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Transportation Science Technology

Wave Powered Boat to Sail From Hawaii to Japan 152

CaroKann writes "In the middle of May 2008, Kenichi Horie, an adventurer known for such feats as paddling a pedal powered boat 4,660 miles from Hawaii to Okinawa in 1993, will be sailing a wave powered boat from Honolulu's Hawaii Yacht Club to the Kii Channel in Japan. The boat, a 3-ton catamaran named the Suntory Mermaid II, works by virtue of the fins located at the front of the boat. These fins "generate thrust force by moving up and down like the tails of dolphins and whales and absorbing the energy of the waves." The system can propel the boat no matter which direction the waves come from. Because the wave propulsion system absorbs the energy from the waves, a passenger on the boat will experience a smooth ride. With a top speed of about 5 knots, the journey is expected to take about 2 to 3 months."
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Wave Powered Boat to Sail From Hawaii to Japan

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  • If the top speed is 5 knots, a sail would be faster at some points, I must just be missing something...
    • by Silver Sloth ( 770927 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @09:04AM (#22586948)
      You're missing
      • Sails aren't that good if the wind is against you, you have to tack whereas wave power works in all directions
      • This is a prototype, sails have had millennia to develop. Presumably efficency will increase
      • Whilst 'flat calm' does exist, waves are more prevalent than wind, less idle time
      • Re:Wave powered boat (Score:5, Interesting)

        by MMC Monster ( 602931 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @09:28AM (#22587104)
        Don't forget:
        • Hybrid wave/wind powered options are possible.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Deadstick ( 535032 )
          Indeed. Even ancient Greek and Roman triremes had hybrid propulsion: they actually covered more mileage under sail than rowing, but the oars were there when needed.

        • What sounds interesting to me is wave (or wind) plus solar. I would imagine when the sea is at dead calm, it is usually sunny. And when the sun isn't out, it's normally windy and wavy.
      • by Otto95 ( 1099755 )
        If wave power is so great. Why does this boat have a mast on it?
      • This is a prototype, sails have had millennia to develop. Presumably efficency will increase

        that and this tech is less manpower intensive than sails.

        I could see robots doing this in the future. If the ship has trouble (or is attacked), it could take pictures/video powered by solar panels and beam them via satellite for rescue or Interpol.
        • Sails could also be controlled by robots and computers if there was a demand for economical sailing. The problem with sails is that they're not dependable enough, if there's no wind, you're not moving. This is also true for this wave riding boat. It could be a good way to reduce fuel consumption, but it can never out right compete with screws on frieght ships.
      • You are wrong [wikipedia.org].
    • Well, the summary does he is going to "sail" the wave-powered boat, though I don't know of a better word for driving a boat. It also says it's a catamaran which, according to wikipedia, can be sail or engine powered. What happens though when he's in completely still water? This is the 'Pacific' Ocean after all.
      • The doldrums (near the Equator) are the only areas of the sea which are prevalently calm and flat. So long as he does not approach the Equator, he won't have much problem with flat seas.
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Looking at a map, most of the trip would be kinda downhill if he went from Japan to Hawaii, so he should be able to coast if he went in that direction.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by necro81 ( 917438 )
        From the project's website [tsuneishi.co.jp]:

        Under normal use the sole power source is wave energy, but the boat can also use sails or an outboard motor when entering or leaving harbor, or in case of emergencies. While cruising, the outboard motor and sails will not be used.

    • There is a big mast that could be very well be used for sails - yet, the idea is to only use wave power.
            I wonder how this wave power will scale up...
    • by srussia ( 884021 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @10:54AM (#22588036)
      That's not sailing; it's just drifting with style!
    • You're forgetting that there are a lot of storms out on the open ocean, and during a storm, this baby does 30-40 knots. ;-)

      In all seriousness, it would be interesting to see if this system could increase the speed of a ship running under some other form of power, all while increasing the smoothness of the ride. It would also be interesting to see if the power it generates can scale up with the weight of the ship.
  • by owlnation ( 858981 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @08:56AM (#22586898)

    the journey is expected to take about 2 to 3 months
    Probably still faster than getting through airport check-in and security.
  • "A set of eight solar panels produces 560 watts to run the navigation lights, ham radio, satellite phone and PC."

