Corentin de Chatelperron

Welcome aboard the low-tech lab

Posted on 10 March 2015.

A stubborn engineer is set to go around the world on a linen and jute sailing boat. His dream: to bring together inventors from around the world to work on the same project – finding low tech solutions in developing countries.

It all started with a jute field in Bangladesh in 2009. The Taratari shipyard, where Corentin de Chatelperron worked, was opposite. This young graduate of ICAM Nantes came up with the idea of replacing the fiberglass - imported and polluting - used for boat hulls with jute, which is natural, economic and local. Nicknamed Bengal gold because of its beautiful golden color, this plant provides a living for 40 million Bangladeshis and now also has the power to revolutionize the shipping industry.

To listen to him narrating his exciting adventures in his soft voice, with complete simplicity, sparkling eyes and smiling face, you would think that the young engineer is not really in his element in this Parisian cafe where we had arranged to meet to talk about his maritime voyages and his new project, Nomade des Mers. At 31, he has already built two jute boats and is preparing to build a third. With the Tara Tari prototype, composed of 40% jute, he traveled 9000 nautical miles from Dhaka to La Ciotat, to test the robustness of this agro-composite material. In 2013, aboard the Gold of Bengal, a 100% jute boat this time, he sailed for six months around the Indonesian islands. In 2016, he will put back out to sea for a tour of the low-tech world...

How did the idea of Nomade des Mers come about?

When I left with Gold of Bengal, I wanted to be self-sufficient and come back with more food than I started with. I had two chickens and I planned to grow potatoes in my greenhouse, but it was a failure. After four months, I stopped on a deserted island off Sumatra, where several friends joined me. We set up a kind of research laboratory and made all kinds of very useful inventions: a solar oven, hydroponic crops (above ground)...

Video in French: « Le voyage de Gold of Bengal (3) A la recherche du "low tech" »

I realized that I might be an engineer, but to find low-tech solutions I needed access to a different type of knowledge. Hence the idea of creating a collaborative platform to exchange know-how and expertise.

What is the role of the web site - launched last September?

It’s a research forum for low-tech solutions. I wanted to bring together Sunday inventors, engineers, students, improvisers, researchers... Low-tech systems drive local, sustainable progress, but there isn’t enough research or sharing of expertise.

Who can help invent low-tech solutions?

Everybody! For example, to get my potatoes to grow I really needed advice from my grandmother. On, anyone can register and share ideas with video tutorials or respond to challenges. We’re also developing an international network of organizations that could share these low-tech solutions with the people who need them and approach us about local issues.

How will the second phase of the project unfold?

We’ll start in the spring building a catamaran 18 meters long and 9 wide, composed of 50% linen and 50% jute. Then I’ll leave to go around the low tech world for three years, with two crew mates. We won’t take materials or food, just chickens, earthworms and insects! At each stopover, two inventors will be invited on board to find solutions to local problems using whatever is to hand. In Mauritania, for example, we will examine the issue of access to water.

Is sailing around the world a means of spreading and discovering new solutions?

Yes, but not only that. The boat is also a great way to test solutions: we have to make do with the means at hand, and living in a small space also produces synergies. It is both a mobile laboratory and a floating ecosystem!
Make a date in early 2016 for the big departure of Nomade des Mers

Find out more:

- The Nomade des Mers web site
- Gold of Bengal social enterprise
- The “Where is Tara Tari” blog follows the adventures of the boat with which Capucine Trochet subsequently crossed the Atlantic:
- A 100% green boat on ARTE (in French)