Electric conversion of our sailboat

Pieces of the electric motor puzzle

We've now received all the parts we need to assemble the electric motor system. Electric Yachts sent us the 10kW electric motor and controller system. Lorne from Genco has obtained the deep cycle batteries from Odyssey. The charge controller has been semi-custom made for us by Analytic a supplier of heavy duty and advanced charge control systems. Lorne has also supplied all of the heavy duty wiring for the 48 Volt battery system.

Our plans from this point are as follows:

Remaining internal wiring work - Lorne:
1. 2 x GFI for AC, wiring done, just need to put in to GFI outlets
2. DC panel installation, fixture for galley, electrical to fridge (test if it works)
3. House batteries - we've agreed to buy one additional Deep Cycle Lead Acid battery approx. $130.
4. Battery boxes installed, existing house battery location. - we've agreed to buy 2 battery boxes for approx. $30 each for house batteries (use one of the existing Nautilus plus new Deep Cycle)
5. Bonding / Grounding - complete a few more connections to metal through hull connections
6. (NEW) Automatic bilge pump reconnection and switch to exit through exhaust system through hull.

Electric Motor Install:
1. Paint motor compartment with bilge paint (prepare by sandpapering area) - Ian Wilson
2. Transfer batteries and motor kit to boat by Monday evening, August 16, 4pm. - Ian/Ianito/Claire/John
3. Electric motor battery box assembly and battery box custom made. Receive charge controller for motor batteries. Design and schematics. Current hours documented. Remaining hours and completion dates. Monday August 16. - Lorne
4. Battery box materials. Plywood - 3/4 inch (marine grade mahogany), bolts, washers, hinges, threaded rods, primer waterproofing paint, etc. from Home Depot. Wed. Aug. 17- Lorne
5. Build battery box at Port Credit site. Wed. Aug. 18 - Lorne
6. Install electric motor. Battery box where fuel tank was. 4 Odyssey batteries in series connection for 48 volt system. Electric motor on electric motor mount. Aug 19/20. - Lorne
7. Figure out shifter/binnacle removal and replacement with electric motor throttle system. - Lorne


Once we pull the boat out for this season.

1. Review motor mount leakage issue. Is it resolved once the electric motor is installed? Reinforce area that is of concern.
2. Review exterior hull scuffs and issues. Determine what repairs/painting/cleaning is required.
3. Prepare batteries for storage with full charge. Consider a solar panel to keep charged.

Before launch for next season:

1. Lighting and radio cable for mast.
2. Switch to a fixed propeller optimized for charging boat batteries when sailing.
3. Rolling furler.
4. Depth, windspeed/direction, GPS installations.
5. Radio for nav station/desk.
6. Review fridge requirements.
7. Determine solar panel (4 x 40 watt) setup and installation, Bimini design.

1. Both charge controllers will be installed in the storage closet near motor. House battery system charge control system is already installed there on the left side. Analytic charge controller for electric motor batteries will be installed on the right side of the storage compartment. All done to minimize chances of these ever getting wet.
2. Keep an eye on the leak near motor mount.

Port Credit Boat Show, Learning from Others

Quick update on the electric motor conversion...we have the electric wiring and new panels in place. We are getting close now. We plan to finish up the electric motor installation this week so we can enjoy sailing this coming long weekend. Lorned has done a beautiful job here. The AC and DC systems are now easy to manage and meters show what is going on. On the right side is a Xantrex charge control monitor system for the two house batteries. Looking gooood!

Now on to the Port Credit Boat Show we attended earlier today. We've been talking a planning quite a bit lately and we've got a few things that are coming together as we plan our circumnavigation on the future catamaran.

We've all agreed now that we will sell the house next spring. This will provide the base financing we need to get our Sun Challenge solar sailing expedition off to a start as well as provide some funding for the kids next phase in life in post secondary education and adventure. So, we've started attending boat shows to learn as much as we can to plan our own voyage.

