The Rise of the Machine…The Green Outboard
Having rowed my 8 foot fiberglass New England style yacht tender quite a few times against swift currents for too long distances, I started thinking about getting a machine to occasionally do the work. Given the size of my craft, a 2 horsepower engine was required.
Think about that a minute. No wonder rowing got tough at times; I did not have the two horses doing the grunt work!
Fellow cruiser and “tired rowing aficionado” Chuck Walters had similarly come to the same conclusion. The question was what type of engines should be obtained. Neither of us were excited about a gas outboard for a variety of reasons. Electric trolling motors with a car battery quickly fell from consideration due to size and the lack of room for a bulky battery in our small yacht tenders. Independently, we decided to go with stand-alone electric engines that did not require separate car batteries.
Some may ask why go electric? My decision to go electric, and probably Chuck’s was economic (to be less dependent on high priced overseas gas, and to avoid occasional tough engine starts, as well as, potentially costly engine maintenance), and personal (neither of us wanted to transport gasoline on our sailboats, lug a heavy outboard engine, nor do any maintenance other than electrical re-charging and a water rinse after engine use). Reportedly the electric engine is incredibly reliable. Given these reasons, both of us decided the initially higher cost of the electric engine versus a comparable gas engine was worth the expense.
Both Chuck and I bought Torqueedo Travel 801 electric engines manufactured in Starnberg, Germany. The engine is an easily transportable self-contained 25 pound package. Yes, the 29 volt/10amp hour integrated battery is included. The long-life rechargeable lithium battery attaches at the top of the engine shaft which contains a properly pitched three blade propeller at the bottom. Pressing a button on the battery will give the current state of charge. A simple charger which looks like a lap top power supply keeps the lithium battery up to charge. The charger ac cord can be plugged into an ac boat inverter, or any 115 volt receptacle. For charging, the battery is removed from the engine and then plugged into the charger by a short cord.
For easy transport, the entire engine shaft/propeller can be folded over against itself for easy storage in a special carry bag which also includes the battery and charger. It is small and light enough for my petite first mate to handle and assemble.
The literature with the engine promised 2hp at the following speeds, distances and operating times on a single charge:
30 foot sailboat (3,750lbs displ) = 1.3 kts/7.8nm/6hours; max speed 3.7kts*
16 foot row boat = 2.2kts/13.2nm/6hours; max speed 4.6kts *
12 foot Inflatable = 1.8kts/10.8nm/6hours; max speed 4.6kts*
*Actual on the water use is a mix of speeds at different times during a journey based on currents, wind, and time available to make a trip. Operating at a sustained maximum speed will obviously decrease range that could otherwise be achieved on a single battery
charge. A svelte hull shape e.g., a rowing vessel will go faster and longer with less engine power than a comparably sized blunt shaped vessel such as a typical inflatable.
Review of the Torqueedo literature showed no specifications for an 8 foot row boat displacing 75 lbs. In my opinion, the design, size and weight of such a yacht tender compared to the 16 foot rowboat (displ 620lbs) cited in the Torqueedo literature, will have over double the range. Distances of over 26 nm range at 2-3 kts for 12 or more hours should be easily achieved. Intermittent speeds of 4-6 knots should also be possible.
After reviewing all the specs and the manual, I installed the engine and set out for a spin at the Old Point Comfort Marina. I slipped the engine into forward gear. Not expecting the instant torque, my boat was planning in seconds at 6 knots. After quickly reducing speed to 3 kts, I went from the Old Point Comfort boat launch into Mill Creek, paralleled the wave wall, and then into the marina wave wall opening up to G dock. The trip was against the wind and current in 1 foot waves. The trip took only few minutes. Since then I remember to go gently on the throttle when slipping into gear. About 2-3 knots of speed provides a relaxed, but quick ride. On occasion I push the boat up to over 5 knots. Chuck’s experience with his boat was very similar.
During a week long cruise with a stop at the East River off Mobjack Bay, the yacht tender was quickly deployed from Smooth Operator’s davits and married with the Torqueedo engine. I then used it to shuttle Pointers between several mini raft-ups. In 7 days of use/non-use the battery still gave top performance retaining a 80% charge.
The eerie, almost imperceptible, whir of the engine surprises passengers and curious onlookers. For example, a number of selfabsorbed fishermen on shore have suddenly looked up in surprise to see the yacht tender slide by silently. So my nameless yacht tender, dinghy if you prefer, has finally picked up a name liked by my oldest grandchild…Silent Operator. As a cruiser the Torqueedo meets and exceeds all my requirements. The green outboard rules!
If you want to see some video footage of the Torqueedo in action, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0utXxauZOso