Making waves with green Pacific passage

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Kenichi Horie is sailing from Honolulu to Japan in a catamaran that converts wave action into thrust

Kenichi Horie is sailing from Honolulu to Japan in a catamaran that converts wave action into thrust

Recycled beer cans, kegs, even whiskey barrels — Kenichi Horie has used them all as boatbuilding materials. The Japanese sailor has made a career of creating and sailing eco-friendly boats, and his newest vessel relies on wave action for propulsion.

Horie, who is 69, departed Honolulu March 16 on a 3,759-mile passage to the KiiPeninsula in western Japan in Suntory Mermaid II, a 31-foot catamaran that turns wave power into thrust. If successful, it will set a record for the longest voyage by a wave-powered vessel.

Built of recycled aluminum alloy, the boat has two fins mounted beneath the bow on a spring system. The fins move up and down through the action of waves, propelling the boat forward. The motion has been likened to how a dolphin or whale generates thrust with its tail.

“Think of it like a rocking chair,” says Howie Mednick, vice commodore of the Hawaii Yacht Club, which gave Horie his sendoff in March. “What happens when you rock back and forth with enough energy in a rocking chair? You move forward.”

Born in Osaka, Horie caught the public’s attention in 1962, when he solo-sailed a 19-foot boat named Mermaid across the Pacific from Nishinomiya, Japan, to San Francisco. His latest voyage adds another entry to his eco-sailing accomplishments.

In 1992, he pedaled a boat from Hawaii to Okinawa. In 1996, he set a record for the fastest Pacific crossing in a solar-powered boat. In 1999, he sailed a 32-foot boat built of recycled beer cans across the Pacific, from the Golden GateBridge to AkashiKaikyoBridge in Japan. And in 2002, he repeated his 1962 voyage in a replica of the first Mermaid, this one built of recycled whiskey barrels.

“He is 69 years old, but he is very young and a very nice gentleman,” says Ken Dota, project manager and spokesperson for Horie, in an e-mail to Soundings. “He is a national hero in Japan.”

Hiroshi Terao, a professor with TokaiUniversity’s department of ocean engineering, designed Suntory Mermaid II’s propulsion system. He has been studying wave propulsion as a way to save energy for more than 20 years, conducting his first large-scale test of a wave-powered vessel in 1988.

Suntory Mermaid II’s average speed is about 2 knots on wave power alone and up to 5 knots under sail. The sails, along with an outboard, are for emergency use. Electricity to run the radio, satellite phone, navigation lights and computer is generated by solar cells installed on deck. The multihull also carries an EPIRB, GPS and a watermaker. The voyage is expected to take two months, with Horie returning to Japan at the end of May.

Mednick says around 200 people turned out to see Horie off, and six boats led him out of MamalaBay into the Pacific. “He was so covered in leis we could barely see his face,” says Mednick. “It’s true I called Mr. Horie crazy, but if it wasn’t for crazy, Columbus wouldn’t have discovered America. If it wasn’t for crazy, the Polynesians would never have found Hawaii. So you see, crazy and adventurous are one in the same.”

To track Horie’s progress, visit www1.suntory-mermaid2.com and click the English button.