The first Desafio Solar Brasil took place in Paraty, 18th-24th October 2009

By Juliette Savin, Desafio Solar Brasil team

The decision to go to The Netherlands to take part in the Frisian Solar Challenge was a hasty one. We didn’t really think, we just accepted the challenge, built our boat, and went. Who, then, was to think that a year later we’d be organizing our very own solar boat race, the first Desafio Solar Brasil, and that it’d be a success?

From the Copacabana to the Desafio Solar Brasil 2009

When a colleague of ours came up with the idea to take part in the Frisian Solar Challenge, we all thought it was a bit of a crazy idea, but a nice one at that. None of us knew about photovoltaic energy and solar panels. We knew – we know – a lot about boats. At the Pólo Náutico, the naval architecture lab where we work, we produce about 25 boats per year. So building a boat has never scared us. But dealing with solar energy was another story.

So we went after people who knew about solar panels, electric systems and electric motors, recruited a couple designers, and here we were, ready to start working. We built our boat, a slender mono-hull, in a little more than three months. We named it after the most famous beach here in Rio de Janeiro: Copacabana.

Our boat surprised us. Despite the fact that we hadn’t tested the solar panels, had no idea what the insolation in The Netherlands is actually like, and had no experience navigating in canals, we did pretty well during the Frisian Solar Challenge. We even got a podium one day, and came fourth of our class, class A. But more importantly, we realized one thing: that using solar panels to produce energy to power small boats is not that complicated, and that it has huge potential in our country, Brazil, which gets on average 5,2 kWh/m2 of solar energy per day….

So we came back from The Netherlands with a new idea: to organize our own solar boat race. Our aim is to stimulate the use of solar panels to power small boats, here in Brazil, but also to bring together people who’re interested in photovoltaic energy and trigger new collaborations and new research.

Twelve teams took part in the Desafio Solar Brasil 2009

The first Desafio Solar Brasil (Solar Challenge Brazil) nearly started under the rain! It was pouring down in Paraty, just south of Rio de Janeiro, a few days before the start of the competition. The boats were already there and the teams had to shelter under tarpaulins to give the finishing touches to their boats. The production team was tearing their hair off trying to get everything done on time.

And finally we were all ready to start. To celebrate, a bright sunshine opened up and our prologue could take place under the sun. The next six days were to be full of emotions. Twelve teams, nine catamarans and three mono-hulls, fought fiercely for a place on the podium.

Because there are very few universities that offer naval engineering courses and few places that have facilities for building boats in Brazil, the Pólo Náutico had provided catamarans to the teams that couldn’t built their own hull – the majority of them. Designing the rest of the boat and building the electric system, however, was left up to them.

The six stages of the Desafio Solar Brasil took place in the bays around Paraty. This part of Brazil, of outstanding beauty, is called ‘the green coast’ because mountains covered with deep green Atlantic Rainforest fall straight into the sea. Paraty itself is little gem of a city; built in the sixteenth century, it has kept all its colonial charm and architecture.

After an intense week of competition, the boats were finally racing through the last stage, in the bay of Paraty. The technical committee and the judges of the competition declared Vento Sul, the boat from the Federal University of Santa Catarina first overall, in the catamaran class, followed by Peixe Galo of the Grael Institute, and Agua Viva, of the Instituto Nautico, from Paraty. There was a place for everyone on the podium in the mono-hull class. Carcará and Gabriela, two boats from the COPPE lab of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro stole the first and second places, and Ipanema, Copacabana’s cousin, named after the equally famous beach, but made out of carbon fiber, came third.

According to everyone who participated, the first Desafio Solar Brasil was a success. Despite a sometimes uncooperative weather, and a couple of technical problems (the transmitter that we bought to transmit the race live still hasn’t arrived!), everything went smoothly. A committee has already been created for the organization of the second Desafio Solar Brasil, and registration is open for the Desafio Solar Brasil 2010!