    If he's going to have a PC on board I wonder if he'll have Internet hookup via the Satellite phone. And if so if he'll be posting a blog to detail his journey. That would be pretty sweet.

    Does anyone know if he has a personal web site regarding his voyage ? TFA doesn't mention one.
    • by The_Wilschon ( 782534 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @10:45AM (#22587908) Homepage
      A blog of the voayge! That does sound really exciting! I can almost see it now...

      Captain's log, seadate 52145.7: There are lots of waves out here. There is also lots of water. The boat keeps going forward.

      Captain's log, seadate 52271.2: More waves. Also more water. Still on the boat.

      Captain's log, seadate 52361.9: Saw a fish this morning. Most exciting thing all week. It had fins. Also a tail.
    • by GigG ( 887839 )
      Day 5.... 120 miles further out in the middle of no where.
      Day 6.... 120 miles further out in the middle of no where.
  • by Daimanta ( 1140543 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @09:00AM (#22586928) Journal
    I am intrigued by transport using the power of nature. I myself am working on moving a ship by "catching" the wind with a large upright "surface" altough I don't exactly know how I am going to contruct this "surface". I was personally thinking about using a soft fabric and bind it to a pole. I am also testing if multiple surfaces work better than one.

    I'll keep you informed if I continue to the next fases of my daring contruction plan.
    • I was thinking about somehow exploiting the explosive chemical energy in our gasoline reserves, but I'm totally stumped on how to convert an explosive expansion of gas into torque..
      • This sounds very interesting. I highly suggest putting fixed cannons on the back of your transportation vehicle and firing them in a steady interval. Any other way way would be pure insanity!
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by fuzznutz ( 789413 )

          This sounds very interesting. I highly suggest putting fixed cannons on the back of your transportation vehicle and firing them in a steady interval. Any other way way would be pure insanity!

          My God, Mr. Scott. You've invented impulse engines. Now get started on that warp drive.
        • Google the Orion project; immense thrust from nuclear bombs. Using existing technology we could get up to 0.3c, and get millions of tonnes of payload up into space (something that is simply impossible with conventional rockets).

          The problem is nuclear fallout of course, estimates are that ~10 more people would die from cancer per launch, but if cleaner nukes could be devised it would blow all other methods of space travel out of the water.
          • estimates are that ~10 more people would die from cancer per launch
            But we could get up to 0.3c. Clearly, the benefits outweigh the costs.
            • Honestly I don't know if you're being sarcastic.. This could allow humanity to realistically colonize other planets.
              • I for one volunteer you and your family to be amongst those people who croak painfully and horribly after a protracted radiation-induced illness. But I offer 0.001c extra in exchange. So its a done deal, right?
                • If you're offering me a 10/6,000,000,000 chance of me and my family being amongst the people who croak painfully and horribly after a protracted radiation-induced illness, then you bet it's a done deal. (But the difference is 0.03c, and about 8 million tons of payload that could save humanity.)

