Hybrid boat's trip to promote solar power

Gary Minnick rides on his solar powered boat

Gary Minnick rides on his solar powered boat in the Peconic River in Riverhead. Minnick plans to take the boat around Long Island later this month. (June 20, 2013) (Credit: Newsday/Ed Betz)

People strolling along the waterfront in downtown Riverhead do double-takes when Gary Minnick steers Novella past them on the Peconic River.

It's not surprising that the whisper-quiet, 29-foot-long craft draws a lot of attention. While it started out as a sailboat, the mast and boom are gone, replaced by a flat canopy covered with solar panels.

The hybrid, launched two weeks ago, is about to get a big shakedown: Minnick is leaving today from Shinnecock Inlet on what he expects to be a four-day circumnavigation of Long Island to promote solar power.


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Novella is the fourth solar-powered boat built by the 66-year-old Flanders resident, a longtime installer of solar power systems and a highly enthusiastic proponent and educator for solar power.

The latest boat, named after his mother, was created from the hull of a J-29 sloop. It is the biggest, fastest and most seaworthy of his four boats.

Novella cost about $15,000 in materials and took 500 man-hours to assemble.

Its solar panels on the canopy generate 2,820 watts of electricity solar panels to power a German-made Torqeedo electric outboard motor that is equivalent to a 9-horsepower gasoline engine. A second outboard is on the transom as a spare. Each can push the boat at a top speed of about 7 mph. The boat accelerates surprisingly fast, and at top speed the motor makes a whirring sound like that of an upscale blender.

There are also panels in a V-shaped array on the foredeck that generate 250 watts to power the electronics on board.

Unlike earlier boats that Minnick paid for out of his own pocket, $3,000 of the cost this time was borne by a new nonprofit he started three years ago: Solar Pioneer International (www.solarpioneer.org). A blog showing Minnick's progress around the Island will be posted on the site.

Minnick has been planning for a new boat for several years, but needed to find the right boat that was properly aerodynamic. He found his hull in July on Shelter Island; it was damaged by falling off its storage cradle during Tropical Storm Irene. Minnick repaired the damage, using solar panels to power heaters to dry out water that had accumulated inside the walls of the hull.

He removed the mast and cut 1,100 pounds of lead off the keel to bring the draft down to 3 feet from 51/2 feet so it could navigate the Peconic River and East End bays.

On his trip around the Island, Minnick will travel west on Great South Bay, through Rockaway Inlet into the Atlantic and to New York Harbor and up the East River to Hell Gate.After the trip, Minnick will be back on the Peconic where "I'll tie up at the Riverhead dock and talk about solar."

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