Solar Electric Boat Makes Record Catalina Cruise

Byline: Ambrosia Brody

Solar Electric Boat Makes Record Catalina Cruise

NEWPORT BEACH — A small craft advisory warning did not prevent Billy Dutton from pushing off from the Newport Boat Show docks April 19 to begin his quest to circumnavigate Catalina Island aboard his solar-powered Duffy electric boat, Riding Currents. He did just that, returning to the boat show docks April 20, after 19.5 hours on the water.

“It was like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride,” Dutton said when he reached the Newport Boat Show’s G Dock at 6:37 p.m. Saturday. “It was the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.”

To the best of Dutton’s knowledge, the 100-mile trip marks the first time a solar-powered vessel has ever completed a trip from the mainland around Catalina Island and back, all on renewable energy.

“The expedition goals were, first, to complete the 100 miles in 24 hours, nonstop,” he said. “Secondly, of course, was to complete the expedition using only solar and battery power — and, finally, to raise awareness of the advancement of renewable energy and its application to watercraft.”

The journey was anything but trouble-free.

A small craft advisory on April 18 pushed back the trip’s original start date and time. But by Friday, April 19, the threat of an impending red flag flying could not keep Dutton off the water. Besides, it isn’t as if Riding Currents hadn’t experienced rough weather before.

Dutton, along with his friend and Riding Currents partner Mark Ward, completed a 354-mile cruise in 2012 to raise awareness about the health of the Pacific Ocean.

The 22-foot solar-powered Duffy electric boat is equipped with a modified surrey structure that holds four solar panels. An extra bank of Trojan T-145 batteries is installed under the decks.

This time, Dutton and his Riding Currents partner Brady Hollingsworth departed Newport Harbor at 11 a.m. for the east end of Catalina Island in 20-knot winds, with Duffy electric boat creator Marshall Duffield following in a chase boat. The rocky seas and high winds led the team to tuck into Avalon for 30 minutes to listen to weather reports and decide whether to continue with the trip.

Ultimately, they choose to get back under way. But forceful 30- to 35-knot winds laid into the boat around midnight, causing the team to shelter in Cat Harbor to wait out the winds.

Two-and-a-half hours later, they hit the ocean again. This time they were greeted with a fog wall so thick that Dutton lost sight of Duffield’s 55-foot Bertram for a while.

Aside from dealing with heavy seas and strong winds, the team worried that the boat might run out of power, given the lack of sunlight.

“It was almost like someone didn’t want us to complete this trip,” Dutton said. “It was one thing after another.”

However, despite the hurdles Mother Nature threw in front of them, the team persevered and cruised into Newport Harbor by 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Dutton estimated their speed ranged from 3 to 5.5 knots.

“This trip proves the advancement of renewable energy and its application to watercraft has arrived,” he said. “It also speaks a lot to the Duffy. We went 100 miles in terrible weather conditions on  a Duffy to Catalina Island and back, working off renewable energy.”

Dutton and his crew anticipate setting off on another journey soon. But right now, they plan to sit back and relax for a while, after the recent cruise.

“You only need to do that trip just once,” he said.

For more information on Riding Currents, visit


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