Thursday, June 13, 2013

Going Electric

It is becoming more and more common for cruising sailboats to replace their diesel engines with electric motors.  Electric motors are compact, reliable, and low-maintenance, although their range is limited by the size of the battery bank, which can get very heavy and very expensive very quickly.  In any case, we are not moving in that direction with Sea Gem.  Sea Gem's two inboard diesels start every time and, with a nearly 400-gallon fuel tank, can run for days.

We did, however, make the leap from internal combustion engines to an electric motor on a much smaller scale: our dinghy.  Sea Gem came equipped with two gasoline outboard engines for the dinghy, a 15 horsepower and a 6 horsepower model, both two-strokes.  We quickly came to hate them for several reasons.  They are heavy, which makes setting them up in the dinghy and storing them a real production involving at least two people.  They require that we lug around tanks of gasoline, which takes up space and is explosive. If we don't use them frequently, the gas goes bad and the motors needs to be disassembled and the carburetors cleaned. They need to be maintained--oil, filters, etc. And, finally, between bad gas and finicky, complex operation (flooded engines, starter cords to pull, switches that need to be flipped, and so on), they often didn't work when we needed them to, and when they did work, they were loud, smelly, and smokey.  For all of these reasons, we hated them.

And so we sold both outboards and bought a new, electric motor, a Minn Kota Riptide 55 trolling motor (the saltwater model):

Minn Kota Riptide 55
It isn't nearly as powerful as either outboard, especially the 15-horsepower model, but we are perfectly happy trading speed for the many advantages of the new motor.  It is lightweight, only about 20 pounds (versus around 80 for the gas outboards).  It is whisper-quiet.  It requires no maintenance--no oil, no filters, nothing.  It does not require gas.  No gas to carry around with us, and no gas to go bad (and no carburetors to rebuild).  It is simple to operate.  No pull cords, no switches--you just twist the handle, and it runs:

Twist on, twist off
It is hard to imagine a motor being any easier to operate, store, and maintain.

We have heard, repeatedly, that a trolling motor won't be strong enough to use as a dinghy outboard.  Our motor, however, produces 55 pounds of thrust, which is the most powerful 12-volt trolling motor we could find, which is comparable thrust to a 2 horsepower gas outboard.  I suspect that most doubters are thinking of older, smaller trolling motors, and not the more powerful models such as ours.  Matched to a new, easily driven folding dinghy, I have no doubt that it will be more than sufficient to move us along at a comfortable 4 knots. But time will tell.

More soon.

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