Chiquita, C & C 29, 5 KW, 48 Volt Electroprop Mariner

On board my beloved sailboat “Chiquita“, a C&C 29 Mk I, apart from one instance of dirty fuel, my Atomic 4 (A-4) gas engine when called upon had purred faithfully for 7 sailing seasons since its last overhaul.

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Our beautifully warm inter coastal  salt waters on the Northumberland Strait separating New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia on Canada’s Atlantic coast, have been my playground with this boat for over 17 years.

Countless numbers of friends, fellow sailors, locals and summer tourists have witnessed the  ‘yellow’ sailboat race and/or cruise each year over 800 miles up and down the coast entering and leaving  the many harbors that dot our shores under the power of its reliable Atomic-4 engine.

As per usual spring schedule each season, I had changed the engine oil, Racor gas filter, checked the spark plugs, tightened the alternator belt – all the prescribed engine maintenance routines.   Alas, towards the end of last year in 2013, homeward bound at the end of a cruise to PEI, the sight of white smoke in the exhaust alerted me to the fact something wasn’t quite right.  Fortunately, I was close to home. I shut the engine down, sailed up the channel to the entrance of Shediac Bay marina and didn’t have to run the engine very long before I was settled in my berth.  I checked the exhaust hoses, the manifold, the spark plugs.  I looked for leaks coming off the bottom of the engine – nothing. Nothing until I checked the oil dip stick.  It had a grey slime cover that extended about an inch above the “filled” line.  I cleaned it and checked it again – Same thing.    A fellow C&C boat owner and also gate keeper of an Atomic 4, came over, listened to my tale of woe and proferred “it looks like water in the oil to me”.

 

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Where the heck would water in the oil come from?  A review of the many associated internet articles including those off Moyer’s Marine website gave some hints as to possible sources and steps to be taken to detect the source, save and protect the engine.  The A-4 is a water cooled engine and mine was a raw (salt ) water cooled version.  Suffice it to say after three weeks of reading up on, descending through the cockpit fender locker to access the cramped engine compartment, contort my less then svelte frame into position and conduct the various individual suggested tests, interspersed with 3 separate agonizing and seemingly hour long work out sessions hand pumping the contaminated oil sludge up a much too narrow dip stick hole, followed by replacement of fresh oil before conducting the next test, I began to wonder, at tender age of 61, “Do I need this sh–?”

It turned out, while reading up on DYI repairs to sailboat engines throughout this trying time I came across several articles about the advent of electric drive propulsion systems for sailboats being actively developed in the States and Europe.  The words “simple to operate and maintain” kept ringing in my ears.

Back to A-4 – long story short, my friend Moe and I finally isolated the problem down to – ” it must be the internal seal is gone in the water pump”.  We couldn’t get sufficient access to remove the water pump with the engine sitting in Chiquita, so I jury rigged an electric pump with a manual switch, by passed the malfunctioning one, and continued to go sailing for another three weeks.  When we lifted the boat at the end of September, we also lifted the A-4 completely out the boat and Moe took it off to his shop.  I proceeded to take the boat home on its trailer and put it to bed for the winter in the yard just outside my family room window, where I can watch over it and every so often, on a nice sunny weekend during the winter months will ascend the ladder to go aboard and pretend its a different season.

Meanwhile, I ordered a new water pump ($245 US) because it was more than the seal leaking. The internal cam shaft was worn and no new seal itself was going to fix the problem.   Wonderful Moe installed it and had the Atomic 4 purring again in his shop by mid January.
“Simple to operate and maintain”  –   As I am prone to do during the long dark cold winter evenings, I often search the internet for sailing articles of interest.  Well my interest this time was – “an electric sailboat motor”, how intriguing. How would it work? How will batteries give me enough power to run my 29 foot craft through the water?  For how long? At what speed? How far? Is it safe in salt water? All these questions needed answering, and, as I told my wife at the time, I think I left physics class one year too early, because at that point I couldn’t get my head much beyond the 12 volt, two battery bank system I had maintained in Chiquita for all these years.   As far as I knew, if I left the cabin lights, stereo and/or accessories on too long, I had to either run the engine or plug into shore power to charge the batteries.

