PlanetSolar, solar catamaran, finishes round-the-world trip

Raphael Domjan, left, and M. Immo Stroher
Raphael Domjan is a modern-day Phileas Fogg.

Rather than circumnavigate the globe in 80 days like the unstoppable Jules Verne character, Domjan opted for a more leisurely pace -- about 6 knots at last look. But Domjan's trip is no less historic.

Domjan, a Swiss national trained as an electronics engineer and Jules Verne fan, joined with German businessman M. Immo Ströher to accomplish the feat in a solar-powered boat.

Their photovoltaic sheathed catamaran, PlanetSolar, plans to conclude its voyage after 584 days upon the high seas, cruising into the high-society port of Monaco on May 4, 2012. Aboard the PlanetSolar, most activity likely focused on journey's end, wrapping up the adventure with shore-based activities before letting the public get a look at the historic vessel.

Captain's log
In his daily logbook, Domjan writes: "Right after waking up, I go to the cockpit to take a look at the weather conditions. The weather is beautiful, clear blue sky, and snowy summits…it is perfect.

"Really, Nature has always helped us and provided us with its energy when we needed it… the planet and its power are really with us.

"(Captain) Patrick Marchesseau joined us this morning. The crew comprises now 5 members, our batteries are fully charged, and the weather forecast is looking good. We will leave Corsica tomorrow morning and begin our last navigation. Although we are all very happy about crossing the finish line tomorrow, we all share a feeling of nostalgia.

"See you tomorrow for our last solar navigation."

The PlanetSolar crew
Marchesseau, according to his PlanetSolar bio, is French and has been sailing on different cruise vessels since 1991. He was captain of the French cruise ship Le Ponant when it was kidnapped by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden in spring 2008.

The rest of the crew includes Captain/Master Erwann Le Rouzic who also started his career at sea in 1991 and has been sailing on different cruise vessels since 2001. His bio reads: "Parallel to his professional career, he pursued his passion for the sea on sailboats." The frenchman's resume includes French and international sailing races, including a 60-day trans-Atlantic crossing as skipper in 2002 and ocean voyage from Canary Islands to France.

Bosun (Boatswain) Jens Langwasser is German and, according to his bio, part of a long line of seafarers and sailors, constantly seeking success in yacht races. Jens trained at a shipyard in the German Baltic Sea port of Lübeck to become a boat builder. He headed up the construction team on PlanetSolar at the Knierim Yachtbau boatyard in Kiel, Germany, putting in 68,000 hours into the effort. He calls PlanetSolar "probably one of the most challenging and unusual projects we have ever had at the yard. After 16 months of intense work and thinking, the project turned into some kind of ‘special boat,’ a special creation."

Christian Ochsenbein, who is Swiss and an electrical engineer, served as chief of energy management, no small task when every kilowatt counts. According to his bio, he grew up in the Swiss city of Thun overlooking the Eiger Mountain. His father worked as a chief technician in the shipyard on Lake Thun. He's a champion swimmer, earning bronze twice in the breaststroke at the Swiss Championships.

The vision and future
Domjan and Stroher say they want their accomplishment "to demonstrate that a motor vessel can function from today without using any fossil fuel." They believe using solar power to travel undoubtedly has a commercial future.

"Our planet deserves a better, brighter and less polluted future," Domjan says on his site. "Future technologies must be keenly investigated and solutions must be found.

"The project will help to motivate engineers and scientists to develop innovative technologies, inspire people around the world and show that the impossible can become possible."