Waterford company played role in teen climate activist's U.S. arrival

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Waterford — Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who’s come to personify climate activism, arrived in New York City last week after crossing the North Atlantic in a sailboat.

She did it with the help of Defender Industries, the Great Neck Road marine outfitter that provided an inflatable boat that pushed Malizia II, Thunberg’s carbon-free “ride,” to the dock at North Cove Marina in Manhattan.

Later this month, the 16-year-old Thunberg will address the United Nations’ 2019 Climate Action Summit.

Defender’s involvement in the teen's much-covered U.S. arrival unfolded while Malizia II, a racing yacht capable of 30 knots, was whipping across the sea. Equipped with solar panels and underwater turbines that generate electricity, the 60-foot sailboat left Plymouth, England, on Aug. 14, its crew expecting to reach New York on Aug. 27, a day earlier than it ultimately did.

In need of an inflatable tender that could give Malizia II a nudge without damaging the sailboat’s bow, Torqeedo, the German electric-boat manufacturer backing Thunberg, called Defender on Tuesday, Aug. 20.

“There aren’t a lot of vendors that would have had everything they would need,” Stephan Lance, Defender’s president, said in an interview Wednesday.

Defender did have everything, including an array of inflatables and components and the know-how and ability to assemble them in a hurry. Torqeedo would supply the 20-horsepower, BMW motor.

An hour after Torqeedo’s first call, a representative of the company, which has an office in Crystal Lake, Ill., 45 miles northwest of Chicago, advised Lance that a technician would fly to Connecticut to pick out a suitable Defender “platform” as well as a console, a seat and whatever else was needed.

That same day, Torqeedo shipped the motor, the batteries and the controls from Illinois. On Thursday morning, the technician and the Torqeedo shipment reached Defender. By noon, the platform and other products had been selected.

“Rigging shop went into gear,” Lance wrote in a timeline.

On Sunday, Aug. 25, having negotiated with operators of a launch site near the George Washington Bridge, Defender sent a pickup truck loaded with the inflatable down Interstate 95 to Manhattan.

Lance said Defender stocks about 2,000 inflatables, an inventory it narrowed to about 25 candidates. The 14-foot RIB430 that Torqeedo selected is typically the choice of such first responders as police and fire departments, though most of Defender's inflatables customers are recreational boaters.

Of particular importance, Lance said, was the color of the boat, which couldn’t clash with the orange of Torqeedo’s logo. Rejecting red and black, they settled on gray.

Another challenge was accommodating the four 24-volt batteries that power the inflatable's electric motor. Most Defender inflatables — more than 50 are on display in the outfitter’s showroom — are equipped with gasoline-powered motors — and gas tanks.

Lance shared details of the project with Defender’s 115 employees.

“For me, it’s more about helping a vendor,” he said. “I’m only peripherally connected to Greta and her mission. I applaud her enthusiasm and commitment. ... I was not doing that at 16.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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