                  Some people have sacrificed their lives for the space program directly, would I sacrifice my life 10/6,000,000,000% of the time? If 10/6,000,000,000 sounds unreasonable to you then you need to learn the odds that y
          • I don't think you'll ever see an Orion operating from surface launch, but it is very viable as a deep-space propulsion system. You could also launch tritium pellets, ignite them with lasers, and travel that way (saves the problem of using up all our uranium...)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Insanity... I'm thinking dolphin tow rope, and fish launchers. You see you launch the fish out ahead of the dolphins and that's how you steer the boat. Oh and it can easily scale up too! Think Blue Whale tow and krill launcher. I'm not twelve. Really. I think it would be fun, but PETA would be all over me on that one. But the Blue Whale Loves pulling the boat.
    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Thursday February 28, 2008 @10:54AM (#22588034)
      Aye, but you shall need many a good man to tend to such a ship, good sir. We shall need a method of obtaining such men in an unscrupulous manner. Perhaps, with the aid of a local grog establishment we can deceive these men into drinking themselves into a stupor, then kidnapping them into the service. But we shall need a city to function of as our base of operations. Perhaps somewhere in the Orient.
    • I'll keep you informed if I continue to the next fases of my daring contruction plan.

      You misspelled faeces. Funny, I do all my best thinking on the crapper too.
    • I am sorry to rain on your parade, but while your idea is very good for leisure transport it is not so good for trade. Unfortunately owing to the tendency of the wind to blow in more or less one direction in different latitudes at different times of year, you will have to do a bit more than that. You will need to work out a routing system for global transport that takes account of wind and tide, and still have to deal with the minor issue that you may find voyages are unduly delayed because the wind fails t
  • Let's do the math (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ancient_Hacker ( 751168 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @09:25AM (#22587078)
    let's try to calculate how man horsepower you can get from this scheme.
    • Let's assume they have a 550 pound float at the end of a xx-foot beam.
    • And assume there's a three-foot wave going by every five seconds.
    • You probably don't wnt to be out in a 3-ton catamaran in much bigger waves that that.
    • And assume you have some differential flotation going on so there's three feet of motion between the float and the boat.
    • So you have 550 pounds moving 3/5 of a foot per second.
    • That's a not very whopping 0.6 horsepower.
    • Just about enough to move the float at a knot or two through the water.
    • Of course it would be easier to just cut loose the float.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by doooooosh ( 1124823 )
      Well, for one, the according to this [seafriends.org.nz], the average wave height between Hawaii and Japan is closer to 10 feet, with a period of ~7.5 seconds. I doubt there's 10 feet of motion available in the fin of the boat, but it starts to account for the larger amount of energy available, and the higher speeds claimed. I'm far from a an expert in anything, really, so I'll leave it to someone else to make a better guess at the math.
      • Re:Let's do the math (Score:5, Informative)

        by Deadstick ( 535032 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @11:42AM (#22588614)
        There's some confusion here about how the system works...it's not floats and beams.

        The effect that makes it possible is that the vertical motion of water under waves progressively decreases with increasing depth. The vanes are supported by two streamlined struts that stick down several feet below the boat. As the boat rises on the front side of a wave, the bottom of the strut assembly moves up at the same rate as the boat, but the water at that depth is not rising as fast. Therefore, the vanes attached to the struts are being dragged upward relative to the water around them.

        The vanes are hinged forward of center, so as they're dragged up they rotate to an upward slant until they hit a stop; then they act as a kind of propeller blade, generating a net forward force. As the boat goes down the backside of the wave, they rotate to a downward slant and again you get a forward force.

        I built a model of one of these as a kid...worked remarkably well.

        • I wonder how well this scales. If the boat is required to "bob" with the waves, I doubt it would be a very usefull mechanism for larger craft.
          • by odie_q ( 130040 )
            Surely, the craft itself doesn't need to bob? A large ship sitting more or less motionless on the water could have floats on beams sliding up and down along the sides of the hull. The fins would be attached to these beams.

