Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Electrifying News!

Thank goodness this man has
a degree in electrical engineering
When our canal boat Dragonfly cruised America's Great Loop eight years ago, she had a unique hybrid diesel-electric propulsion system, designed by the Cap'n. Thanks to the custom system he built, we could switch between power sources, using either the 60 HP Yanmar diesel engine (original to the boat) OR the electric motor (installed by Bill) to turn the prop shaft.

Electrifying news: For our Canada cruise this summer, SlowBoat will be propelled through the waves by electricity alone. Down in the basement workshop, sparks are currently flying as Cap puts the finishing touches on the new system he's designed.

Goodbye, Diesel Engine

Why ditch the diesel? Yanmar makes a durable engine, but Dragonfly's engine was beyond the normal diesel engine lifespan even before we started that 6,000-mile trip. It was as if we'd set out to drive across America in a car with 700,000 miles on the odometer.  Also, old diesel engines tend to leak a little unburned fuel, and that's not super compatible with our eco-friendly goals for sustainable travel.

The new motor. And,
Sir! Your engine room
is immaculate, Sir
Cap has been puzzling over what to do about the engine for quite a while, weighing the options. Ultimately he decided to jettison the Yanmar engine. He pulled it from the engine room (which is below the stern deck) last fall.

Three Electric Motors are Better than One

On our Great Loop trip, we cruised on electric power as much as possible, but we were glad to have the engine when conditions were rough, because it had more "oomph" than the 14kw Agni electric motor he had installed. Heavy seas? Strong current? We ran on diesel.

To give us the power we may need for tricky seas, now that the engine is gone, Bill has installed a pair of brand new 14 kw Lynch electric motors (shown at right, installed in the Dragonfly's engine room). He left the original Agni in place, and the three motors will work in concert.

Better Batteries, Solar Boost

If you are already a SlowBoat fan, you know that the original hybrid propulsion system Bill designed in 2010 included a half-ton bank of batteries that supplied power to the electric motor. The system used eight rooftop solar panels to charge those batteries.

Two years ago, Bill added two new (and more capable) solar panels over the stern deck. They replacing the scalloped, maroon canvas canopy (shown at right) that gave Dragonfly the air of an old-time circus wagon. (You know the crew only likes cute boats, but we're allowing for this charm-downgrade because of the functionality upgrade.)

This spring, the Cap also updated and expanded the battery bank. For those who like specs, more details coming soon!

Hello, Diesel Genny!

To be clear, we haven't ENTIRELY said goodbye to diesel fuel. To complement the motor assembly, Bill also installed a spanking new 6kw Northern Lights diesel generator (shown at left).
Our goal for the "Little Loop" trip this summer is to run on solar electric as much as possible--same goal as our Great Loop trip.  But the gen set gives us (and all the mothers following the blog) peace of mind: If the seas kick up or the wind is howling--and the sun is low and our batteries are drained--we can flip the genny on and charge up the battery bank to keep those electric motors cranking.

But Can the Captain Go Water-Skiing?

I knew you'd ask.  With this spiffy new propulsion system, will SlowBoat go fast?

Um, no. As always, the boat's top speed is determined by her length and hull configuration. Those haven't changed. We could put snarlin' twin Mercs on the stern, and Dragonfly would never cruise faster than about 7 mph, or MAYBE 8? (We never wanted to risk the Yanmar by cranking her all the way up, so we don't have a definitive top speed.)

BUT!  With this new, more capable system, we expect that our routine cruising speed of 3.5 mph will bump up--just a little. Also, we should be able to cruise longer before we run out of juice.

Stay tuned for sea trials!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

SlowBoat Cruises Again!

Hello, friends! We're excited to share that Dragonfly, the 14-ton steel-hulled solar canal boat that cruised America's 6,000-mile-long "Great Loop" eight years ago, will depart soon on a new adventure. Call it the "Little Loop": 1000 miles through the canals of Canada. Here's our route (map courtesy of GIS expert Ben Carlsen), so you can plan your visit:
We leave June 1 and aim to cross our wake at the end of August.  Starting from our home port of Macedon, New York, about 15 miles southeast of Rochester, here are the key sections and approximate dates. Check your calendar and plan a visit!

