Solar power hits the water

The RA, named after an Egyptian sun god, is powered completely by the sun. (Contributed photo)

Other than the initial investment of buying a boat and fishing gear, the second most costly thing for most boating fishermen is the cost of fuel to power their boat. It doesn’t matter if the boat is a 40-footer capable of fishing the other side of a Great Lake or a kayak capable of fishing only as far as arms can paddle, most fishing trips involve a stop at a gas dock to fuel the big boat, or a gas station to fuel the truck or car hauling the ‘yaker from home to the pond.

That may not be the case in the future. And of all things, it may be the guy in the 40-footer who first gets to divorce himself from a stop at the fueling station. Capt. Jim Greer recently returned to his home port in New Port Richey, Fla., in his solar-powered boat after completing a 7,200-mile voyage running totally on solar panels, solar-charged batteries and an all-electric propulsion system.

It wasn’t a quick trip. Greer’s boat, named RA after the Egyptian sun god, would top out at only about 10 miles per hour and his most efficient speed vs. energy was 5 mph. But like the tortoise and hare, slow and steady did the job – from Florida, up the East Coast, through the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi, and back home.

Electric-powered boats have been around since 1895, but those were powered by batteries. Grid-charged batteries are far from free or environmentally friendly. It’s like saying the perch dinner you caught from your $30,000 boat only cost you the price of a dozen minnows.

Greer’s voyage wasn’t in a cramped, thin-skinned boat. It was a 48-footer powered by three electric-powered outboards. The largest motor was equivalent to a 25-horsepower outboard paired with two 10 HP-equivalents. The reason for such a large boat was it took something that large to hold the necessary solar panels.

Still, a decade ago, Captain Jim’s journey would have been impossible. He’d have needed a battleship-sized solar array to power a skiff. Ten years from now, we may be heading out to our favorite fishing spot in a 20-footer with only a bimini top festooned with solar cells. Other than the price of the boat and fishing gear, the only cost of the perch dinner might be a dozen minnows.

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