Eco-friendly Ship to Cross Ocean Powered By Waves

Mermaid II shows off its unusual wave-propulsion system while being lowered into Honolulu harborMermaid II shows off its unusual wave-propulsion system while being lowered into Honolulu harbor
First there was the air-powered car, now here comes a wave-powered boat! The three-ton catamaran Suntory Mermaid II may not set any speed records on its May 2008 voyage from Hawaii to Japan but as the Tortoise once said, "slow and steady wins the race".

This particular race is all about making alternative energy work economically and practically. So, how does wave power work? As the above illustration shows, a pair of side-by-side fins in the ship's bow absorb wave energy and express it in a dolphin-like "kick".


Arrival in Hawaii, February 2008Arrival in Hawaii, February 2008

An added benefit is that since the fins react to the waves, the ship as a whole remains remarkably steady. Sort of like driving over a bumpy road - your car's tires jounce and bounce yet the passenger cabin does not. Hmm, why isn't anyone working on recovering energy from shock absorber action?

Captain Kenichi Horie "waves" from the Mermaid II's bowCaptain Kenichi Horie "waves" from the Mermaid II's bow
The Suntory Mermaid II is the latest of a number of Japanese eco-powered, recycled aluminum construction watercraft sponsored by Asahi News, supported by Suntory Co. and built by the Tsuneishi Shipbuilding Company.

Kenichi Horie's 1993 ocean-crossing, pedal-powered craftKenichi Horie's 1993 ocean-crossing, pedal-powered craft
Kenichi Horie, veteran of a number of eco-voyages over the past decade and a half will captain - and crew - the vessel. On its May 2008 inaugural voyage, Horie will sail the 4,350 miles from Honolulu, Hawaii to Kii Suido, Japan on wave power alone. Literally, as it's to be a solo voyage.

Horie has long been associated with these eco-power initiatives, most notably in 1993 when he set a world record for the longest distance (4,660 miles) ever traveled by a pedal-powered boat. Gee, I bet his legs were really tired by the time he reached Japan!

This time Horie will be resting his legs while captaining a much larger craft. Unlike pedal-power, the Mermaid II's innovative wave propulsion system shows the way for large cargo shops to go green. And, go slow - but that's not a huge problem for bulk cargo carriers. The Mermaid II has a maximum speed of just five knots and will take two to three months to make the trip from Hawaii to Japan. A diesel-powered craft can cover that distance in just a single month.

Mermaid II with mast raisedMermaid II with mast raised
The recycled-aluminum hulled catamaran is equipped with 8 solar panels producing 560 watts (under optimal conditions) with which to run electrical lighting and Horie's computer & phone. The ship does have an outboard motor engine and a sail, but they're only there for use in case of emergency or perhaps when the sailing gets a little too smooth.

"Oil is a limited power source, but there is no limit to waves," says Kenichi Horie. You don't have to be a surfer dude to agree! (via Linknotes)

Steve Levenstein
Japanese Innovations Writer