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Man sells catamarans to the rich so he can help the poor

DADE CITY — Hans Geissler, 67, fancies himself as a Robin Hood of sorts.

But instead of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, Geissler wants to sell high-rollers eco-friendly catamarans and use some of the profits to teach the less fortunate to feed themselves.

Fifteen years ago, Geissler left his profession as a boat builder to start Morning Star Fishermen, a nonprofit on a mission to fight world hunger with aquaponics.

His organization has built more than 100 aquaponic tanks throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. In Haiti alone, Geissler said that one tank feeds thousands of children each month.

In a typical setup, a large reservoir is filled with tilapia and the water is filtered by vegetables that thrive on the fish waste.

When the fish grow into delicious 2-pound fillets, they're eaten — with a side of aquaponic-grown vegetables.

The tanks are easily refilled with tilapia from local rivers and streams.

Geissler runs an aquaponic training center at his home in Dade City. Students from around the world come and learn to build the tanks in their communities.

But for the past year-and-a-half, Geissler has split his time between home and a 5,000-square-foot warehouse in the Dade City Business Center across town.

There, he has designed and built the prototype for a 36-foot catamaran that he hopes will be the start of a "green" boat business, proceeds of which will help Morning Star Fishermen build more aquaponic tanks around the world.

"Everything I am doing over here is for Morning Star," Geissler said Monday as he toured the unfinished cabin of his catamaran.

Geissler is short, strong and tan with salt and pepper hair. He grew up poor in a small town outside Frankfurt, Germany. After World War II, food was scarce for Geissler and his nine siblings.

His parents had a garden and slaughtered their own rabbits and chickens. Their self-sustaining ways during his childhood are the reason he wants to educate the poor and hungry about aquaponics.

"You can give a man a fish and he eats for one day," Geissler said. "Teach him how to raise fish, and teach him to use the waste from the fish to raise vegetables, you become a part of a solution."

He and his wife, Sigrid, came to America when he was 23. After hopping around the county a bit, the Geisslers landed in St. Petersburg, where he opened a catamaran shop and developed the G-Cat, a catamaran with thinner hulls than traditional models.

His new boat, the Green Cat, as he has named it, has the same thin hulls and needs only two 60-horsepower motors.

Geissler hopes it will get about three times the gas mileage of traditional catamarans, which have larger motors and use more gas.

"We're asking how many miles per gallon, not how many gallons per mile," said Geissler.

Eventually, he wants to get even greener with solar panels and hybrid boat engines.

The Green Cat will run about $400,000.

His target audience: "People with money," Geissler said.

A German customer, he said, is already interested in purchasing three.

"I'm going to hang out with the rich and famous so I can tell them about the poor and needy," Geissler said.

Once hurricane season is over, Geissler plans to take the Green Cat to Nicaragua, where he is building another Morning Star training center.

The new center will make it easier to train people from Central America, rather than flying them to the United States.

Next week, he'll test the Green Cat's gas mileage and sea-worthiness in open water. If all goes well, he hopes to build one boat per month.

Helen Anne Travis can be reached at htravis@sptimes.com or (352) 521-6518.

Man sells catamarans to the rich so he can help the poor 06/19/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 11:12am]

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