Since 2004, David Borton and his son Alex have had a vision, to sell solar-electric boats and prove their viability. Their recent trip to Alaska may have just provided proof of concept.
This summer, the two men, who sell electric-powered boats under the brand name Solar Sal, completed what they believe to be the first-ever solar-electric boat voyage from Bellingham, Washington, to Juneau, Alaska. They used their solar-electric 27-foot model that was designed and built by stitch-and-glue guru Sam Devlin of Olympia, Washington, and propelled by a Torqeedo electric drive system.
The duo completed the first 687-mile leg to Ketchikan, Alaska, in 20 days, departing from Bellingham May 25 and arriving on June 13. They then took Wayward Sun on a more leisurely cruise up the coast to Glacier Bay and Juneau for a second leg, concluding the voyage on July 8. In total, they covered 1,400 miles.
To get from Bellingham to Ketchikan they used the Inside Passage, anchoring at night because they were not permitted to go ashore in British Columbia due to Canadian Covid-19 travel restrictions. "That was no problem for us," Alex Borton said. "We had lots of food, a cozy cuddy for sleeping below deck. And, of course, our solar boat doesn't need refueling."
The electric boat is 100 percent powered by solar energy. Wayward Sun carried no fossil-fuel combustion engine on board. "People always ask us if we have any gas or diesel back up," Alex said, "but the sun rises every day. If our batteries get too low, we just wait."
Wayward Sun is propelled by a Torqeedo Cruise 4.0 electric pod drive with six Torqeedo Power 24-3500 lithium batteries. There is a separate 12-volt system for lights, electronics and other DC-powered systems and an inverter for occasional AC loads, like making waffles. The batteries are charged from a 1700-Watt array of solar cells on the boat's rooftop.
"The solar-electric system has more than exceeded our expectations," Alex said. "During the 45-day passage from Bellingham to Glacier Bay to Juneau, we were underway for 38 days. We averaged 32 nautical miles per day at an average speed of 3.7 knots. While some days we stopped early or left late because of weather, there were only two full days we didn't travel at all due to high winds or dense fog.
"Even on a completely overcast day this time of year, we can travel at 2 to 3 knots during daylight hours without drawing on our batteries at all," Alex said. "With direct sunlight, we can do 5 knots or more all day without any battery use. Most of the trip was overcast and it rained a lot. Some days we traveled slowly because we had to, and other days we traveled slowly and charged the batteries while underway."
"Most electric boats on the market today are limited by their battery capacity, which means they have to return to shore power to charge," Alex explained. "Until recently, solar panels and batteries were just not capable of severing the tie to shore power, so it was only functional for extending range or for partial charging. But now, thanks to advances in solar cells and Torqeedo's efficient electric drives and high-capacity batteries, it's possible to produce a solar boat with reasonable speeds and accommodation that can continuously cruise without ever charging from the shore. If I had more time, I would keep going for another 1000 miles."
Mary Jo Reinhart, director of OEM and retail sales for Torqeedo, Inc. said, "This is an important validation of state-of-the-art solar-electric boat propulsion technology, and we have enjoyed following their daily progress on their blog."