Friday, October 23, 2009

Another voice... Electric propulsion Guest blogger

Bob asked me to write a guest column for Boat Bits about electric propulsion for cruisers. How could I refuse such an honor? On reflection I remembered his remarks about nay-sayers to his electric motor posts and suddenly felt like a flak jacket. So it goes..... (Oh how I have been waiting to use that line!)

The Admiral and I started the cruising life aboard our Freedom 32 last February - departing from Mobile, AL. Although much study had warned us that extensive motoring would be necessary, we scoffed knowing that we were sailors! My recently installed electric motor would provide the occasional assist required and be quickly re-charged by my large solar panel.

Day one nixed that plan when, in the middle of Mobile Bay, the wind died for the first time in weeks. We had completed 11 miles of a planned 44 miles to our first cruising anchorage. Admiral De Anne said "OK, now we see what YOUR electric motor can do". I turned it on, powered up to 20amps (50 amps is max) and started the Honda 2000i generator. I plugged the generator into our shorepower receptical and turned on the battery charger. We motored 33 miles into the ICW (intercoastal waterway) and to our first anchorage in Ingram's Bayou AL.

Since that first day we covered 595 miles before stopping for hurricane season in Fort Myers FL. We sailed 352 miles and powered the rest. We have had those days when the original idea of motoring into, and out of anchorages or slips with sailing in between have come to fruition, but Mother Nature doesn't always give you wind nor NOAA predict it from the right direction.

During this first season our electric motor has performed flawlessly. We have met other cruisers along the way that are unable to say the same for their diesel engines. But the gentle reader may ask "what if something goes wrong with the motor?" - why then, I take my spare motor out of the locker and replace it in about 15 minutes. I also carry a spare drive belt and throttle.

I will be the first to admit that covering long distances at hull speed is not the forte of an electric motor. At least not the battery powered ones. If you have appointments to keep and schedules to follow this is not for you; however if you are under those constraints perhaps a sailboat should not be your first choice in boating.

Electric is less expensive and it is more reliable than diesel. Your nose and ears will notice a difference. You will clean you bilge one more time - then occasionally dust it. A new hobby will be needed to fill all those diesel maintenance and repair hours.

Electric propulsion for cruising boats has arrived.

Merrick, when not guest blogging, can be found on his own blog... He and De Anne are currently working their way down to the Caribbean towards Trinidad on their Freedom "Rising Star"