I want to build a solar boat to live on and travel

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by altruistica, Oct 17, 2023.

  1. altruistica
    Joined: Oct 2023
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    Location: UK

    altruistica New Member

    Hi everybody,
    Apart from a two week sailing holiday in Greece when I was 30 and numerous trips on the ferry with my various motorhomes, I've never ventured out to sea.
    But these past ten years have weighed heavy on my psyche, so much so that I now feel an infinity with it and want to be able to move to a new location in a heartbeat. I don't welcome what is coming to everybody on land in the next decade. The sea seems BIG and much harder to control and enforce ridiculous regulations that we've all seen from the past few years.
    There. Now that's out of the way, on to the dream.

    If I wanted to end up with something similar to this boat,

    but one that could cross oceans, with a bigger electric motor and much bigger battery banks (I'm thinking of basing my build around the technology found in the Nissan Leaf car, which can be found cheap all over the world these days), do you think I should only be looking at steel hulls like this one:

    Steel Fishing / Work Boat For Sale, 11.54m, 1984 https://www.boatbid.com/boatbid_boat.php?auction=1572&boat=317112

    This one is currently being marketed at £25,000, but they obviously can’t sell it, so they have it in an auction with a £12,000 starting price. Inside it is a wreck but that doesn’t matter to me as I’d be ripping it all out anyway. The hull looks good to me and it already has a bow thruster.

    Or there is this wooden boat, which is being marketed at £10000, but might sell for much less as the owner has unfortunately had a stroke and can’t complete the work.

    MFV 42ft For Sale, 12.72m, 1967 https://www.boatshed.com/mfv_42ft-boat-323170.html

    Both hulls look like they would make the kind of boat I want, the question is, would the wooden one survive being hit by a whale or another boat? I’m pretty sure the steel one would survive, but working in wood I think would be easier.

    This boatbuilder (fast forward to 17' 50'')

    has a similar hull and says he is going to glass over and then fair. Is this something that I should consider for this hull if I went ahead and bought it?

    The solar part of the equation is being considered for two reasons. First, I don't want to be paying out huge sums in diesel for energy that can be now harnessed from the sun. I have experience in solar panels, inverters, batteries and simple electronics as can be seen here:


    I'm quite handy in general building and DIY as can be seen here:


    The second reason for the solar boat, is that I envisage spending 80-90% of my time at anchor and want the 'home comforts' (shower facilities, decent cooking, enough energy to run my musical equipment / studio ). I've achieved this with an 8.5kW array at home. I don't see why this isn't possible at sea with the right battery bank setup.

    So, in the words of Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh, is that an 'impossible dream'?

    I watched the film 'The Mercy' this weekend with Colin Firth, which should really have put paid to the dream, but what is life, if not to dream?

    If you've read and watched so far, I thank you.

    If you've any advice I am all ears.
    Anyway, if you get a minute, I’d appreciate any thoughts you may have,
    Many thanks,
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2023
  2. Heimfried
    Joined: Apr 2015
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    Heimfried Senior Member

    Hi Al,
    welcome in this forum.
    What is your budget to realise your dream? Financial and work time? How many years are you thinking the complete build up of such a boat in a given hull will need? Do you have support from your partner/family?

    I'm building a solar electric house boat (6.3 m) and started in 2017.
    But it is determined just for short trips (up to 2 weeks or so) only in sheltered inland waterways so I don't feel competent to answer to your ocean project ideas.
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2023
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  3. comfisherman
    Joined: Apr 2009
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    Location: Alaska

    comfisherman Senior Member

    I've commercial fished since the age of 12, and fully lived aboard a boat for 6 years. Can't speak to any of the electrical and technical side of your dream, but certainly can speak to living aboard small commercial craft.

    1. I'd focus on hybrid. The first boat you posted has a 95hp Perkins. 100 gallons off diesel and a little Perkins run low and slow is a tremendous amount of wind and tide bucking as well as battery charging.

    The ocean seems safer than land in these weird times we find ourselves. That's because the sea has enough power to humble us all. It respects no flag, color or creed. Much of the safety we perceive of the ocean comes from the weather prediction systems baked in to modern society.