Through December to March,  I continued to explore the subject matter of electric drive propulsion systems visiting discussion groups and browsing various websites – most notably of Elco, Electric Yachts and Electroprop.  I read and re-read a number of the posted articles until I finally got up the nerve to make contact through the websites of Electric Yachts’ and Electroprop.  One had to try to fill in answers to their online questionnaires fundamentally detailing the specs of my vessel, my anticipated speed performance and distance expectations.  To their credit both companies got back to me in fairly quick order and we began a dialogue.  Skype and Facetime are wonder apps.

As I mentioned previously, my depth of understanding the physics and particularly  “the lingo” of the electric design experts with whom I was conversing, left me a little ashamed as I often I didn’t first pick up on things they were trying to explain to me.  My salvation was that they, and particularly James Lambden of Electroprop, in their enthusiasm to enlighten me on the artistry of their craft and the efficiencies of electric propulsion driven designs, realized my shortcomings and slowed things down until I was able to grasp the meaning.

One of my hesitations to convert was the suggestion from these  designers that to maximize the efficiency of the electric drive, I really should switch from my 12 inch 2x blade Max feathering prop to a larger 3 bladed fixed prop.  I put my foot down and said, “No way! Not yet!” I still race Chiquita in PHRF club races and have finished in the top three placements in three of the last four years of the Northumberland Strait Yachting Association long distance races.  I was not about to throw a wrench in Chiquita’s racing prowess by introducing the drag of a 14 inch fixed propeller.

 

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Maybe in a few years, when my racing days diminish and I am content to sail and cruise only.  I reminded them the pitch of my Max prop was adjustable and we could try different pitch angles and build a data base for the efficiency of the propeller for the chosen size of electric drive for my size of sailboat.  It was agreed I would accept the diminished performance as long as I was satisfied I could still maneuver the boat in tight situations and rough water.  It was my call. …It was the right one for now.

In the end,  I decided on Electroprop’s geared drive version of the E-7 ( 7kw max, 5kw continuous), both because I felt assured James would patiently nurture me along the path to enlightenment, and also, because of his emphasis on safety and the need to incorporate a design for a monitoring system that would provide me with years of safe boating experience. From my reading of other blogs since, I am confident all the designers referenced provide similar commitments to excellence and safety which will help fast tract the public’s inherently suspicious and skeptical view of electric drives in small pleasure craft.

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5 KW Electroprop Mariner Electric Drive with Stainless Steel Drop Pan Mount, Permanent Magnet, Dual Stator Motor, and Helical Gearbox

Come March with the days getting longer and the sun starting to melt away much of the 4 foot deep snow, I ventured up the ladder and climbed down into Chiquita, looked into the engine well (see right)  and made my stand – What the heck do I have to loose? I was sick and tired of four or five times a year climbing into that engine well to do various tasks of maintenance – clean oil and gas filters, change oil, check spark plubs, tighten alternator belt, fog engine, etc….. How long would the old girl (the A- 4) continue before something else had to be replaced and at what cost?  Here was a chance to be the first kid on the block with a new technology that was supposed to be efficient, and going forward, would be much easier to operate and maintain .  A technology I was now starting to understand and something that I knew would keep my mind active exploring issues at or near the front fringes of a whole new electrical design movement in both vehicle and sailboat propulsion sysems (at least those under 45 feet).  I just felt sure it was going to be mainstream before too long.

It was now or never.  I climbed down off the boat and called James in California.

 

 

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The What? —- Electroprop E-7

In late March of 2014, with the completion of the Electroprop website questionnaire and follow-up discussions with James Lambden covering the specs and characteristics of my vessel and what options were available for to me to consider, we settled on their E-7 model with its 7 KW max and 5 KW continuous power rating to be run off a 48 volt battery system.   It was predicted that with my 29 ft fin keel sailboat with a displacement of  7,600 lbs (in reality, probably about 8,200 lbs wet)  I should get close to 5.0 knots maximum speed or about 90% of the theoretical hull speed of a boat.  (theoretical hull speed for displacement vessels = 1.34   X  (Sq Root of LWL) where LWL is the length of the waterline of your boat).The E-7 has an efficient reduction drive unit inline with the motor shaft together with a flexible coupling with an alignment indicator.  The motor itself comes bolted to a customized drop-in aluminum pan complete with motor mounts.   After providing them with the appropriate measurements, Electroprop customized the pan to fit into my existing motor bed stringers and in alignment with my propeller shaft. They provide instructions and diagrams to assist with taking the required measurements.