First up was a tour of a new 2010 Lagoon 38 catamaran. It was beautiful. The deck had a wonderful seating area under a canopy when you get on the stern. Inside the cabin is a spacious dining table and kitchen. The starboard hull had the owners quarters with a large double bed in the stern and spacious bathroom with full standup shower. The port side hull had two wonderful spacious berths. Walking around the deck was easy and safe. This is the type of sailboat for me.

After looking at some monohulls we listened in on a families experience building a 65 foot power catamaran that they lived on and voyaged across the Atlantic, through the Med and finally down through he Suez canal.

What did we learn...

- need a team for fundraising with the right people, sponsor special things.
- $300 for 12 months of sailing in US. Don't forget check in with homeland security at each port or you could get a $5,000 fine.
- When planning stays in port stay for a month for lower rate and then anchor for the next month to cut costs in half. Cost is about $10 per foot per month in the US.
- Have lots of backup systems, two or three GPS systems...etc
- Build up experience by increasing challenges and implementing changes to improve.
- By being patient and waiting for good weather you can avoid bad storms.
- Ditch kit is mounted on deck. Satellite phone, medical kit, several communication systems.
- Virgin has a $40 per month 3G wireless Internet option for communicating, using Skype, Facebook and email.
- It took eight months to outfit the boat from bare hull full time.
- Free charts are available from OAA. Can use your computer and printer with these.
- 1% of hull cost for insurance including hurricane.

That's about all we can remember for now. Time to working the plans for making this happen.

Batteries installed

Dad has done a beautiful job of painting the engine mount and engine room to get rid of the old gasoline and oil smells and grime. It smells like a new home with a fresh coat of paint. Now we are ready to start mounting the batteries and electric motor.  It might not look like it in this picture but relatively speaking we've gained a fair bit of space with the removal of the old Atomic 4 gasoline engine and the fuel tank. Removal of both of these takes out about five hundred pounds. The batteries and new electric motor combined get us back to about the same weight. If we could afford Lithium batteries we'd be much lighter than the gasoline engine/fuel tank combo. In future no doubt Lithium batteries will be more affordable as the electric cars start deploying them around the world and large scale distribution and R&D kick in to develop this technology even further. For now we'll stick with the old lead acid AGM batteries.

The week before last Lorne and I spent the afternoon wedging the new Odyssey lead acid AGM deep cycle batteries into place on a custom platform Lorne has designed. Lorne has built and secured a base with edges to hold the batteries in approximately the same location as the old fuel tank. This will ensure that batteries are equally distributed in the centre of the boat and near where that same weight was for the old gas tank/Atomic four engine. The Odyssey PC1800-FT are a beautiful industrial, sealed battery system, designed to be rack mounted if need be. The positive and negative leads are on the front face of the batteries for easy connection in series (see earlier blog entry with diagrams of configuration) to get to 48 volts.

Although one person can lift and move these batteries, they are 130 pounds each, it is much easier and more reasonable with two people. So, Lorne and I got it down to quite a system of sliding the batteries through the side panels, lifting them in place from the top, and then inching them over the rails in the box designed to keep each battery in place. Each one fit like a glove. These batteries are sealed and are very sturdy. They can be placed in any orientation. In our case they sit as though ready for a rack. Once all the wiring is place Lorne will put a cap of plywood, like the base, on the top and secure with steel rods.

Next week, we do the electric motor installation and we should be ready to rock and roll with our electric motor system. It'll be interesting to see how far we can go on a full charge and at varying rates of speed. Next spring we'll switch the propellor to fixed blades (our current prop has retractable blades, good for racing, but not so useful for recharging our batteries). Things are looking good.

One other thing we did was to remove the red propellor shaft coupling device that was used for the Atomic 4. The red circular plate has been on the shaft for 40 year and so did not want to leave. Lorne said we needed a prop remover. So, off I went to the QCYC shed where Andy said we might find one. Sure enough, there it was in the back, behind some stuff. Incredibly the old fused connector finally gave way as Lorne and I used an extender and a bit of elbow grease to get the old thing moving. For the new connector we've found that the prop shaft is a slight bit smaller than the connector so we'll need a rubber filler band to fill the gap to make it secure. We are ready for the electric motor!

