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Marigot Bay’s Sunshine Express – the First Solar Paneled Ferry in the Caribbean

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One of the most interesting ecological innovations of recent news is the Sunshine Express Ferry of Marigot Bay, St. Lucia. Dave and I had the pleasure of staying at The Marina at Marigot Bay during the 2007 launching of this newest development in ecological water transportation.

The Caribbean’s first solar paneled ferry is the brainchild of environmental activist Judith Verity, a lifetime member of Friends of the Earth, who conceived the idea when she first purchased the ground for Discovery at Marigot Bay.

“I am very interested in solar power and I was concerned about the amount of oil and gas leaking into the water from diesel ferries, as Marigot Bay has a very delicate environment. Using the Internet, I discovered there was a solar powered ferry in Germany and that several were in use in northern Europe. This started my thinking about having one here—not only for transportation but also as a symbol of our dedication to the environment of Marigot Bay,” says Verity.

The launching was quite a community event. Held in the Grand Ballroom of Discovery, one of the leading hotels in the Caribbean according to Conde Nast Traveler’s 2007 Hot List, the room was filled with St. Lucia’s VIPs.

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Castries South’s Parliamentarian, Robert Lewis, applauded the venture. “We want for this project to become an industry as well as a model for St. Lucia. While the local-building team imported components such as photovoltaic cells, motors and solar panels, all the necessary talent and expertise was available in Marigot itself.”

Interestingly enough, now in 2008, the team, led by Marigot Marina Manager Bob Hathaway, is ready to start producing these ferries on a larger scale to supply solar powered boats to the entire region. Judith Verity’s vision has not only become a reality but is bringing a new ecological industry to St. Lucia.

Dame Calliopa Pearlette Louisy GCMG, Governor of St. Lucia, helmed the first official ride on the innovative vessel which now crisscrosses the bay from Marigot Marina to the La Bas Beach and the numerous local bars and restaurants which line shore across the bay.

Marigot residents helped in the building. Furniture maker Alvin Jean Paul, Zarious Rene, and Hathaway took the ferry to the bay by truck and assembled it on the water. The Express measures some 24’3” with a beam of 12’6” and a draft of one foot. The maximum displacement is 6,318 lbs that is propelled by 2 x 5 HP, volt electric outboards with Kort Nozzle propellers fitted to a bridge-deck structure. It can be plugged into onshore power and is environmentally friendly, quiet—and cannot break the speed limit.

It is equivalent to thrust from 2 x 12 HP 2 stroke petrol outboards and has 13 square metres of high output solar panels providing a maximum output of 1,600 watts mounted on the roof. The charge regulator and blocking diodes help in providing a typical daily average output of 1,000 watts during daylight hours. I found it most interesting that a 220 volt shore power lead charged the entire system.

The battery boxes double as seats which, with their cushions, are really quite comfortable, and storage lockers at the centerline of the vessel bank some 4 x 245 AH/12V high output AGM starter batteries giving 13 hours of energy at normal cruising speed. The full battery management system is integrated with engine controls. The Express carries up to a maximum of 16 passengers entering on both port and starboard.

For the launching local children performed the song Sunshine Express, written by Aagee Simpson, which began: “We are the children of Marigot Bay powered by sunshine”. We all had tears in our eyes as the children sang this and I am delighted to learn that the children’s DVD is now on sale to help the La Croix secondary school—a great 2008 spin off project for the Marigot community.

Judith is proud that the Sunshine Express was built in Marigot. “St Lucians can actually lead the way when it comes to this type of technology,” she says, “and our community can be proud of their efforts to keep Marigot Bay beautiful for the next generation.”

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So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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