We have some slight cracking around one chainplate (although “chainplate” doesn’t feel the right description for what is essentially an eye bolt).
When you look at the backing plate the reason for the crack is obvious. Two stacked backing plates and one has moved.
I’m not sure why two sheets of metal were used instead of a single thicker (and preferably much larger one). But the rotation of the 2nd sheet presumably means the single sheet has bent and this caused the deck cracking.
Fixing this is clearly a critical safety issue, we don’t want to lose the mizzen mast and at the same time have a big hole in the deck.
Most of the jobs to fix this are relatively straightforward although they don’t currently have any ties down to the hull (however they are in the thick hull/deck flange area) but they are only for the mizzen so loads are not soi great. I think probably all the mainmast shrouds have a metal strap to connect the chainplate bolt to a bulkhead or strongpoint (no deck cracks for any of them anyway). So we need to:
remove the chainplate
replace the double backing plate, probably with a much larger G10 or FR4 sheet that is bonded on with thickened epoxy. I’m thinking of a big sheet that forms a single large backing plate for both these shrouds.
cut out the cracks with our Dremel
Fill the cracks, cover with gelcoat trying to colour match to the deck.
The cracks extend into the non slip part of the deck. This is a moulded in diamond pattern.
So what do we do? Do we try to cut a matching pattern into the new gel coat?
Then longer term, if we decide to paint the deck what do we do about nonslip areas? I’m assuming that if we simply paint it then the diamond pattern wont be effective anymore. Do we mask the diamond areas and paint those with Awlgrip or similar non slip deck paint?
We don’t have a lot of places we need to patch on the deck (8 holes to fill from the davits, diesel tank fill points, old mast wiring glands) so a repaint isn’t urgent. But the grey is looking generally a bit faded so I’m sure we will get to that point after all the functional work is completed.
The traditional “passive” approach to solar is not going to work for us. By that I mean the idea of putting up a few solar panels and forgetting about them. We need to generate far more electricity from solar than this approach achieves.
So what do I mean by “Active Solar power generation”. Unlike shore based like people living on boats are used to being proactive about energy use and supply. So the mindset includes managing consumption and keeping an eye on battery state. However, for a long time this has been done with the expectation that you can always charge the batteries by running the diesel engine or a generator or by going into a marina and using the shore supply.
We are making a determined effort to keep electric consumption down through a number of deliberate choices:
Wind vane self steering, keeping the electric autopilot only for redundancy
No freezer. Yup it does constrain the food you can take and keep but fridge and freezer are huge electrical power hogs.
Reduced Computer consumption. We are going to be minimising laptop use by having Raspberry Pi single board computers for navigation, entertainment and “office work”. They run on 12 volt.
However, by committing to Zero fossil fuels we are increasing our electric consumption significantly and reducing our energy sources.
Electric Motor. This uses a lot of energy and is the opposite to the norm. When we motor we will be drawing lots of energy from our batteries rather than putting it in. While we will have regen (charging the batteries when the propeller spins while you are sailing) the change is incredibly significant as the norm is to see the diesel engine as a provider of almost unlimited “free” electricity and hot water. Of course it isn’t free at all, but more a desirable side effect that has resulted in a significant increase in the number of hours the engine is used. So has become a norm to motor whenever the wind speed drops because at the same time you will charge the batteries and heat the water.
Electric cooking. All forms of electric cooking (Induction hobs, Microwave, Pressure Cooker) use a lot of power (although mostly for a relatively short time). The norm is to burn bottled gas (occasionally diesel or paraffin). By cutting out another fossil fuel we increase our electric consumption.
Dinghy Outboard. We have an electric dinghy outboard engine. So far the boats we have seen with electric motors (Sailing Uma, Beau and Brandy) have not switched to electric outboards (despite the hours they spend maintaining their petrol outboards). In part that is because they want to be able to go faster in the dinghy (see this video from Sailing Atticus for a good reason for this) but it is also about the need to charge the outboard engine battery.
So this is the heart of the challenge. By committing to no fossil fuels all our energy needs to come from renewable sources. We have three options:
Engine regen. We are hoping this is going to be significant for us. On longer passages it will do more than recharge the motor batteries from leaving harbour but will contribute something to the daily consumption. It also has the potential to provide power through the night. However, it is only available while sailing and only while you are sailing fast enough (probably won’t contribute much below 5 knots). As liveaboard cruisers typically spend the vast bulk of their time at anchor the contribution isn’t that great.
