We have our cabins back for the night.

The paint has dried in the aft cabin and it is a lot more spacious without the lockers under the side decks (painted white also helps). The black insulation used to reach the bottom of the lockers so you can see how much extra height is above it now.

Plus we have the next saloon cushion in place.

This will have a triangular cushion behind it (making it a really comfortable bunk when on passage) and also a nice sloping backrest. Originally the back rest hinged up to become a top bunk. We don’t think we are going to have that (not agile enough to climb into it for a start).

Preparing to remove the diesel engine

After a long morning working on the aft cabin we started the preparation for removing the engine.

It is one of those jobs that takes ages without seeing any progress.

However, we have detached all the hoses (fuel, cooling, exhaust, domestic water heating) and electronics.

We have also removed the floor of the cockpit which is above the engine.

That was tricky. There is normally a wood grating on the cockpit floor, when we took that up there was a huge amount of dirt and debris to clear up. Then 22 bolts to remove with Jane reaching in over the engine to put a socket set on the nuts while I unscrewed the bolts.

The next step was to plan and start preparing the gantry (lots of big timber to carry up the ladder) that we will attach two block and tackles to, in order to to lift the engine. That included removing the window in the wheelhouse roof (no pics yet as it had got dark). We will take this opportunity to replace the two sheets of acrylic as they are badly crazed.

We still have gear and throttle cables plus the propeller shaft to disconnect. Then the four engine mounts.

I’ll put up the pictures of the over engineered hoisting system tomorrow if these last connections come apart ok.

Now dinner is nearly ready in the multi-cooker (aduki bean and pearl barley stew with sweet potato, carrot, swede, onion and a tomato sauce).

As soon as the cooking is done we can put the fan heater back on which will be nice. Meanwhile the saloon is extremely crowded with all the aft cabin cushions so not much space for us 😂

Aft cabin more progress

We’re got all the ply backing to the headlining down also the cupboards as they were blocking access and we couldn’t insulate them to stop condensation. Managed to remove the vinyl that was stuck to the sides. Have uncovered all the bolts we need access to.

Now we have painted the whole cabin, wanted to feel that it was clean and protected from damp behind the insulation that will be the next job (tomorrow when the paint has properly dried.

We’ve got the fan heater on whenever we are not cooking (else we trip the circuit breaker). So hoping to be dry and odour free for sleeping tonight (8 hours at 20°C).

Start of half term status

So despite Storm Dennis we have arrived at Vida for a few days work during Jane’s half term holiday.

The electricity cards had run out after 16 days but clearly the heating has done a great job.

Last visit we discovered the leaks from the old dorade ventilation boxes, well they have dried out beautifully.

The new dorade boxes need a larger hole anyway (90mm instead of 75mm) so we will be cutting the bit that had been damp anyway.

Tonight is going to be a bit noisy, gusts of 55mph are forecast, but so far we are cozy and protected enough to not be shaken by the wind.

Jobs this week include removing the ply that was behind the headlining in the aft cabin (need access to the hatch bolts and the mast foot bolts). Plus we want to see if we can disconnect and remove the engine (going to build a timber box to keep it in good condition under the wheelhouse until a high lift can get to us). That will allow us to get access for all the jobs preparing for the electric motor.

Not sure if we will have time for much else (got to be able to smarten up for our Neice’s wedding next weekend!).

The biggest Electric Motor difference compared to Diesel

The biggest difference is availability.

With an electric motor instead of a diesel in your boat you can achieve the same/similar performance in power/speed. At the same time you can get better reliability and lower maintenance.

However, the biggest difference is that you have to manage availability.

With a diesel availability is taken for granted. We assume that if you have fuel the engine is available:

  • whenever you want it
  • however long you want it
  • at whatever speed you want it

these are not the same with an electric motor as everyone of them depends on your management, preparation and planning around availability of the battery bank.

Note that here I’m talking about electric motors that use battery banks that are charged primarily from renewable energy. If you have a generator (usually diesel in this case) that can generate the same power as the motor uses then you are in the same situation as with a diesel engine.

What affects availability?

There are three key variables that affect how much electric motor availability you have at any particular time. All these need to be managed and none of them can be changed instantly at the point of need.

Hence, using an electric motor requires a mindset, especially changes in how you manage the boat and the plans you make.

The three variables are:

  • Technical specifications (particularly of battery bank and renewable energy generation)
  • What you have been doing up to this point (ie what state is your battery bank in at this moment)
  • What you are planning to do (and what contingency plans you have made)

What makes things easier?

