Boatman has high praises for little bean Shows will display 'soydiesel'-fueled craft that made world trek

October 06, 1995|By ELLEN GAMERMAN | ELLEN GAMERMAN,SUN STAFF

You can travel with the fuel that powered Bryan Peterson's boat around the world. Or you can eat it.

The fuel, a thinner version of the stuff you pour on a salad or use to cook French fries, is made from soybean oil. Sure, it's three times more expensive than regular fuel, but if you burn it in your boat's engine, the exhaust will smell like Mom's kitchen at dinner time.

"The smell alone will convert you," said Mr. Peterson, who last fall completed a two-year, 35,000-mile trek around the globe in Sunrider, a 24-foot inflatable boat with a jury-rigged aluminum cabin, to promote the environmental benefits of the fuel known ++ as "soydiesel."

Mr. Peterson's soybean oil-powered boat will be on display at the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, which opens today, and the U.S. Powerboat Show, in Annapolis next weekend.

Little more than two years ago, Mr. Peterson, 50, wouldn't have known a soybean if he stepped on one. He was practicing transcendental meditation near Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa -- which, by the way, is soybean country. What he really wanted to do was sail around the world, but didn't have the money to do it.

Along came the United Soybean Board, with a $2 million #F promotional budget that helped outfit the inflatable boat with sophisticated navigational gear, emblazoned the legend "SOYDIESEL" on Sunrider's bow and sent Mr. Peterson on the 25-country promotional tour.

Mr. Peterson preached the benefits of soydiesel while mingling with islanders on Pago Pago and tribesmen in Namibia. Environmentalists call the product a biodegradable, nontoxic fuel that reduces harmful emissions and belches little smoke.

Soydiesel is not exactly a high-tech fuel. It's more like vegetable grease. It works in all diesel outboards, although it does tend to eat away rubber parts. Sunrider can be refueled from a frying pan, but that is not recommended.

The toughest part of Mr. Peterson's journey was not dodging crocodiles or running from hurricanes, but finding fuel.

To keep the boat supplied, more than 14,000 gallons of soydiesel -- produced only at two plants in Kansas -- had to be shipped to far-flung places such as Christmas Island and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. The fuel drums were loaded on tankers, small inter-island carriers and even canoes to reach Sunrider.

The fuel always was in high demand, but not always for engine power. When he arrived in Fiji, Mr. Peterson learned that 20 drums shipped there for him had been auctioned off the dock to an islander who wanted to use the oil in his restaurant.

"I told them you can't use it, it's poison," Mr. Peterson said. "It was a lie, but I got the fuel back."

Indeed, Mr. Peterson and some friends cooked fish with it on Cocos Keeling Island in the Indian Ocean. And the stuff was good for more than eating. When dozens of black flies started biting him in the Seychelles, he poured the soydiesel over his head and found it acted as a natural insect repellent.

Mr. Peterson is devoted to soybeans. Not only will they fuel his boat, but he's hoping that if he eats enough of them he won't die of a heart attack. Soybean-derived foods are low in fat and rich in proteins believed to reduce the risk of heart disease, he explained.

"It's good for you, it's good for the environment, and it's useful," he said. "I just love this bean."

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