Stay tuned.

Electric Yacht, electric motor, trial run

The smiles on our faces says it all. Lorne has done a wonderful job of completing the electric motor installation with the help of Electric Yacht who have supplied the motor, controller, and monitoring system. With the final throttle mechanism supplied by Electric Yachts installed and the monitor screen installed where the old ignition system controls were we were ready to head out for our first trial run.

Up and down Toronto Harbour we go at 4-5 knots, keeping pace with the other sailboats motoring out for race night. She handles beautifully and easily coming out of the slip. The throttle mechanism is responsive and easy to use. For our trial run I pull the release on the throttle and ease it back in reverse. Ian (Dad) and Lorne release the dock lines and off we go. Once we are out of the slip moving nicely backwards with full steerage I make the switch to forward. I first slow reverse and it then clicks into neutral. The boat is silent as we continue moving backwards. I then pull the release and easy the throttle forward. She responds quickly and powerfully forward with great steerage. We pull quickly out of the QCYC docks and out into the Toronto Harbour at a medium speed.

As a part of our trial run Lorne is checking the sounds and vibrations below in the motor room, reviewing the RPM/Volts/Amps/Hours Remaining/Charge Level as we go. All looks good. We make 4-5 knots at full power. Lorne thinks we will do better once we change the propellor (it is currently a small retractable one that is not correctly sized to give us optimal power nor charge when under sail). Quite astonishingly we are talking and discussing the wonderful experience without having to shout and yell above the engine noise. There is a whirring noise from the electric but it is certainly nowhere near as noisy as a gas or diesel engine...something we will no doubt now take for granted.

After a forty five minute cruise we are still with 95% charge. The monitor on the port side near the helm is amazing. It constantly updates us with the critical "hours" remaining so that we can determine how far we can go under the current battery state. Of course the number fluctuates as we increase and decrease speed. By slowing down we significantly increase the hours we can run the electric motor. Of course the slower speeds means we'll make less distance. The quick calculations we do then is to say how many knots are we doing and then with the battery monitor telling us remaining hours on the batteries we can determine how far we can go. We think the optimal speed with the current prop which needs to be changed is about 3-4 knots. We should be able to get around 3 hours of run time with our 4 AGM batteries with the current setup at that say 3 knots speed. That should take us around Toronto Island for instance.

All and all a great trial run. What a thrill to have worked through all the details and have this wonderful system working. Lorne from Genco as well as Bill and Scott from Electric Yacht have done a fantastic job. Actual hours to install the electric motor system, batteries and electronics looks to be about two or three days. According to Lorne installing the new electric motor system was far easier than rewiring the 40 year old boat.

Well, now it is time to go sailing. See you out on the lake this weekend folks...we'll be the quiet boat motoring out of QCYC. Thanks again to Lorne, Bill and Scott. Great work and a wonderful project. Well done. This is the future!

Electric motor performs well in high winds

Now that we've run the electric motor through a number of trials it turned out that it was time to see how things performed in rough weather and high winds. Braving gusts up to 30 knots, with steady winds in the 20 knot range we began our sail in lighter winds earlier in the day. Reversing out of our slip on this windy day meant thinking about the last time we had winds coming in hard from the north. In preparation I had told the crew, Scott and Paul, that we may need to turn south rather than north as the bow might get swung around to the south before we could make any headway and get any steerage. As you may recall this is what happened when we had a mishap with our dinghy motor attached. I've learned you want to try and work with the wind especially when it is blowing hard.

So, with a our boat out into the QCYC lagoon and the bow quickly being blown to the south I decided we'd loop around south with the wind, do a U-turn and then head out into Toronto Harbour. This monoveure worked well and we began to head for the high winds out in the harbour. The electric motor provided good steady thrust as the wind began to hit us harder and harder rounding the corner out into open waters. With the extra winds I maintained extra speed to ensure we had good steerage and momentum goind directly into the wind.

