For sale: World's most teched-out micro-trimaran
By Ben Coxworth
September 14, 2010
Are you “mediagenic, geeky, youthful, and insanely adventurous”? Those are the qualities that Steven Roberts is seeking in the new owner of his custom pedal/wind/solar-powered micro-trimaran, the Microship. A self-described “technomad,” Roberts is a huge fan of high technology and self-propelled solo adventuring, and the quirky little boat is clearly the lovechild of those two passions. It has a host of high-tech features, yet is intended for escaping the rat race and living simply. Ironic? Maybe, but it comes with a great story.
In 1983, Roberts decided that life was just a little too boring, so he decided to build his own recumbent bicycle and pedal it across America. Given that he would be plying his trade as a freelance writer while on the road, some electronics were necessary in order to write, store and transmit his work. The result was a moderately-laden bike, named the Winnebiko. It, however, led to the creation of the much more electronically-complex Winnebiko II, which in turn gave rise to the monstrous 580-pound (263 kg) BEHEMOTH.
The electronics package on BEHEMOTH (Big Electronic Human-Energized Machine... Only Too Heavy) is worthy of a whole other article, but suffice to say the vehicle now resides in the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. Full specs on all three bicycles can be perused on his website.
In 1992, Roberts caught the sea kayaking bug. He decided he wanted to go on Winnebiko-like sea voyages, and needed to create a sort of super kayak that would be up to the task. By the following year, he reached a deal with the University of California, San Diego, wherein he could use their facilities to design and build his boat, in exchange for allowing engineering students to help with the process.
The initial design involved a large central tandem kayak with two smaller kayaks joined to it by crossbeams, to serve as outriggers. By 1994, however, Roberts wanted to speed up the development process, so he bought a 19-foot (6-meter) ready-made Fulmar pedal/sail-powered trimaran. Upon taking it to sea, he soon discovered that it was impossible to sleep aboard, impossible to outfit the way he wanted, and just generally not right for his purposes.
As of 1995, he had gotten rid of the Fulmar and moved on to a prebuilt 30-foot (9-meter) trimaran with folding outriggers, called the Hogfish. With the UC San Diego deal over, he needed a new place to work on his project. Apple Computers came through as a sponsor, providing him with a 2,000 square foot (186 square meter) building in Silicon Valley. After working on the Hogfish for a while, however, Roberts came to realize that he had abandoned the whole spirit of the project by tying himself to such a big boat, and started losing interest.
After a couple of years, he had an epiphany of sorts, and went back to the basics – a modified kevlar canoe as the main hull, homebuilt Divinycell-core fiberglass cabin, and small streamlined outriggers. The Apple sponsorship ended, so he moved to what is now his present home on Camano Island, Washington. He proceeded to complete not one but two of the Microships by 2003, one of which is now owned by his ex-partner.
Roberts’ boat features pedal, sail and electric propulsion, hydraulically-retractable wheels that allow it to make amphibious landings, a (tiny) sleep-aboard cabin, an 8-channel peak-power-tracker with thruster control, LED navigation lights, stock marine VHF radio, and a 480-watt solar power system. There were a swag of other electronics that were going to be added, but... after just one mini-expedition around Puget Sound, he has decided to go back to something bigger.
“Yes... the Microship is indeed for sale, and while that feels weird after the decade of passion that went into it, it would be weirder still to not recognize fundamental changes in my own life,” Roberts confirmed for us. “My new ride is quite a bit different and my intent is to live aboard and begin full-time voyaging in a year or two... this is much less ‘athletic’ than the Microship, but I am 58, after all.”
So, now it can be yours... for US$73,000. Who, besides someone with a sponsorship deal, would he like to see taking ownership? “I'd love to find someone who is about where I was 25 years ago... a mediagenic geek with a yen for nautical adventure,” he said.
“It's time to find a budding technomadling who can pick up where I left off.”