ST. PETERSBURG — In a waterfront city with a world record for sunny days, Monte Gisborne hopes his solar-powered boat will be an easy sell.
His fiberglass pontoon boat outfitted with an array of solar panels on its roof seems a novelty among rows of 20-foot, twin-engine, gas-guzzling powerboats on display at the St. Petersburg Power & Sailboat Show this weekend at the Mahaffey Theater yacht basin.
Unlike supplemental solar panels on the market that offer low-wattage battery power for sailboats' onboard electronics, Gisborne says, his vessel's engine can go up to 60 miles before a battery charge is needed.
“Using the sun's instantaneous energy that it's supplying to you, on a day like today, we could cruise at 4 knots, which is about 4.6 miles per hour, without taking any energy from the battery,” Gisborne said on a warm Friday afternoon.
In 2005, Gisborne outfitted his first pontoon boat with solar panels, an outgrowth of a fascination with electric cars that birthed the New York-based Tamarack Lake Electric Boat Co.
Its maiden voyage was a six-day journey with family along the meandering Trent-Severn Waterway in southern Ontario.
“I said it's dependable. The sun's up there, and it's going to be up there for the whole trip,” Gisborne said.
After connecting with business partner Ray Hirani in 2008, Gisborne started making the rounds to shows across North America, with orders in Belize, Costa Rica and closer by in Sarasota and Orlando.
The 800-watt solar panel array transfers the sun's energy into a large lithium battery pack to power the engine.
It's designed for canals, ocean waterways and other relatively calm waters, so it won't satisfy those with a hunger for big horsepower. It will, however, please those who prefer not to spend the thousands it can cost to fuel conventional vessels.
“The days of fuel being 85 cents a gallon for diesel are long gone,” said Chris Dane, manager of the boat show.
Solar panels are appearing on sailboats, and a smattering of gas-electric hybrid boats and other alternative energy options are starting to appear at shows with more frequency, Dane said.
“It's still in its infancy stage,” he said.
The price at this stage: about $40,000.