Saturday, December 3, 2011

What's a SlowBoat?

This blog tells the story of a year-long trip around America's Great Loop.  With less than a week's experience piloting a powerboat, education professor Bill Carlsen and his wife, science writer Cynthia Berger, set out to circumnavigate eastern North America in an old-fashioned canal boat retrofitted as a solar hybrid vessel. The boat's top speed is 6 mph, hence the name SlowBoatCruise.

The couple launched their "voyage of sustainability" on the Erie Canal in upstate New York.  To read their blog posts in order, starting from the beginning, click HERE. Bonus photos are posted on the SlowBoatCruise Facebook page.

The SlowBoaters are available for talks and slideshows about their voyage.  Themes include Sustainable Technologies, Environmental Issues along America's Waterways, The Great Loop, and Canals of Eastern North America.  To request a presentation, send email to cberger@nasw.org.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Coming Full Circle

SlowBoat fans want to know, "What's the end of the story?" In my previous post, back in early June, the intrepid Dragonfly was holed up in Brewerton, NY. The Erie Canal was flooded by spring rains, and the locks were closed.  Who knew when the canal authority would re-open them?

The LAST lock:
Entering Lock 30 on the Erie, near Macedon
On June 1st the crew went home to State College, PA, to re-enter the "real world" and go back to work.  But Cap stayed with his ship. (That's what captains do!)  And when the canal finally opened, intrepid nephew John Thomas came aboard as deckhand, to help move the boat the final 80 miles to her home port at the Mid-Lakes marina in Macedon, NY.  (Check the photos on Facebook).

spring beauty
So now we have come full circle: A 6,000-mile circumnavigation around eastern North America.   We did it!  It feels good!

If you've enjoyed following the media reports of our voyage, here's one more bit:  A TV segment by local station WTAJ

So what happens next?  Well, yup, we are keeping the boat.  An adventure-travel book is in the works. We're adjusting our household routines to live more sustainably. And we're thinking about downsizing, to a home that runs on sustainable technologies.

I haven't decided about this blog. I COULD keep posting about innovations in alternative-energy technologies. Or canal-boating.  Or I could revive the photo quiz "What IS It?"  But most people tell me they're far more interested in the offbeat posts: "SlowBoat Bikini Workout Diet" and "Adventures in Anchoring." So let me hear from you!  Should this blog continue?  And, What should it be about?

I don't want to miss the chance to thank you for riding along with us!  It can be lonely out there on the big water.  It was good to know you were there!  If you're ever in upstate, let us know, and if we're up at the boat, we'll take you for a SlowBoat cruise.

P.S. (Added March 2018) Watch this space! In June 2018, SlowBoat heads north across Lake Ontario to cruise through Canada. We're heading north on the Rideau Canal to Ottowa, east to Montreal, then south to Lake Champlain and return to the Erie. Visitors welcome.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Current without Currents

"How fast can you go?" is a question that we're often asked, to which we usually reply, "Not very!" But it's a question that interests most boaters.

On a recent calm day with negligible current, we zig-zagged back and forth across Onondaga Lake and collected data on electrical current draw and the boat's speed.

The horizontal (X) axis shows the amount of electrical current used in amps (48V). The vertical (Y) axis shows the boat's speed "across the lake bottom." When there are tides or currents, a boat's speed through the water can be quite different from its speed across the lake bottom. If the flow is powerful enough, a boat can be plowing through the water in one direction, but actually moving in the opposite direction. That's why we came DOWN the Mississippi River.

More data and analysis are at Bill's blog: http://cshare.psu.edu/projects/sunboat/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=10

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hybrid canal boat vs. Toyota Prius

SlowBoat is tied to the lock wall in Baldwinsville, NY, waiting for the lock to open so she can complete her trip. Here's a word from the Captain: How does Dragonfly, a homebrew hybrid electric vehicle, stack up against the competition? We've been eagerly watching for hybrid electric boats on this trip, and the pickings have been slim. Boating magazines are full of articles about "green" boats, sporting rooftop solar panels, auxiliary electric propulsion motors, etc., but they appear to be mostly: 1) as-yet unbuilt concept vessels, 2) small boats with limited ranges, or 3) fantastically expensive "green" yachts with gimmicks that don't begin to compensate for the enormous fuel-burning engines that drive the vessels most of the time. (Note: We have encountered a few noteworthy exceptions, such as Ted Moores's Sparks, built by Bear Mountain Boats.

Commercially viable hybrid electric boats are on their way, but in the meantime, let's compare Dragonfly with a popular hybrid road vehicle, the Toyota Prius.
Model year19902010
Weight (lbs)28,0003,000
Seats (driver and passengers) 8-105
Engine (hp) 6398
Motor (hp) 1236
Fuel consumption, engine only (mpg) 5-6 mpg N.A.
Fuel, consumption, engine only (gph) 1 gph N.A.
Fuel consumption, engine-motor actual use (mpg)10 mpg 50 mpg
Fuel consumption, engine-motor actual use (gph) 0.5 gph 1.0 gph
Fuel storage 100 gal 12 gal
Range, engine-motor actual use1000 miles 600 miles

As you can see, the canal boat is clearly the better performer in the category, "Number of bathrooms." The rest is a little harder to compare. After all, we're contrasting a floating 2BR/2BA house with a car. (A nice car, for sure.)

Here are a couple of other carefully selected facts:

  • Every mile of Prius travel is powered, directly or indirectly, by fossil fuels. The energy for the vehicle's electric motor comes from the vehicle's gas engine. (Even the brake regen energy comes--indirectly--from the motive force of burning gasoline). In contrast, when Dragonfly is running on its electric motor, all of the energy used to move it is solar photovoltaic. (For our Great Loop trip, we had no other way of recharging the propulsion batteries).
  • For full-time cruising boaters, a boat is not just their vehicle; it is also their home. For us in 2010-11, Dragonfly was not just a replacement for our Honda Fit; it was also, from an "ecological footprint" perspective, a replacement for our 4-bedroom house (which was rented to someone else, and consequently part of their ecological footprint).
 In later posts, we'll look some more at the issue of hybrid vehicles, including comparing our hybrid boat with a typical non-hybrid boat, and assessing the "cost" of hybridization in our boat and in two other Toyotas: the hybrid and non-hybrid versions of the Camry.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

It Ain't Over Till It's Over

It was so exciting to cross our wake yesterday at Three Rivers, NY.  Thanks so much for your congratulations and kind words.

So often on this voyage, people have asked me, "Don't you miss your house? Your bed? Your kitchen with full size fridge?"  Nope.

What I've really missed is my friends.  It's been really great to have you along electronically for the voyage.  But I can't wait to see you in person.

And it's been amazing and wonderful how many NEW friends we have made on this trip.  You have been so kind and generous, offering us rides and navigation tips and meals and the genuine pleasure of your company.  Let's keep in touch . . . and though, alas, there are no major waterways leading through our hometown of State College, please know that if your travels take us our way, the welcome mat is out.  (And you DON'T have to take off your shoes!)

But I'm getting ahead of myself. It ain't over till it's over. We still have about 80 miles to go before we reach SlowBoat's home port of Macedon, NY.  We are in Cortland, NY, this weekend, visiting Cap's mom.  But please check back next week for the final adventures of Dragonfly.