Saturday, February 5, 2011

Electricity and Water DO Mix!

Signs of spring: Crabapple
tree in full bloom in St. Augustine.
And did you notice Nissan
is leafing out?
First the answer to the "Where ARE you?" question.  We spent two days in St. Augustine . . . and Thursday, we grabbed a rental car and zoomed inland to Gainesville, visiting friends who recently launched an aquarium biz that aims at sustainability. (More on THAT anon).  

We had dinner at a little Thai place by a lake, and walking to our car at dusk we heard a familiar sound: spring peepers.  You won't hear that chorus in Central PA for a while!  It was a sweet sign that, like nature writer Edwin Way Teale (whose book we're currently reading) we're headed north with the spring.

The last time we heard spring peepers, the boat was still up on blocks next to the Erie Canal, and the Cap'n was busy installing solar panels.  

At the time we had no idea whether boats powered by electricity were common, or rare. Costly, or affordable. We were making it up as we went along.  

In the course of this trip, we've learned not only that electric boats have a 100-year history in America, but that they're more common than you might think. And fairly easy to get your hands on.  You don't have to be do-it-yerselfers (like us) to go electric.  And you have quite a few choices!  

Back in Stuart, Florida, we tried to visit with Cap'n Todd Simms of EPower Marine in Boynton Beach. His company sells and supports a variety of electric boats. (We liked the little launch with the "solar-assist" canopy).  We couldn't connection because Captain Simms was too busy--I guess the electric-boat business is booming! 

Recently, we heard from George Hope of New England Hybrid Marine.  His company's services seem pitched to sailors thinking of going electric; we read the talking points on his home page, nodding and saying," Uh huh!  That's right!"  Docking is MUCH easier with an electric motor than a diesel engine.  Installing the electric motor WAS cake compared to aligning the engine (which Cap did after replacing the engine mounts.) 

While we're on the subject of unusual machinery: Look up the
definition of "putz," then ask yourself, Why is this truck
called a "putzmeister"?
George encouraged us to check out Corvus Energy, which makes  lithium ion batteries for marine and other uses.  We have conventional lead-acid batteries; many industry observers predict lithium ion will become standard for boats.  

One big advantage: You can discharge lithium ion batteries all the way without harming them (just like your cell phone battery). With our fork-lift type batteries, on the other hand, when the batteries are just 50 percent discharged, we switch to diesel.

A sign that electric boats are going mainstream: Friday we heard from Bob Duthie, a boater who'd visited us back in Kentucky, about a boat he spotted at Trawler Fest.   (T'Fest is celebration of the big, comfy cruising boats; it was held last week at the famous Bahai Mar marina in Fort Lauderdale--the home of John D. McDonald's famous fictional boat-dweller Travis McGee.)

Anyway, Bob spotted a 42-foot Grand Banks trawler (about the size of our boat) that had been converted to diesel-electric hybrid. The designers say it has a top speed of 14 knots (which is actually kind of speedy for a trawler) and cruises all day, on just the batteries, at 8 knots (which is what most trawlers do while burning diesel fuel). Add it to my "amusing boat names" series: The boat is named Watt Power!

And here's another very appealing electric boat that came across our radar recently. As if a year of cruising wasn't fabulous enough, Cap was looking around on line for a vacation option for NEXT summer . . . and breathlessly reports that a company in Wales rents out Great Britain's only all-electric narrowboat  for week-long vacations.  Top speed: 3 mph. Perfect!


  1. Is that the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal? They have electric sockets at the moorings so you can plug the boat in to recharge over night. If so it is very picturesque (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ianturton/4033859837/in/set-236726/)

  2. Yes indeedy! The very canal. We can't wait to check it out.