    2. Build everything tougher than you think. One big storm can yard sale your whole external system. It's not fun re purchasing a system because you got complacent in installation only to watch it fly away.

    3. Subsistence way of life is hard.

    As a young man I was intrigued by the idea of the subsistence way of life. Had a boat and a cabin in a remote part of Alaska. Taking advantage of the world's best fisheries management and some of the if not the least populated region of the western world, I lived semi subsistence for almost a year. I say semi because only about 80% of my food came from hunting or fishing or berry picking. Still started with flour, sugar and seasoning.

    It wasn't an easy life, more importantly it is absolutely not scalable to even a small population. I'm not the toughest man alive, but have interacted with enough to know I'm more resilient than most. After 8 months off the grid a plane followed by a full sized shower and a trip to the supermarket were glorious.

    I'm not unsympathetic to the idea of getting away from the mess we seem to have created globally. But am equally convinced it's less effort for the masses to rise up and make the positive change we want to see than for isolated people to attempt to survive off the apocalypse.
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  4. Rumars
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    Rumars Senior Member

    Between those two sentences lies the truth, the sea might be big and empty, but you want to spend your time in someone elses backyard, specifically the most populated part of any country that also usually happens to be an international border.
    You can become a full time cruiser, but forget any notion of "liberty", you are going to be asked about passport, registration, insurance, and will comply with whatever marine sanitation device rules the locals decide on. Just watch some videos cruisers made during the recent pandemic if you don't believe me.

    Solar electric ocean crossers don't look anything like those MFV. They are ultralight boats with minimal power needs and huge solar arrays, the internet has pictures.
    To understand why, you only have to do the math, if you need a 80kW engine you need at least 160kWp of solar and a 640kW battery to get you trough 24h.
    The options are:
    1. build a dedicated solar boat.
    2. buy a powerboat and pay for the fuel .
    3. buy a sailboat and pay for the sails.
  5. altruistica
    Joined: Oct 2023
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    altruistica New Member

    Thanks for the welcome Heimfried. The budget is unknown. I have at least £150,000 to throw at something that will be my final living space, but may increase this up to £500,000 depending on the project. I'm 60 and choose what work I take on, so consider me retired as far as the project managing and working on this project goes. I don't really want to spend more than a year from now getting a boat in the water, hence the budget will be flexible if I think some task would be better throwing some money at it, rather than me spending time on it. My wife of 37 years (and 41 years my partner) isn't really up for it at this stage, but every large project I've ever started usually starts like this. I have grown up children who still live at home (one is high-functioning autistic who I have devoted the past 25 years to and one a daughter, 21 who needs a push to go and make something of herself).
    My opening statement may give an insight to what I think of society at the moment. It is broken beyond repair. We all will see war in one way or another as this decade rolls on. Joe Public has no idea of the financial implications of the bond market or derivatives in general. They (the elites, the DAVOS crowd) have just persuaded people to take life-ending injections for what? There never was a 'pandemic', just like there never were any planes flying into the Twin Towers 22 years ago. If you do your homework, it is plain as the nose on your face. I therefore care at this point whether I live or die (not that I've ever been afraid of dying), because I now know what life (and death) is all about. How many of you reading this, know that? How many of your relatives, friends, your colleagues know that? I'm guessing very few, otherwise this place would be a totally different place.
    I know this might sound like a crank, or someone depressed, but far from it. I was 'awoken' about 10 years ago and now see the past three years in that context. I am a believer in 'dimensions' (an idea that I only came across three years ago), and ow realise my future lies in a different dimension than the 'third dimension' (controlled by fear), hence a wanting to remove myself from the vistas I see on a daily basis and to live more in nature. Whether I drown in doing this, is immaterial. Better to do out at sea, than in a nursing home riddled in feaces and urine. It's always worth asking yourself. 'How do I want to die?'. Then you should put things in motion that will allow the probability of this being in your favour than against.

    Ok, enough philosophising and pontificating.

