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Across the Atlantic on sun-fueled catamaran - Soundings Online

Across the Atlantic on sun-fueled catamaran

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A Swiss-designed solar-powered catamaran cruised into the record books this winter as the first motorized boat to cross the Atlantic without using a drop of fuel.

A Swiss-designed solar-powered catamaran cruised into the record books this winter as the first motorized boat to cross the Atlantic without using a drop of fuel.

The 46-foot sun21 arrived at the eastern Caribbeanisland of Martinique Feb. 2 after two months at sea, with stopovers in Morocco and the Canary Islands. The crossing serves as a “powerful example of responsible energy use in practice” and shows “evidence of the suitability of solar technology for high-sea voyages,” the group says in a statement.

The catamaran, an MW-Line Aquabus C60 design, was constructed over nine months in 2006 at the MW-Line shipyard in Yvonand, Switzerland. The boat was driven by two electric motors powered by battery banks charged by 48 solar panels attached to a canopy-like structure over the deck. The panels contain photovoltaic cells that convert light into electricity and, combined, can produce up to 10 kW of power. The cells are capable of producing electricity even on cloudy days.

The canopy structure covers about 210 square feet and is divided into two equal halves, each powering one battery bank installed in each hull. The batteries have a capacity of 520 ampere hours and power the boat’s two8 kW electric motors.

“Propulsion is quiet and easy on the environment,” crewmember Beat von Scarpatetti says on the group’s Web site (www.transatlantic21.org) . “There’s hardly any vibration, the solar panels provide us with shade, and unlike a sailing boat we make good headway even when there’s no wind.” In ideal weather conditions, the five-person Swiss crew was able to cover up to 107 miles per day, the group says in the statement.

The sun21 crew plans to continue pushing east, making several stops in the Caribbean before reaching the Bahamas in mid-March. They hope to make Miami by the end of March and wrap up the expedition in New York City in May.

For more on the sun21 project and other boats using alternative propulsion systems, see the March issue.