Solar boat cruise focuses on Pacific Ocean trash

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Billy Dutton and Mark Ward are getting ready to cruise 354 miles down the West Coast — after a pre-cruise stop last weekend at the Lido Yacht Expo in Newport Beach, Calif. — to raise awareness about the health of the Pacific Ocean.

And they plan to make the 13-leg trip in a 22-foot, solar-powered Duffy electric boat.

Friends since college, Dutton and Ward were paddleboarding in a Southern California harbor two years ago when Dutton noticed a problem: “We were astounded by the amount of trash floating around,” Dutton said.

For the next few hours, the two scooped up as much floating debris as they could fit on their boards. They realized this was a larger problem that would require more than one day on the water to solve.

Today, Dutton, 52, and Ward, 46, have put together a mission aimed at raising awareness about Southern California’s most important resource: the ocean. With a mission dubbed “Riding Currents,” the two have planned an “electric surf safari,” taking the solar-powered Duffy from Santa Barbara to Ensenada, surveying the health of Southern California’s marine ecosystem along the way.

Their boat is named Riding Currents and it has a modified surrey structure that holds four solar panels. Tucked under them are two bamboo standup paddleboards the two will use during their journey. An extra bank of Trojan T-145 batteries has been installed under the decks, giving the boat ample power for each day’s route.

Scheduled to set out from Santa Barbara on the morning of Oct. 8, Dutton and Ward will make their way down the coast, stopping at 11 harbors, including a stop at Santa Cruz Island, and they hope to reach Ensenada by Oct. 19.

The Riding Currents team includes landside support from operations manager Brady Hollingsworth and crewmembers Eric Pyke and Chris Dawson. Together, the team will work to make sure Dutton and Ward enjoy a slow and steady trek down the coast at a leisurely 5 knots, tucking in each night at a different Southern California harbor to let the batteries recharge.

At points along the cruise, Dutton and Ward will be pulling trawls used by the Five Gyres Research Institute for collecting samples of floating debris. The team is also working with Heal the Bay, taking water samples at predetermined points and assisting in monitoring water quality along the coast.

In addition to the on-the-water research, the team will be visiting schools at each port to get across the message out about the dangers of plastic waste and its harm to the ocean.

But the trip won’t be all business. They expect to find a few wave breaks during the trip.

“Oh, without a doubt,” Dutton said. “We will hit a few each day, and depending on the swell, we might be surfing or stand-up paddling.”

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