by Leander Kahney
Wired – “Must Read” mini-feature
June, 2000

While bazillionaire Jim Clark likes to escape it all and ponder the next new new thing aboard his $37 million tricked-out luxury yacht, Steve Roberts has a humbler nautical goal: to sail away in a one-man Microship.

In late May, Roberts and his wife, Natasha Clarke, will board separate computer-controlled, pedal/solar/sail-powered autonomous mobile communications platforms to begin a three-week tour of the Pacific Northwest waterways. That’s only a preview of the big adventure they have planned. In the spring of next year, the couple will cast off from the headwaters of the Missouri River and follow a 10,000-mile loop over 18 months through the inland and coastal waterways of North America.

By now, making quixotic excursions aboard tech-laden vehicles has become a cottage industry; the expeditions are usually sponsored by companies like Polartec or PowerBar in exchange for product placement. Indeed, Roberts, who spent almost a decade roaming America on computerized recumbent bicycles, including the Winnebiko and the 105-speed Behemoth, has lined up a small battalion of companies happy to go along for the ride.

Corporate sponsorship aside, Roberts says his trip is all about combining two passions — technology and nomadic wandering. The Microships, built in his design lab on Camano Island, north of Puget Sound, are actually trimarans — large Kevlar canoes with stabilizing floats on the sides. Under each hood are Octagon boxes running Debian GNU/Linux, analyzing an array of navigational, environmental, and weather data. Roberts plans to feed a steady stream of environmental and meteorological data from the trimarans to a public Web server, while also sending updates to his site

Roberts and Clarke named the boats Europa and Io after briefly considering names more in line with their sense of adventure: Clewless and Lark.

Wired cover – June, 2000

Photo of Steve Roberts and the Microship outside the Camano Island lab by Bob Peterson.