Sister Deb asked me recently, how long I had been working on the ESPcat project. It has been quite a while and it got me to thinking about what inspired me in the first place. You see I’ve always loved biographies of famous people, particularly famous scientists. I’ve read heaps of them; Marie Curie, Benjamin Franklin, Earnest Rutherford. The list goes on and on. One of my all time favorites is Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone. His biography “Conquest of Solitude” by Robert V. Bruce is where it all started for me. I read this biography about 30 years ago and fell in love with the Bell story. As a young man, Bell married, a beautiful, young, deaf girl named Mabel who Bell was teaching. It turns out that Mabel’s daddy was a wealthy industrialist who backed Bell and his telephone dream. It’s a great story.
In Bell’s later years, he kept a houseboat that he named Mabel, on Beinn Bhreagh a saltwater lake in Nova Scotia. Gallagher and I went to Beinn Breagh once and it is beautiful. In his biography was a grainy photo of the houseboat Mabel. I have searched on and off for the original of the photo and even inquired at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum for it. I only stumbled on the original photo last week on the Internet: http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/collection/artifacts/VIEW-8358?Lang=1&accessnumber=VIEW-8358
One look at Mabel the houseboat and I was forever hooked. Bell loved both his wife Mabel and his houseboat Mabel. In later years when the houseboat became leaky, it was hauled ashore where Bell used it as his private study. He had a horse that was trained to deliver his lunch from the main house to down to Mabel the houseboat. In addition to owning a cool houseboat, Bell was a pretty great guy.
I have dreamed of houseboats ever since. We even considered moving at one point so we could be close to sheltered water where a houseboat could be kept. Eventually I decided that I really wanted something more seaworthy than Mabel. The boxy style of most houseboats doesn’t appeal to me either. Bit by bit, the design changed. I have hundreds of drawings of various designs in my old notebooks.
A couple of years ago, it became clear to me that solar technology had advanced to the point where a solar-electric boat could be a practical reality. The price of solar panels dropped and the performance of lithium batteries increased. And so the ESPcat project was finally born. Nevertheless, that first image of Mabel is where it all started for me. Just look at where it has ended up after 30 years of dreaming. Next come the solar panels!