Mayflower Autonomous Research Ship to cross Atlantic without a crew

By  - August 14, 2015

If you should encounter a crewless ship out on the Atlantic Ocean in a few years, don’t worry about it being the ghostly Flying Dutchman … it may be the Mayflower, however. No, not the square-rigger that brought Pilgrims to America, but the Mayflower Autonomous Research Ship (MARS). Plans call for the wind- and solar-powered trimaran to sail itself from Plymouth, England to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 2020 – the 400th anniversary of the original ship’s journey – carrying out a variety of research projects along the way.

It will be 32.5 meters long and 16.8 meters across (106.6 x 55.1 ft), with a glass/aramid/foam composite hull and a carbon composite deck. Using either or both of its two sails, MARS will be able to move at a speed of up to 20 knots (37 km/h or 23 mph). On less breezy days when the sails are automatically stowed belowdeck, its solar-powered electric motor will still take it up to 12.5 knots (23 km/h or 14 mph). The solar cells should be able to generate enough current that if traveling at 5 knots (9 km/h or 6 mph) under motor power, the ship’s range will be unlimited. Some of those cells will be on a folding wing, that will only open under calm sea conditions.

Navigation will be via a combination of GPS, and onboard collision-avoidance systems.

According to MSubs’ Brett Phaneuf, the crossing could conceivably be completed in 7 to 10 days, although it may end up lasting several months depending on what tasks MARS is put to along the way. Areas of research that it will be conducting include meteorology, oceanography and climatology.

Full article here MARS

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Comment by Sam Spade on August 16, 2015 at 2:25pm

Quadrocoter:  Actually, I sailed in a steel hull, much better than any radar reflector ever hoisted. But radar's are not deterministic systems. If they were, we would have done away with bridge watches long ago. A 100' vessel travelling at 20 knots with a simple computer attempting to interpret radar reflections is death stalking the seas.

Comment by Andrew Rabbitt on August 16, 2015 at 7:54pm

Sorry Sam, it was just a facetious interpretation of their claim to have "onboard collision-avoidance systems"

Comment by Sam Spade on August 16, 2015 at 8:49pm

I understand, Andrew.  Sorry if I took your point too seriously.

The problem with radar on small vessels at sea is that the antenna must be small, near the water, and be limited in the amount of power it can broadcast.  Granted that a vessel of 100' may be on the edge of the 'small' class, but the constraints are still there.  They mean that any radar return moves about due to the motion of the vessel.  In addition, because the antenna is close to the water, waves can mask a distant small target as it disappears into a swell trough.  Finally, those waves can also provide random returns, giving an echo if the tops are steep enough and pointing in the right direction, but otherwise giving no return.  The net is that interpreting radar returns is not an easy task.

The only reliable anti-collision system that I am aware of works by requiring the target to carry a transponder.  All ships over some size (I don't remember what it is) should, by international agreement, be using one.  However, for small vessels, such as 40' fiberglass sailboats, they are impractical for both technical and financial reasons.  If the people who are pushing this 'ghost ship' plan on such transponder returns to avoid collisions with other vessels, we will have a killer lose on the seas after they launch the thing.


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