Solid-state batteries – a red herring?

Toyota's solid-state batteriesWhile ‘solid-state’ batteries have long been billed as the best way forward in terms of safety, energy density and speed of charging, electronics giant Toshiba has just announced a new battery that is at least as good as the solid-state one Toyota has been developing for a decade.

Before this shock announcement, major car manufacturers such as Porsche were planning to go solid-state. The race is on to develop a car battery system that will outcompete fossil fuel engines, and the time is coming fast when internal combustion engines may well be obsolete relics of the 20th Century. Let’s look at Toshiba’s and Toyota’s battery development programmes and show how quickly such technology is developing.


Porsche plans to go EV

Autocar reported on September 12, “Porsche is eyeing up solid-state batteries, which are lighter and more compact than lithium ion cells, as a possible future technology for an all-electric sports car, but production versions are several years away.” From Porsche’s perspective you need a smaller, lighter battery bank that has more range in order to compete with their existing fossil fuelled cars that have much higher power to weight ratios than EVs of today.

With existing technology for example, in order to make an EV 911 compete with its fossil fuel sister you might need to take out the back seats to reduce the weight. Porsche’s Head of R&D Michael Steiner told Autocar, “That’s a question we have asked ourselves: can it be a 911 with only two seats?”

If they can be made for cars, solid-state batteries should have a far greater energy density than existing lithium-ion batteries so you can fit more range into a smaller battery bank, and they may well be able to be charged much faster. We asked Porsche for an interview on the subject but they said that they had revealed all they can to Autocar. Instead, we spoke to Denis Pasero, Commercialisation Manager at Southampton based Ilika plc, who are helping Toyota to create solid state batteries for their EVs.


The problem of battery chemistry

In developing battery technology, scientists kept hitting the hurdles of how fast they can charge them, how much energy they can carry per kilogramme of weight, and safety issues when they try to cross these two hurdles.

Most of the EV car batteries we use today have electrodes that sit in a fluid, which carries the electrons as electricity between the two terminals. Over the years this has been refined by using different chemistries, and at the turn of the Century lithium-ion batteries were developed which deliver a far greater amount of energy per kilogramme than the older lead-acid batteries. Lithium-ion battery chemistry has been tweaked over the years but scientists kept hitting the problem of batteries either catching fire or exploding when they get too hot or are over-charged.

In 2014 for example, a number of Boeing Dreamliner jets had to make emergency landings after their batteries exploded or caught fire. Foreseeing the problem, and not wanting their EV car batteries to explode or catch fire, Toyota went to Ilika Technologies in 2008 to discuss developing solid state batteries.

One of the dangers of having a liquid electrolyte is that if they get too hot they can explode, and if too much current is put in while charging they can catch fire. Pasero told us, “Toyota were looking at moving away from batteries that had a liquid electrolyte to one with a solid electrolyte. They were worried that there would be an incident of some sort that would create a massive recall,” of the cars with (worst case scenario) exploding batteries. Pasero continued, “We worked with them to develop a solid electrolyte that would transfer the electrons between the cathode and anode.”

Over six years the two companies worked together, sharing intellectual property and Ilika itself is about to license the production of solid state micro-batteries for sensors on sports cars such as those made by McLaren.


Advantages of solid-state batteries

While safety is a very important factor in solid-state batteries they should in theory be far lighter for every kilowatt-hour of energy that they can carry. Pasero explained with regard liquid electrolyte batteries, the “size of the spacing between anode and cathode is determined by the polymer separator, this is a plastic-type film that makes a physical barrier between the 2 electrodes. You soak it with the liquid electrolyte. It’s a few 10’s of microns, whereas solid state batteries are a few microns, an order of magnitude difference.” A micron is 0.001 of a millimetre, so where in a liquid battery (up to now) you may get two electrodes in 0.03 of a mm, you might get 100 solid-state electrodes in the same space. This would create a far higher energy density than those in a liquid electrolyte battery.

Another advantage of solid state batteries is that they should be able to be charged far more quickly. Regarding the thin solid films, Pasero said, “the electricity can move much more quickly between the electrodes as it has a far smaller distance to travel. This means that you can charge the battery more quickly.”

