When Robert “Bull” Meacham brings his 23-foot boat to shore, he says he often hears the same question: “Where’s the gas cap?”
His answer is always the same: The boat doesn’t have one, because it’s solar-powered. The solar panels on the roof power the batteries, and the batteries power the motor.
“We’ve been driving this since Buffalo, and we haven’t put a dime in it,” he said early Thursday evening after he and two compatriots arrived at Cooper’s Marina along the Seneca River in Baldwinsville.
After towing the boat on a three-day, 2,300-mile trip from…
Arizona to Western New York, they set sail on Sunday from Tonawanda and have been traveling through the New York State Canal System ever since, going 50 or 60 miles a day, he said.
Some nights they have slept in the boat and a couple of nights they have gone to bed-and-breakfast establishments, he said.
“We kinda wing it” on the lodging, he said.
Which is not to say that Meacham’s company, SolarStar23, doesn’t have a plan. He and two partners — including Jack Caple, who is traveling with him on this trip — and another partner back in Arizona, have been working with boat designs since 2007. The boat they’re traveling in is their last prototype, and they hope to start producing ones like it for sale in six weeks. They will be built in Arizona, and they hope to build about 250 each year.
Meacham also is a pilot for Southwest Airlines, and he says he frequently travels to this part of the country.
“I tend to go along the river, and I
said to myself that this would be the perfect place to test this thing,” he said.
Meacham, Caple and Bruce Walton arrived in Western New York last Saturday. They started heading east from Tonawanda on Sunday and spent the night in Gasport. Monday night, they made it to Brockport. Tuesday, Fairport was their destination, and Wednesday they wound up in Lyons. Thursday night, they planned to travel 10 or 15 miles after eating dinner before settling for the night.
Friday night, their goal is Sylvan Beach, followed by Herkimer on Saturday, the Palatine bridge on Sunday, Schenectady on Monday and Waterford on Tuesday.
Their cruising speed is 4½ to 5½ nautical miles an hour, but it can reach speeds of 12 to 15 knots, he said.
“The faster you go, the more juice or fuel you use,” he said. “It’s kind of like a car.”
Besides being quiet and causing less harm to the environment than standard boats, the solar model is more economical, he said. The company plans to sell it for about $45,000, compared to a comparable ski boat that would cost about $80,000. The SolarStar23 will have options, including curtains and even air conditioning, which will add to the base price. If you want to buy one, call 800-971-7989.
The company touts further savings on maintenance and, of course, fuel costs. Besides waxing the fiberglass, the average yearly maintenance costs should be about $100, he said.
And, maybe most importantly, the boat can keep moving even without sunshine, he said.
“There’s a battery bank,” he said, “so it can go a long time without the sun.”