Word association time! I say “100-ton boat,” you say probably anything but “needs no fuel whatsoever.” Well, this time you’d be wrong, because the catamaran Tûranor PlanetSolar (which I propose we rename Trusty the Good Ship Sunshine, because a name that means “the power of the sun” in Elvish is too geeky even for me) runs entirely on sunlight. The solar-powered boat made a 37,000-mile trip around the world on golden rays alone, thanks to its 30,000 thirsty photovoltaic cells.

Mind you, Good Ship Sunshine wasn’t going very FAST — its average speed is just over 6 miles per hour, and the round-the-world trip took 586 days. Its captain, Gerard D’Aboville, is pretty realistic about this:

Between its leisurely pace and multimillion-dollar price tag, the Turanor PlanetSolar isn’t exactly practical, nor a prototype of boats of the future. D’Aboville entertains no fantasies of future seas filled with solar boats.

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“This boat is a wonderful ambassador for solar energy,” D’Aboville said. And then, smiling: “I will not pretend that tomorrow’s commercial boats will be driven with solar energy.”

I know you grouchy gremlins will be quick to chime in with, “Well DUH it’s unrealistic. And sure, the boat had no emissions, but it was TOtally energy-intensive to source and build those 30,000 PV cells. Plus, its crew created waste.”

Even so, it’s an impressive milestone for solar. Think about it. A 60-person, six-cabin boat going without fuel for that long is like:

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  • Me going a year without laughing at fart jokes
  • A rabbit going a decade without humping anything
  • A tree holding its pee in for the rest of its life
  • A magazine falling off the supermarket rack and lying dejectedly on the floor

Yeah, maybe that list was a bad idea. But the Tûranor PlanetSolar was not. The boat was home to University of Geneva researchers for a spell, and its next task is studying the impact of global warming on the Gulf Stream. So it does more than sail along and look pretty.

Here’s its recent leg from New York to Boston:

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