Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Can't Start a Fire Without a Spark

We happened to be in a bookstore with a big magazine rack, and this month's issue of Wooden Boat magazine featured, on the cover, a boat with rooftop solar panels and a hybrid diesel-electric propulsion system.

Wait a minute! That sounds like SlowBoat.  But I said "Wooden Boat" magazine.

Yup.  The featured boat is Sparks, and the latest innovation by Ted Moores of Bear Mountain Boats.

Amazingly enough, we got to tour Sparks and meet Ted and his partner Joan Barrett. It was just three months into our year-long SlowBoat cruise.  We landed at the town dock in the hip college town of Peterborough, Ontario, and the dockhand said, "You HAVE to go over to Dock C.  There's a boat just like yours and it's launching today."

 We hustled over and found a man in a big hat stowing gear aboard a fantail launch. Now, if you can't picture what THAT kind of boat looks like, here goes: A fantail launch is like a canal boat in that it has old-fashioned lines, but where a canal boat is like a Percheron--a big heavy workhorse--a fantail launch is like an Arabian, all lightness and elegance.  If you were a well-to-do gentleman of the 1890s you'd certainly have a fantail launch to convey your Gibson Girl and her chaperone to a lakeside picnic.

Ted and his team have brought that tradition of elegance into the 21st century, fitting out the boat with decking and paneling made from native Canadian woods.  There's comfortable seating that converts to a bunk, a compact galley and head. The solar panels have been camouflaged by counter sinking them into the streamlined oval roof.  Though traditional fantail launches might have been powered by a steam boiler fueled by wood or  coal, innovators at the turn of the 20th century turned them into some of the world's first electric-powered boats. Like her predecessors, Sparks cruises for hours with her clean, quiet battery bank.

Sparks is a concept boat.  Joan and Ted aim to show boaters who enjoy the cruising life but hate the cost of filling a fuel tank that there's a green alternative.

Early in this trip, we ran into someone who was working on his own solar-powered boat and told us he was discouraged to see we had beat him to it.  Instead of being discouraged, he should take heart. History shows, progress happens when lots of people are working on the same thing at the same time (think automobiles, computers, a treatment for AIDs).  So the more people building their dream solarboat, the better.

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