Skip to main content

Ocean passage ‘in harmony’ with nature

Sun21 stops in the Big Apple after its record-setting run across the Atlantic to promote renewable energy

Sun21 stops in the Big Apple after its record-setting run across the Atlantic to promote renewable energy

Under a clear, blue sky and with the sun shining bright, the Swiss-designed solar catamaran sun21 pulled into New YorkHarbor on the last stop after its record-setting voyage as the first motorized vessel to cross the Atlantic without using a drop of fuel.

“I feel like shouting to the world that the sun is the energy source of the future,” says skipper Michel Thonney, who spoke at a May 8 press conference minutes after the boat was docked at lower Manhattan’s North Cove Marina. “This proves that in our modern society it is indeed possible to travel the world efficiently and still safeguard the environment. This has been a liberating journey and one which I believe will transform the way we approach travel on our seas, oceans and waterways.”

Asking questions in English, German and French, nearly 100 people — many of them members of the European press — turned out for the arrival ceremony and outdoor conference. “It was a privilege to make this long journey with the sun and in harmony with the Earth,” said crewmember and Swiss environmentalist Dr. Martin Vosseler. “We wanted to show what is needed for the Earth on the big scale by doing it on the small scale.”

The idea to promote the use of renewable energy sources by crossing the Atlantic in a solar-powered boat was hatched in 2004 by Mark Wüst, technical manager of MW-Line, a Swiss builder of solar-powered passenger vessels ( ). Wüst gathered a number of partners, including Vosseler, and helped form transatlantic21, the association that funded the project ( ).

Sun21, an MW-Line Aquabus C60 design, is driven by two electric motors powered by battery banks that are 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. Half the energy produced runs the motors and the other half is stored in the batteries, which allows sun21 to run at night and on cloudy days.

The five-person sun21crew set off from the Spanish port of Chipiona Dec. 3, stopping in Morocco and the Canary Islands before officially completing the crossing Feb. 2 in Martinique in the eastern Caribbean. From there the men continued to Miami in March, then headed north along the East Coast to the Big Apple.

“Along the way, we met many boaters — many who had tears in their eyes — who were excited about what we were doing,” Vosseler says. “Eventually I think it is possible that the boater crowd will come around and join the solar crowd.”

With the record-setting voyage over, the sun21 crew planned to ship the boat back to Switzerland, where they will continue to promote solar power and the use of alternative energy.

“The most beautiful experience is that my boat is here in New York and has arrived safely,” Wüst said during the conference. “I’m looking forward to the moment that I return and there are a number of solar boats crossing the Hudson River.”