With regard safety Pasero gave the example of an old AA battery you might have in your camera. After a few years it might leak corrosive liquid. In other cases, it could heat up and a gas will form in a process known as ‘gas evolution’ and the battery will explode. Solid-state batteries have no liquid inside and this cannot turn to gas and there is a far lower risk of explosion. Pasero also told us of another risk, “There is a problem of lithium atoms joining together and forming a spike that penetrates the membrane and connects to the other electrode”. ‘Lithium metal deposition’, as this is known is where the battery shorts itself and you could have a fire on your hands. He said that this can’t happen with a solid state-battery.


Toshiba takes the lead

Ilika have developed and are about to license the production of solid-state micro-batteries that can be given a full charge in minutes and never charged again for years. At that size, solid-state batteries are a proven concept and do work. At car battery level however, Pasero pointed out, “I haven’t seen a [solid-state] battery that works at a tens of kilowatt level yet.”

You read that right. For all the years in development and many millions of dollars spent, no-one has made a solid-state battery that can power a car yet. The week we interviewed Pasero, Toshiba made an announcement that in 2019 it will start production of a liquid electrolyte car battery that could be charged in six minutes and give a car a 200 mile range on each charge. If you drive 200 miles fairly regularly as I do, you’ll appreciate that that’s a good distance for a stop at a charging station if only for a pee and a cigarette. The press release stated, “its titanium niobium oxide anode is much less likely to experience lithium metal deposition during ultra-rapid recharging or recharging in cold conditions—a cause of battery degradation and internal short circuiting.” The battery is twice as energy dense as Toshiba’s current battery, meaning it is half the weight for every mile you can drive on a charge. The battery is capable of being charged far more quickly without exploding or catching fire.

I showed Pasero the announcement. With regard the lithium ion battery, he said the “only difference is that they swap the carbon in the anode for titanium niobium. This material seems to be able to insert more [lithium] (hence more energy and therefore range) than carbon and charge more rapidly. The claims are quite strong! 6 min ultra recharging and 320 km are above what I heard so far. This clearly is another marker for solid state batteries. How it compares: well, Toyota claims more than 300 miles range by 2020. I do not know how much faster [solid-state batteries] will be able to charge.”

Toshiba seems to have developed a liquid electrolyte battery that is far better than the much talked-of solid-state battery just by tweaking the chemistry of the electrodes in a normal lithium-ion battery. Could billions of battery research dollars have been wasted?


What’s holding solid-state batteries back?

Pasero explained that there are two essential problems with making solid-state batteries work. The first is that unlike liquid electrolyte batteries, they need to be relatively warm. Only a few years ago they needed to be 60 degrees C for electricity to pass through them but scientists have got that down to 20 degrees C today. That still might be a problem in New York City or in Chicago where temperatures in winter fall well below zero degrees C. Pasero said that in these cases, “they would work more slowly but would heat up in about one minute to optimum temperature.”

The other problem, and one that still stymies battery developers, is making these batteries in a factory. It is all very well making one in a lab but for Porsche or Toyota to make them you need production runs in the thousands or millions a year. Pasero went on, “With traditional batteries you take a foil and deposit an ink on it with the cathode, you do the same with the anode. You place them face to face to face with the liquid in between and you have your battery.” Through proven technologies it is quite easy to make a liquid electrolyte battery relatively cheaply. In making solid-state batteries, boffins need to develop a new manufacturing method.

Solid-state batteries are far more complicated. “You will have put one electrode on a foil as an ink and then dry it. The second layer is wet. This is going to start interfering with the dry one. They aren’t quite there yet with this,” Pasero said. This issue could significantly add to the cost of production of the batteries, meaning that if the problem can be resolved you will only see solid-state batteries in top end luxury cars such as the Porsche where they can afford very expensive components. You may not see them in Leafs or the Tesla Model 3 for a good while yet, though you never know about the Tesla Model S!


The race is on!

Billions of dollars are being poured into battery technology with the express intention of making EVs competitive kilo for kilo with fossil fuel engines – once EVs can be made lighter and of greater range can fossil fuel cars, no one will want a petrol or diesel car. The race is very much on to make this happen in the next few years.

Vendee Globe Grand Finale – a Geek’s View

Having had a whale of a time in the run up to and start of the Vendee Globe, and seeing that Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss had an outside chance of being the first non-Frenchman to win the race, on impulse I dropped everything and headed to Les Sables d’Olonne on the Tuesday before the race finish…

At the stage of the race, Hugo Boss and Banque Populaire were within just hours of one another, fighting an epic battle that had people enthralled since they passed South Africa. Banque Populaire had at one stage a lead of 800 or so miles and in interviews later Thomson had said that he had basically given up on victory but wanted to finish second.

