The Archemedes is the world’s largest solar-powered concrete boat.
On Saturday, April 20, those who attended the Florida State University Marine Lab Open House got a glimpse of the future. Discretely moored across the canal from the new research boat Apalachee was Carter Quillan’s “ship of imagination,” the Archemedes.
Quillan and first mate Diane, on the maiden voyage of his creation, stopped off, uninvited, to enjoy the open house like any other tourists. The difference is how they got there.
The Archemedes, or “Arc” as Quillan likes to dub her, is a 50-foot cement boat built during the 1970s.
She was originally a sailboat, but Quillan, an engineer, rigged her with adjustable solar panels and wired her with diesel and solar systems running in tandem. Her alternate source of power is a 50-year-old diesel engine from a London double-decker bus. Quillan describes her propulsion system as “adapted golf cart technology.”
The Arc cost about $12,000 and took a year to adapt. Quillan said about $5,000 was spent on the solar panels. That’s a small price for what he describes as a bottomless gas tank.
Quillan began his shakedown voyage in Alabama and ended it in St. Marks. He chose the east-west journey as a challenging test for his technology.
“Because the solar panels can be adjusted to face the sun, traveling north to south, the Archemedes can run from 9 a.m. until an hour before sunset but that’s not the case traveling east to west so the Panhandle was a worst case scenario,” he said, in a telephone interview. “On top of that, we had the worst possible weather conditions on this trip except for one day. There were 30 mph winds and high seas, but the ship performed beyond my expectations. We made the entire voyage running on solar energy.”
The Arc’s concrete hull was constructed by Bob Henderson, a marine engineer, who planned to retire on her. Unfortunately, health issues interfered and for some time she sat in dry dock. She was eventually sold to a fitness-minded philanthropist who founded a charity called “Tennis Balls Across the Gulf.”
“Apparently there are lots of tennis courts and tennis rackets in Cuba but there is a severe shortage of balls,” Quillan said. “This guy collected tennis balls from across the country, loaded them on the boat and took them to Cuba. Normally, when an American visits Cuba, he is given a stamped piece of paper to carry in his passport. You throw it away when you leave because you aren’t supposed to go to Cuba.
“This guy had his passport stamped. When he got back to Miami and when immigration saw it, they fined him $8,500,” he said. “That was then end of his trips to Cuba.”
Once again the ship went into mothballs until Quillan found her.
Quillan praised the craftsmanship of the boat. “When I first saw her, I was skeptical,” he said. “I had to think long and hard, but I did my research. Concrete boats were kind of a fad. They were owner-made and there was a lot of junk out there, but if the boat is done right, concrete is very tough and very low maintenance.”
In addition to being a boat enthusiast, Quillan is a man with a mission. He built his solar ship as a grassroots effort to raise awareness about energy issues in Florida. His website details his philosophy about sustainable energy.
Quillan is looking for backers for his mission. To learn more, visit his website www.shipofimagination.com