Wind generators. These have the significant advantage of potentially providing significant power at night and through the winter. However, there are problems. Many people complain about the noise and vibration. Fitting them without causing shading on solar panels is a challenge. They do require a lot of wind, probably more than you would normally be looking for in a sheltered anchorage. We’ve looked at the Rutland 1200 but at the moment feel the cost and installation challenges are too great.
Solar. The typical installation of solar has been changing quite significantly. For liveaboard cruisers the norm now seems to be to have a solar arch with between 300 and 600 watts of solar panels. That is enough for minimal electric motor use (see Sailing Uma, Beau and Brandy or Rigging Doctor) but not for electric cooking, electric outboard etc.
So Active Solar
This is where our plan differs. We are going to have to be far more active about our solar generation. That means a number of things.
Our solar arch needs to be tiltable to increase it’s efficiency (both Sailing Uma and Beau & Brandy do this but the vast majority of solar arches do not).
When sailing we will need to be active in adjusting our solar generation. Some panel positions will be pretty much setup and forget (such as covering the upturned dinghy on the foredeck with panels before leaving harbour). Others will only be possible in lighter conditions (some along the guardrails for example).
The goal will be to have enough permanent solar when sailing (solar arch and wheelhouse = 510 watts) so that with the regen and battery bank we will be able to get through a gale when we have to put all the other panels below. That shouldn’t be too hard as in those conditions you are not likely to be doing much cooking and you can put off charging the dinghy outboard.
When conditions improve we should be able to sail in light to moderate with an additional 1,050 watts (2 x 175 watts on the dinghy, 4 x 175 watts on the guardrails from the cockpit to the stern. Some of this is going to suffer from massive shading at times so we are assuming it will be about 1/2 as efficient as the solar arch.
Then at anchor we need to have lots of solar panels that come out and are positioned dynamically. We will need to have solar panels positioned above the mizzen boom, around most of the guardrails and possibly above the deck. How many of these we will need is still uncertain (it depends so much on where we sail – if Coronavirus and Brexit mean we have too stay around the UK then we are going to need a lot more solar in Scotland than the Caribbean).
So far we are planning on a total of around 2,400 watts (13 x 175W + 4 x 40W) which so far I have only heard of on large catamarans.
We will need to be active in working with these panels. We will need to adjust the tilt during the day so that as the sun and boat move their efficiency is kept as high as possible. We will need to move them if other boats come alongside or if we are in a marina. We will need to put a lot of them below when sailing.
So I’m going to be building a standardised wooden surround for each panel. This will provide attachment points so that any panel can be fitted to any section of guardrail (and be tilt adjustable) or to the supports above the boom and dinghy. The edging will provide bump protection when moving them around and allow panels to be stacked without scratching the glass. We have chosen the 175W Victron panels as our standard because they are about as large as we can lift, manoeuvrer around the boat and fit through the main hatch into the cabin.
Exactly, where we will store all the panels that need to be “reefed” (taken down) in a gale is currently not fully sorted. Some might go on the aft deck or aft cabin. Some in the corridor to the aft cabin where one of the diesel tanks was. Some in the forecabin (which is likely to be mostly storage when there are only 2 of us).
We are under no illusions that we can achieve zero fossil fuel without ongoing, daily labour to maximise solar generation. But while that might seem a lot of work remember that we won’t spend any time (or money) finding and visiting fuel docks or carrying jerrycans around in the dinghy.
We believe we can capture several orders of magnitude more solar power than is generally the norm for monohull cruising yachts. But it will require us to work at it every day.
We have been trying to work out a design for a solar arch for a very very long time. Designs have come and gone multiple times. When I wrote our Solar Plan back in September, I said “I haven’t quite given up on putting panels off the back of the boat” but at that point we hadn’t make the decision to go for an electric motor and we hadn’t connected the dots with self steering.
So we continued to think about what we can build. This video from Sailing Britaly has continued to be particularly helpful.
But a solar arch on Vida is very complicated 🙂
We have three things that together make it very complicated.
As a typical cruising boat design from the 1970’s our Rival 38 has a relatively narrow stern. That obviously restricts the space available for solar panels compared to a modern design where the beam at the stern could easily be doubled on another 38 foot design.
Then we make it worse by having a ketch rig. Not just a ketch rig but one with a mizzen boom that stretches past the pushpit rail to end level with the very end of the stern. So we need to position the panels to avoid the boom, it’s sheets etc.
