The electric advantage

We just heard that the guy who was prepping his NorSea 27′ for an electric circumnavigation from Seattle is approaching Hawaii. We were thinking he might be the one to challenge our potential world record as the smallest electric boat to circumnavigate. The only problem: he’s not on an electric boat. He says he is, and he has an electric motor aboard, but discovering he backed it up with a gas generator that he ended up using all down the California coast was a shocker to say the least! That’s not an electric boat, that’s a gas boat!

Beluga Greyfinger chills on a Sunday
Beluga Greyfinger prefers electric

I (James) am so fed up with that stupid bullshit! I am so sick and tired of these people who claim to be doing something revolutionary like taking an electric sailboat around the world and at the last moment packing a cheap genset aboard, 50 gallons of gas, and taking off under the false pretenses of going electric. That’s not revolution, that’s a fucking lie supporting the status quo.

(For those of you who don’t know: genset is the term for generator-set meaning a combination of diesel or gas engine and electric generator.)

After a storm
The wind is free after you pay for the gear

We’re on this leg of our life’s adventures at sea to prove -once and for all- that the world can be discovered under sail with a completely electric auxiliary motor as back up.

I get the idea of wanting to cover all your bases for the sake of self preservation and the ‘Prudent Sailor Survives’ and all that crap but you are either going electric or you’re sucking at the petroleum tit. And that’s all there is to it.

São Jorge sailing away
Away from Sao Jorge at Latitude 38

Now backing up a few years, when we first started batting around the idea of going electric, we were looking at a beautiful Tayana 37 Pilothouse with a dead diesel and a working inboard genset. We were stoked to dip our toes into the experiment of going electric by pulling the dead motor, installing the electric propulsion system, a bunch of wind generators and solar panels, and using the genset as little as possible until we could sell that sucker. Well, it turned out the owner of the boat didn’t actually know when the last time the genset had been run and he thought that it might’ve been frozen-up for quite a while. (The boat was hauled out at the time with a bunch of dead batteries so we couldn’t actually test the genset ourselves.)

Storm day...
Gatolichous my editor

That was a real heart-breaker, but as we gained some distance, emotional and physical, we came to recognize that just dipping our toes into the electric motor reality was bound to be a disappointment. If we still had to do maintenance on a diesel motor and carry diesel motor spares and buy fuel even oh-so-occasionally, we wouldn’t be getting what we wanted from going electric.

We waited for the right boat to reveal herself to us the very next year.

Enter S/V SN Cetacea.

On again...
The wind and the sun…Yeeeeah!

When we first stepped aboard Cetacea, we knew this was the boat we would go electric on. It was part of the plan. The diesel was running and there was a whole monster list of other upgrades that were more pressing than replacing a working piece of equipment. We checked things off the list as we could afford and ultimately just ignored the dreaded weight of our petrol-addiction…until we couldn’t any longer.

When we set off in the unrelenting cold spring of 2022, we did our best to ignore the fact that our dreaded diesel was on its last leg and barely standing with the one it had left. It was hard starting, spewed oil like a recalcitrant old Volkswagen, and absolutely drove us nuts every time we had to start the thing. By the time we got to Florida from Nova Scotia, we’d had it with that ancient destructive tech and we decided it had to go.

Q: Hey buddy, how do you get to Carnage Hall?

A: Practice, practice, practice!

A good day's work
This is how we do it baby!”

So we did. We practiced sailing on and off the hook, we practiced sailing up rivers and through cities and bays and Sounds and Oceans and ultimately we felt as though that diesel was superfluous and had been for some time.

So we went all-electric and sailed across the Atlantic Flow to the Azores.

If you’ve been reading our work as we went along, you’ll know a whole lot of this but it feels like the moment to reiterate that…

Before we left the US, the one thing we didn’t even consider bringing aboard was a fucking genset.

Getting our asses kind of handed to us out here
We’ll just let that sun shine…

This past week the article we wrote for Practical Boat Owner Magazine about sailing to the Azores went live online. We did the whole media-bomb thing (Dena more than I because I just can’t stand the FaceFuck reality) and it is truly amazing how many people in our online community are so bound up in that world-killing petroleum addiction.

I mean, most of the people I have known throughout my life agree that the oil industry is choking the Earth but I can only count on one hand the number of my friends who have given it up…and Dena and I are on two of those fingers.

Old Rhodes Key
pumping for real!

I just recently read in the Guardian that an old bandmate of mine is on his second circumnavigation on his hippy-ship touring the world with a group of artists playing music and spreading the word of global climate change on a great big steel schooner. Of course that ship has a diesel “auxiliary” engine and a fucking genset to light the party. What-The-Actual-Fuck Grey!? That’s not revolution, that’s just more of the same old shit and you/they know it.

Our Home!
The only flag that matters…

My dear friend Raf used to say, at this point in my rant, that I was dangerously treading on self-righteousness and that I should consider how I got to this place before harshly judging anyone. Yes, it’s true, I am the former owner of a candy-apple-red 1967 Mustang Fastback with a fully-blown 289 that got about 4 gallons to the mile on high octane dinosaur-juice. I have done my damage and I feel the weight of that destruction deeply in my conscience but I have changed and that change has made me happier than I ever thought possible because revolution makes a body feel good.

Out Jupiter inlet!
…it’s about the sailing!

Let us make this point very clear: S/V SN-E Cetacea is an electric sailing vessel through-and-through. We make ALL of our own electricity with the wind and the sun, we make our own water from that home-made electricity and that makes us off the grid no matter where we go on this planet. I understand that that (above) statement makes us sound self-righteous as fuck but I’d rather be happily self-righteous than guiltily propping up the disgusting status quo any day.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

5 comments

  1. Hi!
    Thanks for really interesting info regarding your electric propulsion, both here and on the PBO!
    We have sold our diesel and are also planning to make an electric conversion on our old 34′. May I ask which electric engine you have installed, and if you have any maker/brand recommendations?

    All the best!
    /Lars, Sweden

    1. Lars, glad you found us!

      We went with Electric Yacht QuietTorque 10.0, because of their pricing and prepurchase responsiveness. In Sweden, you have other local options that would have been prohibitively expensive for us to have shipped to the US.

      Our main concern was getting something with a lot of installs, not experimental, while also keeping the price down. Our main criticism of the motor at this point isn’t performance; it’s data. There’s not a NMEA feed and nothing onboard that provides the kind of data crunching we’ve gotten used to with our Victron solar controllers.

      If you have any questions, please do ask. We’re happy to help!

  2. How did your insurance company take the news that you repowered with electric and a homemade Lithium Iron battery? I heard it could be problematic for boat owners.

    1. We have the bare minimum of insurance and they don’t ask for details like that. Insurance is a go-to excuse for not doing things with and on boats – we don’t let the risk of a pissy insurance company hold us back!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.