Four engineers embark on a 5-month voyage to raise ecological awareness in parallel to their engineering research. Ahead of them: sailing through the North Sea to the Norwegian coast, then skiing and mountaineering in uncharted Svalbard. This is Expedition Kahuna.

How it began

It all started over a year ago, during Baptistin Coutance and Yvan Lazard's second year at CentraleSupélec when they decided to take their mountaineering adventures to the next level. They considered venturing the Himalayas and the Andes, but doing an excursion in the middle of the pandemic came with uncertainties.

The idea of mountaineering and sailing took shape quickly, originally targeting Greenland. But after evaluating the ice conditions in the area, they eventually decided to aim for a new route — set sail through the Norwegian coast and head towards the polar regions of Norway to the unexplored Svalbard.

The goal

Expedition Kahuna is a shared journey. The team's main objective is to promote ecological awareness, discover the Arctic world, and share their experiences with young people in hopes of encouraging their drive and passion for adventure.

They’ll study energy management aboard the sailboat, such as hydrogenation efficiency, optimal engine yields, battery charge and discharge cycles, and more. The objective is to demonstrate that such an adventure can be lived with very little fossil fuel use. In partnership with the CentraleSupélec Industrial Engineering Laboratory, they will publish their findings in a scientific paper upon completion of the journey.

Moreover, everything about the expedition, from the world's wildest waters to its most beautiful landscapes, will be documented and shared, especially with schoolchildren (with whom they’ll stay in touch throughout the journey) and college students.

The expedition

Expedition Kahuna begins on 5 March with a strenuous 8,500 km of sailing. Setting sail from Lorient in France, the team will navigate the English Channel and then cross the North Sea to reach Norway.

In two weeks, they will reach the Lofoten Islands, where they’ll disembark on Norwegian soil to explore the breathtaking Anderdalen Nature Park and the Lyngen Alps. This second leg will end in the beautiful city of Tromsø, famed for being the best spot for viewing the northern lights.

The final leg (ends 25 July) will be crossing the Barents Sea to reach Longyearbyen, Svalbard, a small Arctic town that’s famed as the home of nature enthusiasts because of its alluring wilderness and majestic mountains.

The preparations

Yvan Lazard and Baptisin Coutance formed the initial team in January 2020 and sought expedition mates. Quentin Lustig immediately joined, followed by Robin Villard. On top of their climbing and skiing expertise, each team member pursued rigorous sailing training in September 2021 to prepare for the voyage.

Baptistin and Yvan acquired their hunting licences, while Robin obtained his boating licence and radio certificate within two months. Quentin secured his CRR (Certificat Restreint de Radiotelephoniste) as well to operate the VHF radio they’ll use onboard.

Afterwards, the team hit the peaks in January 2022. They’ve scaled Aravis, Chablais, Vanoise, Haute-Tarentaise, Pointe Blanche, Mont Grange, Mont Pourri, and Grande Sassière to train for the poorly documented routes they’ll encounter in Svalbard. They also spent 10 days climbing up deserted Corsican creeks between Porto and Calvi without a guide.

The sponsors and media

The Kahuna Expedition of Engineers was formed in partnership with the Industrial Engineering Laboratory of CentraleSupélec. Right after, a number of sponsors came on board including:

  • Orlade, a project management consulting firm where Robin interned.
  • NG3, a firm specializing in innovative solutions to improve the safety, efficiency, and environmental impact of the marine industry.
  • Bastide Bondoux, one of the leaders in thermal housing in France.
  • Deriv, an online trading provider fully committed to innovation, engaging in ambitious projects, and exploring new ideas.

Support and interest have grown by the day, alongside media coverage, which has been valuable for the team in strengthening awareness about the project. Along with Voile magazine, which will publish an article about the sailboat, other media outlets that will help spread word about the expedition are La Dépêche du Midi, La Voix du Midi, Le Dauphiné Libéré, L'opinion Indépendante, Le Télégramme, Ouest-France, Crock Radio, and BFM Lyon.

Watch this space for updates on the expedition. Be ready; it’s going to be epic!