Two men and a two-decades-long dream of passage making on 100-percent solar energy resulted in a record-setting voyage up the Inside Passage. Using only the energy from their boat's solar panels to charge and provide power to an electric motor, father-son duo David and Alex Borton have recorded the first-ever solar-electric voyage from Washington State to Alaska.
After leaving Bellingham, Washington, on May 25th aboard their 27-foot, wood-hulled solar boat Wayward Sun, the Bortons made landfall in Ketchikan, Alaska, on June 13th, then continued up the coast at a more leisurely pace to Glacier Bay and Juneau, concluding the voyage on July 8th. The passage through British Columbia was made without going ashore, due to Covid restrictions.
Conceived by David Borton, who also specified the design for the boat's solar/electric systems, Wayward Sun was designed and built by Sam Devlin at Devlin Designing Boatbuilders of Olympia in Washington state. With solar panels on her roof, six Torqeedo lithium batteries on board and a 4kw Torqeedo pod drive, Wayward Sun required no additional charging aid or help. Using the sun as the only power source in an area known more for cloudy skies and rain than bright sunny days was an admirable endeavor, and the trip's success confirms the viability of solar electric passage making.
The theory and concept of running a boat totally under the power of the sun has been a passion of the Bortons since 2004. Wayward Sun is among several successful all-solar boats built since 2011 and patented under the brand name Solar Sal Boats.
"People always ask us if we have any gas or diesel back up," said Alex Borton, "but the sun rises every day. If our batteries get too low, we just wait."
Torqeedo was of great help with the voyage, providing the Cruise 4.0 pod drive, and the six Torqeedo 24-3500 lithium batteries. On the roof are 12 flexible Solbian solar panels providing a total of 1,730 watts of power, which also charge a separate 12-volt system for lights, electronics and other DC-powered systems and an inverter for occasional AC loads—like making waffles.
Over the 45-day passage from Bellingham to Glacier Bay to Juneau, the Bortons were underway for 38 days, averaging 32 nautical miles per day at an average speed of 3.7 knots. While some days they stopped early or left late due of weather, there were only two full days they didn't travel at all due to high winds or dense fog.
"Even on a completely overcast day this time of year, we can travel at 2-3 knots during daylight hours without drawing on our batteries at all," Alex said. "With direct sunlight, we can do 5 knots or more all day without any battery use. Most of the trip was overcast and it rained a lot. Some days we travelled slowly because we had to. Other days we traveled slowly and charged the batteries while underway."
To uphold their goal of a zero-impact voyage, the Bortons also employed an innovative waste system that allowed them to complete the whole trip without any blackwater production. The Laveo Dry-flush head system kept the waste stream controlled and not releasing anything back into the water itself. All waste would eventually be disposed of in a proper sanitary landfill.
"Most electric boats on the market today are limited by their battery capacity, which means they have to return to shore power to charge," said Alex. "Until recently, solar panels and batteries were just not capable of severing the tie to shore power, so it was only functional for extending range or for partial charging."
But now, thanks to advances in solar cells, electric drives and high-capacity batteries, it's now tangible to produce a solar boat with reasonable speeds and accommodations for continuous cruising without requiring a shore charge.
"If I had more time, I would keep going for another 1000 miles," said Alex.
Solar Sal Boats offers designs for 24, 27, 38, 44 and 45-foot solar/electric vessels, and has completed the first ever all-solar USCG inspected passenger tour boat.
You can follow the Borton's journey via their blog at solarsaljourney.squarespace.com
For more on Solar Sal Boats, visit solarsal.solar
For more on Devlin Designing Boatbuilders, visit devlinboat.com