Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sunny Thoughts in Sarasota

We visited Sarasota Monday and found it highly hospitable to boaters.  You can anchor overnight, for free, in Sarasota Harbor, just a few dinghy strokes from downtown.  

I bet kids don't skip class when it's on a boat!
While cruising the harbor we spotted an unusual vessel, the S.S. Carefree Learner. Students in Sarasota County are pretty lucky!  Their curriculum includes frequent field trips on this barge-style boat (41 feet long, just like Dragonfly).

The boat was designed and built by the students and faculty of Sarasota High School in 1978 . . . of solid Douglas Fir . . . at no cost to taxpayers.  It's a floating classroom that gets kids out on the water and teaches them about ocean critters and conservation issues. The vessel continues to pay its own way, in part by offering educational trips to local nonprofits such as Audubon clubs.  

We got a kick out of watching the boat come in and discharge students carrying buckets full of marine specimens.  When OUR voyage is over, Cap'n hopes to turn our boat into a similar floating classroom, where kids can study freshwater systems.  

Mechanical engineer Jerry Wolfe visited
 Dragonfly  at Sarasota and gave our
propulsion systems "thumbs up"  
The captain of the Carefree Learner came aboard Dragonfly after our morning cruise to take a look at our systems; said he hopes to purchase an electric-powered boat to start his own eco-tour business.  For his business model, electric power would be both cleaner and cheaper than fossil fuels--and the Coast Guard approves of its safeness.  And of course an electric motor would be quieter. "I'm thinking of adding a hydrophone so we can listen underwater for dolphins and snapping shrimp," he said. 

We docked Tuesday night in Venice, Florida, at a marina that has also embraced electric boats: It rents two little electric-powered runabouts, Whissper and Hussh.  "They're very reliable," the dockhand told us.  Just one drawback: They were built in California (where it never rains, right?)  Here in Florida, when it rains, the battery compartment floods.  Not good!

We had a truly fabulous visit with our dear neighbor Mahala Thoele, who is wintering in Venice.  One highlight:  A morning walk to see the electric boat that ferries local residents to the beach!

I love to study regional trends in lawn ornamentation.
Sarasota was the winter home of the Ringling Brothers
Circus . . . maybe that explains the life-size patio hippo?
A few other solar notes, since we're in the Sunshine State: We were interested to learn that Sarasota's recently concluded negotiations with Florida Power and Light require the utility to help the city put in place numerous energy conservation measures, provide fueling stations for electric vehicles, and install solar panels to power schools. 

Wherever you live, hey, did you know the US Congress just extended a grant program that helps cover 30 percent of the cost of installing solar projects?  The program now ends Dec. 31, 2011. 

P.S.  For more photos click here


  1. Just to clarify, the residential renewable energy tax credits that you're talking about in the last paragraph can be applied to any system that's in place before December 31, 2016. It also covers wind turbines, geothermal heat pumps, solar hot water heaters, and fuel cells. Fuel cells are only eligible for $500 worth of credits but there's no cap on any of the other systems. More information on the tax credit program can be found at: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=tax_credits.tx_index

  2. P.S. It's wonderful that you got to see Mahala! I'm looking forward to catching up with her when she gets back.

  3. You heard Entropy, folks! If you're thinking about one of these systems, check it out!