"Solar-powered family boating vacation on the Trent-Severn" by Judy Steed
TheStar.com - Business - Call of the Loon
In August 2005, Monte and Denise Gisborne did something no one's ever done before: they took a solar-powered family boating vacation on the Trent Severn Waterway for six days, "without burning a single drop of oil," as Gisborne put it. Aboard the Loon, six solar panels produced 720 watts of power, boosted to 800 watts with a supercharger. At the end of each day, after travelling 40 kilometres along the system, he would dock the Loon at a marina where he could "plug in" which wasn't really necessary, since he used only 50 cents worth of electricity a day. (The Loon carries eight, six-volt batteries on board. The batteries can get all their energy from the sun, but can be augmented by "plug-ins" for long distance touring.)
On his website, tamarackelectricboats.com, Gisborne makes a nifty offer: Listen to the sound of the solar-powered Loon. Which translates to: the sound of silence.
Imagine your favourite lake in Muskoka or the Kawarthas, with no oily film smearing the surface of the water, no loud motors shattering the peace and quiet. "We can sneak up on wildlife," Gisborne says, of cruising on the Loon. "They don't hear us coming."
Gisborne's dream has been in the making since he was a child. Born and raised in B.C., he grew up in "an automotive and engineering environment." His father is a mechanical engineer. At the age of 8, young Monte rode in a Detroit Electric car. "One of my Dad's friends owned one. I was fascinated. The idea never left me.
"Anything with wheels, a motor, boats I love them all. I've been building, designing and inventing things all my life."
He is proud to say he's descended from Frederic Newton Gisborne, "the early Canadian telegraph pioneer who first proposed, then successfully completed the first transatlantic telegraph utilizing the largest ship of its day, the Great Eastern. That was the Internet 150 years ago." He's also descended, he says, from Sir Isaac Newton, the brilliant English mathematician who invented calculus and identified the force of gravity.
Gisborne studied mechanical engineering at the University of British Columbia, and graduated from Ryerson University in Toronto with a bachelor of technology honours degree in 1991. Two years later ,long before actor Leonardo DiCaprio fell in love with the Prius electric/gas hybrid car ,Gisborne focused his energy on electric vehicles.
He cited the film, Who Killed the Electric Car, which documented the efforts of the oil industry, the big American auto manufacturers and the Bush administration to derail the development of the electric car.
Gisborne built his first electric car, the ElectriFly, in 1996, the year his wife was pregnant with their only child, Deanna (now 9). "It smacked me across the head: If you have aspirations to do anything for this planet, do it now."
The ElectriFly competed at the American Tour de Sol five years in a row, among up to 100 competitors from around the world, winning once. "You gain points if you can go further down the road on a single charge."
Now in its 18th year, the Tour de Sol showcases hybrid, electric, natural gas, biofuel, fuel cell and battery vehicles. "Al Gore was a regular at the Tour de Sol and a sponsor of electric cars," Gisborne says. "The man is genuine."
Gisborne built the first prototype of the Loon in 2005. But he was stuck. To build the business, he needed investors.
Finally he contacted me a few days ago. "I've been holding back," he said. "I didn't want to talk to you until it was all settled and I went public with a big story like this."
It is big.
Ian Herd and Arthur Stemerman, real estate investors in Niagara Falls, have joined forces with Gisborne. They've sold a couple of properties and invested "millions of dollars," as Gisborne put it, into the Tamarack Lake Electric Boat Co.
Listen to Herd, on the Loon: "The technology is right, the market is right, the timing is right. This is a great entry point for us into solar technology. And there's interest from brokerage houses." Herd and Stemerman are convinced a huge expansion is coming in the field of environmentally friendly products, services and businesses. "This is the wave of the future," Herd says.
He's wasting no time. The new partners have purchased a marina on the Trent Severn System, with 40 boat slips and 1,500 feet of frontage, near the town of Kirkfield. They are building a manufacturing facility that will employ 24 to 30 people, to build a redesigned Loon and a liveable houseboat that is 40 to 60 feet long. They have retained the design services of Paul Deutschman, one of Canada's best known product designers.
Based on the twin-hulled pontoon boat, which has not been redesigned in 50 years, the new 22-foot Loon will be sleeker and sharper, incorporating advanced hydro-dynamics and ultra-light materials, enabling the boat to move through the water more efficiently.
Production on the Loon starts this spring; it should be ready for sale by June. Herd foresees huge export potential, especially to Europe, where gas prices are three times higher than in Canada and inland waterways are popular for boating.
Just back from the U.K., Herd is amazed at how the British are "revitalizing their riverways, spending millions of pounds, preserving the old Roman bridges." He went to Bath last week by riverboat, got out in the city centre and visited pubs and the old Roman baths and hot springs. "You can go from Bristol on the riverways through Bath and all the way to London and the Parliament Buildings on the Thames."
The plan is to customize the Loon for the U.K. "The boat can only be 6 feet 10 inches wide in order to pass beneath bridges that were built back in the Roman era," says Herd. He noted that housing costs are so high that people are moving on to houseboats, a phenomenon that's occurring in Spain, France and Germany as well.
Herd is looking ahead to the 2012 Olympics in London, where city officials are working on plans to reduce traffic congestion. "We're looking to position ourselves as the solar ferry at the Olympics," he says.
No market is being ignored. Gisborne is just back from Mexico's Mayan Riviera, which he calls "a hotspot for tourism and ecologically progressive action." Soliciting interest in the Loon, he says "it went well. I see lots of potential in places like Mexico and Belize."
Herd is already talking to the Export Development Corp., the government agency that will insure up to 90 per cent of accounts receivable to countries outside Canada.
Gisborne is over the moon. "This is the right partnership, the right people. We're three equal partners, one-third each."
Herd can't stop talking about the opportunity for green technologies ,"it's exploding" ,and his luck in finding Gisborne.
"It was very refreshing to meet Monte. We can go forward because of his in-depth knowledge. A lot of people who make claims in this industry are full of hot air. Monte is the real deal. He knows his stuff."