  • East on the Erie Canal to around Baldwinsville  (Beginning of June)
  • North on the Oswego Canal to the shore of Lake Ontario (second week of June)
  • Around the east shore of Lake Ontario to the Canadian port of Kingston (third week of June)
  • North to Ottawa on the scenic Rideau Canal (late June - early July)
  • East to Montreal on the Ottawa River (mid-July)
  • Still further east on the Saint Lawrence River to Sorel (mid-July)
  • South on the Richelieu River to Lake Champlain (late July)
  • South through Lake Champlain to the Champlain Canal (early August)
  • The length of the Champlain Canal to the Erie Canal (mid August)
  • West on the Erie to Macedon (late August)
Tomorrow I'll share some details of Dragonfly's innovative new propulsion system.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

What's a SlowBoat?

This blog tells the story of a year-long trip around America's Great Loop.  With less than a week's experience piloting a powerboat, education professor Bill Carlsen and his wife, science writer Cynthia Berger, set out to circumnavigate eastern North America in an old-fashioned canal boat retrofitted as a solar hybrid vessel. The boat's top speed is 6 mph, hence the name SlowBoatCruise.

The couple launched their "voyage of sustainability" on the Erie Canal in upstate New York.  To read their blog posts in order, starting from the beginning, click HERE. Bonus photos are posted on the SlowBoatCruise Facebook page.

The SlowBoaters are available for talks and slideshows about their voyage.  Themes include Sustainable Technologies, Environmental Issues along America's Waterways, The Great Loop, and Canals of Eastern North America.  To request a presentation, send email to cberger@nasw.org.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Coming Full Circle

SlowBoat fans want to know, "What's the end of the story?" In my previous post, back in early June, the intrepid Dragonfly was holed up in Brewerton, NY. The Erie Canal was flooded by spring rains, and the locks were closed.  Who knew when the canal authority would re-open them?

The LAST lock:
Entering Lock 30 on the Erie, near Macedon
On June 1st the crew went home to State College, PA, to re-enter the "real world" and go back to work.  But Cap stayed with his ship. (That's what captains do!)  And when the canal finally opened, intrepid nephew John Thomas came aboard as deckhand, to help move the boat the final 80 miles to her home port at the Mid-Lakes marina in Macedon, NY.  (Check the photos on Facebook).

spring beauty
So now we have come full circle: A 6,000-mile circumnavigation around eastern North America.   We did it!  It feels good!

If you've enjoyed following the media reports of our voyage, here's one more bit:  A TV segment by local station WTAJ

So what happens next?  Well, yup, we are keeping the boat.  An adventure-travel book is in the works. We're adjusting our household routines to live more sustainably. And we're thinking about downsizing, to a home that runs on sustainable technologies.

I haven't decided about this blog. I COULD keep posting about innovations in alternative-energy technologies. Or canal-boating.  Or I could revive the photo quiz "What IS It?"  But most people tell me they're far more interested in the offbeat posts: "SlowBoat Bikini Workout Diet" and "Adventures in Anchoring." So let me hear from you!  Should this blog continue?  And, What should it be about?

I don't want to miss the chance to thank you for riding along with us!  It can be lonely out there on the big water.  It was good to know you were there!  If you're ever in upstate, let us know, and if we're up at the boat, we'll take you for a SlowBoat cruise.

P.S. (Added March 2018) Watch this space! In June 2018, SlowBoat heads north across Lake Ontario to cruise through Canada. We're heading north on the Rideau Canal to Ottowa, east to Montreal, then south to Lake Champlain and return to the Erie. Visitors welcome.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Current without Currents

"How fast can you go?" is a question that we're often asked, to which we usually reply, "Not very!" But it's a question that interests most boaters.

On a recent calm day with negligible current, we zig-zagged back and forth across Onondaga Lake and collected data on electrical current draw and the boat's speed.

The horizontal (X) axis shows the amount of electrical current used in amps (48V). The vertical (Y) axis shows the boat's speed "across the lake bottom." When there are tides or currents, a boat's speed through the water can be quite different from its speed across the lake bottom. If the flow is powerful enough, a boat can be plowing through the water in one direction, but actually moving in the opposite direction. That's why we came DOWN the Mississippi River.

More data and analysis are at Bill's blog: http://cshare.psu.edu/projects/sunboat/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=10