Spending more on the technical specification increases your capacity and reduces the amount of management and planning you need to do. For example a bigger battery bank or a larger solar panel array both mean you will have more capacity available and so less need to manage the capacity and the plans become easier to make.

Choosing a catamaran makes things easier as there is always going to be more space for solar panels.

Cruising less often or less intensively makes things easier as you have longer between passages to charge your batteries.

Cruising is warmer climates makes things easier as there will be more sun to get more power out of your solar panels (at the extreme, solar panels are going to be of zero use in a polar winter with 24 hours of darkness).

Longer passages (as long as there isn’t a tight schedule) makes things easier as you can sail for days while charging the battery bank ready for the next landfall.

Better sailing performance with special focus on light winds and going to windward (when people are most likely to motor or motor-sail)

What makes things more difficult

Tight and fixed deadlines.

Wanting hands off systems where you pay someone to do the maintenance and then have instant and complete availability 24/7.

Always available “luxury” (air conditioning, hot water, heating, large freezers and fridges, electric autopilot, electric winches)

Complicated coastal waters (tidal inlets, long and narrow harbour entrances, big marinas, headlands with big tidal streams, lots of traffic)

Managing availability

Diesel inboard engines have managed to create a reputation of always being available and for most weekend sailors this has been the reality. The engines get professionally serviced each year, they are not run many hours, people avoid bad weather and they keep their boats where high quality fuel, parts and expertise are all available. As you go further and for longer, especially to remote places, this changes a bit with care needed over fuel quality and parts availability being more challenging as well as having to be more self sufficient in maintenance skills. So management of availability with diesel engines is only an issue for more adventurous, intensive cruisers.

On the other hand Electric motors require a far more hands-on management process for all cruisers as the battery capacity is far less than a fuel tank and the rate of charge from renewable sources far slower. This means planning ahead and that has a much bigger impact on those who have not had to do this least with diesel engines.

If I motor-sail now to speed the passage, will I have enough battery left to motor into the harbour or up the river? That means thinking about tides/currents and the weather (how much solar power will I generate during the passage).

It means thinking about what might be needed in the next few days. Suppose the wind gets up from a different direction, do I have enough battery left to motor away from the anchorage if it becomes unprotected tomorrow.

It means being very aware of both consumption and generation. If I run the watermaker then when am I going to recharge the batteries, might it reduce the ability to get in or out of a harbour.

It will mean changing passage planning. Probably needing to be more flexible. If the wind drops you might not be able to motor fast enough for long enough to make a tidal gate.

Many sailors using harbours such as Chichester, have a working assumption of motoring from deep in the harbour to the open sea whatever the tide is doing. That might fully use your battery capacity with an electric motor.

If you are cruising outside the tropics in the winter your solar generation might only be 10% of what you would get in the Bahamas. The total power you can use over a period of time will be dramatically reduced so you will need to pay far more attention maximising the generation eg adjusting the angle of your panels (actively pointing them at the sun to increase their effectiveness), to keeping them clean and free of shade.

In some ways this is going back to ways of the past when yacht engines were unreliable and not powerful enough to push you against an unfavourable tide so that you didn’t factor motoring and consistent/predictable passage times into your plans.

What we are doing to handle this?

On the technical side

  • Efficiency is key everywhere. A brushless electric motor is better than one with brushes. Switch to low power everything eg LED, self contained solar powered wind sensors, wind vane self steering.
  • Lithium batteries. At the moment Lithium-ion phosphate (LiFePo4) technology has the edge with higher capacity, faster discharge and charge rates, able to be more fully discharged without damage.
  • Simple and basic. We are starting with no fridge or freezer in the UK. No electric winches, no electric toilets.
  • Improve the sailing performance as much as possible. So we are replacing a back of mast furling system with slab reefing on a longer boom with a larger sail area supported by battens. We are looking to changing from a single point mainsheet to a track. We are cutting lots of weight from the interior and systems.
  • Adjustable solar panels that allow extra capacity be deployed at anchor and in calm conditions.
  • We are keeping separate banks of batteries for house and motor while having the ability to transfer energy from either bank to the other
  • We have invested in a significantly oversized anchor to reduce the chances of having to evacuate anchorages.

Management

We are using Victron monitoring tools (battery bank monitor, mppt controllers) that give us the most data possible on past and present energy generation and consumption.

