The Dawn of Hybrid and Zero-Fuel Cruising
While I don't own a Tesla, its technology intrigues me. We have a first generation Prius, which my wife purchased 10 years ago as an early adapter of hybrid cars. Today, almost every car manufacturer in the world incorporates greener and advanced technology in cars that can take us down the road almost as if we're using futuristic transport from a science fiction movie. More of my friends have a hybrid or electric vehicle in their garage alongside a traditional auto. Even Porsche is creating some amazing vehicles, and one day I may decide to trade in my much-loved 911S for a greener sports car that will dazzle with technology and performance.
The marine industry moves at a snail's pace by comparison. But that is understandable, as our industry is small and less sophisticated compared to the automotive industry. New ideas come from a hunch, not from millions of dollars of R&D. We build boats, not units.
There have been some inroads in hybrid boating, such as the Greenline yachts from Slovenia, and Reuben Trane's all-solar cruiser early on. I was aboard one of the first Greenline boats to come to the U.S., and it smacked of fresh ideas and hinted at the future of hybrid boating. Some smart people over there, a place I would love to visit. And while it gave us a glimpse at what is possible, it was a first step. After all, it took some years for car manufacturers to successfully compete with Toyota's Prius, and now hybrids vehicles are both mainstream and popular. The same is going to happen in boating, and not just in small, slow cocktail cruisers.
Much like the auto industry's eventual focus on fuel economy and reduced emissions, so will future cruising boats reflect that we live on a planet of finite resources. Burning 1,000 or more gallons of diesel fuel to cross an ocean for fun goes against the trend of reducing our carbon footprint and the growing concerns for our environment. Sailboats still win in that regard, but have other issues of safety and ease of use, particularly for older crew.
But it is not just the propulsion systems that are changing. I have my ear to the ground on this one, and know of several independent efforts to explore future ocean motorboat designs that seek maximum safety, comfort, and efficiency. In many ways, to move into the future requires us to look at the past, where efficient hull shapes powered by small engines ruled the day. This is very exciting. At some point in the next year, I hope to see some of these projects come into the daylight for all to see.
I recall a SNAME (Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers) seminar at the Naval Academy years ago where a captain told an audience of midshipmen that by the time these young men and women reached his pay grade, the Navy would fly unmanned aircraft as large as the F-18, carrying two 2,000-lb JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions), using technology that was yet to be invented. In the same vein, I think it is inevitable that we will see future boat choices using technologies that do not exist, but which are very much alive in the minds of forward thinking designers, builders, and inventors.
I hope to write much more about this, as we follow the evolution of coastal cruisers and offshore passagemakers. Change is coming from multiple directions, driven by changing needs and ideas, and a growing awareness that going green is no longer a hollow statement of the tree hugger crowd. The ability to follow our cruising interests while being "environmentally benign" is coming within reach. (That, by the way, is the definition of "green.")
I ran into Dave Gerr last week at the Annapolis Yacht Club. Dave was down from his New York office for a couple of days of business, and we spent a few minutes catching up, and he followed up by email. Dave is a naval architect and yacht designer, a past director of the Westlawn Institute, and author of books you likely have or read, such as The Nature of Boats and the Propeller Handbook.
He gave me a heads up on a project he knew would be of interest. He is working on a commercial project that will easily spin off as a cruising boat. He designed the Solar Sal 44 for David Borton, and she will be a passenger tour boat that uses zero fuel, driven entirely by solar energy. This is not one of those Duffy electric launches you may have seen around, but a 45-foot motorboat with no ability to plug into shorepower. Using technology developed by Torqeedo, Dave capitalizes on new propulsion systems integrated with modern solar systems. David Borton is a physics PhD and president of Sustainable Energy Systems. His patent pending solar technology is the result of his extensive work in solar energy concentrators.
In addition to not using fuel of any kind, the lower carbon footprint is also a result of its renewable construction material: wood-epoxy/strip-plank sheathed in fiberglass. This means 95 percent of the hull is from renewable material.
The boat is under construction in Kingston, New York, with an expected launch date this summer.
Given how much more power the Torqeedo inboards and outboards have grown in the last few years, I believe these power increases will continue. We have long known about diesel electric propulsion. The fleet submarines of WWII went all over the world using this technology, as do modern cruise ships today. So isn't it reasonable to extend this engineering to include solar and hybrid electric propulsion in larger cruising boats?
Howard Brooks and I went to Home Depot yesterday to buy a small electric power washer, which he plans to install on his Selene 40. (He got the idea from one of my blog posts, and if it works out, I will do an installation article/video.) Walking through the tool aisles, I could not believe how many portable tools are now battery powered, even big saws and lawnmowers. Battery technology has improved so much, seemingly in the blink of an eye.
It seems the way we are going, the only limiting factor will be our imagination.