ME & MY BOATS
Solar power was the only option for liveaboard couple striving for complete sustainability
Silent running on the Thames with solar-powered widebeam
Ryan and I met in a marina where we both had traditional diesel-powered boats, but we had a green vision, we wanted to build an eco-boat.
Being on the Thames at Hampton and close to nature made us think more about the impact of diesel engines in terms of both noise and pollution. Given the rapid advances in technology for electric vehicles on our roads, we figured that there must be a more sustainable way to be on our rivers and canals too.
While my background is in television production, making natural history programmes for clients such as the BBC, ITV and National Geographic, Ryan is a former South African Navy diver with more than 20 years’ experience in the construction trade.
Having spent many years living on boats over many years he devoted plenty of time to researching and testing various technical and logistical elements of solar electric boat design before our boat, The SunFlower, was launched.
It’s a 65ft widebeam and took a year from steelwork to fit-out and is bristling with technology. There’s no diesel engine and no gas onboard, so when we are out cruising the Thames it
uses 100 percent renewable energy. While we put sustainability at the heart of this build we didn’t want to compromise on style and we believe the interior is unlike any other boat currently on the water.
The array of 20 photovoltaic solar panels on the roof are linked to provide maximum solar energy output. They feed two solar controllers which charge the batteries and power the twin electric motors that enable the boat to cruise almost silently at a comfortable three knots.
At the heart of the boat there’s a large bank of forklift batteries which can store 96 kWh of energy and provide ten hours of continuous cruising without any daylight, or 18 days of domestic supply. The batteries are topped up every day by the solar panels.
The innovations don’t stop there: the interior floor is made of 18 tons of concrete with underfloor pipes that are heated by the stove which burns renewable smokeless eco logs and also supplies a hot water storage cylinder. Added to that there’s triple-glazing, a heat recovery system, rainwater filtration and a no-flush toilet.
The journey wasn’t all plain sailing, though, and we ran into some negative responses as we sought to design a boat powered only by solar energy.
“I started looking for alternatives but there was simply nothing out there that didn’t rely on diesel,” says Ryan. “Some boats have solar panels for domestic supply but there was nothing on the market that would allow us to cruise
and live on the river without using fossil fuels, so we decided the only way forward was to build one ourselves, even though we’d never done anything like this before. But no one could tell us how to do it and no one seemed confident it could be done.
“Everyone kept saying ‘yes but what happens on a cloudy day when there’s no sun? And what about the unpredictable British weather?’ I’m originally from South Africa so I think people thought I had lost the plot.
“I researched all sorts of possible solutions and I finally came up with a system I felt would work, but it doesn’t stop the nagging doubts. What if everyone else was right and I was wrong?”
Having accomplished the mission to slash our carbon footprint, we turned our attention to the interior, knowing that canal and river boats can have a reputation as being pokey, damp and without enough space to swing a proverbial cat.
Not this one. The SunFlower has 64 square metres of open-plan living space with two huge double bedrooms, a wet-room, complete with bath and a huge kitchen. In fact, everything is large – even the stern is spacious with room for ten.
We wanted to create an inside space that felt more like a home than a boat. We loved coming up with some of the clever storage solutions, like the wine cellar sunk into the concrete floor. That’s a real surprise for visitors.
But while the interior is warm and homely, the ultimate thrill will always be quiet cruising along on on a one-off widebeam – and it’s already making waves.
“The look of the boat with its bright blue colour, large reflective windows and solar roof does attract a lot of attention when we’re out on the Thames,” adds Ryan. “People often ask ‘is that really fully solar powered?’ and I’m so thrilled to be able to tell them that it is.”
Putting the wide in widebeam
Open-plan living on board
Galley equipment runs on solar power
Owners Hayley and Ryan
Rooftop photovoltic panels top up batteries
Wet room has an oversized rain shower
Huge space for party people
Double bed lifts for extra storage