Alex Borton, left, and his father David Borton, aim to traverse Alaska’s Inside Passage in a solar-powered vessel. The pair left Bellingham, Washington, on May 26 and arrived in Juneau over the weekend. They head to Glacier Bay next. The boat is powered by rooftop solar panels. (Dana Zigmund / Juneau Empire)

Alex Borton, left, and his father David Borton, aim to traverse Alaska’s Inside Passage in a solar-powered vessel. The pair left Bellingham, Washington, on May 26 and arrived in Juneau over the weekend. They head to Glacier Bay next. The boat is powered by rooftop solar panels. (Dana Zigmund / Juneau Empire)

Sailing on sunshine

Father-son duo aim to complete solar-powered journey through Alaska’s Inside Passage

Father and son David and Alex Borton are pursuing two missions.

First, the pair hopes to sail a boat through Alaska’s notoriously rainy and cloudy Inside Passage using only solar power. When they stopped in Juneau this week, after a journey that began in Bellingham, Washington, on May 26, they were well on their way to success on that front.

Their solar-powered vessel, the 27-foot Wayward Sun, which they designed, has faithfully carried the two through the Inside Passage. Along the way, they’ve delighted in seeing bears, eagles, whales, seals, sea lions and otters, they said Monday afternoon during an onboard interview with the Empire.

“We had rough days, smooth days, and two sunny days,” said Alex Borton, who showed off the hot plate that constitutes the galley and pointed to the berthing compartment in the boat’s bow.

He’s serving as the captain of the vessel during the trip. When he’s not sailing solar-powered boats, he’s a Bellingham-based psychotherapist.

“Being in a boat with the mountains, and the trees and the animals is a very different experience,” said David Borton, who compared this trip to Alaska to a more traditional trip he took to the state about a decade ago. He describes himself as “a first-class passenger” along the journey.

Although the boat can travel up to 5 knots on a sunny day with the batteries on full tilt, the pair has traveled at a leisurely pace. They stopped in Thorne Bay near Prince of Wales Island — where the elder Borton worked in the 1960s — and in Ketchikan before reaching Juneau over the weekend.

They plan to head to Glacier Bay next before shipping the vessel home on the ferry.

Alex Borton, left, and his father David Borton relax in the Wayward Sun, a solar-powered vessel designed by their company, Solar Sal Boats. The pair stopped in Juneau Sunday, June 27 as part of their quest to traverse Alaska’s Inside Passage in a solar-powered vessel. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Alex Borton, left, and his father David Borton relax in the Wayward Sun, a solar-powered vessel designed by their company, Solar Sal Boats. The pair stopped in Juneau Sunday, June 27 as part of their quest to traverse Alaska’s Inside Passage in a solar-powered vessel. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Paddling the channel

Running on sunlight

The boat never ran out of power, even with the clouds overhead, Alex Borton said. He said the pair refers to those conditions as “cloud shine.”

“The rain might slow you down,” he said, estimating that the boat can travel at 2-3 knots in the rain, with an assist from the solar-powered onboard batteries.

David Borton said the power of a solar-powered boat is “infinite,” pointing up to the roof-mounted solar panels.

“People always ask me how far you can go? That’s the wrong question. If it’s daylight, you don’t need to stop,” said David Borton, who is a retired professor of physics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

He compared having an electric boat to having an electric car.

“Once you have an electric car, you don’t want to go back,” he said, adding that a solar-powered boat never needs to be plugged in to charge.

“So many boats sit around in the harbor all day,” David Borton said. “They could go out with full batteries.”

Tangled paraglider rescued from Mount Roberts

The second mission

In addition to enjoying the sights and sounds of the Inside Passage, the Bortons have a broader goal for the trip.

“We want to promote the concept and show that solar works,” Alex Borton said, adding that seeing Southeast Alaska was something he always wanted to do.

His father agreed.

“Every boat should be a solar boat,” he said.

To that end, the pair run a business called Solar Sal Boats, which is dedicated to designing boats that put solar technology into broader use.

The company’s website points out that solar power is quiet, fuel-free, and features low-maintenance electric propulsion systems.

“Our goal is to show that solar boats are practical and to make them affordable,” Alex Borton said.

You can live vicariously through the Borton’s journey, and learn more about how they prepared for it by visiting their blog at www.solarsaljourney.squarespace.com.

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of April 8

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Friday, April 12, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, April 11, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

The sky and mountains are reflected in the water on April 5, 2012, at the Kootznoowoo Wilderness in the Tongass National Forest’s Admiralty Island National Monument. Conservation organizations bought some private land and transferred it to the U.S. Forest Service, resulting in an incremental expansion of the Kootznoowoo Wilderness and protection of habitat important to salmon and wildlife. (Photo by Don MacDougall/U.S. Forest Service)
Conservation groups’ purchase preserves additional land in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

A designated wilderness area in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the largest… Continue reading

A welcome sign is shown Sept. 22, 2021, in Tok. President Joe Biden won Alaska’s nominating contest on Saturday. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Biden wins more delegates in Alaska and Wyoming as he heads toward Democratic nomination

President Joe Biden nudged further ahead in the Democratic nomination for reelection… Continue reading

Juneau Assembly members and other visitors examine a meeting room formerly used by the nine-member Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development on Monday, April 8, which is about 25% larger than the Assembly Chambers at City Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Of three possible new City Hall buildings, one stands out — but plenty of proposed uses for other two

Michael J. Burns Building eyed as city HQ; childcare, animal shelter among options at school sites.

Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, speaks to members of the Senate majority caucus’ leadership group on Friday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Schools, university and projects across Alaska are set to receive money from new budget bill

Alaska Senate sends draft capital budget to House as work continues on a state spending plan

The Boney Courthouse in downtown Anchorage, across the street from the larger Nesbett Courthouse, holds the Alaska Supreme Court chambers. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska judge strikes down state’s cash payments to families using correspondence school programs

Decision will become a ‘hot-button legislative item’ in final weeks of session, lawmakers say.

A statue of William Henry Seward stands outside the Dimond Courthouse in downtown Juneau. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Juneau man convicted of sexual abuse of 15-year-old girl more than four years after incidents occur

JPD: Randy James Willard, 39, sent explicit videos to and engaged in sexual contact with victim.

Most Read