            Perhaps a more complex power transmission would be useful on that scale, generating electricity.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by MITguy21 ( 1248040 )
          On a really small scale you can "make your own waves" -- see the Pogo Foil. I rode it once, lots of fun. http://www.ocean.washington.edu/people/faculty/parker/pogo_foil.htm [washington.edu]
    • In this scenario the entire boat is the float.
      the boat was then acting against a fin under water, that fin is held down by all the weight of the water above it (or held up by the water below it)

      in the wave pushing up situation, the fin is angled so that it has a slope where a few inches of rise, over a few feet of run.
      So in order for the boat to move up a few inches, it must move forward a few feet at the same time. This fin then flips into the downward position once the pressure swaps directions so then f
  • Smuggler's dream (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gregor-e ( 136142 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @09:42AM (#22587232) Homepage
    I can see modified craft like this becoming automated, slow mules for smugglers. Since there is no need for a sail, they can ride low, leaving almost no visible, radar or sonar signature. Just put a generator and some electronics for navigation, and you've got a virtually undetectable smuggle-bot.
    • Yeah, and when the Godfather asks when his next shipment of snow is due, you answer: "somewhere between 2 and 3 months from now, just keep on checking that beach, man!".
    • Or worse, yet, it's a dream for outsourcers. Scaling this would allow to move natural resources around the planet at virtually no cost. So the dream of high-paying heavy industry jobs would be gone. Worse? Better? Depends on your politics, I guess. Neil Stephenson actually figured it would be the balloons that would do the trick. Maybe at some point they will.
      • No, it could not move resources at no cost. Time really is money in logistics.

        Having stuff sitting on the seas means you're not getting paid for stuff you've already produced. Constantly having 3 months of production at sea is much more expensive than paying for the fuel of a regular cargo ship. And this is not even taking into account all the products that would get spoiled or go out of fashion in 3 months.
        • First, I am talking about natural resources -- not end products. Few of the end products would ever need to come back because those who provide natural resources are generally poorer than those who manufacture. Second, you miscalcuated when you said that you would always have to wait for 3 months. If a steady stream of supply is established where this is done, then the 3 months delay would only occur once. And the cost of one 3 months delay spread over an ever-increasing period of savings goes to zero a
          • I have trouble with this concept as well. Unfortunately it is growing increasingly popular in the business world. The attitude is: I have $10m worth of whatever sitting unpaid for. Every day that whatever sits there, I could have made $10m * 15% / 365 = $4,110 (use whatever the actual cost of capitol for your business)

            I don't know how true this is, but it is a very strong force in the business world. I personally think there are other factors that weigh more, such as the cost of running out or being un
          • The three months is not a problem because of the delay, its a problem because stocks are always expensive.

            Say you make iron ore. You produce the ore, put it on a ship and send it to the smelter. If it takes 3 months, that means you'll pay for the production in January but will not get paid for the ore until April. While at sea, the ore does nothing for you. It's like lending the value of the ore to someone and not getting interest. If the speed of delivery increases, the amount of ore that's just sitting ar
            • by xaxa ( 988988 )
              Presumably there is a balance though. Recently I saw an article (no link, it was a dead-tree paper) saying that for the first time a freight train had been run from China to Germany, which was much quicker than the sea-shipping time, but also more expensive. It was cheaper than flying though. If speed was so important this would have been done years ago. There's some stuff people fly, some stuff goes by train, and some stuff by sea -- presumably, there's some stuff that's fine going really slowly by sea
            • You are thinking too concretely about the present-day business model. Presumably, it exists because it is most economical under the current technological conditions. If technological conditions make a different model more economical, market players will emerge to take advantage of it and they will become more efficient the players who didn't take advantage of it. The players in this case would be the shipping companies and insurance companies. The ownership of the ore does not need to be retained by tho
      • It has a fairly complex mechanism, so it will be expensive to build and maintain. Worse, it is slow. You get paid per delivery; slow means fewer deliveries between interest payments and repair bills.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by superwiz ( 655733 )
          Again, if a steady stream is established, it would be a one time delay. Just picture one ship taking off every week and one arriving every week. It would be an essentially self-propelled pipeline. Only the initial delivery would be 6 months from the initial arrival. Ie, this pipe would have high bandwidth but also a high latency. Spare the "tube" jokes, please (been done). As for reliability, if there is money to be made in making these things reliable, they will be made reliable. The only reason tha
          • I thought of a better way to explain this.

