The world's largest solar boat, a catamaran called Tûranor, reached New York City Monday afternoon, docking at the North Cove Marina in downtown Manhattan at about 5 p.m. New York is the boat's sixth stop in a trans-Atlantic expedition that began in March in the south of France.
The boat's upper decks are covered in 5,554 square feet of solar paneling. The photovoltaic cells get Tûranor up to an average speed of 5 knots (5.57 miles per hour), with a maximum speed of 14 knots (16.1 miles per hour). Tûranor is large enough to carry 60 people on board, including four crew members, in 6 cabins.
Built in Germany and designed by New Zealand design firm Craig Loomes, Tûranor was finished in 2010. On May 4 last year, the catamaran completed a 37,000-mile trip around the world over 584 days — its maiden voyage and the longest it has done to date.
Although the craft's DNA is mostly of this world, its name comes from "The Lord of the Rings." In one of JRR Tolkien's Elvish dialects, it means "power of the sun" or, better yet, "mastery of the sun."
This year, loaded with gear, Tûranor completed its fastest trip across the Atlantic — the fastest crossing made by a solar-powered vehicle — covering 2,867 miles in 22 days, 12 hour and 32 minutes, all the way from Spain to Mirgot on the island of St. Martin in French West Indies.
As part of an ongoing research into climate change affecting the oceans, the 2013 expedition PlanetSolar Deepwater has University of Geneva scientists on board the catamaran. They are tracking ocean currents and atmospheric indicators along the Gulf Stream, all the way from Miami up to Bergen in Norway. The scientists will monitor temperature, pressure, salinity, oxygen and photosynthetic pigments in the ocean as well as temperature and pollutants in the wind.
Along the way, the crew has squeaked by tornadoes, fallen victim to a bout of seasickness and witnessed some truly stunning sunrises and sunsets, reflected off the boat's shiny deck.
Tûranor leaves New York for Boston on June 21, just few weeks too soon to catch its airborne cousin, the immense but sluggish Solar Impulse plane, fly into the city in early July.
Nidhi Subbaraman writes about technology and science. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.