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To improve overall performance of the new electric drive on Chiquita, it was recommended I might want to replace my existing 2 blade propeller and get a 3 blade x 14 inch diameter fixed blade propeller to improve efficiency of the electric drive.  But, as explained in the previous post, I was not yet ready to give up the low drag efficiency of my feathering 2 blade variable pitch propeller while I still race the boat in club and area regattas.

As we continued to discuss through the spring the parameters and merits of conversion to an electric drive system, the next suggestion was to possibly replace my thru hull packing gland on the propeller shaft with a PYI drip-less model in order to reduce friction against the shaft.That was not a problem for me as I always hated the fact that the existing gland unit had a designed interval  … drip … drip…drip…  which left stained water marks as it drained and never allowed me to have a completely dry bilge.

A further option suggested to improve drive train efficiency was to replace the cutlass bearing if it was at all aged and worn.    Mine was a little wobbly and worn after 16 years, so off she came.

Electroprop systems come with matched controller, contactor, 48V DC  to 12V DC converter, Clearview Display,  TBS battery monitor, dual bank battery switch, keyed ignition and a pre-wired harness system for connecting all the components.  I decided I would make the battery cables and do the distribution panel wiring myself as I had successfully rewired (with a little help from my friend Moe) the Atomic 4 seven years earlier.   Once the components were mounted and batteries installed, it was plug and play.  Having researched several references, my next task was to decide what type of battery system I might choose.  It was appropriately suggested for safety reasons, the choices were limited to either sealed AGM’s or LIPO4 batteries having as large amp capacity as one might afford.  It was strongly advised that flooded lead acid batteries were not suitable for electric drives due to potential gassing of  hydrogen  (explosive) when charging, particularly if over charged,  and  otherwise, such gassing is corrosive to all rubber hoses or membranes in the engine compartment (such as the new PYI dripless thru hull unit that had been ordered).

Lithium ion battery features although making significant advancements in electric car proplusion technology are still a little pricing for my budget.   After much deliberation, I chose a high end, large capacity TPPL AGM battery – namely, a 20 hr, 215 amp, 12 volt Odyssey PC1800-FT model as I didn’t want available power to be a limiting factor in the performance of my new electric drive.  The TPPL models are noted to be accepting  of a high rate of current shortening the time required to charge and can more readily recover being discharged well below the suggested maximum 50% discharge level for flooded lead acid batteries without significantly impacting its working life.  TPPL’s under proper care, are touted by manufacturers to last between 8 to 10 years.  Thin Plate Pure Lead batteries draw part of their superior performance being made from almost pure virgin lead. AGM’s, and this Oddessy model in particular, have the advantage they will function standing straight up, on their side, or on their back, giving more options for securing placement within the boat’s already premium storage availability.

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Any major upgrade requires a boater to analyize their energy requirements.  Mine was no different.  Although a little hesitant at first, I accepted James’ recommendation that since I wasn’t running other large energy drawing accessories like fridge, air conditioner or water heater, I certainly didn’t need to keep a separate 12 volt house system.  I could convert from 48 down to 12 volts and run the house and navigation systems as before.  My hesitancy was wanting perhaps a little redundancy if somehow something didn’t work with the 48 volt system.  In the end I’m glad I didn’t. It would have required a different charging system and monitors.  Through the first sailing season I have had no call to need a backup.  With the “1  &  2  &  both”  battery switch, I can choose independently to have just the 12, or the 48 volt, or both depending on my electric power needs.

Other options I chose were a new electrical panel with several features including double pole breakers on 48 volt circuits.  With a higher voltage system, if a short were to occur, a double pole breaker will immediatley shut down current flow in both directions of the positive and negative feeds of the electrical circuit, significantly reducing either chance of being shocked or a large heat generation of the affected connection.

A neat feature of the new distribution and breaker panel supplied by Electroprop, was the addition of two USB sockets and a 12 volt cigarette lighter type receptacle which now freed up the need to run a separate 120 volt sine wave inverter to charge  cell phones, IPADs or lap tops. These have proved to be awesome add ons.