Finally the extra thing that makes it difficult is something we don’t yet have. A Hydrovane Self Steering system (I mentioned that this might be needed in Zero fossil fuel sailing). We need vane steering to reduce electric consumption to a manageable level (electric autopilots use a ton of power, I’m guessing a 42 year old even more than a new one). With a centre cockpit and the wheel in a wheelhouse any vane steering that connects to the steering wheel via rope is a non starter. We don’t have space under the aft cabin bunk for a Cape Horn system that connects through the stern directly to the top of the rudder stock. The Hydrovane has the additional advantage of giving us a spare rudder.
So the plan is to shorten the boom a little (120mm). That should work without re-cutting the existing sails. When we replace them we will have a fully battened mizzen with a fat head and a shorter foot so the boom can be shortened a little more (as well as the sail being more efficient).
We have sent the details off to Hydrovane for a quote. We think the unit can be mounted high enough for the van to be above the boom and not hit the sail. The only time it might touch is in very strong winds (when the vane leans over more), but by then the mizzen would be reefed or lowered out of the way.
So now we have been planning the final piece of the puzzle. The solar arch.
We are going to have 3x Victron 175 watt panels high above the stern. That means a rectangle approx 2m wide and 1.5m long. Unfortunately even above the complications that I have already listed we have added 3 more.
As solar generation is so important to us we need to be able to tilt the panels towards the sun to increase their efficiency.
We need to be able to move them forward and aft. In a marina as well as in a storm we do not want solar panels sticking out 1.5m beyond the stern of the boat. So we need a “parked” position where they do not extend beyond the stern but instead extend over the mizzen boom (obviously in this parked position we can’t use the mizzen, a restriction we are happy to accept).
Our budget is limited, we can’t afford to pay a professional to custom build something beautiful in stainless steel. Due to the height and restrictions that reduce the opportunities for cross bracing we don’t think that bolt together fittings (such as used by Sailing Britaly) are going to work. We can only find the range of joint connectors we need, for 25mm tubes which we don’t think is going to be strong enough.
We will document our design as we build it (and I really want to get the mizzen mast up and the hydrvane fitted first to check clearances as we go). However, this is the basic idea.
Two carbon fibre “masts”. The bottoms will be halfway down the stern, one each side. They will be vertical fore and aft (positioned so that the shortened mizzen boom just misses them) and they will slope outwards as they go up. So approx 1m apart at the bottom and just over 2m apart at the top.
There will be a pair of cross braces as an X to hold them vertical side to side. Also each of them will have a pole from just under the boom going forward to the size deck to keep them upright fore/aft.
The 3 panels will be in a tray that fits between the mast tops. We have figured a way for the tray to move to the forward or aft position and also for the whole tray to tilt to face the stern or to face the bow.
Fortunately, we think it is going to be a lot harder to explain than it is to build 🙂
While the carbon fibre poles are quite expensive (over £700) everything else is going to be pretty cheap, so hoping to keep the total cost under £1,100. That for something that should be very strong, pretty light and give us really good functionality.
I’m really pleased with where we have reached today.
I took the plunge and started the other panels for the motor frame. Both the front and back panels are made up of 2x 3mm panels as I couldn’t find 6mm sheet stainless steel. Turns out that was probably a good thing as I don’t think my tools would have coped with 6mm sheets.
So the most critical task was to get bolt holes through all 4 sheets so that I could ensure that the bearings for the shaft are perfectly aligned along the full length of the frame. These were tricky as the 16mm Bosch drill bit I just bought really couldn’t cope with stainless steel. These 4 are the only 16mm holes on the whole frame so I used a 13mm and then widened it.
I’ve also drilled the two holes for the top bar that is used to lift the motor for belt tensioning. Again straight through all 4 sheets so that everything can now be held perfectly aligned.
Here you can see the result.
This photo is a slight cheat as the bearings are temporarily positioned on the wrong side of the plates. What you can see here is the outside face of the front and rear panels. The bearings go on the side face.
The remaining really critical task is marking and cutting the motor bolt slots on the back panel. Not only are the 45 degrees rotated ie NE, SE, SW, NW instead of N, E, S, W but the bolts are 1/2″ instead of the 3/8″ that are used on the motor front face (life would be a lot easier without those differences, but I assume that it is probably for situations where the motor is only bolted to a frame at one end).
Cutting the slots in the 2nd front sheet is straightforward as we just draw round the ones in the first sheet.
Once all the slots are cut we can make the holes for the rest of the angle framing which goes all the way around the back panels. The front panel framing is a bit trickier as it has to avoid the motor and pulleys.