Heading up where the South East Trades should have been, Armel Cleac’h hit a dead spot of wind. Thomson managed to find wind where his rival hadn’t and after a charge up the North Atlantic got within 30 miles of his rival.

Off we go…

As the gap closed, I couldn’t bear to be at home to miss history so told my clients I was going away and packed for France. I managed to get a hotel room for around £60 a night within a short ride of the village (one of the last – I met people who’d booked just hours later and had to travel much farther!) and the ferry wasn’t a bad price.

I live around 456 miles from Les Sables d’Olonne including a 420km drive down the autoroutes of France and a six hour ferry ride. Leaving at 0400 local I got there for 1900 local. A brute of a journey but well worth it!

In country

For the French, the Vendee Globe is a major national sporting event where, importantly the French still routinely win. The Tour de France by comparison has had a long drought since the French won that. Les Sables d’Olonne is otherwise known for its fantastic beach and small world atmosphere full of history (apart from anything it was part of Britain for many years). They construct a village for the event that includes a beer tent where for €13 a round you can swill as much beer as your wallet allows while listening to talks about the race from experts at different times of the day…

Over before it was over

The bizarre weather that sent the race off in its first ever nice sailing day put a high pressure over much of the area, so while sailors usually head in direct from the ocean, this time they were forced almost to Lizard Point in the UK before turning south. Alex had three problems – an increasingly malfunctioning autopilot (that slowed him down even while he got the race 24 hour record of 536 miles!) and his AIS transponder had gone down, meaning he had to warn ships he was coming at them by radio. Carbon fibre yachts have virtually no radar signal… In addition, for the final run in he would have to sail on the side where he had lost his hydrofoil off South America, just days into the race.

At 1700 on the Weds Armel Cleac’h found enough pressure to turn right for the finish, and Alex had to follow suit – overnight with his damaged AIS, wobbly autopilot and without the foil that would have made him competitive for the final run. Turning earlier geographically than Cleac’h, he had less wind too. That night, losing ground to his rival hand over first, he conceded defeat.

La Grand Finale

Crowds gathered up the coastline to see the returning hero aboard Banque Populaire cross the line at around 1600 having smashed the race record for completing the Vendee Globe by just over three days. At L’Armandeche lighthouse, we saw a shadow on the horizon. The tide would have to rise for around six hours before he arrived so there would be
plenty of time to get tired and emotional. Thousands did…


In quite a state of disrepair we arrived in the village just in time for the crowds to welcome the French hero. The village bar did very good business that night, and was full even when Cleac’h’s boat was escorted to the pontoon. My American friend and I were one row behind the barrier and a could hardly see a thing except on the big screen in front, despite being about 20 metres from the boat. A good 50,000 tired and emotional French were waiting too – quite a crowd…

At this stage, a very tired and emotional woman holding a load of balloons tried very hard to get to the barrier. The tired and emotional crowd matched her loud talking and she ended up on her backside with just the balloons marking her spot in the crowd. Perhaps aware that the security guards may take an interest, I said in my best British accent, “No rioting please, we’re English!” Despite the language barrier quite a few people understood the jollity in my voice, laughed and sent the barrier crasher back to the back of the crowd.

Not understanding much of what was going on, so we followed soon after and hit the bar.

Addled mind, addled decision

I was a little addled when I went to bed and got into my head that the next high tide would be around 0500 so was up at 0430 and full of caffeine, rode to the village. No one was at the gate so I went through it anyway and after five minutes wondering why there was no security personnel found a security guard who seemed to think I shouldn’t be there. Through the language barrier we established that Alex was due in around 10 that morning and he escorted me out… As it turned out, Alex was two hours sailing from the finish at that point!

The Brit arrives

One more hour in bed, some breakfast and I was on the dock with a very good view of dawn at around 0900 on Friday. It was -8 degrees C at sunrise, rather cold even for an addled and sleep deprived Brit. Maybe a thousand people were there to welcome him, a large part from the UK, Netherlands and Germany. You can see the video of him below. After such an enthralling race, it was privilege to see him indeed.