We are following a revised version of the tradition that the engine starter battery should be kept separate from the house bank. This requires larger battery capacity overall and some extra components, however, we believe that this complexity does give us the reassurance of being able to protect our motor availability. At the same time, when in a protected anchorage we can choose to charge the house bank from the motor bank if you have a few cloudy days and are using a lot of power (maybe for clothes washing, cooking, or hot water). On the other hand when leaving an anchorage we can charge the motor bank (albeit not very fast) from the house bank although with the understanding that might mean we need tot turn off the house items such as electric autopilot, or fridge & freezer or no induction cooking. So our version has has some separation but also allows us to run DC to DC chargers at anytime to be able to “steal” power from one battery bank to charge the other.

Expectations

More than anything else having an electric motor with a fossil fuel free goal means having realistic expectations. We expect to

  • sail on passages, using the electric motor for marinas, rivers and tight harbours
  • have more variable passage times as we won’t be using the motor to keep consistent average speeds
  • work more closely with the tides rather than be able to motor against them
  • work hard at maximising solar generation by using additional panels that have to be moved around, by tilting panels to their most efficient angles
  • work hard at minimising consumption of all appliances
  • by motoring more slowly to significantly increase range

Conclusions

I’d started this several times as a post about the disadvantages of electric motors, but I’d struggled with it. That is because, unless you have an unlimited budget, the issues are all about attitudes and expectations.

If you believe in reducing fossil fuel use then the differences are entirely manageable.

If you are not concerned about fossil fuels and the climate emergency then the inconvenience of managing availability is going to appear a deal breaker.

The technology is changing fast and modern boat design trends (such wider beam carried aft, fewer ketch rigs) make it simpler to fit larger solar capacity. It is likely that over the next few years there will be further gains in battery capacity. Monitoring and Management will be more sophisticated and automatic. So gradually the need to manage availability will diminish, especially for weekend sailors as a battery bank that is fully charged at your home marina will cope with a weekend of sailing and motoring.

Electric Motor Pros

Among sailors, diesel engines have become so ubiquitous that few seem to be able to imagine any alternative. Yet, of course, that hasn’t always been the case. However, during my lifetime we have seen them steadily increasing in power and boats becoming more dependent on them, not just for moving but also for charging batteries.

In part that is with busier, more complicated lives, diesel engines have become a way of feeling more in control and able to keep to a fixed timetable.

However, a key thing we love about sailing is the process of sailing. We love making even the slowest progress in light winds. Even in the worst weather we are going to be drier on Vida than we have been on our Sprint 15 and Rivals have an outstanding reputation for going to windward in heavy weather, so we are not looking to motor to avoid sailing to windward or reduce the time spent doing the very thing we want a sailing boat for – sailing.

But not everyone is like us – phew, I hear you say 😂

So why would anyone choose an electric motor instead of a diesel motor? Are there really any advantages? Well we think so, this isn’t a punishment for us but a really positive life enhancing choice.

The advantages of electric power:

Fossil Fuel Free

An obvious point. The climate emergency absolutely requires us to stop burning fossil fuels. If politicians acted in our bests interests then we would already see diesel being phased out rapidly for new boats and a not too distant deadline for replacing all fossil fuel engines in boats. It is going to be essential and given our agenda of Sustainable Sailing it is hard to justify not making this change now.

But hopefully we can demonstrate here that stopping fossil fuel use (at the least direct fossil fuel burning) doesn’t mean taking away life, freedom and joy. In fact quite the opposite.

Trading initial expense for reduced running costs

Because this change means taking out something that works (probably, we haven’t been able to fully test it yet) and replacing it, there is considerable initial expense. The electric motor and controller is cheaper than a new diesel engine but the batteries alone are probably a lot more than upgrading fuel tanks (so they can be inspected and cleaned) and fuel system (so that it can be accessed and cleaned if it gets blocked by sludge). That is a bit of a guess as we haven’t priced doing that work to the current system (because we are just not interested in spending that much time and effort on it).

The electric motor also needs various the connecting bits (solar panels, mountings, chargers, etc etc), but almost all these benefit other systems too such as power for electric cooking, so hard to treat completely separately.

However, once installed we will have essentially free fuel (we might need to pay for an electric shore power connection occasionally, and we might carry a small portable petrol generator for power shortages if we decide to go to Northern latitudes in winter). Given that we have seen YouTube liveaboard cruisers who are spending $500 a month on Diesel when cruising in countries like Norway the free fuel savings add up quickly.

The diesel is not the only cost saving, there are other consumables as well (fuel filters and oil for example). Electric motors don’t need any of these.

So we would expect to recoup the purchase cost within the first 4 years – and that is just going to be holidays and a sabbatical. Sooner if we cross France via the canals which would require maybe a month of motoring nearly all day everyday.

