55-year-old water taxi goes solar-electric for eco-friendly harbor tours
Back in 2019, Canadian startup Ride Solar launched a Kickstarter aimed at converting a 52-year-old water taxi into a solar-powered cruise vessel for sight-seeing tours of Prince Edward Island. The campaign was unsuccessful but the idea lived on, and now the refitted and renamed Islola Solaretto is being readied for service.
The Canadian Heritage Vessel first entered service for the 1967 Montreal Expo as one of a handful of vaporettos ferrying passengers around the Category One World's Fair. Expo Service No.5 was subsequently decommissioned and spent the early 1970s in Charlottetown Harbour and the West River before moving on to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in the 80s.
Ride Solar's Peter Ixkes and Steve Arnold "found it dilapidated on the shores of Shediac" and purchased it for renovation in 2015. It was torn down to its original 40-ft (11.66-m) fiberglass hull, the diesel engine removed and a new hand-laid fiberglass cabin added.
An electric motor was then moved in, along with a battery bank and lightweight photovoltaic panels. Dining tables, a full kitchen, bar and bathroom facilities followed, as well as entertainment systems and onboard Wi-Fi. The retrofit was completed in November last year.
The 6-kW solar-panel array on the roof is connected to a high-capacity battery bank that powers the vessel's 20-kW motor. Arnold told us that "on a sunny day, if there are not high winds, we can drop the speed down to 1/4 throttle and putt around indefinitely on solar power alone." However he admits that such days are fairly uncommon, so shore charging facilities have been installed to top up the batteries between tours and overnight when needed.
It's by no means the first or only solar-electric watercraft we've covered, but the Islola Solaretto is claimed to be "North America's largest solar-powered boat," and is ready to accommodate 41 passengers (plus up to four crew members) for 1.5- to 2-hour sight-seeing and dining cruises in Charlottetown Harbour from mid-May. It joins Ride Solar's Island Solar Transit System that's currently made up of party bike tours in Charlottetown and Halifax – where up to 18 guests help power the rides by pedaling as they eat and drink.
Source: Ride Solar