“This isn’t ‘future-tech’ – this is ‘now-tech,’” explained Nathan Sermonis, president of Vittoria Energy Expedition as we sat in the snug cabin of his 31-foot Hunter sloop temporarily moored at the NPS docks on Silver Lake. He was showing me the unusual auxiliary engine which powers the boat in the absence of wind – a remarkably small 48-volt electric motor (rather like what you’d find on one of Ocracoke’s many golf carts). Unlike the golf carts, however, the boat keeps its batteries topped up by unlimited natural sources. Large solar panels mounted on deck supply power in daylight and the freewheeling propeller feeds juice back into the batteries when the vessel is making at least 4 knots under sail. A wind generator currently on order will further augment the system.
Nathan and some friends co-founded Vittoria Energy Expedition in Washington, D.C. in October of last year. The organization is a 501c3 non-profit aiming to educate as many folks as possible about energy self-sufficiency, initially by traveling down the coast from D.C. to Key West and then to Cuba and producing a documentary for a web series on YouTube.
The expedition got off to a start at 3 p.m. on Veteran’s Day as Nathan and his crew cast off from D.C. and headed down the Potomac. On board the Vittoria with Nathan are two friends from D.C.: Capt. Carl Hubig, a USCG licensed sailor and Bond Richards a cinematographer with a lot of impressive camera equipment.
They were heading from Manteo to Oriental on Friday when contrary winds and seas on Pamlico Sound forced them to take shelter in our harbor. Since the goal of the expedition is not only to teach but to learn as well, the three guys immediately set about querying the local population about energy independence wherever it might be in play.
Nathan’s background is in public policy. His approach to alternative energy use is from the broader perspective of international relations since energy, like other natural resources, is a major consideration there.
The itinerary these guys mentioned seemed rather ambitious to say the least. F’rinstance they’d hoped to be in Key West by December 1. That’s actually possible, of course, but only by sailing offshore most (if not all) of the way. And, while the broad open ocean has its aesthetic appeal, it doesn’t make very good television. The Intracoastal Waterway, on the other hand, offers 1200 miles of charming villages, historic seaports, and an almost limitless variety of flora and fauna to say nothing of the colorful characters you meet along the way with their interesting vessels. Considering that, without wind, the Vittoria cruises at only 3 knots they should expect the inland trip to take about twice as long as for the average diesel-equipped sailboat.
“Why Cuba?” I asked when Nathan announced that as his destination. He explained that Cuba, mostly out of economic necessity, is pretty much in the forefront of developing alternative energy. It was the first nation to eradicate incandescent light bulbs and already derives 4% of its electricity from renewable sources (solar, wind, and gasified byproducts of its sugar industry). By 2030, Cuba expects this to increase to 24%. As an international policy guy, Nathan points out the importance of Cuba freeing itself from dependence on Venezuelan oil since relations are rapidly cooling between those two nations.
“This isn’t really like rocket science,” Nathan said, pointing at the tiny motor in his spacious engine compartment. “Most of this stuff you can by at your local Home Depot.”
When he told me the cost (about 25% of what it would take to replace the Volvo diesel in my 32’ schooner) I began to think, “Hmmmmm…”
The guys expect to have their documentary up and running on YouTube by February or March. Look for a cameo by yours truly! Meanwhile you should definitely check them out: www.vittoriaenergy.org or Facebook, Twitter or Instagram @VittoriaEnergy