However, the initial cost of an electric system also needs to be compared to what we would have to pay if we kept the diesel engine. That needs quite a bit of work: a full service, new filters, tanks to have inspection hatches fitted, fuel lines to be replaced (because there is no access to unblock the current ones if sludge gets in them, some of the valves are broken and some of the copper pipe is pretty corroded), water cooling inlet seacock to be replaced and a new starter battery. By changing now, without doing any of this work we are already significantly cutting into that extra initial cost.

Much less maintenance

We have chosen a brushless electric motor. There are no parts to wear out in daily use. It is air cooled so there is no water cooling system to maintain (no seacock, no salt water to corrode anything or leak). There is no gearbox, just a long lasting toothed belt with pulleys to act as a reduction gear. No oil to change, no fuel system to ensure is clean and free of water or other contaminants.

When you watch the YouTube channels of people with electric motors (eg Sailing Uma, Beau and Brandy, Rigging Doctor) and compare then to those with Diesel engines (eg Sailing La Vagabonde, Saling Yacht Salty Lass, Tula’s Endless Summer) you will see orders of magnitude differences in the amount of time spent working on diesel engines compared to electric motors.

Space saving

This drawing shows just how much space we are going to gain in our cockpit locker and corridor to the aft cabin. All our batteries will fit (along with the electric motor and both inverters and our solar controllers) in the existing engine compartment. In fact it seems to me that the fuel tanks are higher than shown in the drawing, taking even more space.

We are not yet sure what we are going to use the corridor space for (maybe bike storage) but the cockpit locker is going to be massively bigger and should take most of our sails, fenders and ropes. That is a huge gain for us as this boat design doesn’t have a huge amount of storage space. The only other storage on deck is a lazarette (locker at the back of the deck) that used to be used for the gas bottles. We will probably use that for the electric outboard engine and other bits we don’t need when on passages.

Silence

As we know from electric bikes and cars, these motors are almost silent. Life inside a boat cabin is pretty unpleasant when a diesel engine is running, far louder than a car. So we expect to really enjoy this benefit. We might even end up motoring more as it will be free and silent. Slipping gently and silently up a still river while not disturbing the wildlife sounds beautiful.

Air quality

As we have been removing the old headlining it has been startling to realise just how much dirty air was escaping the engine compartment into the cabins. All around it, behind the headlining is a black sticky residue. Yuck! No wonder so many people feel seasick if they go below when motoring.

Safer

This one is going to be contentious 😁

We believe that becoming dependent on a powerful engine being available all the time and expected to be able to drive you at hull speed for hours at a time whatever the conditions is dangerous. It leads to taking risks and being unprepared if the engine fails. For example it could be a skill shortage or just not having been bothered to get the sails (and anchor) ready for immediate use or to be somewhere where you couldn’t sail out of danger. The RNLI stats I shared in an earlier post support this.

While we will have more limited range and not be able to run at full speed for hours at a time electric motors have other safety advantages. No fuel to get contaminated or blocked (and remember if your electrics fail you won’t be able to start your diesel engine either). Full torque at all revs so doesn’t stall and has more usable power at low speed. Also unaffected by being tossed about by the waves.

Cleaner

Diesel is nasty stuff, it gets everywhere, it is hard to clean and it smells. But a diesel engine also requires you to store smelly oil and change dirty parts. It puts out smoke and pollutes the water you will want to swim in.

Freedom from supply

This is a big one. No need to go anywhere to refuel (and there are no  fuel docks at Beaumaris, or at lots of remote places). No need to go ashore with the dinghy to hunt for fuel and carry it out to the boat. No worrying about the quality of fuel that you are able to get in remote places. No need to carry extra fuel in Jerry cans on your side decks.

Far fewer spares to carry or have to find a supplier for. In fact if you are paranoid you could take a whole spare motor in a smaller space than the spares and engine tools that lots of people carry (even wrap the spare in layers of tin foil and it will probably survive a lightning strike – try that for a diesel engine). No waiting to ship parts specific to your engine to remote places.

Efficiency

Electric motors, especially when powered from renewable energy generation, are incredibly more efficient than a diesel. Even an electric motor powered by a diesel generator is now more efficient than a diesel engine itself (because you can always run the generator at its peak efficiency rather than than it be set by the speed you go at).

The efficiency difference is made even greater by using the electric motor to generate electricity when you are sailing rather than just sitting there as a dead weight just slowing you down.

Enough for now

I’ll write a separate post about the disadvantages which won’t be as long 🤣

We expect to see huge growth in the number of electric boats over the next few years because these advantages are so huge.