Was the trip worth it? I got to hang out with friends connected to the race. I enjoyed the buzz even if I didn’t understand most of the French being spoken. (Next time I had better start speaking expert sailing French to really appreciate it!). Finally, I saw the Brit entry who had given his all to win the race and but for equipment issues didn’t quite ruin the French day.

Will I be back in 2020? Definitely! There will be at least two foreign contenders and potentially another Brit in the mix to win it. It would be great to have a foreign 1-2 in the foremost French round the world yacht race, and I will be definitely there to witness history!

Steve White – round the world the wrong way

Steve plans to sail round the world on a boat like this

A central Dorset sailor is planning to break the record for sailing solo the wrong way round the world next November. Steve White is an experienced solo sailor having come 8th of the 9 skippers to complete the Vendee Globe in 2008-09. 30 boats started the race, showing what an achievement it is to even make it home solo the ‘right way around’. He plans to sail 24,000 miles on his own on a former Volvo Ocean 70 Grand Prix racing yacht, against the prevailing winds of the Southern Ocean.

This is no mean feat. Where the east about record is 57 days 13 hours, the west about round the world record is 122 days and 14 hours. This requires great feats of physical and mental endurance and success will allow him to join a group of only four who have broken that record.

What is the wrong way?

Weather systems travel around the Southern Ocean from west to east, meaning that the ‘right way’ is to follow the weather systems on their endless path around Antarctica. Over 200 people have done this as a solo trip, with the fastest solo east about round the world time being just over 57 days.

Where 200 sailors have sailed around the world ‘the right way’, only five have attempted to sail around the world solo the wrong way – west round the world. You need a totally different set of kit to do this – where the right way can be done on a huge trimaran you can only really sail the other way on a mono hull as they can sail so much closer to the wind.

Another thing about going the right way round the world is that because the current record is so fast, Steve White explained to me, “there are a lot of people building very huge trimarans for this, and you could spend many millions of pounds and make it around only to be 10 minutes too slow!”

This is not to say that going into the wind for over 12,000 miles is a gentle stroll. The winds and waves are hammering the boat and it will be extremely uncomfortable. If it was easy, many more would have attempted it – as is, more people have walked on the Moon than have made this record attempt.

Who is Steve?

I met Steve a few weeks back the night before the start of the Vendee Globe solo round the world yacht race in Les Sables d’Olonne on the Biscay coast of France. I was introduced to him by my hosts, who have lived in the small fishing town for many years and are connected to the race. Beers were drunk and he came back to my hosts’ place for dinner where he told some of his back story.

Steve wasn’t born to sailing. He was a professional horse rider based in Mid Dorset for many years and one day bought himself a small boat to sail with a friend. He got into sailing for fun, and one day his boss at the stables offered him a chance to sail on a BT Global Challenge 60 footer as a passenger. To cut a long story short, Steve loved it so much he quit his day job and became a professional sailor.

Fully qualified and with many thousands of miles’ experience under his belt, Steve signed up to race the Vendee Globe in 2008. To survive that race and make it home is no mean feat. To be one of the nine who made it with a 70% attrition rate among the fleet shows just what an achievement this is.

The 2017 round the world campaign

This is the boat’s cockpit as she is now. Needs a lot of changes for Steve White to sail round the world alone…

Steve plans to convert a Volvo Ocean 70, not unlike the former Telefonica boat in the images here, to be sailable by one person. These boats are designed to be sailed by 10 people and are blisteringly fast in the right hands – they sail on ‘apparent wind’ in much the same way as the Americas Cup catamarans do, and can sail at speeds in excess of 25 knots in 20 knots of wind.

Doing this won’t be cheap, but will be chicken feed by comparison to a typical Volvo Ocean Race campaign for example. Where Steve estimates the total cost will be in the region of £1.4 million to get the boat ready for a solo sailor, to pay for a personal trainer to get Steve physically up to the job, do a trans-Atlantic shakedown trip and then to do the record attempt itself, a Volvo Ocean race campaign will cost in the region of £12 million. Steve joked, “No one’s getting fat off this campaign!”

Those sponsoring it should see very good returns – on Ellen MacArthur’s 2004-05 solo round the world campaign it is estimated that the sponsors Kingfisher got £100 in publicity for every £1 spent on her campaign. Not a bad return on investment!

