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Sailing: Innovative catamaran to harness wave power

FUKUYAMA, Japan, May 30, 2007 (AFP) - Japanese solo yachtsman Kenichi Horie launched a catamaran here Wednesday for what is billed as the world's first-ever ocean-going voyage by a "wave-powered" vessel.

The innovative, all-aluminium Suntory Mermaid II is set for a 6,000-kilometre (3,750-mile) journey from Hawaii to the Kii peninsula, western Japan, next year.

"There is no limit to waves, like winds, as a power source. It is suitable for a long voyage," the 68-year-old Hori said after taking the 9.5-metre (31-foot) vessel for a short test run in the Setouchi Inland Sea.

"The sea was calm as usual in Setouchi today but the boat moved well. I can expect better results out in the open sea," he told AFP.

The three-tonne catamaran, built at the Tsuneishi shipyard, has two parallel fins in front which convert wave movements into dolphin-like kicks to propel it. It carries an outboard motor and a sail for emergency use.

The boat is set to leave Honolulu in mid-March and is expected to move at an average three knots (5.6 kilometres/3.5 miles per hour) for the trans-Pacific voyage over two and a half months.

Horie made headlines in 1962 when he completed a solo 94-day crossing of the Pacific aboard the yacht Mermaid, without a passport or money.

He was arrested upon arrival in San Francisco but the city mayor freed him, gave him a 30-day visa and made him an honorary citizen.

His book on the voyage, entitled "Kodoku (Alone in the Pacific)," was made into a movie in 1963 and was nominated for the Golden Globe award in that year.

Horie has since made many other solo voyages, including a nonstop circumnavigation from East to West in 1974 and a circumnavigation from North to South in 1978.

In 1996, he set the world record for the fastest crossing of the Pacific in a solar-powered boat when he travelled 16,000 kilometres (10,000 miles) nonstop from Salinas, Ecuador, to Tokyo, in 148 days.

His newest vessel is equipped with solar power panels to supply electricity for navigational equipment, including radar and appliances such as an oven.

"This boat has ample electricity. I will have a lot of time to spend on radio communications and playing DVDs," Horie said.

His last voyage was a nonstop circumnavigation from October 2004 to June 2005.

"For the past two decades, I have been making a voyage every three years. So after the wave-power project, I will set out for another in 2011 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 'alone in the Pacific' voyage," Horie said.
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