I was lucky enough to be invited to the launch of the first tourist electro-solar catamaran in the Algarve. The company, Algarve Sun Boat Trips, is based in Portimão and was first started in 2017 by husband and wife team Pedro and Ana Mestre. The couple has always been very concerned with sustainability and protecting the environment, but they also love boating and taking people out to enjoy the incredible sights and sounds the Algarve has to offer. And so, they had the idea to try and combine these two things, and how better to do this than by tapping into the Algarve’s most abundant natural resource, the sun.
For the last few years, they have been taking tourists on a scenic tour up and down the beautiful Arade River (from Portimão to Silves) in, what was then, the first tourist electro-solar boat, a 7-metre mono-hull called the Sun Sailer. They are still very proud of this boat and it has been a great success, as it doesn’t only mean that they don’t leave a carbon footprint in their wake, but without the usual noise (not to mention smell) that petrol engines make, their stealthy sun-boat can cruise peacefully up and down this meandering historic river and offer tourists the chance to get up close and personal with the local wildlife that would usually be scared away.
Now though, they have just got bigger and better. After a year of careful planning and building (by the solar boat builders, Sun Concept, in Olhão) their new boat has finally arrived. It’s called the Sun Cat 1, and once again the company is ‘first out of the dock’ offering tours on the first electro-solar catamaran to hit the Algarve waters. It’s 12 metres long and with plenty of shade overhead from the solar panels, it has space for 30 people and is, indeed, a very sleek and luxurious place to relax. Pedro has done the math and said that a catamaran of this size would usually consume at least 215 litres of fuel per 100 nautical miles. And so, after a year, this new catamaran will save the environment from the emission of 50 tons of CO2. This is the future that they want for the Algarve and the planet.
Here to enjoy the Sun Cat’s maiden voyage was, I suppose we might call her the ‘guest of honour’, the Secretary of State for Tourism Rita Marques, who was here in the Algarve presenting her “Tourism + Sustainable Plan 20-23”. Also on board were Nuno Alves from Turismo de Portugal, Miguel Barbosa from Portugal Ventures and, of course, João Fernandes, the president of the Região de Turismo do Algarve. There were also entrepreneurs from StartUp Portimão including SWRS:: Water Solutions, TULAlabs and Link-a-ring. All of them have supported the project in different ways and are passionate about promoting sustainable tourism here in the Algarve. But, besides all that, I could tell that everybody was just excited to finally get to have a ride on this incredible and innovative new boat.
Of course, when you have picked a day for a ride on a solar boat the one thing you can almost guarantee is that - it will be cloudy. And so, as you might imagine, the first question most of us playfully asked as we stepped on board was “Will the boat still go?”. To which the answer was “Yes, of course”. Ricardo Falé, the Sales and Marketing Manager, reassured everybody that the power is all stored in batteries under the floor and that there’s plenty in reserve and even on overcast days like this, it was still charging.
When we had all settled in comfortably (not difficult) and everything was ship-shape, we cast off and set, I won’t say ‘sail’, but with nothing but the noise of the water lapping at the hull it did give that feeling like we were harnessing some kind of natural element to propel us forward, which of course, in quite a complex way, is exactly what we were doing.
We glided silently out of Portimão Marina, Ferragudo and the intriguing Castelo de São João do Arade was on the other side of the river and we headed out to sea and turned east. But this was to be a relatively short trip for us and we soon swung a U-turn around a rocky island and cruised slowly back. However, this new boat will allow Algarve Sun Boat Trips to expand their portfolio and instead of just going up and down the Arade, they can now venture out and provide trips along the beautiful coastline, past Carvoeiro and Algar Seco, and stopping at Benagil cave for refreshments (be that with a swim, or drinks from the onboard bar, or indeed both).
The journey will also provide plenty of opportunities to take photos of the stunning beaches and rock formations along the way. And, speaking of which, Ricardo took the opportunity to show us all another futuristic feature of this pioneering new boat tour. Although it’s still in testing, the idea is that passengers will be able to download the Sun Boat app and, as they pass by the various different sights, everybody will get a ‘ping’ on their phone where they will see information about what’s coming up, along with challenges and encouragement to take pictures with it. This means they will not have to disturb the peace by getting on the megaphone all the time, and at the end of the tour, the app will automatically make a document that combines all your experiences and gives you a nice little virtual memento of your trip.
Their new boat will also allow them to host ‘Magical Sunset’ parties, and guests will be able chill out on the deck until it’s time to watch our favourite fireball disappear over the horizon. This is something that, Ana told me, is always spectacular.
Their boats are also available for private rental and you can book them for private parties, birthdays, marriage proposals and (if that works out, which let’s face it, how could it not) even weddings.
Despite the weather, I really enjoyed this little boat ride and I can just imagine how great it must be on a nice day - when the boats are truly ‘in their element’. After all, with up to 300 days of sun a year in the Algarve, it just makes sense to catch the rays from our nearest and dearest star, that way we won’t just have fun in the sun - but the sun will actually provide the fun. The team at Algarve Sun Boat Trips are looking to the future and figuring out how we can interact with beautiful natural places harmoniously and make tourism truly sustainable.
To find out more check out their website: www.algarvesunboat.com/