There is no fixed date for the record attempt – he will wait for the right weather and then set off. The weather needs to be just right for Steve to blast out of the English Channel and south west across the Atlantic to catch the Trade Winds south to the Equator. It needs to be in the Southern Hemisphere summer so he will leave in around November 2017. He explained to me, “We will go on standby on October the 12th for a November start. Ideally I need to go in November as recently there have been little Low Pressure areas in the South East Trade Winds in the early part of the year that could delay me coming back from the South Atlantic.”

A large part of the campaign is being on the right side of the weather and given that he plans on making time on the record attempt by getting maximum speeds in the charge south to the Southern Ocean and then north back to Portland in Dorset, problems with the weather could stymie his attempt.

The calling…

The sea gets under your skin and as I have found, once you have been out there you want to go back time and again. Where I am a very experienced cruising sailor I am pleased just to walk in the shadow of the giants who race around the world singlehanded.

It seems for them too, once you have done a solo round the world race you get called back to do it by something mysterious and greater than yourself. Even at the age of 44 Steve wants to do another Vendee Globe campaign in 2020 when he’s 48, beginning his preparations as soon as he returns from the record attempt.

Age isn’t a problem when it comes to racing around the world – indeed it can be an advantage. Pointing out that the oldest skipper on the current Vendee Globe is Jean Le Cam who is 57 years old (and currently in 8th spot on the fleet), Steve said to me, “It is not only a physical sport but a cerebral sport and to that extent you get better as you get older. If you look at the ultra-marathon runners and other endurance sports competitors they tend to be older and that comes with mental toughness!”

Wishing him luck!

As with all major feats like Steve White’s, you can prepare for every eventuality but it is down to the cooperation of the weather and sea whether you make it or not. I for one hopes he achieves this – if he manages to beat the current record he will be among the upper tier of the giants of ocean racing.

Watch this space for developments in his campaign – I for one will be following it closely… For more details of Steve’s campaign visit or watch this video

A sailing geek’s view of the Vendee Globe…

A few weeks ago I discovered an old shipmate of mine from my square rigger days lives in Les Sables d’Olonne, home of the Vendee Globe singlehanded round the world race, and has connections to one of the teams, as well as one of the two Golden Globe entries from this quiet fishing town on the Biscay coast of France. I messaged him by Facebook and got an immediate invite to be a part of one of the greatest sailing events on Earth.I am a bit of an elite sailing geek. When I’m not getting depressed as hell about the destruction of the NHS and welfare state on Facebook I switch over to my passion of following the America’s Cup, Volvo Ocean and Vendee Globe – not unlike a footie fan switching off by following their team. I’m lucky enough to have a few regular sailing writing clients too, so in some ways I can indulge my passion through my profession. This trip though, was purely social.

Everest my arse

People often speak of climbing Everest as the greatest physical challenge to man. It isn’t. I discovered today that something like 3500 people have summited the mountain and survived. Did you know that in the last 150 or so years, only 41 people have sailed around the world singlehanded? Most of those have done it in the Vendee Globe, though you have the odd record attempt such as Ellen MacArthur in 2005. With only 12 people walking on the Moon, a solo circumnavigation is closer to a Moon landing than Everest in terms of numbers of people who have actually done it.

The madness began…

I warned my clients, including my sailing writing clients, that I was off for a few days to indulge my passion, and got in the car last Friday on my crazy adventure. Accuse me of being a midlife crisis boy if you wish, but I’m not going to get a replica boat and wear replica gear and go to sailing event ‘sportives’ like middle aged men in Lycra (Mamils) do on their racing bikes. I was just going down to see and taste the madness around the event. I left at 5 in the morning and got there 15 hours later and caught up with my host who I hadn’t seen since we were hard drinking 19 year old tall ship crew in the US Northeast. Bed (finally) after a 22 hour day…

Golden Globe? A race for real men…

Outside the village was ‘my friend’s’ Golden Globe boat, a very sturdy and very slow 32 footer that is set to sail its occupant and a steady pace around the world in 2018 in around six to eight months. Unlike the IMOCA 60 Vendee Globe boats, its autopilot is controlled mechanically by a wind vane and its navigation systems are a sextant, speed log, magnetic compass and a paper chart. The racers will leave Falmouth in 2018.
The last Golden Globe was completed by only one man, Robin Knox Johnson, while the rest of the competitors sank, retired or committed suicide. Six months alone at sea is as much a psychological battle as it is a physical one.
Into the village…

The village…

My friend and I went down to the race village with our access all areas passes, and joined the crowds. It was estimated that 70,000 people turned up the day before the start – the picture above is just the press to get through security at the gate!