    My research to this point, seems to indicate that the best thing I probably could do, is just bite the bullet and start building 'The Ark'. I'm a musician (or should say I was....I no longer feel the need to try to change people's minds and positions through my music). If facts and statistics cannot change people's minds, then the arts haven't a cat in hells chance. Like I said. Society is broken and the only fix for it now, just as has always happened in the past, is the brutality of war, violence and death. After a period of that, people's minds change. They witness things that they never want to see again and then make a concerted effort to speak up to stop such a thing. Anyhow, as a song I wrote around 2010 alluded to, a trip to Belize (or somewhere else) may be on the cards.

    Thanks for all your replies. They made for very interesting reading.

    Once I decide which way I'm going to go, I may post some links here to chart the progress.

    Good luck to all in your endeavors.
  6. comfisherman
    Joined: Apr 2009
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    comfisherman Senior Member

    I guess... good luck is in order.

    Trying to meter my response through the lense of a slightly longer time line.

    As dark as the world was for my great grand parents (all who fought or fled the various "isms" that plagued the last century). My grandparents (after they fought in korea) life as well as my parents (who are roughly your age) saw mostly a world at least regionally at peace.

    I'll not try and dissuade you as too the storm clouds on the horizon, they are real and appear obvious to most. But darkness doesn't last forever anymore than light does, it may be rough but this storm will also pass.

    With that said the level of eventualities to contend with becomes almost unfeasible to surmount to build an "ark" if you will. My youth was spent in the Aleutians catching fish, almost every little island we hiked on had scars from a relatively unknown minor aspect of the last world War. Remember rather vividly spending the night in a pill box with a co crewman. The next day we were looking at a book we had trying to figure out who built what in the tundra covered scars left on those God forsaken rocks.

    We were looking at the fatality figures for an island so far removed from civilization it seems almost crazy two great powers once fought over it. My buddy pointed out possibly the most profound thing I'd ever heard, "Evil sure can travel far".

    That reality that evil can travel, reminds me to cherish every day. Take the good with the bad, accept what I can and cannot change.

    Want a boat, get one. Want to learn self sufficiency, wonderful go wild. Grow your own food, learn lots of skills. Make memories with those you love. But do them all for the merit intrinsic, not the merit apocalyptic. We're all one sneeze, bright flash, or natural disaster way from dust. We could wax poetic about all the features that would make a good ark... but evil travels just as easy as good does.
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  7. altruistica
    Joined: Oct 2023
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    altruistica New Member

    Thanks for those thoughts. All very insightful and helpful. I'd just like to add, my decisions are not being made out of the 'half glass empty' approach, merely from the timeline that I have left on this earth. I no longer want to discuss and change people's minds. Sadly, many have lost the ability to critically think. Whether this is because once you become dependent on the State, you lose your basic instincts to survive, I have no idea, but things have changed, dramatically. If you study history, it will be at least twenty five years, maybe as much as fifty before people rediscover the idea of free speech, freedom of movement and true liberty. I think in such times, the more you can remove yourself from the crowds, you give yourself options.
    My wife bought me a Collins English Dictionary in 1984, as part of my 21st birthday present. We were students at the time. She obviously thought my vocabulary needed extending. Why I mention this, is that out of the 162,000 references in the book, the word 'internet' is not to be found anywhere. We are at such a precipice now, with the advancement of A.I. that we plebeians have no idea what is just around the corner in the new decade.
    Good luck to all.
  8. gonzo
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    gonzo Senior Member

    Considering your pessimism and belief in worldwide conspiracy theories, would help from an open forum may be a venue for governments to spy on you? Tracking devices could be secretly attached to your vessel. In fact, your GPS, autopilot and computer may have AI incorporated in it.
  9. altruistica
    Joined: Oct 2023
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    altruistica New Member

    I found this guy's YouTube channel only about a week ago.

    I dismissed the idea of using an old lifeboat as the model for a refit as I thought it would be too small, but after thinking about it, it might be a good project in which to cut one's teeth and would immediately solve the problem of rusty steel, leaking wooden boat, GRP osmosis or any of the other hull problems.
    Has anybody any experience of doing such a thing or the problems that might be encountered in doing such a thing?
  10. BlueBell
    Joined: May 2017
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    BlueBell . . . _ _ _ . . . _ _ _

    Yes, use the search window above, right on this page, lots of threads on the topic.
    It's also all over YouTube.
    Good luck.
  11. ondarvr
    Joined: Dec 2005
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    ondarvr Senior Member

    On the subject of a hull to refit.

