during those years it visited 41 countries and travelled 69,000 miles • 110,000 km while the overall project engaged 4,000 young people aged 17-24 from dozens of nations in a variety of challenging expeditions mixing adventure, science and rural community aid projects.
Upon its return, it served many purposes over the years, from operating as a sailing training vessel to acting as a venue for the Trust’s annual Pirate Festival. In 2015 however, it started taking on water in the middle of a September night and was found at the bottom of the dock area the next morning. Susan Hanley-Place of the Trust said “dozens of shocked but determined Zebu volunteers will be on hand to do their best to ensure this magnificent ship sails again.”
Unfortunately, the task proved bigger than expected and the ship’s future was in doubt until Captain Gerrith Borrett, and his wife Suzi purchased Zebu and founded a not-for-profit organization, Tall Ship ZEBU Community Interest Company in 2018, with the goal of ‘restoring Zebu to her former glory and eventually getting her sailing again as a fine working example of maritime heritage and as an educational outreach platform‘.
With funds coming in from the UK’s National Heritage Lottery Fund and the start of restoration and repairs, Zebu was pronounced fit to take on passengers again in the summer of 2018.
Although it is not practical to have a sailing-only tall ship in 2020, Captain Borrett’s goal is to make sure it burns no fossil fuels and hence will the be the first tall ship with an electric motor.
Now, in addition to it being a beautiful tall ship, it is proudly outfitted with a 200Kw DC Axial Flux Motor and Lithium-ion 96 amp-hour battery. The maximum torque is 790 Newton metres at 3250 RPM, but the expectation is that it will normally be running at 100kW continuous power and 400 N-m.
“This has been 2 ½ years of constant research and development, stubborn self-belief and working through a wall of doubters,” said Captain Borrett, “but I can say that we continue our journey to achieve our aim of completely restoring and keeping this beautiful iconic ship afloat and the electric motor is a huge leap on the way to being 100% powered by renewable clean energy.”
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