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The Solexplor from Stevenson's Projects




The Solexplor


The Solexplor started out as a tender to our big catamaran. We wanted a tender, and we were in a solar electric catamaran kind of mood, so that's what we made.


The first attempt (The Katamarak; no pics here) was not bad, but a little small. We liked the kayak-style seating of the Katamarak we'd come up with. It was a lot of fun when we were cruising up rivers on Kauai. We found that wildlife still couldn't figure out what you were doing when you crept up on them in an electric boat. We had first noticed this in our Kayak project. The Katamarak had twin 3/4 hp. electric motors and steerable forward and reverse thrust. This was great, as you could maneuver like crazy.




So we built version two: The Pegaso. It was sleeker, and had more efficient hulls. Too efficient; they had trouble turning. But it was faster. Somebody obviously liked this design, as it showed up in a solar-electric-boat from back east. Fancy that. They didn't do a very good job of copying ours though!

Here's the Pegaso making a fairly tight turn on the Kalihiwai stream.



The third version: The Solexplor. This was the best one. It had hulls more like the Katamarak, but slightly bigger. It had twin 1 hp. motors. It was great. But not produceable, which was the main idea here.

So, on to the fourth and final version: also called the Solexplor, because it didn't really look very different. It did have some improvements though. Like a steering wheel instead of handlebars, and it was all moldable fiberglass parts. The Solexplor started out with four 48 watt Kyocera panels and a Trace charge controller, two 1 hp. motors, and four Sonnenschein gel-cells. We found that after a lot of testing, we always seemed to have more juice in the batteries than we expected. That was a nice surprise, so we pulled two panels and made up a fishing deck. This worked out really, really well. It had a swivel seat, which was handy, but we liked the extra space of the deck. We aren't big fishers, but all the people we had test it who were said it worked great. The combination of super-quiet motors, terrific control, an unexpected shape for the fish to see, and a quiet hull form (the catamaran doesn't slap) all combined to just suck up fish. It sort of seemed like fish congregated under our boat to avoid the other normal boats!

The Solexplor could go over 32 miles at 4.5 knots on batteries alone. We actually tested it, no bull. We got tired at 32 miles and stopped; the boat was still going fine, but definitely slower. It topped out at 6.2 knots, but that was a function of the propellors, which were optimised for slower speeds. At 6.2 kts. they ran out of thrust, but the motors still had a lot power. With the two panels, the Solexplor could be used for a weekend of normal fishing and be fully charged and ready to go by Wednesday without touching a thing! If you didn't want to wait, you could plug it in.

It was a hell of a lot of fun, and we took it all over Southern California. We scrubbed the project and got out of zero-emmisions vehicles for a bunch of reasons, but people have been asking about the old Solexplors a lot so we have re-examined the project. It still has much to offer, and will make a good project for people to play with someday. It will be a few years before we will be able to start on the project again though. Since having moved to the Monterey Peninsula, I wish we had a working Solexplor now to explore the Elkhorn Slough. Unfortunately, they were all decommisioned long before we moved...