Once the panel edge framing is done we add 4 lengths of angle to connect the front and rear panels at the corners.
Then one diagonal brace per side.
At that point the frame itself is complete. We can then take it to the boat (without the motor in so it is easier to lift) to sort out where the big angled steel lengths need to go (across the frame and sticking out the sides) so that they can rest on the engine mounts with the lower frame shaft perfectly aligned with the propeller shaft.
We still need to source the engine mounts and the coupling to the propeller shaft.
Before we can fit the motor into the boat we need to properly sort everything for the propeller shaft and propeller.
So when we can get on the boat again the biggest part of this still to be sorted is removing the old, stuck, bronze mount for the stuffing box. We think we will need to get a replacement custom milled piece of bronze that will have a flange bolted to the boat and a suitable smooth tube that a modern dripless seal can be fitted to the outside of with the propeller shaft coming through the middle.
As I look at the photo, I’m wondering if we might be able to reuse this. If we can get the last bolt out then maybe I can grind off the flange with the 2 bolt holes that the stuffing box was attached to. That would give a smooth tube to attach the dripless seal to (albeit maybe a rather large diameter difference between it and the propeller shaft). If we can do this it will be fantastic, saving a lot of time and money.
The propeller shaft exits the boat though a cutlass bearing. Ours is worn but there was a new spare on board that we will use. Hopefully as reasonably straightforward job to swap that while everything else is out of the boat.
I think we need to add an internal bearing for the propeller shaft between the dripless seal and the coupling to the motor. The old stuffing box would have supported the propeller shaft in a way the dripless seal won’t. If aligned perfectly, and fixed very rigidly to the hull, it should reduce the wear on the cutlass bearing.
Before the fitting of the motor frame we still have the 2 new composite seacocks to fit for the cockpit drains and the old engine cooling water intake to fill.
Beyond all these mechanical/physical elements to the motor install we have all the electronics and controls to sort out. We have got nearly everything for this area of the work (last battery due in a couple of months, throttle assembly due in a month). So plenty of work still to do.
One of the most visible conflicts when aiming for Sustainability in almost any area, is between it and Speed.
The obvious starting place is speed in terms of moving fast, where the sustainability cost is clear and huge. Speed never comes free. All forms of transport require significantly more energy per unit of distance at higher speeds. That is because air resistance increases much faster than the speed (typically by the speed squared). For boats the drag of the water is much greater as it is so much more dense than air.
However, it is even more complicated for boats. When not planing, a boat has a maximum hull speed (approx between 1.34 and 1.51 times the square root of the waterline length in feet – see WikiPedia). For Vida that gives an approximate maximum hull speed of about 7.5 knots.
In practice what that means for Sustainability is that however powerful an engine we put in we will not go any faster than 7.5 knots. As a boat moves through the water it creates a standing wave which is very visible if you look at a boat moving, just behind the front of the boat is a peak, at full hull speed there is just one wave with the trough at the back of the boat. Any extra speed makes that wave steeper and you can never climb up it and so you can’t go faster.
But the real issue is that the amount of energy needed to reach the maximum speed isn’t simply a proportional increase. We can only estimate at the moment because there are so many variables according to hull shape, loading, windage, sea state etc we won’t know exactly without a lot of real world testing. However, we would expect to need twice the energy to do 7.5 knots as say 5.5knots.
The impact on our electric motor will be all about range. At full speed we might expect roughly 7.5 knots for 1.5 hours ie 10.75 Nautical Miles. However, if we drop the speed to 4 knots we might be able to motor for 6 hours or 24 Nautical Miles. Of we drop again to 3 knots (or typical canal speed) then we will add considerably more range.
Even when not directly burning fossil fuels, speed is costly in Sustainability when sailing. To go faster you need a longer and lighter boat (typically built using more “exotic”, less sustainable materials and methods). You will need higher tech sails that perform better but use more exotic materials and typically need replacing more often.
To go really fast you need to get past the hull speed restrictions. You can achieve that either by having a boat than can plane (flat bottom, lots of power and very low weight – typically not going to be affordable or suitable for live aboard cruising with a small crew) or a multi-hull (trimaran or catamaran) where the hulls are so narrow that the hull speed formula no longer applies).
Length is the “easiest” way to get extra hull speed which is one reason why sailing cruisers keep getting bigger but this is also going in the opposite direction to sustainability as then they use more resources at build time and throughout their life (and they increase much faster than the length does).