Electric motor is a go

Last weekend we have placed the first set of orders for what will become a complete Electric Motor system on Vida.

We are going fully fossil fuel free as we just couldn’t face the thought of spending money on an existing diesel system that is so against our hopes for the future and so destructive to the future.

And we want to clearly stand for an alternative that needs to become the norm. No bost that uses fossil fuels can be considered green.

Immediate gains

This means that we will be removing our existing diesel engine, tanks etc (everything will be properly recycled or sold or given away rather than thrown away). In the short term this is going to be very helpful and will allow us to do some important jobs which are currently inaccessible:

  • remove condemned seacock from engine water inlet and fill hole (buried under engine)
  • replace cockpit drain hoses and seacocks (difficult to access around gearbox and propeller shaft at back of engine). These will be the only holes under the waterline (yippee)
  • cut away engine drip tray to gain access to the very deep part of the bilge (an area that is apparently a weak point that we will be able to strengthen).
  • fit new electric automatic bilge pump and new hose for new manual bilge pump (getting rid of the port fuel tank will make that much easier)
  • temporarily remove the propeller shaft and replace the cutlass bearing (survey found some movement). Either clean and repack the traditional stuffing box or fit a new dripless seal.

Preparing for the installation

As parts arrive (and some have fairly long lead times) we will be creating a frame for the new electric motor and a reduction drive so that it matches the design speed for the propeller. Working out what parts we need for this has been the hardest part so far (more on what we are actually installing later). So we will be able to get to the point where the motor is fully connected and tested at home before taking it to the boat (as the motor only weighs 38kg this is an easy operation).

When we install it in the boat we will using a flexible coupling to connect it to the existing propeller shaft. That means we won’t need to get perfect alignment and it also means we can use flexible engine mounts to reduce vibration/noise.

The tricky bit: The most difficult step is going to be removing the existing engine! With the gearbox it weighs over 185kg and it will need lifting up through the floor of the cockpit. Normally and currently the wheelhouse roof is above that so a crane can’t just lift it straight out. Also at the moment we are blocked in behind other boats, so until they are launched a crane can’t get to us. Not quite sure how we are going to do this yet. In any event there are a lot of things to be drained and disconnected before we get to the lift the engine out. However, lots of the other jobs depend on getting the engine out so if we are able to do it sooner then that will be great. I’ve some ideas for getting the engine out onto deck but without a crane or one of the yards high lifts I can’t figure how to safely get it over the side of the boat and lowered to the ground.

My cunning plan is that once the engine is out I’ll set it up in our luggage trailer so that we can demonstrate it working when putting it up for sale. So if you know anyone interested in a Yanmar 3jh5e please get in touch.

Also if anyone knows what I should do with the red diesel currently in the tanks. I’ll be filtering it into a Jerry can so it should be safe for any diesel allowed to use red diesel.

We’ve been doing some shopping

No Friday working on Vida this week as I’m working.

But we have been making progress spending money, some bits take quite a while to work out and source so very happy with these.

Tinned copper to make busbars 50mm x 6mm, could only order a 4m length which http://www.holmedodsworth.com kindly cut in half for me to transport it.
Sealing strips for our two deck hatches and the aft porthole. From http://hadlowmarine.com/
Replacement Dorade Vents (two of them from Plastimo). Gone for a 90mm tube which means we can hopefully cut away all the wet core around the current 75mm hole.
Fancy LED light for the top of the mast. Acts as both a tricolour (red/green/white when sailing) and an all round white as an anchor light. Can also be made to flash SOS.
Semi custom grey water tank. 51 litres with all the hose connections.
Grey water deck pump out fitting to International standard and hose to connect it to the tank.
Hose an electric pump to move grey water from the small under sink tanks to the main tank from where it gets pumped out. This is to connect the galley tank. Will add T’s and valves to switch between the other tanks as we fit them.
Contact adhesive to fit the insulating headlining
Manual bilge pump. Is going to be mounted on a board with hoses so it can be used anywhere as an emergency pump (even to pump out the grey water by hand if required)

Inspiring stepping up by Sailing la Vagabonde

This is worth watching. Sailors willing to turn their plans upside-down and venture into danger to support change and stand tall for responding to the Climate Emergency. Watch and cheer them on (knowing that they did succeed and Greta Thunberg was able to challenge world leaders at COP in Madrid).
It is in the hope of encouraging others that that we started this Sustainable Sailig documentation of our own journey
(Oh and the video is worth watching if you like cute babies too)