The crew aboard the 100-foot catamaran, Turanor PlanetSolar, will arrive this week at the Marquesas Islands with the distinction of having traveled the longest distance aboard a solar-electric vehicle.
The futuristic-looking yacht, which becomes the center of attention wherever it goes, is part of a first-ever solar-powered boat expedition around the world. The Turanor name comes from J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" and means "power of the sun."
While crossing the Pacific -- part of a journey that began last Sept. 27 in Monaco -- Turanor eclipsed the 9,639 miles (or 15,079 kilometers) traveled in 2004 by the the Midnight Sun Solar Race Car Team on a tour across North America. The vessel has presently logged about 10,000 miles as part of a 32,000-mile circumnavigation.
Its mission is to deliver a green message and show what can be accomplished by using renewable energy technologies. The PlanetSolar team, which consists of four crew and a land-based staff of scientists and logistics personnel, hopes to prove that commercial shipping is possible without fossil fuels.
As Turanor closed in on the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific, project founder Raphael Domjan said, "We are proud to exceed the limits of solar mobility. This is a big success for the whole team of PlanetSolar and for our partners who for many years have given their know-how to this wonderful project. We are very glad to demonstrate that we really have the technology to change."
The double-hulled yacht, which is powered solely by energy found in light, is the world's largest solar-powered boat. It has a vast topside platform consisting of photovoltaic solar panels, giving it the appearance of an aircraft carrier deck.
The boat, which was built in Germany for about $10 million, is 25 feet high and has a 50-foot beam (width), and wave-piercing pontoons. It's constructed largely of lightweight carbon fiber and powered by four electric motors that deliver silent, clean propulsion.
The route is largely within the equatorial region, or tropics, where energy from the sun is readily available. The panels store energy in large battery packs, which use lithium-ion technology. Fully charged, Turanor can motor across the ocean for three days without actual sunshine.
Recent stops included Miami, Cancun, Cartagena, Panama and -- after passing westerly through the Panama Canal into the Pacific -- the Galapagos Islands.
A glimpse at the latest log entries posted on the project website reveals travel days in excess of 100 miles, and that the crew has been able so sleep under the stars atop the solar panels. The crew is eager to reach port because it has run out of fresh bread, fruit and vegetables.
Recently the yacht has been accompanied by large tuna, which heightened prospects of a fish dinner. But it was not to be.
"It seems that two tuna have been following us the last days," Domjan wrote. "Patrick, having caught nothing since we arrived in the Pacific [and] full of hope, puts the bait right under their nose. But these two magnificent fish are not silly and prefer to continue hunting the flying fish all around us."
Turanor is owned by Swedish entrepreneur Immo Stroher, who plans to schedule seminars after the circumnavigation, using Turanor as an example toward achieving solar mobility. "I want to demonstrate that it is possible to achieve commercially realistic earnings over the long term with advanced technologies," he said.
From the Marquesas Islands, Turanor's crew has preliminary plans to stop in Brisbane, Australia, before making stops in Asia and ultimately journeying across the northern Indian Ocean and through the Suez Canal, en route back to Monaco -- all without burning a drop of oil.
-- Pete Thomas
Images of Turanor are courtesy of PlanetSolar
Editor's note: A version of this post also appears on the GrindTv outdoors blog