On the other hand speed increases do have a multiplying effect. Faster boats can more dynamically route to get huge benefits by being in the right place for far more advantageous weather systems. That can make a far bigger difference to ocean crossing times than the simple speed difference. This video shows this at it’s most dramatic (but is pretty much as far from sustainability as you can get in a sailing boat)
However, I want to move beyond thinking speed in terms of movement and extend it to speed of progress.
In every area, progress is not proportional to the resources used. We know this from every area of life. As you add more and more people to a job it doesn’t keep getting done faster at a proportional rate. If you want to have your driveway paved it will not get done 100x faster by 100 people compared to 1 person (most of us can’t fit a 100 people on our driveway, even if we could they would be getting in each others way, getting the materials to them fast enough for them all to work at full speed would be difficult, you would need people set aside to co-ordinate them etc).
So as we seek to be more sustainable I suggest that we will also need to slow down, in our expectations, in our plans, in our work rates and in our spending.
The benefits multiply across all our areas of sustainability (Environmentally; Financially; Mentally; Physically) if we slow down. We can have time to plan better, to find better options/bargains, reduce mental and physical stress, to avoid mistakes.
This is why we decided to start the process of getting to a live aboard cruising retirement life years before we will be living aboard. By doing so we can be more sustainable, achieve more for less.
What works for us in this example scales up in all kinds of ways across society. Faster isn’t better, slower is usually more sustainable. All we need to do is reprogram our expectations (all we need to do!!!! Hollow laugh). Fortunately, once people of tried slowing down they tend to prefer it and become advocates, which is a good reason for hope. It has left us thinking that one of the things we should be looking to offer when Vida is afloat is the chance to experience cruising on a zero fossil fuel yacht in sustainable ways.
So we have the main components for the reduction gears for our electric motor. Note that in the picture the items are laid out on their side, in reality the electric motor will be above the reduction box shaft.
On the left is a sheet of paper representing the electric motor (An HPEVS AC-34 ) out of the top comes it’s 1.1/8″ drive shaft.
On the reduction box shaft there are two stainless steel thrust bearings. One of these will be bolted to each end of the motor frame. They will be facing in opposite directions to absorb the thrust from the propeller in both forward and reverse directions.
The ends of the motor frame are each made of 2 sheets of 3mm stainless steel sheet. These sheet frame ends will be bolted directly to the two ends of the motor and to these bearings. We have lengths of stainless steel right angle and flat bar to hold this frame together rigidly and attach it to the engine mounts (one we buy them). The motor will be bolted to slots in the frame so that the belt tension can be adjusted by raising or lowering the motor in the frame.
At the bottom of the picture we will connect the reduction box shaft to the existing 1.1/4″ propeller shaft. A Clamp on Coupling on the reduction box shaft will be bolted to flexible coupling on the propeller shaft. This means we don’t need to achieve perfect alignment of the reduction gear shaft and the propeller shaft. It also helps reduce vibration as the motor can be attached to more flexible mountings.
To keep the electric motor in as dry and salt free environment as possible the original stuffing box (that creates a waterproof seal around the propeller shaft as it exits the boat) will be replaced by a modern dripless model. While very reliable the original stuff box isn’t maintenance free and always drips a little salt water into the boat. We are looking at the Manecraft Deep Sea Seal at the moment (we are trying to avoid products that require a pressured water supply to the seal as we won’t have engine cooling water to connect to it). These dripless seals also cope better with vibration and movement in the shaft without causing wear in the bearings.
As the propeller shaft goes out of the boat in runs in a cutlass bearing. These wear out and ours needs replacing. Until we can get the existing one out I’m not sure of the dimensions we need.
The propeller needs a clean but otherwise is in good condition so we won’t be replacing it. The three bladed design creates more drag when sailing than either two bladed or folding designs. However, it is more efficient when using the motor and should also be better at regen (charging the batteries by turning when sailing and using the electric motor as a generator).
Once the motor arrives with it’s controller we can get the details of the frame sorted and start on all the connections to power and control the motor.
So tonight is another wet and windy night. Currently forecast says gusts of upto 45mph which is almost the top of a Beaufort force 8 gale. A bit warmer than a few nights ago with a minimum of 5°C.
We are snug inside with our wallpaper panel heaters on, at the moment it is 18°C in the saloon although overnight it generally drops to about 11°C in the saloon. The aft cabin is warmer with us sleeping there and so we typically set the thermostat to 11°C. The heater isn’t on much of the time then.
When we are away from the boat we have both heaters set to 5°C which is one reason why we are consistently making progress at drying the boat out.