            Let's say that a big version of this boat costs $100m. You want to buy 24 of them to have a pipe. That's $2.4b, and you have to add in the value of the ore or whatever you are shipping. You only have to buy the ships once (ignoring depreciation) but you have to pay for them up front, and that is an eternal cost from the pov of the company. They could have built a mine which would be providing income for many years with that $2.4b55
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by SirMeliot ( 864836 )

      This somewhat similar device should suit your coke smuggling requirements. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7234544.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Calinous ( 985536 )
      Sonar signature? Check, as close to nothing as possible (you might still have transients if the moving equipment starts to squeak).
      Radar signature? If you make it entirely from plastics (or at least the hull), you could get that
      Heat signature? The surface of the boat will heat/cool faster than the surrounding water. But if you put a generator on it, there will probably be a heat signature.
      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Radar signature? If you make it entirely from plastics (or at least the hull), you could get that

        Sailboats are already so hard to detect on radar that it's a problem. Most sailboats have radar reflectors installed in order to be seen by bigger vessels. One would think that the aluminum mast would suffice but since it's round it doesn't. The reflectors are ridiculously small compared with the mast but they have numerous sharp edges, which make them visible (my boat is 22 ft with a 33 ft mast but the radar r
        • The only chance for radar detection would come from an overhead radar - the visible horizon for something as low in the water (the area where it could be detected too) is no larger than a few miles.
                And surveillance, airborne radar probably are much better than the big ship mounted counterparts - yet, they might not suffice.
    • by nomadic ( 141991 )
      Since there is no need for a sail, they can ride low, leaving almost no visible, radar or sonar signature

      Do any smugglers now use actual sails? Radar was designed to detect modern ships, not sailing ones.
      • But all the nice shiny metal bits (masts, stays, bolts, cleats, etc) reflect radar, so your sailboat is still visible.

        There's nothing intrinsic in radar that recognizes age; even old sailing ships would still be somewhat visible on radar. Stealth is as much dependent on shape as materials, and big things perpendicular to the radar (especially when made of metal) are about as unstealthy as you get.
  • the journey is expected to take about 2 to 3 months

    Wow, that's pretty good. How long does it take in a boat powered by fossil fuels?
    • by Don853 ( 978535 )
      Probably two to three times that fast for a typical cargo ship.

      The SS United States was the fastest, or one of the fastest, non-nuclear ships and could sustain 35 knots on fossil fuels but is currently gathering rust in South Philly.
    • I read about this in Popular Science a month ago. I think it said it takes about a month.
  • by curmudgeon99 ( 1040054 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @10:09AM (#22587498)
    This is just a brilliant idea! The boat is propelled no matter the direction of the waves, and the side effect being that the boat is mostly insulated from the wave motion? How f'n brillian is that! As I have always said, the "difference between Smart and Genius is not just a few iffy percentage points, it's orders of magnitude.
    • This is just a brilliant idea!

      Brilliant yes, new no...

      http://www.rexresearch.com/boats/1boat.htm#wave [rexresearch.com]


      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TheRaven64 ( 641858 )
        It's a shame that kind of thing has never been commercially exploited. At 70 miles per hour, you could get across the Atlantic in two days. Not fast enough for business travel, but I wouldn't mind a relaxing two day sea voyage as an alternative to 7 hours on a plane. Given some bandwidth and a reasonably comfortable cabin I could work en route.
  • waving (Score:2, Funny)

    When he leaves, he always waves goodbye
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      When he leaves, he always waves goodbye

      Or does he wave "aloha"?

      That would double the meaning...but does it double the amount? Will he go 2 times faster? If he paints it red will it go 3 times faster?

      These are just the kinds of things real daredevils and, dare I say, geniuses (tm) of our day and age experiment with.

