24 February 2008

Daring to Cross the Waters By Pedal, Sun, Beer, and Wave, 69 Year Old Ken-Ichi Horie

First he pedaled a boat from Hawaii to Okinawa. Then he crossed the Pacific in a solar-powered boat. Next he soloed the Pacific in a catamaran built of beer kegs. Now, he plans to sail from Hawaii to Japan in a novel "wave-powered" boat--in slow motion.
This month, 69-year-old Japanese sailor Ken-ichi Horie will attempt to captain the world’s most advanced wave-powered boat 4,350 miles from Hawaii to Japan. If all goes as planned, he’ll set the first Guinness world record for the longest distance traveled by a wave-powered boat and, along the way, show off the greenest nautical propulsion system since the sail.

A simple spring system enables twin fins beneath the bow of the Suntory to move up and down with the incoming waves and pull the boat forward.
At the heart of the record-setting bid is the Suntory Mermaid II, a three-ton catamaran made of recycled aluminum alloy that turns wave energy into thrust. Two fins mounted side by side beneath the bow move up and down with the incoming waves and generate dolphin-like kicks that propel the boat forward. “Waves are a negative factor for a ship—they slow it down,” says Yutaka Terao, an engineering professor at Tokai University in Japan who designed the boat’s propulsion system. “But the Suntory can transform wave energy into propulsive power regardless of where the wave comes from.”___PopSci
How efficient is the wave-powered mechanism? At first glance, I would have to say "not very." A maximum speed of 5 knots means his journey will take at least 3 months. His electronics and communication will be powered by solar panels. He will also have an emergency outboard engine on board, just in case.

I like the idea of tapping into the wave energy of the sea, to drive a boat. As a proof of concept, it is not a bad adventure. Yet, waves are a tertiary solar effect, derived from a secondary solar effect--the wind. Somehow, I cannot help but think that there is a good reason why ancient seafarers chose sail over wave power for traveling long distances by sea.

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