With all of this being a new system I wondered if we'd have enough power to drive into the wind so we could raise our sails without being driven in reverse by the waves and wind. To my pleasant surprise we made good progress forward and were able to raise the sails with ease despite the two to three foot waves and heavy winds. I took some care to keep us moving directly into the wind as would be expected. All went well. I kept the motor ready as we sailed for the eastern gap to head out onto Lake Ontario. At one point the wind completely died for a minute or so. I ran the electric for that time to keep steerage and progress especially as I knew the wind would come back hard as we passed the southern edge of the gap. It did start moving very vast  once we passed the southern end of the gap. Off we went at full steam. We got her up to about 8 knots sailing. It was a great steady hard wind with some really exciting gusts that got us really heeled over.

After sailing out on the lake we made our way back into the harbour to drop Paul off city side. This was another first for me and the electric motor. We lowered the sails in even heavier winds...apparently getting up to the 30-40 knots either during or shortly after we brought down our sails. The main sails topping lift that is clipped onto the end of the boom popped off as we lowered the main sail. Fortunately the figure eight knot caught on the pulley that attached to the topping lifts line and it only fell a foot or so. Still, we got the main sail down okay and repaired that problem at dock. With the electric going about 80% we powered towards the city in the heavy winds and waves. Fortunately the city buildings provided some shelter from the winds out of the north as we neared the public dock behind the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel. With fine control I pulled up to the dock, used heavy reverse to bring us to a full stop, Paul jumped off and up onto the main land, and off Scott and I went back to QCYC to pack up for the day. All went very well and the Electric Yachts motor felt very sure and steady in these rough conditions.


Electric motor and setting sail for the open waters

Yesterday we rigged up Initram for an afternoon sail to watch the QCYC regatta. It was a perfect day for a run with the new Electric Yacht electric motor on a beautiful sailing day. Leigh and I were joined by Kim who we did our basic sailing course with. The skies were pretty clear. We had a good 10-15 knots of wind. Lots of boats were heading out. So, after BBQed burgers for lunch we set sail.

The electric seems to be running more and more smoothly. As we go by the QCYC dinghy garage Steve yells over "turn on your motor" as we silently glide by with our electric doing about half speed. Out into the Toronto Harbour and we swing out wide to put the boat into the wind to raise the sails. Up she goes without a hitch as you'll see in the video clip I've added to this blog entry.

Out through the eastern gap and what a sight. Thousands of sailboats sailing around off in the distant for the regatta and fun. The channel is busy but we sail through confidently with the electric motor at the ready. Our boat seems to make very good way as we pass several boats sailing alongside us on the way out. We confidently move ahead of the old tourist boat jammed packed with tourists.

Out on the open lake we enjoy the view and some great sailing in good winds. We each took turns at the helm and various crew positions. We are finally sailing as we've been dreaming of doing for months and years. What a wonderful feeling of freedom. Where should we go now...Nova Scotia, New York, Tahiti, or Kuala Lumpur? The world beckons.

On our speedy sail back to the club docks we take the sails down with a minimum of fuss. The jib lines somehow break free at the clew. Somehow the locking pin has allowed the lock to come undone. Hard to imagine how. In any case, we grab the sail, pull it down and plan to fold it up when we get to dock. The main sail comes down okay except once again the topping lift clip comes unclipped and is saved by the figure eight knot in the end as it catches on the pulley system. Again, not a problem, I simply reach up and reset the clip properly and we bring the main sail down.

Now we race in with five or six other sailboats to the clubhouse. On our starboard side just behind us a fellow sailor coming in to dock yells out "you've got a problem, there is no water coming out of your exhaust". I think for a couple seconds. Ahh, yes, if we had the old gasoline engine you would expect water to be coming out of the exhaust as the water is used to cool the engine down. I yell back "we're electric". A strange look from our fellow sailor.

What a wonderful day of sailing. Thanks to our friend Kim for sharing this wonderful day with us and many more to come.