      That and lightening bolt stickers. Which frankly, I'm too afraid of experimenting with on my own vehicles, lest I break free from the earth's gravitational pull and hit the sun.

      Maybe if I go at night...

  • Water powered boat? It's a surfboard!

    Ok, a multi-directional surfboard.
  • by Phoenix666 ( 184391 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @10:47AM (#22587926)
    I saw something on the Discovery Channel a long time ago where Ballard proposed artificial islands. Wave-propulsion would be an ideal way to move the beasts around.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Somehow, this doesn't come as a surprise.
  • With a top speed of about 5 knots, the journey is expected to take about 2 to 3 months.
    With a voyage that long, I hope he brings a lot of porn.
  • If it's wave powered, why is he sailing it?
  • by mclearn ( 86140 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @12:36PM (#22589288) Homepage

    At 3 tons, this boat is very light. A 3 ton boat can be flipped very easily by a rough wave. Coupled with the fact that this is a catamaran, you have a boat that is equally as stable upside down as it is righted. Our boat is 12 tons without food and equipment (we have about 1.5 tons of spare parts and tools alone!) -- 8 tons of this is keel weight. It cannot flip over and stay upside down (unless the keel breaks off).

    As for the stmt that says it will absorb the energy of the wave making for a smooth ride: don't believe it. That's like saying your knees can absorb the energy of your uneven surface. If there is more energy than can be absorbed, you will experience a rough time standing up. Same thing applies here. Do you know how much energy is in a wave? Think about the Tsunami on Boxing Day 2005. Think about wave-absorbing power plants. The amplitude of the wave doesn't even matter: it's a combination of amp. and freq. I've been in waves that are 60 feet tall, but they're 500 feet apart. This makes for a smooth, duck-like, enjoyable, infinity view when you crest, and a rather enclosing feel when you trough. :-)

    Interesting facts: 5 knots is quite slow, but manageable. A knot is about 1.8 km/hour, so we're talking about 9 km/h which is actually slower than a human can run. Captain Cook sailed around the world at about 2.5 knots. He literally went around at walking speed.

    As an aside, you can always tell the difference between the cruiser boat and the bay-sailer simply by the sheer amount of shit attached to every surface. :-) Also, look at the size and number of anchors. If there are two or more anchors: cruiser. If the anchor looks like it should be grounding the USS Enterprise: cruiser.

  • Down dropped the breeze, the sails dropped down,
    'Twas sad as sad could be;
    And we did speak only to break
    The silence of the sea!

    All in a hot and copper sky,
    The bloody sun, at noon,
    Right up above the mast did stand,
    No bigger than the moon.

    Day after day, day after day,
    We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
    As idle as a painted ship
    Upon a painted ocean.

    Water, water, every where,
    And all the boards did shrink;
    Water, water, every where,
    Nor any drop to drink.

    I don't think the waves are strong enou

  • by jamrock ( 863246 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @12:56PM (#22589566)

    I remember reading an article in Popular Mechanics or Popular Science back in the mid to late seventies about an experimental wave-powered boat named "Gausefin". What stuck with me all these years was how cool the craft looked. It was a sleek monohull with a low deckhouse, not a catamaran like Suntory Mermaid II. Imagine the dream-like shape of a sailing yacht, but without the masts or sails. The fins that drove the vessel were flexible, and were the only moving parts of the propulsion system; there were no hinges or springs.

    Does anyone else remember the Gausefin, or have any information about what happened to this craft? I haven't even been able to find it with Google, and I'm beginning to wonder if I imagined the whole thing.

  • by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @01:05PM (#22589694) Homepage
    Great, but what happens when we use up all the waves?!? This is an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen.
  • There is some conflicting information about the exact day the voyage will begin. Some sites state the middle of May and others state the middle of March. According to this article [japantimes.co.jp] in The Japan Times, Kenichi Horie stated Wednesday that the voyage will begin on March 16. My apologies about the confusion.

The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first. -- Blaise Pascal