As in my initial first few years I planned to rely principally on plug in shore power for charging the 48 volt system, we elected to go with 4 x 35 amp Mastervolt chargers.  What they add was the ability to charge each of the 4 batteries independently thus insuring all four batteries  in the bank are kept balanced with periodic charging

On the issue of AC power in Chiquita, James suggested in my case, that unless I put in an isolation transformer at the shore power receptacle,  I should not have, but with one exception, any shore power connected AC wiring in the boat. It’s both a boat preservation issue and a safety issue.  An improperly wired neighbouring boat plugged into to shore power in close proximity  while you are also plugged in, may issue stray current and even though you are properly wired, your boat will become the return path for electrical stray current and corrossion will result.  Similarly, this stray current can be dangerous for swimmers if close by, particularly in fresh water.  As James reminds his audiences in forums and in several articles, electricity generated from shore power will follow the path of least resistance, and in fresh water, that can be the human body.  In salt water, because of the differing + and – ions, it has less resistance then fresh water, and stray current will usually dispate more readily out into the surrounding basin. He suggests an isolation transformer installed in behind the shore power plug-in is the pre-requiste safety measure for boats carrying AC wiring who use shore power as their energy source.

In any event, the only functioning AC wiring for now left on Chiquita was to wire in an AC GFCI plug receptacle so I could plug-in my battery chargers.  My chosen chargers (but not all chargers) apparently perform a similar function as an isolation transformer in preventing stray current seepage, and therefore avoids the problem for my system.

An optional, but highly recommended safety component which I chose to install, was a Bender IR425-D4 ground fault monitor on my new electrical DC system.   The monitor is designed to detect any weaknesses in the wiring or components of the electrical system so you can immediately attend to a problem before any badness happens .  It will sound an alarm and flash if there is an unusual impedance to the flow of electricity in your DC system: eg – a loose connection, corrosion, or an internal fault in one of the operational components in the circut.  Without it, if you suspect a problem you are likely left to run a tester through each and every connection and component to achieve the same result.

La piece de résitance for me was James’ offer to upgrade me to the new prototype OEM rotary dial throttle he was developing and shown in the following photos.  I describe the throttle being similar to a stove top oven dial – Turn it right or left of center to either go forward or reverse.  He explained that the benefit to upgrade was a finer control range of the throttle in both forward and reverse direction.  Instead of a 60 degree range in either forward or reverse, I would have a fully adjustable, 150 degree range in either direction with graded markings of  “OFF, 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 ” helping to indicate a rough measure of rpms of the motor or resultant thrust and velocity of the boat.

I was able to mount the throttle above the binnacle compass replacing an old Magellan GPS unit that had seen better days.  The GPS had, in any event, been replaced with an IPAD with the Navionics app mounted under the dodger .

One of the immediate benefits I encountered with the OEM throttle was after launching in the spring.  As I motored over to the mast crane to put drop in the mast, I found as I manouvered backing the boat into the crane dock, unlike with the gas engine, with separate gear and throttle shifts on eithe side of the binnacle and and myself usually twisted like a pretzel looking astern,  with the new rotary throttle,  I could  turn around 180 degrees, face the stern, and with one hand on the dial  and one on the wheel, control the steering, speed, forward and reverse of the vessel with greater confidence and suredness.  The hardest part was getting use to the lack of engine noise.  It was amazing I could hear the conversation of the two persons waiting to take my lines that normally would have been drowned out by the noise of  previous engine.

 

 

 

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Within 5 years you will go Sailing with an Electric Motor

“How can you say that?” you may ask – because it was so easy and because there are 10 other very appealing reasons:

after a few simple measurements conversion is mostly a plug and play procedure
start up is turn on the key and engage throttle, immediate propulsion forward or reverse
its clean, quiet and trouble free operation
no maintenance, no leaky hoses, no loose fan belts, no spark plugs to clean or fuel lines to bleed
no oily rags, oil or fuel residue in the bilge, no exhaust fumes, no dam smells to cause guests or your significant other to get a little queasy when they come aboard
cost is less then a new diesel replacement
electricity is far cheaper then gas or diesel and the lower cost will continue to widen in the future, whether you just plug in at the marina or choose to adopt solar, wind or re-gen power sources
battery technology will, with the likes of Tesla and the other electric car developers, space technology. and the environmental movement, continue to improve and reduce in price as electric motors undergo a major renaissance development
your fuel gauge now reads  as a volt meter (gas in the tank), amperage being consumed (resultant of throttle setting) and amp-hours remaining( distance to go) – so simple
it is much safer –  with the standards of double pole breakers on your panel, ground fault detectors to monitor your electrics detecting a potential fault before it happens, and battery management systems, your boat is the safest boat in the harbor
its so simple a system to operate and maintain  (Opps! That was 11 reasons)

 

 

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