Mark Weber, president of the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society (MRES), offered a preview of the 31st Annual Solar Boat Regatta, ready to set sail at Riley Lake Park beach on Saturday.
Now in its seventh year at the Eden Prairie park, the MRES-sponsored regatta will be anchored at the pavilion overlooking the beach from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
A total of 11 boats, featuring intriguing names such as Dragon Avalonus, Ghost Rider, TYTANIK II, and S.S. America, will take to Lake Riley. They are all built by middle and high school students, as well as adults, from across Minnesota.
“The names are so colorful, and the boats are so colorful that we always say this is the most photogenic event,” said Weber, an Eden Prairie resident. “It just shows well. People having fun outside. In the land of 10,000 lakes, you should get your kids on the lake.”
An educational tool
MRES, a nonprofit organization founded in 1978, is dedicated to promoting education, raising awareness, and advocating for all forms of renewable energy, focusing on solar technologies, according to its website.
The regatta serves as an educational platform for MRES, offering students valuable learning opportunities in photovoltaic systems (which are solar energy systems that convert sunlight into electricity), boat design, and construction.
According to the MRES website, the organization has formed partnerships with teachers to enhance the competitive aspect of the event, resulting in an increased number of participating schools.
“It teaches (students) boat building skills, it teaches them basic electrical wiring skills, and then about renewable energy,” Weber said of the regatta. “We get a wide variety of people who join. For some of them, it’s a science class or maybe sustainability class, and then you’ve got the shop classes. If you’ve got a shop teacher involved, you usually will get a very nice boat. Or it could be an after-school group because they’ve done many STEM things to get girls more involved.”
Participants put much thought into the designs of the boats. “They definitely paint them up,” he said. “The Dragon Avalonus has a dragon painted out, and that’s probably a 20-foot-long boat. It’s beautiful.”
Weber recounted a unique boat created by Virginia High School.
“One year, they made a replica of the Eden Prairie Fire Department boat, and it was just the funniest little thing,” he said. “It had an extra battery they got permission for, a water pump so they could squirt the crowd, and lights and sirens. We showed that one at the State Fair,” where the organizers made a specific request that the sirens couldn’t be activated.
What it takes to make a boat seaworthy
To participate in the student class of the regatta, Weber said a boat needs a solar panel, a battery, and a trolling motor. He estimates the cost of that to be $500.
The experimental class has only one requirement: maximum length.
Participants in this category often incorporate full-size solar panels, utilize outboard motor bottoms with golf cart motors on top, and operate on a 24-volt system, achieving speeds of around 20 miles per hour. This year’s event features two boats in the experimental class.
Teams from such schools as Orono Middle School, Shakopee West Middle School, Academy of Holy Angels, and Apple Valley High School are participating in Saturday’s regatta. Notably, there is no team from Eden Prairie.
“Unfortunately not,” Weber said. “We have never been able to get Eden Prairie interested. The Optimist Club of Eden Prairie [of which Weber is president]would gladly pay all the entrance fees and support the teacher.”
MRES hands out awards after the event.
“We’ll have first, second, and third place for student and experimental, and then we’ll have the spectators’ choice,” Weber said. “Additionally, there will be trophies for the best new boat in each category. And of course, we have medals for all the kids.”
The Eden Prairie Chapter of Let’s Go Fishing will set up the course and act as safety monitors, while the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Water Patrol will provide additional protection.
Weber remembered a past regatta where two boats sank.
“That’s why we are extremely strict about flotation and preventing battery loss,” he said. “The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Water Patrol was gentle with us because (the regatta) was an educational activity. They have to practice diving twice a month. There are 18 divers. And they were out here finding the parts.”
Weber acknowledged that safety is a top priority, particularly regarding children and propellers.
“Typically, the beach is closed until Memorial Day, but with the fantastic weather anticipated this weekend, it will be challenging to keep people away,” he said. “We will communicate with parents and participants about the importance of avoiding situations where a child could come into contact with a propeller. Safety is our top priority.”
In addition to the regatta, the University of Minnesota Solar Racing car will be at the pavilion, and there will be a new science show by Jeff Payne from the 3M Visiting Wizards during the lunch break.
The EP Optimist Club will provide pizza for participants and offer additional personnel support.
We offer several ways for our readers to provide feedback. Your comments are welcome on our social media posts (Facebook, X, Instagram, Threads, and LinkedIn). We also encourage Letters to the Editor; submission guidelines can be found on our Contact Us page. If you believe this story has an error or you would like to get in touch with the author, please connect with us.