Apart from the places where we want access to bolts (under side decks, around the hatch, the mast foot and some deck hardware around the mast) our aft cabin is now fully insulated with 10mm of closed cell foam. So we will see how much difference that makes tonight. Although we have always felt pretty snug sleeping there.
When in the boatyard it makes such a difference to have composting toilets. We don’t have to go out in the rain and wind to use the clubhouse toilets. Generally we empty the urine bottle every 48 hours or so. The solids about every 3 months (averaging about 24 hours on board a week).
We couldn’t have used the original direct discharge toilets at all. If we had a holding tank it would probably be full by now with no means of emptying it. Plus there would be no water to flush the toilet with.
Talking of water the boatyard does have a tap but you have to pay with a token for each 15 minutes. Not sure how much we would want to use it for drinking anyway. So we are filling 2 litre water bottles from a normal indoor kitchen tap and using them. Waste goes in a bucket which take off the boat and pour down a drain.
So despite it being a horrible evening we are snug and don’t have to venture out.
When we do go out we have our wheelhouse as a porch. Especially with the prevailing winds coming at us head on (as they normally will at anchor) the wheelhouse is great. We have a dry, wind free entrance into the boat and when we put the back cover on the wheelhouse it keeps the heat from rushing out too fast.
While the protection and convenience of the wheelhouse is great, this winter has demonstrated that we are going to have to do some upgrades.
First, we are replacing the rooflight. It was very crazed (defeating it’s purpose of allowing you to look up when steering and see the mainsail) and leaked a bit. So when we took it off to build the engine removal gantry we decided to get new acrylic for it.
Our hatch top and hatch boards also need some TLC, fortunately as they are so protected we can manage for the moment.
More of an issue is the bright blue rear cover. It is really only designed to be closed up from outside when you leave the boat. So closing it with us inside is a pain (but essential when the wind and rain come from behind). It also flaps, bangs and rattles a bit in the wind. Some of snaps used to secure it have broken. We will need to modify it or create a replacement. That would also give us a chance to remove the last of the wood trim for renovation.
Once we get started on the electrical system we have 4 x 40 wattage solar panels to go on it’s roof along with renovated handrails.
One day the glass windscreen will get some care, the middle section might be better if it was opening for hotter climates.
I remember a few days as a teenager when our family of 5 was stuck on our Eygthene 24 foot boat on a mooring during the 1979 Fastnet Storm. The lack of a protected space outside and what was an almost completely open plan interior meant very close quarters living. The combination of our very separate, self contained ensuite aft sleeping cabin, the centre cockpit with a wheelhouse that can be setup with varying amounts of openness, a comfortable saloon as well as main heads and forecabin makes Vida a really good place to wait out bad weather. We have space to relax together, get on with jobs, have meals, do jobs, move stuff out of the way etc.
So despite the weather we are happy and enjoying both the dreams for the future and the process of getting there.
Besides, during a wet and stormy half term this is about as nice a place to be as any.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While we absolutely love our aft cabin there are a few things we have realised could be improved.
Access into the heads compartment is very very tight when the double bed is made (and we keep it made because we only use it as our bed).
It is a high step up into the double bed (because the step which makes it easy to get into either single bed is hidden under the double infill).
The bed is crazy wide at the head end. We can’t buy a sheet that will fit across the whole width and we can’t find each other in bed 😉
When you look from the saloon through the corridor to the aft cabin (and the corridor is low and narrow) it looks like a dead end because the 2nd wardrobe sticks out and then there is the bulkhead at the end of the starboard bed.
When we have watched video’s of new boat designs (which have a lot more space because they are wider and have a more rectangular cross section) a common feature is an armchair or sofa next to the aft bed.
So we have come up with a idea to change the layout a little to keep a huge bed (5 feet wide at the head should be plenty), while adding a chair, making heads access easier (and with less chance of me waking Jane by turning on the light) and making the view down the corridor look a lot more open.
Here is (approximately) what we have now from the original drawing (actually our starboard berth is the wider one rather than the port side).
and this is what we are thinking about. Note that because we are cutting an opening in the bulkhead we are going to add a solid compression post for the mizzen mast.
We think it will add a really nice place to sit and relax and make the cabin look much more like a modern double cabin. The only real loss is of one wardrobe which will be smaller with shelves (we don’t have a lot of clothes that need to be hung anyway).
Still to be sorted is access to the under bed storage and whether we will keep or change the existing high level lockers above the bed.