Solar boat preparing to conquer English Channel

The solar boat team of TU Delft (Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands) is one of the most accomplished teams in the world. It is now getting ready for a new challenge: preparing a solar boat to break the record for crossing the English Channel in a boat propelled by only the sun.

The current record of 6 hours 59 minutes was set on June 23 2014 in a boat made by AKT Solar Technologies.

Solar boat racing began in the United States in 1996 with the Solar Splash university races and was introduced in Europe in 2004. Netherlands is the leading country for solar boat racing, due in large part to the the number of universities that have degree courses in marine architecture and design.

Delft is one of the top solar boat competitors

TU Delft has been there since the beginning, building their first boat in 2005 to compete in the Frisian Solar Challenge, a race patterned after the country’s Elfstedentochta marathon skating race. TU Delft came in first and have never looked back.

As you can imagine, solar boats have undergone many changes in the past few years as solar panels, batteries and electric motors have improved. Under the rules of the races, the boats operate mainly under battery power during the race itself, but must be charged only by the sun and the boat’s panels.

One of the team’s sponsors is battery, inverter and accessory maker Victron energy. In a post on their site the team’s Publicity Manager, Redmer Aarnink said:

Since the inception of the project in 2005 there has been a new team almost every year. The 28 student members of the 2019 team began work last August and to start production of the first ever offshore Solar Boat in the team’s history.

The innovations the team has made over the years include a hull design in 2008 that reduced drag to such an extent that he team rented out molds to other competitors. No wonder, TU Delft had won that year’s race with a three hour margin of victory!

They introduced a hydrofoil to the design in 2010 and entered the prestigious Monaco Solar Boat Challenge in 2015. In their second year of the competition, they completely redesigned the hull of the boat, improved the wings and were able to achieve a speed of 55 km/h.

The Monaco event is comprised of speed, slalom and endurance competitions with prizes for each and an overall rating. The 2016 TU Delft team came in second place and also received the Riva Beauty Award for design. In 2018 they came second in the Solar Sport One slalom race.

Team has introduced a unique trimaran design

Two years ago Monaco introduced an offshore race for electric boats powered by means other than solar. At this year’s race, TU Delft will be the first solar boat to join in the race, which goes from Monaco to Ventimiglia, Italy and back, a total distance of about 35 kilometres.

This will be a good warm up for the Channel crossing later in the year. The Channel is about the same distance – 32 km – but waves in excess of a meter present a different challenge to the relatively serene waters of the Mediterranean. So while it may seem the TU Delft vessel should easily be able to better the average speed of 4.6 km/h the AKT boat achieved, the elements of the English Chanel can wreak havoc on the best of plans.

There is no specific date set for the Channel crossing, but it will be later in the summer and the actual launch is dependent on favourable conditions.

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