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SLIDESHOW: Solar cat stops in Galapagos

planetsolar_insideMore than 8,000 miles into its circumnavigation, the 100-foot solar-powered Turanor PlanetSolar has transited the Panama Canal and put in at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, on San Cristobal in Ecuador's Galapagos Islands.

True to their purpose of showcasing the viability of solar power and promoting conservation, PlanetSolar's crew were scheduled to meet with officials from the World Wildlife Federation, which among other things is helping develop clean energy for use in transportation, tourism, electricity generation and fishing in the environmentally sensitive Galapagos, 600 miles off Ecuador.

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Click here to watch a slideshow of MS Turanor PlanetSolar. Mobile users can click here to watch on YouTube.

"The visit of MS Turanor PlanetSolar offers the Galapagos Islands a concrete picture of the technological possibilities already available today in the field of renewable energy," says the project's Swiss founder and co-skipper, Raphael Domjan, in an online report from the islands Jan. 25.

PlanetSolar, a twin-hull wave piercer, left Sept. 25 from Monaco on a 25,000-mile eastward circumnavigation powered only by the sun. It has stopped in the Canary Islands; St. Martin; Miami; Cancun, Mexico (during the Nov. 29-Dec. 10 United Nations Climate Change Conference there); Cartagena, Colombia; and the Flamenco Yacht Club and Marina on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal.

Domjan expects to pick up the southeast trade winds in the Pacific, enabling PlanetSolar to ramp up its speed on the 2,000-mile crossing. And since it will be straddling the equator for most of the way, its solar panels should be able to suck up more sunshine and power it faster.

The crew has been reduced from six to four now that Domjan and his captain, Patrick Marchesseau, have gained confidence in their ability to maximize the boat's solar operation using a computerized navigation and routing system that factors in weather and the vessel's solar needs.

Domjan says PlanetSolar has been averaging 5 to 6 knots and it topped out at 9 knots. At 100 feet and with a 50-foot beam, the $10 million yacht boasts 5,000 square feet of solar panels on a large, flat deck and on wings that fold out to extend the deck at the sides and stern. The solar panels can deliver 94 kW on a bright, sunny day, almost five times what the quiet electric motors need (20 kW) to push the boat at an economical cruising speed of 7.5 knots. The boat carries 800 lithium polymer battery cells weighing in at 11.7 tons. Read more about the vessel's design.

Anticipated stops, which could change if routing changes, include Bora Bora in French Polynesia in March; Tonga in April; Brisbane, Australia, in May; Hong Kong and Shanghai this summer; Singapore in the fall; Mumbai, India in November; the United Arab Emirates in December; and a Suez Canal transit in February 2012.

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