#electricoutboard – Torqeedo owner Jack O'Keefe from Cork Harbour tells of his sailing adventures in a Drascombe Coaster and how after swapping from a petrol version the rewards from his new electric outboard engine are less noise, no smells, more stowage, better sailing performance and a motor that can be started by a small child. But it's still not silent, there's a whine...!
The thinking behind it...
My Drascombe is a Coaster, which has a small cabin with two berths. Drascombes are normally used as motorsailers and are rarely to be seen afloat without an outboard hanging in the well at the transom. The concept of sailing without dependence on an outboard motor and all that goes with it. viz. Carrying petrol, unreliability and the difficulty of starting, has been in my mind for a few years. I had a very reliable petrol 8hp outboard that my wife never had the strength of arm to start, and in event of capsize would keep the Coaster swamped due to its weight. After a couple of seasons minimising the use of the outboard – a promised tax refund was the final push to go electric. I saw in the Torqueedo promo videos how their motor is very light and unaffected by immersion. The use of Lithium Ion batteries and the option of a remote throttle were also strong factors in selecting the Torqueedo model over others.
Torqeedo's Travel 1003L – ease of starting the motor is a plus
I selected the Travel 1003L model on advice from the makers at the London Boat Show. I looked to purchasing on the internet but decided to buy from Union Chandlery on the basis that I might need support. The first use of the motor was in Morbihan Gulf and after being used in anger going through one of the tidal gates – the motor stopped and did not start again for the week. Union chandlery sent it back.– the manufacturers replaced it and when the original one got back to their workshop they found that heavy fishing line was caught invisibly inside the prop.
I have now completed my third season with my electric motor. Since I fitted it and learned how to use it I got rid of the petrol outboard altogether. The big question with the electric motor is range, there is no doubt that I do more sailing – tacking in narrow channels and that I pay more attention to timing with regard to tide on passages. In the period of use I have on one occasion depended on a tow - after 26nm on the French canals and having passed the sea lock missing the last of the ebb while socialising in a raft up.
I have learned to appreciate the ease of starting the motor – place the magnetic key, turn the throttle and it runs – no pulling cords or twiddling choke. The stowage space created by not having a petrol can nor funnel, oil, spare plugs etc. is another unexpected boon. The other unexpected advantage is the sailing performance of the boat is greatly improved by not having a large mass of metal hanging on the stern. A charge costs less than a unit half a unit and is usually blagged from a pub or neighbour. A night in a marina means a chance to charge up all batteries and reserves.
The batteries come with built in GPS and electronics to calculate the distance left within the current charge. This is a useful tool to keep discipline and help to stretch the charge as long as possible. This adds to the cost of the batteries and I imagine the system could have been made part of the motor assembly rather than having to pay for a GPS and computer for each battery.
Lead Battery backup
The battery for the motor is 29.6 volt 520 WHr equivalent to a 43 AHr lead acid battery. Since the charge voltage for the battery is 12v a lead acid battery can be used to recharge the motor battery. I have made a jumper cable using a Maplin HH62S DC power plug with a 5A fuse in the cable so that the Li Ion battery can be charged up on board from a 50 AHr backup lead acid battery or the boat's main battery via the cigarette lighter socket. This option makes a big difference during longer cruises away from mains supplies – effectively giving another spare battery. Of course it also means the battery can be charged from the car while towing.
Charging is limited to 4A therefore at 12 v a 36w - 40w solar panel capacity is the correct size. This must be controlled to 12v – a complete charge taking in the order of 10 hours sunlight – so this solution is only applicable when the boat is moored up between voyages. I tend to use the solar panels to keep the lead acid batteries charged as they are more tolerant to fluctuations in voltage from the panels.
Living with electric
Using an electric motor for small boat cruising means you manage your cruise to suit the tides and be efficient. The rewards are less noise, no smells, more stowage, better sailing performance and a motor that can be started by a small child. I did expect the motor to be silent – in fact there is a clear electric whine with which one can easily tolerate. If you enjoy sailing, using an electric motor for day sailing is a "no-brainer" especially if you have a spare battery – and it helps if you are a green crank. A surprising disadvantage is that the noise and smoke from neighbouring outboards becomes exasperatingly exacerbated.
The electric motor provides all the power needed to get into and out of tight berths, or up sheltered channels. I have needed it once in emergency to get me clear of a lee shore at the Kedge in West Cork, but mostly it is run in calms and to get back to the moorings under the trees a mile upriver from Crosshaven. For me the electric motor is a step short of the goal of no motor – and with my experience so far I believe there is no need to go that far!