Solar Powered Canoe Launched on Crystal Lake

A Lakewood man and an Algonquin man have spent a couple of years building a solar powered canoe.

They are Ray Christe and Larry Kozak, respectively.

Into Crystal Lake the vessel is backed.

On the windiest day this week, they decided to launch the canoe, which they have named the CalypSol, for the press at the Crystal Lake Park District’s Main Beach ramp.

Three of us showed up, so you can expect a couple more stories in the near future.

As Ray Christe is being interviewed, look at the little four-horse power electric motor that will take the CalypSol downs the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers this summer.

The CalypSol Group celebrated a nautical milestone with the completion of construction of their high tech solar power 22FT trimaran by completing the final stage of the assembly for the main components.

Larry Kozak explains the domed sundial that Ray Christe invented that the number of degrees the solar panels should be tilted to catch the maximum number of rays. Eisenmann is one of the sponsors of the project.

The craft is due to leave this summer from the Chicago River for a long journey down the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, taking two adventuring boaters from Chicago to New Orleans.  From “The Loop 97.9, Chicago’s Rock Station” sticker on the sides of the trimaran, I imagine that the Chicago launch might be covered live by the radio station.

The solar panels are thin, but attached to platforms, as Larry Kozak points out. HighFlex Solar in California supplied the highly efficient lightweight photovoltaic solar modules.

They will be retracing the same waterway used by Joliet and Marquette in their birch bark canoes over 300 years ago.

Ray Christe has lake duty as Larry Kozak backs the canoe into Crystal Lake.

CalypSol will be the first solar powered boat navigating this route that is still referred to today as the “French Corridor”.

The construction of the boat required more than 1000 hours of combined design engineering and fabrication.

Both Larry Kozak and Ray Christe pushed the canoe off the trailer. The 4hp Torqeedo Travel 503 outboard electric motor is in the water.

The selection of the material and components was carefully reviewed with professional boat builders.

For safety the boat has several back-up systems.

The batteries are protected from the elements. Note The Loop and Allstate sponsorship stickers.

Two sets of solar panels independently charge two batteries that alternatively run the high performance Torqeedo Travel 503 outboard electric motor.  It represents the latest design in a series of highly efficient models developed by Torqeedo.

Ray Christe climbed on board first as Larry Kozak steadied the vessel in very choppy water.

One of the key features for selecting Torqeedo Travel outboard was the lithium-manganese battery which can be solar charged while running the motor.

It also includes GPS and charge-monitoring. On the digital throttle display you get distance covered, battery charge status and travel distance remaining at current speed.

Would the little Torqeedo Travel 503 outboard electric motor be able to buck the over 20 mile per hour winds?

The three-blade propeller pitch has been optimized by Torqeedo.

I had suggested turning the canoe around so there would be a sharper edge to take the waves, but the Torqeedo electric engine did just fine against the white caps. Larry Kozak points at the nearby pier into which the canoe was being pushed by the high wind.

The assembly of the electric motor and propeller shaft allows the boat to move forward, backward and make sharp turns.

The Torqeedo professional Staff in Crystal Lake, IL was very supportive throughout the stages of design and construction of the CalypSol.

The Torqeedo motor was powerful enough to back the canoe up fast enough to overcome the wind pushing it toward the pier, the edge of which can be seen in the bottom left hand corner of the photo.

HighFlex Solar in California supplied the highly efficient lightweight photovoltaic solar modules. A custom designed mechanism positions the solar panels into the sun, optimizing the charging of the batteries.

Still backing, ColypSol bucks the white caps on Crystal Lake as Larry Kozak almost loses his hat in the wind.

Ray Christe designed a special sundial that provides the best angle to position the solar panels. Melges Performance Sailboats in Zenda, WI fused the main hull core. A solar-powered convection fan maintains continuous airflow to cool the twin-battery compartment.

Finally, the trimaran runs forward.

Instrumentation includes

  • Depth Finde
  • GPS, Energy Monitoring System
  • Netbook
  • Cellular Phones

During their voyage, the boaters will camp overnight on the river islands or banks with an occasion night in a motel.

The canoe had to maneuver in the rough water as a fishing boat came in (northern pike and bass) and a pontoon boat was launched.

The boat is equipped with a cooler to store beverages and food purchased along the way from cities and towns.

Coming back to the ramp, the canoe's bow cuts makes waves.

The duration of the voyage is expected to last two months, which allows time to go sightseeing and meeting with local townspeople.

A close-up of Ray Christe and Larry Kozak.

You can learn more about the odyssey of the CalypSol Group, founded by Ray Christe of Crystal Lake and Larry Kozak of Algonquin, by visiting their website at or calling 815-861-6898 or 847-226-4899.

Paddles were needed to maintain position while a pontoon boat was being launched.

“We’ve been looking forward to this adventure for quite a long time. We’re excited and just about ready to go,” said Kozak.

The day is almost over.

“[Our trip] can’t get here fast enough to begin our adventure of a lifetime.”


Solar Powered Canoe Launched on Crystal Lake — 5 Comments

  1. Thank you again Cal for your very nice article and professional pictures!

    As a matter of precision, Torqeedo upgraded our outboard motor from a Travel 503 to a Travel 1003.

    The additional power helped us fighting the 40mile/hr wind during the test ride! Ray

  2. great story and pics. I’m a member of a Yahoo Group called LittleSolarBoats that has 20 members.

    I put a link to your story there just now. I’m building a 780 watt solar only canoe with 2 12 volt trolling motors. Pics of my boat and other members too. Check it out.

    I’m going to go to your web site now and check out more of your adventure.
    Gary in N. Califonia

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