By Joanne Coons
Solar Sal, a 40-ft solar-powered boat, is a great example of a project that had the participation of a broader community. In this case there was not only a dedicated group of friends and helpers, but also help from an unlikely-sounding place, a school system. A lifelong commitment to utilizing solar photovoltaics to power our needs drove David Borton to bring water transportation to a new level.
David had built several more modest solar-powered boats, including his twenty-foot boat, Sol. A dream of larger craft turned into reality as Sol scaled up to forty feet. David shared his imaginative ideas with like-minded people who saw the need to make boats more sustainable. (Good-bye dirty fossil fuel polluting our air and water.) Water transportation powered by the sun makes perfect sense because it’s all about reduced friction and unlimited full sun out on the water. A sleek hull design lets a boat cut through water like a hot knife through butter. Buoyancy counteracts gravity.
Years ago, America’s growth to the west from Albany, NY was an ambitious dream that turned into reality based on waterways. A geological pass through the hills of upstate New York provided the right site for a hand dug, design-as-you go canal. The Erie Canal provided efficient water transportation to Buffalo in three days rather than cumbersome wagon ride that could take weeks. I hope you see the parallel evolution here: from wagon and horse to canal boat and horse, then to diesel boats and interstate trucking, and now to solar-powered car and solar-powered boat.
There are many reasons David’s dream has become a reality. Many people supported his imaginative idea. Support can come in the form of a place to build. Bob Horan, superintendent of Schodack Schools, arranged for the school district to support building of this boat by providing a bay in their bus garage, and that is where Solar Sal was built.
The school system’s help paid off in education. The art, history, science, technology, building skills, and design skills were integrated into school curricula with students and faculty interaction. Imagine the pride that a youngster gets to participate first hand, and then sees this collaborative effort evolve to be a functioning boat that navigates on the Hudson and Mohawk rivers. This can-do attitude teaches students how all things are possible and not to give up, but to work on solving the problem until you find the solution.
Community members also volunteered time and talent daily with long hours. The Southern Saratoga Chamber of Commerce saw the potential for this viable form of transportation to move goods and people and develop economic growth. Special local lumber was ordered. Manufacturers of products that were used saw new applications of their products including solar panels, batteries, hull coatings and electric motors.
In the end, time, energy, talent and perseverance have taught the Schodack, NY community a lesson that cannot be found in a text book. Seeds of imaginative thought were planted in the minds of each student, community member, and teacher who participated. All the good lessons learned will grow in each one of these individuals, so they can turn their own dreams into reality, making a better, more sustainable world.