Solar-powered boat sails the Inside Passage

David Borton with his boat, the Wayward Sun. (Katie Anastas/KFSK)

Boaters coming and going in Petersburg’s North Harbor may have noticed a new visitor this weekend. David Borton and his son, Alex, sailed from Bellingham, Washington, in a 27-foot solar-powered boat.

Because the Wayward Sun runs on solar, every day at sea can look a little different. Today, it’s cloudy, and Borton is waiting for his boat to recharge.

“Well, today is actually a three or four knot day,” he said. “In the rain, it might be a two or three knot day. If we had plenty of sun, we’d go five or six knots. So it all depends on the sunshine because we run only on sunshine.”

Borton and his son, Alex, have spent the last three weeks sailing north from Bellingham through the Inside Passage. After 20 days at sea, they made it to Ketchikan.

A solar-powered boat might not seem like the best option in the Pacific Northwest and Southeast Alaska. But despite the slow-downs that come with cloudier days, Borton still sees the benefits of solar power.

“Most boats don’t operate continuously — they stop at the dock for a while,” he said. “We’re on a continuous cruise, so you’re always ready to get in. There’s no noise. There’s no smell. You turn the key, and you’re off.”

Still, Borton said it has been a learning experience.

“Now, I knew already that if you’re running all on sunshine, you have to be aware of how much energy you get and how much energy you use,” he said. “I was aware of that. I’ve been doing that for years. But on this voyage, it really comes home and you’re, you know, it’s in front of you all the time.”

Borton grew up rowing Adirondack guide boats in upstate New York. He eventually became a physicist. Solar-powered boats let him combine his love of physics with his love of sailing.

“There was a time when I could not buy gasoline,” he said. “That makes you look for other things, and so I got into solar energy.”

Borton started out by building the boats himself, adding solar panels onto wooden boats. Then, he and a marine architect worked on a 44-foot solar-powered boat. It’s now used for tours in the Hudson River.

Borton and Alex had the Wayward Sun built by Devlin Boat Builders in Olympia, Washington. On their way up to Petersburg, they stopped in Thorne Bay, where Borton once worked as a logger. Their ultimate destination is Glacier Bay.

Until they can set sail again, Borton said he’ll keep enjoying Petersburg. His next destination in town was Coastal Cold Storage for a cup of seafood chowder.

“You are 100% solar-powered. All your food is solar energy. All the fresh water you drink was distilled by the sun,” he said. “So, you know, why not boats?”

You can read a blog written by Borton’s wife, Harriet, with updates on their trip here.

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