Art without engineering is dreaming;
Engineering without art is calculating.

Steven K. Roberts, N4RVE

Microship: An Amphibian Pedal/Solar/Sail Micro-Trimaran


After 8 years of computerized recumbent bicycle adventures, it was a bit of a shock to hit the road in 1991 on BEHEMOTH— the final version that took 3 years to build—and find myself fantasizing about watercraft. I was pedaling a showcase of gizmological delights that by some estimates was worth $1.2 million... but it was time for a change of venue and I was obsessed with building a geeked-out boat.

These four links will take you deep into the Microship that was the result.

A Decade of Development

Driven by a clear fantasy, I dove headlong into nautical geekery in 1992... piloting a mobile lab around the US to deliver BEHEMOTH to speaking gigs, schmooze with sponsors, and scout for a development facility.

By 1993, I found it, and landed at UCSD to teach an engineering projects course in exchange for a lab. Two years later, I moved to a lab donated by Apple... then two years after that I relocated to the Pacific Northwest and built a 3,000 square-foot building dedicated to the Microship. It was an all-consuming project, and this story tells the whole human tale of that intense decade.

The Microship Substrate

The Microship project is a long narrative, but much can be ignored if you just want to learn about the micro-trimaran that resulted (shown in the photos above). This article is specifically about the boat itself... not the kayaks and multihulls that preceded it, nor anything about the electronics, hydraulics, landing gear, or other daunting complexities.

The focus here is on the marine architecture, hulls, crossbeams, physical structures, fiberglass fabrication, rigging, and so on... with lots of photos and references to source material. If you are thinking about cloning the boat, this is the one to study!

A Network of Nautical Nodes

Being a geek, of course, I saw the trimaran as the substrate of the real project: an integrated toolset for communications, research, data collection, publishing, power management, audio/video production, remote access, and computing. This is a challenge for multiple reasons, including harsh-environment packaging, minimizing power drain, and enough modularity to make ongoing upgrades easier than they were on the bicycles.

There is a lot of material in the archives about the individual systems, and this retrospective photo essay is an excellent fast-paced introduction to the Microship network.

Available for a Geek Expedition...

There is a risk inherent in a decade-long project, and it bit me. By the time the Microship was "done," whatever that means in a nautical context, my interests were starting to drift. For reasons of health and the pragmatism of age, I needed a boat big enough to truly live aboard.

As such, this exquisite machine is available, and I am hoping to find someone who can put this to work as the substrate of an expedition. The electronics may be vintage now, but the boat is very well engineered... and she sits in my lab, gathering dust, awaiting her next launch. Click above for details, if you think this might be for you...