One Small Sail for Man: Unmanned Toy Boat to Attempt Record-Setting Atlantic Crossing

Freighters and cruise liners travel across the Atlantic Ocean frequently, but they don't always make it to port across the sea.

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Freighters and cruise liners travel across the Atlantic Ocean frequently, but they don’t always make it to port. So what hope does a toy boat have? This weekend, a retired NATO scientist will put his model ship to sea on the British coast in the hope that it will end on the shores of Plymouth, Mass. instead of in the briny deep.

Robin Lovelock has spent the past four years perfecting the Snoopy Sloop, a 30-pound, four-foot-long toy boat. With a miniature Snoopy doll at the helm, Lovelock hopes to send the ship all the way across the Atlantic, the Telegraph reported. The 65-year-old assembled the Snoopy Sloop in the games room of his home in the village of Sunninghill, about 30 miles west of London, reinforcing model boat sails with sticky vinyl from eBay, crafting rigging out of synthetic string ordinarily used for bathroom light cords and anchoring the whole thing on a secondhand hull purchased online. The craft also contains a GPS device, a small solar-powered computer, a tracker system and a motor, which brought the construction cost to £449 (about $719).

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Lovelock is still a relative newcomer to the hobby of boat-building. “I got hooked about four years ago,” he told the Telegraph. “I didn’t even play with model boats when I was a boy.”

Barring unfavorable weather conditions, Snoopy Sloop will set sail on Dec. 1 from Barton-on-Sea, Hampshire, as part of the Microtransat Challenge, an international race to design and build the first unmanned vessel to successfully complete a transatlantic excursion. Lovelock has programmed his ship to travel a route along the English Channel, turn south toward the Azores, some 900 miles west of Lisbon, catch the trade winds off of the Bahamas and make landfall near the site where the Pilgrims first ventured ashore in North America in 1620. If all goes according to plan, the Snoopy Sloop should be arriving in Massachusetts in six months, cruising at a leisurely pace of 3 mph, according to the Telegraph.

The newspaper reported that Lovelock’s boat is “more homespun” than three of its competitors — two from France and one from the University of Aberystwyth — that have already failed due to the weather and technological problems in the contest, which started in 2010. Three other contenders, two from France and one from Norway, are also registered to compete this year. But after testing seven prototypes over four years, Lovelock remains confident in his craft’s ability to withstand the Atlantic and has already programmed a return voyage from North America to Barnstaple, England. The vessel has been sailing continuously in Bray Lake since April, logging about 5,500 miles, which is almost as far as the distance across the ocean.

Although the Atlantic poses numerous threats to the Snoopy Sloop, its engineer’s main concern is navigation.

“It may not have faced big waves yet, but its small size means it should just be able to ride the swell,” Lovelock told the Telegraph. “There are certain things to worry about and others not to. The likely problems will be with reliability, and how the navigation system works with the tides.”

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