It was an opportunity to see the boats close up, though understandably with 24 hours to go you had to have a wristband as well as an access all areas pass to get on the dock. Our passes gave us access to the press area and a chance to breathe in air that wasn’t flavoured with red wine, garlic and cheese…

Even though I have an aversion to crowds I caught the bug of enthusiasm from the French there. The symbiosis between the town’s government and the Vendee organisers made it a real success. Two months after the summer season petered out, so the local tourist businesses got full tables at the restaurants and many a bottle of wine was sold for a solid week. UK seaside councils could replicate this and really benefit – offer free entry to a global event and let your local businesses have a field day. UK councillors generally don’t understand that events such as this have a direct impact on their tax revenues…

Beer o’clock

After going sailing on a classic boat that afternoon, so the time came to socialise. We met a Vendee veteran from the UK who was ploughing through the beers, who told us a few stories. While racing on your own you never sleep for more than 20 minutes at a stretch. Alex Thompson, skipper of Hugo Boss, has a shock watch that gives him a jolt if he has been still for more than 30 minutes. My new drinking buddy explained that there’s no sense in practising sleep before – he spent the week before getting drunk and making last minute decisions before waking up at early o’clock and getting into routine once the race had started.

The Vendee Globe begins…

After another extremely late night I was up at 0800 on the Sunday. Coffee and cigarette in hand, I noticed cheering from a crowd. The coast was half a mile away and clearly many of the 350,000 spectators had found their spots many hours before and were using wine to fend off the cold.

The family had national TV breakfast news on and all the skippers were interviewed before they headed out. The French take this event at least as seriously as the Tour de France (unlike the cycling event they have a chance of winning it) and I know that the Vendee Globe race tracker will get millions of hits a day.

I’d paid €75 to join a spectator boat myself. A week earlier and I may have got a €230 place on a boat with lunch but it is worth shopping around – it isn’t just the Vendee organisers who run the boats. Anyway, the ten vessels left the dock after the 31 racers, and the dangerously drunk crowds on the shore cheered us as if we were in fact going around the world…

We passed some of the competitors as we went to a holding area, around a hectare of sea where ten, 100ft ferry boats jostled for a view of the start line. If you imagine a dancefloor full of pissed hippos, then add in the 1200 lives aboard, you can imagine just how nerve wracking watching the other boats was… Whenever a boat tried to get sea room, the French Gendarmarie boat jostled us back into the pissed hippo mosh pit.

The gun went off and suddenly everything changed for the spectators – the ferries’ bows turned out to sea, and throttles on full ahead as we just about kept pace with the IMOCA 60’s. In sunshine and on a broad reach in F5 winds, this was the best ever weather for a Vendee Globe race start. People explained to me it is usually into F7-9 head winds and big seas that break half the fleet in a few days.

Not today – we blasted out to sea in perfect conditions. With 1.5 metre swells those on the bow got wet, while those with hangovers or prone to seasickness soon lost their lunches. An hour later we slowed, and headed back to port at a cruising pace. I’d been told we would be out until 4 and we were home by 3 but I had a massive grin – it was brilliant fun and something I plan to do again.


Beer and food until the wee hours, and up early for my drive home. 16 hours after my return I’m still a bit of a wreck from the weekend.

I write this with a note of sadness though. I’m from an island nation that once ruled the waves. With regard sailing we might as well be a central European nation with no sea whatsoever. We ignore our sailors by and large, who are still some of the best in the world.

From a business perspective, the likes of Weymouth, Plymouth or Christchurch could run an event such as this and make their local businesses very happy indeed. Make it free, and get a buzz going: watch the cash flow in by the kilo. I hope one of my old home towns Falmouth does the Golden Globe like Les Sables d’Olonne does the Vendee Globe, as it could inject tens of millions into their coffers through business rates.

The UK has the resources to make sailing big again. It just needs the bollocks to go for it.

Click here to see a short film of it…

Richard loves sailing writing and is proud to call it part of his job. Drop him a line to discuss your needs and perhaps whether we can work together

Richard Shrubb’s adventure sports writing

Richard’s adventure sports writing comes from his need to get out and explore the world.