    Your timeline to achieve this is short, don't look for something that needs much work. Even a turn-key used craft will need some significant upgrades to achieve your goal. Years will go by before you can get an old hull in shape to even float, let alone navigate the globe.

    Best case you find someone that started this same project 15 years ago and can't continue with it because they are now 75 and their health/energy isn't what it once was.

    Your initial 150,000 budget will be eaten up quickly, and the larger 500,000 figure will be gone if you want this custom craft to be self sustaining. And if you work fast, by the age of 70 it may be in the water, not circumnavigating the globe, but at least tied to a dock.

    Go live on a boat for a few months and see if it's something you really want to do.
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2023
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  12. Rumars
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    Rumars Senior Member

    Mankind has solved moving for "free" on the ocean a long time ago, it's called sailing (using those flapping things on a stick that is, they convert solar radiation into motion via wind). With 150 000 - 500 000£ on hand and a one year timeline things are very doable. The only question is how much space you want, and for that you have to go and actually look at some boats. Until then just book some courses and learn to sail.

    To give you some ideea about what's available on the market, on the low end of money and space an unloved Gazelle for 10 000£ (or less) https://www.yachtworld.co.uk/yacht/1990-colvin-gazelle-9026968/
    For 100 000£ you can probably get one of these:
    1. 58 aluminium pilothouse sloop https://www.yachtworld.co.uk/yacht/1988-custom-hans-groop-58-pilothouse-8444205/
    2. 52 steel pilothouse ketch https://www.yachtworld.co.uk/yacht/1980-koopmans-52-8396848/
    Both are in need of some modernisation in the electronic and systems department, but have nice interiors (the Koopmans has an actual bathtub). If the hulls are sound, another 150 000£ will give you a go anywhere (within the draft limits) boat with more space than you need, and without fearing the orcas.

    Diesel won't be a problem unless you get the bug, you will only use it for maneuvers. The rest is taken care by solar and a healthy lithium bank.
  13. mitchgrunes
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    mitchgrunes Senior Member

    The Internet was invented near the beginning of 1983. And the Arpanet dates back, I think, to the 1960s. Perhaps the Collins English Dictionary wasn't overly complete.

    A much greater threat is the absence of natural intelligence and common sense in those who lead. :) In a perfect world, the people chosen to lead, especially in democracies, would be our brightest and best. We don't live in a perfect world.

    I put AI pretty far down the list of possible disasters that might affect me, or the world. At sea, a serious storm and/or system failure and/or medical problem is IMO much more likely to affect your survival than AI, on land or sea. But that's just my opinion.

    BTW, solar cells eventually fail. I wonder if at sea, in salt water, 10 years is a lot to expect with complete reliability. Other systems will need maintenance too.

    E.g., The design life of a GPS satellite ranges between 7.5 to 15 years. My personal experience with sea kayaks, is that you are lucky to get 2-3 years out of a GPS receiver before the electronics corrodes - but it is probably better in boats that protect the receiver better from salt water.

    If you do want to be self sufficient at sea in site of assumed failures of civilization due to AI or anything else, don't count on GPS, etc., for navigation. They are run with the help of human beings. :) But stars will almost certainly continue shining the rest of your life.

    BTW, you will be lucky to get 8-10 years out of even very good quality batteries.
  14. gonzo
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    gonzo Senior Member

    Only the brightest and best would be capable of choosing the brightest and best to lead. The rest chooses the rest. I would call this a conundrum.

  15. portacruise
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    portacruise Senior Member

    Oh my, what to do about Pirates, in a world heading towards disaster? Budget for armaments? Can someone assume the Coast Guard will still be there, and will they get there in time, ha? First on the list might be to kidnap a doc, as health and medical emergencies would be a primary and very important concern?
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