for National Geographic News
The future of seafaring is solar—or so hopes a small band of pioneers who left Basel, Switzerland, on Monday, to begin the first sun- powered Atlantic Ocean crossing.
They're aiming to show that it's feasible to cover long distances without using a drop of gas—or even sails.
"The goal is the promotion of renewable energy and energy efficiency ," said Martin Vosseler, a Swiss physician and environmentalist who is helping man the boat.
"Because of the present climate change, we have no other choice," Vosseler said.
Five others will accompany Vosseler on the boat, named sun21 after an energy forum Vosseler started in 1997.
The motorized catamaran has two polyester hulls and measures 46 feet (14 meters) by 21 feet (6.5 meters). Solar panels cover its 700-square-foot (65-square-meter) roof.
Sun21 was christened on October 16 and then motored up the Rhine River to the North Sea (Switzerland map).
The crew will then continue along the coasts of the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Spain. In the Spanish town of Seville, they will begin the open-ocean part of the journey in late November.
MW-Line, a Swiss manufacturer of solar-powered boats, fashioned sun21 after their line of boats used to carry passengers around Swiss lakes since 2002.
These boats typically create more power during the day than they consume. That's crucial, considering that sun21 will draw on stored power to motor around the clock. The boat can run 20 hours on a full charge of its batteries.
Other solar boats, from France to Austria, cruise around Europe's lakes and rivers. When docked, the boats can plug into the power grid to contribute their excess energy.
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