Mystery boat found in Ireland was built by Victoria solar inventor
VICTORIA -- Before the strange abandoned boat became a mystery around the world, it was local news in Ireland.
"Hundreds of locals have flocked to Drum Beach to take a look at the strange craft that was washed ashore," an RTÉ News reporter said in a TV report from three years ago.
Local authorities described the vessel as 20 feet long, waterproofed with tar, and fitted with solar panels. "You'd nearly call it a contraption," a representative from the Ballyglass Coast Guard said.
It appeared the vessel was from Canada. According to a message on its inside wall – written by a "Rick Small" – the boat was intended for homeless youth in Newfoundland. Yet it somehow ended up more than 3,000 kilometres away.
"It’s neat how it got here," says a boy interviewed in the Irish TV report. "The Titanic didn't, and this did!"
In the three years since then, there's been no word from Small on either side of the Atlantic. Perhaps that's because he's been here, by the Pacific.
"Mystery solved!" Small says when I meet him.
The 62-year-old says the story behind the boat began when he was a child. "I played with my first magnifying glass," Small says, expressing his youthful excitement about discovering how to focus the sun's rays.
It ignited a life-long passion for the power of the sun, which culminated in the creation of the unique vehicle he's standing beside today. It's a bicycle in the front with a large compartment at the back. It's topped with two big solar panels.
Small says he originally called his invention a Solarized Walk Assist Device, before simplifying it to "Solarized-It." He added "it" because of all it can do.
Small says it can be configured as a gas-free solution for parents transporting kids, labourers carrying materials, and homeless requiring shelter.
"It gives you freedom," he says. "It gives you security."
Small says when he closes the door on the back of the box, the insulated interior keeps him dry and warm. "When I woke up this morning, it was 18 or 19 [degrees]," he says. "That's the same as a house."
The solar panels power his electronics, cook his meals, and propel the vehicle up to 400 kilometres a day. They also inspired his nickname, based on a 1980s TV show.
"We used to have Knight Rider," he laughs. "This is the Light Rider!"
The Light Rider says he travelled around the country in the Solarized-It a few times, including a 100-day trip from Victoria to St. John's.
That’s when Small says he built the solar boat to raise awareness about climate change. "[I was going to] go from Newfoundland around the Arctic to here in the summer," Small says. "To show that the ice is disappearing."
Small says he couldn't secure the proper motor for the voyage, so he gave the boat away in Newfoundland. He has no idea how it ended up at sea, and was surprised to see reports that it arrived in Ireland, relatively intact.
"It didn't sink," he says proudly, before laughing. "I must have done a good job, eh?"
Small is still planning to build another solar-powered Arctic boat, but first he is making more Solarized-Its. His goal is to help create a sustainable vehicle for the generation inheriting the planet, and the one still appreciating it.
"I met this elderly person, I think he was 80," Small says. "As soon as he turned that throttle [on the Solarized-It], he became an eight-year-old. Never seen a smile so big in my life."
Small then races off, beaming. Apparently, smiling is one of the perks of being a Light Rider.