The world’s first wave-powered boat departed Honolulu, Hawaii, in March, headed for landfall in Japan. If successful, the vessel will complete a record-breaking passage from the Hawaii Yacht Club to Kii Island off the east coast of Japan, a distance of roughly 3,780 nautical miles, on wave power alone. The trip should take the multihull about two and a half months to complete.
The 31-foot vessel, Suntory Mermaid II, was designed in Japan by professor Yutaka Terao at Tokai University School of Marine Science and Technology. Terao chose a catamaran hull shape for the boat because it is well suited to accommodating the wave propulsion mechanism, which is mounted on the bow below the waterline. A catamaran hull configuration is also inherently stable. The propulsion mechanism is comprised of two spring loaded horizontal fins, which transform wave energy into forward motion.
Terao began testing wave propulsion systems in partnership with Dr. Hiroshi Isshiki of the Hitachi Zosen Corporation in 1988 aboard a Tokai University research vessel. This vessel only had one horizontal fin and as such was limited in its propulsion capability. Using a catamaran design, Terao was able to dramatically improve performance.
The Tsuneishi Forestry Construction Company, division of Tsuneishi Holdings Company, built the vessel itself. The catamaran is built of recycled, lightweight aluminum alloy material (A5083). To save weight the outer hull thickness is 3 mm versus the standard 5 mm marine construction. The builders believe that the vessel is stout enough and corrosion-resistant enough to stand up to the rigors of a long offshore passage. For auxiliary power Suntory Mermaid II carries eight solar cells capable of generating 560 watts to power electronics and lighting, and an outboard motor for emergencies and maneuvering in tight quarters. There is also a mast and mainsail should it be needed in an emergency.
Captain Kenichi Horie, 69, will be Suntory Mermaid II’s sole crew. Horie is a long distance voyager who holds two Guinness records for piloting boats fitted with alternative propulsion systems. In 1993 he claimed a 4,660-nm record in a human-powered pedal boat and in 1996 he crossed the Pacific in a solar-powered boat in just 148 days.
Whatever the outcome, Terao and Horie hope that the voyage from Honolulu to Kii Island will draw attention to the world’s ever dwindling oil reserves and prove that wave power is a viable propulsion option (albeit a slow one at about 2 knots) for oceangoing vessels.
Visit www.suntory-mermaid2.com to follow Captain Horie’s progress.