Mayflower 400 MAS autonomous ship



50' TRIMARAN - The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) marking the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Founding Fathers voyage across the Atlantic in 1620, was put in the water for fitting out in September 2020.




It appears that we are not alone in our aspirations to circumnavigate the globe autonomously. Bluebird Marine Systems first proposed such an expedition in 2012 and 2013, with their 'Bluefish' design, even applying for funding and one engineer filing a patent at that time (28 January 2013), that was eventually granted many years later - stalled for some reason by the patent office - until they had no choice but to determine by 12 June 2019 under international patent legislation. This was for a solar and wind powered fully autonomous vessel, suggested as a trimaran hull in one of the claims. Coincidence? Maybe, but in the world of technology and innovation, there are few such happenstances. Such an application, being climate related, should have been accelerated, not shelved! Indicative of less than favorable treatment, in a world that shuns discrimination. Unlike the military, our Foundation is an equal opportunities organization. If you can do the job, you get the job.




Mayflower AI IBM and Promare's aluminium trimaran hull

Mayflower 400 seatrials Plymouth English Channel



SEA TRIALS - Kicking up quite a wash in moderate seas, indicates that the hull is not as efficient as it might be, or that trim is off. Worth looking at. Bow entry looks good.




BMS subsequently modified the 'Bluefish' design to produce the SeaVax concept in 2015 through to 2017.  BMS ceased trading to stave mounting operating overheads that could not be sustained to keep such research going. The gamble that marine litter was sufficiently problematic to warrant backing, required that ocean stakeholders actually care about biodiversity. They will only start caring when the fish are few and inedible.




Original Mayflower concept 100 feet solar panels wing foil and wind turbine



ORIGINAL CONCEPT - This was the Mayflower as originally proposed, showing a foil sail, wind turbine and hull 100' in length, with substantial solar panel deck area. The hull is now 50' and there are no wind energy harvesting devices. But media articles keep getting it wrong.




The Cleaner Ocean Foundation took over the SeaVax project, in another leap of faith, but months rolled into years but even as a not for profit, our pockets are not that deep. Plastic will need to reach critical condition such as making seafood unfit for human consumption, before governments jump. Although in our view the problem is already serious, it is not serious enough for the G7 or G20 to even consider a cleanup during the terms of their administration. Cancer is so silent and long term, their gamble people won't notice, may well work. Because the electorate are short-term voters in the main.


On a more positive note, there are other measures in play that we hope will slow the tide of plastic entering the ocean ecosystem, meaning that SeaVax may not be needed. We'll be promoting policy changes, like our 7Seven Point Plan, while SeaVax waits in the wings for another organization to resurrect in 10-20 years, as examples of re-make timescales. Meantime, the adaptable, Boyan Slat, is making progress with his river filtration Interceptors. Well done to Boyan and all others chipping away at the problem.




Mayflower 400 autonomous boat viewed from above



SOLAR POWER - Fairly well loaded with solar panels, they could have done with a few more in our view, and perhaps mounted a little higher to avoid salt spray.






The other major challenge is zero emission shipping. The Foundation is actively consortium building to field a vessel that is not only capable of autonomous navigation, but is designed to raise the water speed record for solar powered electric ships and push forward other technology like autonomous anchoring. In this case a yacht christened the Elizabeth Swann, after the famous character in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean, will attempt to raise the current record from 5.3 knots, to over 7.5 knots, but aiming higher.


Should the Swann raise the record to anywhere near 10 knots, that will elevate the subject of truly zero carbon commercial shipping using only renewable energy - when even the IMO may sit up and pay attention. One issue identified at an early stage is that ports may need to speed up cargo handling, to include autonomous docking - if a system of solar powered cargo vessels is to become a practical reality.







Clearly, the two vessels are miles apart in concept. The Mayflower is a 15 meter trimaran, loaded with ocean sampling instruments from over a dozen contributors and a team of near 20 people, by way of a floating laboratory - named after the Pilgrim's voyage in 1620. Whereas, the Swann is a 44 meter ocean greyhound. Also carrying ocean sampling instruments (an enhanced ferrybox type arrangement), but nowhere near as highly specified as the Promare managed vessel, for which every contributor is applauded.


Unfortunately, in June 2021, the vessel suffered some kind of glitch and had to be called back to Plymouth. It is unclear from reports just what the cause was, but battery state was low and speed well down, to the point where it appeared the vessel could not make headway against the prevailing winds and currents. See Washington Post report 18 June 2021.




Route progress map Atlantic Ocean, Mayflower unable to keep course



Hopefully, the cause will be pinpointed and remedial works containable, such that the vessel may put to sea again and cross the Atlantic unmanned - there is no room for crew onboard - so no other option. Now that is confidence for you.


We wish them all success in this venture, and look forward to reporting on Mayflower's progress as they test the concept that autonomous navigation is possible as proposed in 2012/13. Mayflower began as a Crowdfunder project where around 102,000 thousand pounds was raised in 2016. The Atlantic Ocean attempt set for 2021 is an important leap forward for autonomous navigation, with big thanks to IBM.


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