It is all very well watching something – many get a thrill from that – but what about doing it? What is it like for your body and mind to scream “NO MORE!” yet to still push to your destination? At sea, far from the nearest port there is no way of getting off the boat unless you’re so hopeless you decide to quicken your demise by going over the side. Far out in the countryside on your mountain bike you could be miles from mobile phone reception when it goes tits up so you just need to repair and recover.

Adventure sports are not always great for TV. Indeed, there are at least two sailing events I know (The R2AK boat race annually, the Golden Globe next year) that eschew continuous coverage altogether. They do need covering though, and who has done adventure sports before and has a passion for the genre can write about it in a way that brings it to life.

Over this piece I will write about my own experiences and show that someone who has been out there can be the best adventure sports writer for your website or magazine…

Life at the edge

Some kids find that they are good at sprints. They may have good agility and be able to do great things with a football. They worship teams of men who get paid millions to chase a ball around a pitch. I understand the camaraderie having stood at the Fratton End of Fratton Park watching Portsmouth play.

Others like a bit more substance. They are loping, long distance runners, cyclists and sailors. They enjoy asking questions of themselves – can I climb that mountain? What’s in that bay? Can I run 15 miles at a rate of 5 minutes per mile? Once you take those first few steps to answer those questions, so a physiological and psychological battle begins. Initially you’re going well, and then the pain sets in, grinding you down and asks your mind, “Can I do this?” Your mind has to respond, “I will assess in a few miles” or you could end up finding your way home with your tail between your legs.

I had a collision with a runner while on my bike last summer. He ran in front of me, I locked up and we both went down. I shouted, “Jesus Christ! You OK?” as he ran off. I thought my arm was a bit bruised but felt alright otherwise, and cycled on another 14 miles. It wasn’t until I had had a bath and tried to drive my car later that I discovered the adrenalin had got me home and that something wasn’t right – an hour later I was treated for a broken elbow at the local hospital.

Over longer distances and journeys, the weather and nature will play a part. You need then to assess whether your body is good enough to tackle the new conditions and progress. It is safer to run for port than get your arse kicked at times. Others? You believe you have the skills to make it. Crossing the Bay of Biscay in 2005 over two days and two nights in a 32ft yacht with 30-40 knots of wind on the nose, seemingly every other wave breaking over the cockpit, we knew we could do it slowly and gently. Dodging 500ft tankers that were driven by autopilot and getting far too close for comfort in the middle of the night sharpened the senses, and extreme tiredness made it a lot harder. You walk away from that and you believe in yourself a lot more than before the adventure.

It ain’t all bad!

There are real highs to be had – blasting up the west coast of Scotland on a brisk, sunny day with waves breaking 50 feet up the deck from the bow of the schooner, spray flying and the crew grinning like Cheshire cats. A day crossing Lake Erie aboard a 186ft square rigged sailing ship (and my home for a year) in perfect winds in 30 degrees C of heat, all sails set and the crew thinking collectively, “This is what I signed up for!” Seeing parts of Dorset that few others have the privilege of seeing, only an hour’s ride from home.

At the end of the best adventures you walk tall. You know the challenges you have faced, scrapes you have got into, and know that nothing will stand in your way in the real world. If you can walk the length of the topsail yard, 75 feet above the deck while in a rolling sea without using your hands to balance you, you may have a little too much confidence, but the respect of the trainee you have just spent half an hour guiding up to that point.

How does all this translate?

Those who know what they go through to achieve their own adventures can get a good idea as to what others must do to achieve their own. If your legs feel like fire as you climb a 400 metre climb on your mountain bike then you look on in awe at Chris Froome who leads the peloton by half a mile as he climbs Alpe D’Huez. If you’ve crossed Biscay in a storm then you can imagine what your hero is doing on Hugo Boss in the Southern Ocean on the Vendee Globe single handed round the world race.

Get in touch today!

Among the adventure sports I have done, I have done kite buggying, sailing, cross country mountain biking, hang gliding, run half marathons, and climbed mountains. I have canoed down the Shenandoah River over five days. I have done all this in Europe, the Falklands, Caribbean, and the US. I am a paramotoring writer, cycling writer and sailing journalist. From these references I can write about your adventure sport too!

Contact me via my contact page and I will be to discuss your requirements!