Solar journey around the Great Loop is halfway done

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Jim Greer's quest to finish the Great Loop using only solar power is more than halfway complete.

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Greer’s circular navigation of the eastern half of the United States had made its way through the Oswego and Erie canals by mid-August and was headed into Lake Ontario.

The more-than-6,600-mile journey, which Greer hopes will earn him a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records, relies on a four-person crew and two Torqeedo Cruise 4.0 electric outboard motors.

He launched the undertaking Jan. 11 from Port Ritchie, Fla., after lacking the money to put gas in his boat. Greer spent six years building a 45-foot catamaran with flexible solar panels and two banks of batteries to power the electric outboards. Named Ra, after the Egyptian god of the sun, the fossil fuel-free craft averages about 2.5 miles an hour. Speeds of as much as 4 mph are possible when the wind and current are favorable.

Dozier’s Waterway Guide said the power and solar system was designed by Joe Combs of Solar Independence LLC of New Port Richey, Fla.

The system uses 14 solar panels (245W Kyocera) to charge the two battery banks used to power the 48-volt electric propulsion systems. The batteries are from the Trojan Battery Co.

"We had originally planned to be in Chicago by the end of the summer," first mate Danny Johnson said in a statement. Despite this, the Ra's leisurely pace "isn't a deal breaker," he said. "We still expect to make it through the colder sections of our itinerary before cold weather sets in."

As the Ra continues its slow but steady course, it will skirt states bordering lakes Erie, Huron and Michigan before heading south along the great American rivers leading to the Gulf Coast Intracoastal Waterway. If the voyage is successful it will mark the first Great Loop achieved by solar power alone.

The same number of miles in a conventional powerboat would require a fuel investment of more than $10,000. Thanks to the Ra's electric outboards, whose batteries charge solely with sunlight, Greer and his crew expect no fuel outlay for the duration of the trip.

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