Shuttleworth Design, MSubs and Plymouth University are working on the Mayflower project, which aims to design, build and sail the world's first full-sized, fully autonomous unmanned ship across the Atlantic Ocean

Detailed plans for the Mayflower Autonomous Research Ship have been unveiled.

The trimaran has been designed by Shuttleworth Design in partnership with Plymouth University and the autonomous craft specialists MSubs.

At over 100ft in length, Mayflower will use state-of-the-art wind and solar technology for its propulsion enabling an unlimited range.

There will be no crew on board, and the trimaran will carry on board a variety of drones through which it will conduct experiments during its voyage, which is expected to take between 7-10 days.

Following a year-long testing phase, the planned Atlantic crossing in 2020 will mark the 400th anniversary of the original Mayflower sailings from Plymouth, England to Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA.

Initial funding is now in place, and scale models of the Mayflower are now being prepared for testing at Plymouth University’s Marine Building.

Speaking about the project, father and son, John and Orion Shuttleworth, said: “Our approach to developing the concept was to fully explore and take advantage of the opportunities that arise from not having to carry crew, and to create a vessel that is capable of using only renewable energy.”

John Shuttleworth is best known for designing Aastra – the world’s most efficient superyacht. Credit: You Tube

“Working within the limitations of renewable energy sources has given a clear direction to the developing form of the vessel.”

They said a trimaran was chosen because it “provides the most efficient hull form for low speed motoring.”

“The hull configuration developed from a requirement to reduce windage, while keeping the solar array sufficiently high above the water to reduce wave impact.”

“Without the need for accommodation, the centre hull has been kept low to the water and the wings and deck are separated and raised above on struts. This allows waves to break through the vessel and significantly reduces roll induced by wave impact. The outer hulls are designed to skim the water reducing resistance by 8%,” said John and Orion Shuttleworth.

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Mayflower will have a two masted soft sail rig, which will enable a top speed of around 20 knots.

Each sail is simply controlled by a single sheet, and can furl into the boom and allow multiple reefing configurations for varying wind speeds.

Stowing the sails while motoring reduces windage and eliminates shadows cast over the solar cells on the deck, while allowing the masts to stay standing to carry navigation lights.

Mayflower will be built by the Plymouth-based firm MSubs, which has expertise in building autonomous marine vessels for a variety of global customers.

Managing director of MSubs, Brett Phaneuf said the project will “confront “current regulations governing autonomous craft at sea, and the boat builder is already in talks with bodies such as the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and DNV GL, the international certification and classification society.

He said Mayflower will be able to carry out meteorological, oceanographic and climate data gathering and research.

A render of a trimaran

Mayflower will be able to cross the Atlantic in 7-10 days

“An Atlantic crossing could take as little as 7-10 days with optimal wind conditions but what’s important is that it could take 7-10 months if we so choose, so that the ship could collect voluminous data for ongoing analysis by shore based teams of scientists and not worry about refuelling, or re-provisioning, or illness…..or loneliness,” explained Phaneuf.

He said the trimaran will be monitored continuously so concerns about vandalism and piracy will be minor when compared with concerns about structural, mechanical, electrical, corrosion and software issues.

The multi-million pound project is part of Plymouth University’s ‘Shape the Future’ fundraising campaign.

Initial funding has been provided by the university, MSubs, and the ProMare Foundation, and corporate and private sponsorship will be sought for ongoing support.

It is also hoped that Mayflower will also create a large number of student internship opportunities for the University.

Christian Burden, Director of Development at the University, states:

Shuttleworth Design is perhaps best known for designing the striking 42.5-metre trimaran Aastra – considered the world’s most fuel efficient superyacht.

Launched in April 2012 by McConaghy Boats China, the award winning Adastra has a top speed of 24 knots.

Sea trials show the fuel consumption at 10.5 knots is as low as 17 litres per hour, giving the trimaran a range at this speed of 10,000 miles.

At 17 knots, Aastra consumes 120 litres per hour and has a range of 4,000 miles.