August 30, 2014

Riders in the sun: Willistonian shares third place in Netherlands solar boat race

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Ben Yeh, a 160-pound Cedarville University graduate, navigates a 287-pound solar powered boat through the canals of the Netherlands as part of a six-day solar challenge that included Cedarville teammate Tim Ronco of Williston. (Photos courtesy of Tim Ronco)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Tim Ronco had exactly three days to celebrate with Williston friends and family after graduating from Cedarville University with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Then, it was back to work.

With the ink on their diplomas barely dry, Ronco and 10 fellow Cedarville Yellow Jackets placed third in the Uitslagen DONG Energy Solar Challenge 2012, a six-day solar powered boat race that follows a historic ice skating route on the canals of the Frisia region of the Netherlands.

Thirty-seven teams from around the world participated in the solar boat challenge. Just one was from America.

“We are the only team from the United States that has ever participated in this event in the Netherlands,” Ronco said. “We just have a phenomenal engineering program for the size of the school.”

Cedarville University, a private Baptist school of about 3,300 students located about a half hour east of Dayton, Ohio, was a natural fit for Ronco, a graduate of Williston’s Trinity Baptist School, who said he “was always good at math and science.”

Ronco and company needed every bit of their math and science skills in the 220-kilometer solar boat race—an endurance contest that took them 14 hours, 39 minutes, 7 seconds to complete over a six-day period, with a boat that ran on two power sources: solar and battery.

“The trick is, you want to use all of your battery power,” Ronco said. “Solar power you want to use all the time—what you’re getting in you want to pump out—and then you want to also use battery power, and you want to try and be strategic, so when you cross the finish line you have nothing left in your batteries, because anything you have left in your batteries is going to be lost power.”

Cedarville’s boat, which basically resembled a floating solar panel ripped off of a roof with a hole drilled in the center for the captain, measured 26 feet long by 8 feet wide and weighed 130 kilograms (approximately 287 pounds). It cost somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000 to build and $12,000 to ship overseas.

Williston resident and recent Cedarville University graduate Tim Ronco (fourth from left in group shot) was a member of the only U.S. team to compete in a solar boat race in the Netherlands. (Courtesy photos)

The key to placing third, Ronco explained, was ramping up speed when the sun was shining and appropriately scaling back during times of cloud cover.

“You can monitor how much power your motor is consuming, and you can see how much is coming from the sun, and how much is coming from the batteries,” Ronco said.

The Cedarville team completed the solar boat race on July 14, but Ronco’s endurance contest didn’t cease when he returned stateside.

Less than 24 hours after telling the Observer his tale on July 18, Ronco was on a plane to San Diego to begin the first of three eight-month rotations with Goodrich Corp. to perform thermodynamic analysis on engine housing for the Airbus A320 family of aircrafts.

Although his lifestyle will be peripatetic for the next two years, Ronco said he will store the lessons of the solar challenge for when he eventually becomes a homeowner.

“It was a great experience,” Ronco said. “It makes me want to install solar panels on my roof.”

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