Crew member Danny Jack Johnson cleans the solar panels aboard the Ra on July 18, 2013. Johnson is part of a four person crew that docked for a couple of days at the Nyack Boat Club to resupply and do laundry .
(Photo: Matthew Brown, The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News)
By James O'Rourke
The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News
NYACK, N.Y. - It's not pretty, but Jaime Nudd is hoping the sun oven she's rigged with wire and reflective material will harness enough solar energy to cook rice for the crew.
The 25-year-old has perched the device atop her vessel, the Ra, which is bobbing in the Hudson River as the sun starts to fall behind the Nyack Boat Club.
The boat isn't pretty, either. The 48-foot trimaran stands out from the other boats in the marina mainly because it lacks a mast and is covered in 15 black solar panels.
But unlike Nudd's sun oven, which ultimately does nothing to fill the bellies of the crew, the Ra is on its way to completing its objective, albeit slowly.
The boat is the brainchild of Capt. Jim Greer, 72, who built his first vessel at the age of 14 and has been involved with boating ever since. The idea for the Ra, named after the Egyptian sun god, is at least six years in the making.
"I wanted to go for a boat ride and I didn't have enough money for fuel," says Greer, of Colorado Springs, Colo. "So we came up with the idea of powering it by the sun."
It wasn't long after the notion came to mind that Greer decided he'd navigate the boat through the Great Loop, a 6,000-mile journey that starts in Florida and hugs the Eastern Seaboard until moving north through New York, west through the Great Lakes region and south along the Illinois, Mississippi and other Midwest rivers.
Greer says he and his crew are aiming to be the first to complete the loop in a solar-powered vessel, a feat they hope will land them in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Rounding out Greer's crew is 1st Mate Danny Jack Johnson, a 51-year-old Georgian with years of boating experience; Suzy David, 20, a novice sailor from Florida; and Nudd, a wanderer originally from the Washington, D.C., area.
The four are strangers, drawn together in the name of adventure. They're documenting the trip for a reality television series, "Solar Boat Chronicles."
Many loopers complete the journey via sailboat. By navigating a solar-powered vessel, Greer is sacrificing speed - the Ra maxes out at 4 knots, or about 5 mph - but is pushing innovation forward, he says.
"The sun thing came strictly because I thought the technology was there and it would be fun to step ahead and try to show things, which we're doing," he says.
Greer started out from New Port Richie, Fla., on Jan. 14. In April, he picked up Johnson and David. Nudd hopped aboard July 1. They hope to finish the hardest parts of the voyage by the end of September. From there, the trip should take no time at all, Greer says.
Conditions aboard the ship are simple. Each crew member has a berth, but amenities like air conditioning are not found on the Ra. Meals consist of fresh produce picked up along the way or canned goods when the fresh food runs out. Fresh water is a highly sought commodity. By the time the crew pulls into Nyack early Wednesday evening, each has endured three days of the summer's worst heat without a shower. A Yuengling beer from the Boat Club's bar is heaven-sent.
The quarters are also tight, which can present other challenges, the crew says.
"We can't really hold any grudges," says David. "We tend to let things go because, if you do hold anything, you've got nowhere to hide."
Johnson says the stresses that come with being aboard a ship for so long can also be difficult, as days away from loved ones turn to weeks and then months.
"The mental challenge is the biggest part of it, I think, for most people," he says. "Being away from family and friends. It takes a very strong support team in your family and the people you've come in contact with."
All told, though, the crew says the trip has been enlightening. Highlights include traveling for about 20 miles out on the open ocean en route to New York and then pulling into the city itself.
"New York City, man. ... Everyone here has been to New York City, but none of us have really seen it from the water," Nudd says.
The Ra left Nyack on Friday en route to points north along the Hudson River. Though he's been in talks with several broadcast companies, "Solar Boat Chronicles" has yet to find a home on television.
The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News