Power & Tech­nol­ogy

One com­pany proves so­lar-pow­ered yachts are fi­nally getting their time in the sun.

Power & Motor Yacht - - IN THIS ISSUE - By Jeff Moser

So­lar-pow­ered yachts like the Si­lent 64 from Si­lent Yachts are fi­nally hav­ing their time in the sun.

Af­ter sail­ing 60,000 nau­ti­cal miles on the world’s oceans, Michael Köh­ler knew what he liked, loathed, needed and could jet­ti­son while at sea. One fac­tor es­pe­cially de­ter­mined the suc­cess of ev­ery voy­age— the del­i­cate bal­ance be­tween au­ton­omy and lux­ury. Most press­ing for him was the fre­quent need to run the en­gines when it wasn’t pos­si­ble to log miles un­der sail.

The trav­eler, he noted, is at the mercy of the ves­sel’s fuel ca­pac­ity. While the pow­er­plant or gen­er­a­tor is run­ning, the fumes, con­stant noise and vi­bra­tion can wear you down as much as sporty con­di­tions and mer­ci­less sun. (And the need for main­te­nance in­creases.) Un­like other cruis­ing yachts­men, he de­cided to do some­thing about it, and tied up his boat.

Köh­ler chose a fine time to do so, as sig­nif­i­cant tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances in so­lar pan­els and en­ergy stor­age were com­ing on­line, and sys­tems were be­com­ing avail­able at greatly re­duced costs. Af­ter out­fit­ting a 46-foot cus­tom yacht with enough so­lar pan­els to pro­duce about 50-kW of power per day, he set out with his wife, Heike, a sea­soned cap­tain in her own right.

Talk about a shake­down cruise. Start­ing in 2010, the ves­sel So­lar­wave 46 logged more than 12,000 nau­ti­cal miles in five years, ex­clu­sively un­der so­lar power. The cruise in­cluded the Black Sea, the Aegean and the Med, and all kinds of con­di­tions, in­clud­ing sun, rain, snow­fall and ice. Through it all, the so­lar tech­nol­ogy held up. Said Köh­ler, “Spend­ing less en­ergy was a key fac­tor, and by op­ti­miz­ing the hull to match our propul­sion sys­tem, we saw [sig­nif­i­cantly] higher per­for­mance and less en­ergy con­sump­tion.”

Based upon what they learned on their sev­eral-year so­journ, the Köh­lers re­al­ized the con­cept they had en­vi­sioned was plau­si­ble—one can cruise for thou­sands of miles on a well-equipped ves­sel us­ing so­lar power ex­clu­sively. So they de­cided to start a com­pany and build the type of boat they like best.

When I spoke to Köh­ler, he was just re­turn­ing from a visit to the boat­build­ing fa­cil­ity in China to check on his new launches—the first two hulls of the 64-foot Si­lent-So­lar­wave se­ries. Cur­rently the com­pany has six boats in pro­duc­tion: two 64s, and two each of 55- and 75-foot mod­els. All are blue­wa­ter cata­ma­rans equipped for se­ri­ous cruis­ing with home-style ap­pli­ances that are also pow­ered by so­lar. As these are semi­cus­tom builds, each is slightly dif­fer­ent, de­pend­ing on the owner’s de­sires.

I was as­ton­ished to learn that Si­lent Yachts uses a pro­pri­etary propul­sion sys­tem, con­sid­er­ing the avail­abil­ity of re­li­able and proven all-elec­tric sys­tems. Dubbed Si­lent Sys­tem, the elec­tric mo­tors al­low an av­er­age cruise of 6 to 8 knots (and a top hop of about 10 knots), with a vir­tu­ally un­lim­ited range across the en­tire lineup.

Two fac­tors make this pos­si­ble, the first be­ing Si­lent Yachts’ con­stant up­grades to the lat­est-gen­er­a­tion lithium bat­ter­ies. Tesla Mo­tors now sup­plies the com­pany with high-en­ergy den­sity pow­er­packs. There’s also a diesel genset aboard (Köh­ler calls it the Range Ex­ten­der) that can charge the bat­ter­ies and run sys­tems dur­ing ex­tended pe­ri­ods of foul weather.

For those who crave a higher top end, hy­brid-pow­ered ver­sions with larger en­gines can be or­dered, al­though that means sig­nif­i­cantly more fuel aboard and more com­plex sys­tems, which re­quire more main­te­nance. While some own­ers will likely choose this op­tion, I hope they’ll first take the op­por­tu­nity to cruise for a spell off some de­serted coast, where the only sounds they’ll hear will be waves lap­ping against the hull. The sun will pro­vide all the en­ergy a crew will need for propul­sion and ev­ery other sys­tem aboard. The sac­ri­fice in speed may be worth it.

The so­lar-pow­ered Si­lent 64 is the first model to be built by Si­lent Yachts.

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