The May issue of Latitude 38 has been released, Ava and I are featured!
We would like to extend a big THANK YOU to the crew at Latitude 38 for helping us share our story and show others how easy and affordable it can be to sail sustainably.
We would like to extend a big THANK YOU to the crew at Latitude 38 for helping us share our story and show others how easy and affordable it can be to sail sustainably.
Around the world on renewable energy. So you have a generator right? No.
A few months ago, Ava and I set off from Seattle in pursuit of a dream. A dream that lingers in the back of the mind of almost every sailor. The dream to sail around the world. We untied from our dock at Fremont Boat Co. on September 3, 2017 at 2am to catch the morning ebb. As I write this, we are approaching Cabo San Lucas. We’ve logged nearly 2,600 nautical miles and we’ve sailed just about all of it.
It started with an “enlightened moment” that struck me while working remote from Stoneway Cafe in Fremont Seattle. Too many days spent droning away like this hunched over the old laptop. I made up my mind. I’m going to quit the 9-5, untie the lines, and aim for the BLT (big left turn) out of the Straights of Juan De Fuca. I figured I would work another two years, save up some money, and find a way to head out.
Around that time, I met and fell in love with an amazing gal, Ava. On one of our first dates, I asked her what her 5 year plan was. I told her mine, it was to leave in two years to sail around the world for two years.
Cute, this guy is a dreamer.
Cut to two years later, she was selling her car, Honda Spree scooter and her vinyl collection, found a new home for Jennifer the cat to move on board Cinderella. We spent 2017 rigorously preparing while both working full time jobs and picking up odd jobs to save money. We had a monster of a to-do list to get our boat ready for the voyage (of which some we are still checking off along the way).
Our boat Cinderella is a vintage Ericson 35-2 from 1971. A friend was interested in buying a boat so I went with him to Ballard to check it out.
My first thought on this boat was “what a project” but was somehow was drawn to it. So naturally I put in a $6,000 offer which was rejected. Weeks later I was still thinking about that boat. It had some curious modifications for racing that were clearly not stock Ericson. Her “Spartan” interior looked almost gutted, with little else than bare fiberglass hull, a massive diesel engine in the center cabin and a couple of settees. A modest galley with the sink draining right to the cabin sole. I really tried to forget this project boat. Then about a month later, the sellers called me back and my offer was accepted.
Am I crazy?
I soon found out Cinderella had a racy past. She went to Hawaii twice in the Pac Cup and had numerous first place trophies from racing on Lake Washington. She was completely overhauled by one of the previous owners. I later learned, he watched the interior pan break free and sway back and forth independently of the hull while underway to San Fran from Mexico. Rarely do we get to know the people who hold the secrets to our boat’s past lives, I got lucky.
I spent nearly two years educating myself and refitting Cinderella for blue water cruising. Whenever Ava had to track me down, I was usually at my favorite place, Fisheries Supply. Or maybe buried somewhere deep in power tools and fiberglass.
It was a crash course on boatbuilding while working full time as a traveling engineer. You see Cinderella was a spartan racer, not a cruising boat. So I essentially built a tiny house with custom cabinetry, plumbing and a functioning head, a water system, berths and a solar power system. The big question marks were the rig and rudder. We pulled and inspected the rig and rudder last winter, the budget way, doing all the work ourselves through the night at Canal Boat Yard. We also added roller furling, re-habbed and installed an old Aries wind vane.
Ava might think I’m a glutton for punishment but our budget means I re-build or custom build every damn thing. Though, I do draw the line on Diesel. My obvious solution to weasel my way out of engine maintenance and save money was to figure out a simple auxiliary drive that was fueled by renewable energy.
After engine failure #2, I promptly removed the “expensive anchor” and began researching an electric drive. I shuddered when I saw how the few kits on the market were incredibly expensive, as or more costly than diesel.
I discovered Sailing Uma on YouTube, an inventive DIY electric boat. They had helped me see that a conversion to electric drive was possible and feasible for Cinderella. I was inspired and dove into researching and piecing components together (I swear I was working this whole time).
Our electric motor drive is the motor half of a Briggs & Stratton 10hp generator… with some odd golf cart add-ons. Due to our budget battery bank, our range is limited but it has been one of the most trouble-free systems aboard. While it does get frustrating watching sails flog in windless conditions, I will take that any day over dealing with the breakdowns and maintenance required of it’s petroleum driven counterparts. Luckily Cinderella is a fantastic light wind boat.
Anyone who tells you battery tech isn’t there yet, or it’s not practical has not properly educated themselves. After overhauling the energy vampires, we have enough renewable energy to power our floating home comfortably. We are able charge all of our devices, pressurize our water, run our LED lights, rice cooker, and power tools. Not once starting a generator. We save our motoring for getting into harbor and for any “we need to move” moments while underway.
Unfortunately, our golf cart controller’s regen only works from about 5 – 5.7 kts underway. Since we are either sailing faster (with wind) or slower (hardly any wind) we don’t use it very much. One day if we can find funds, it might be nice to play with that and use the excess power to run a freezer for the fish we catch or hot water if we ever decide to go back to cold climates (not sure why just yet). It’s a system that I’d love to refine when I have the opportunity.
So far cruising is everything I imagined and more. After a bumpy ride down the Washington and Oregon coast, we were escorted into California by a pod of dolphins. We have seen so many whales we lost count. Believe me, watching the sunset from your “back deck”, cold beer in hand never gets old.
As we write this, we are sailing south along Mexico’s Baja California en route to Cabo San Lucas. We have just spent a festive Thanksgiving in Bahia Santa Maria complete with a potluck and beach bonfire with some fellow gringos. In Bahia Tortuga, we were invited to go surfing with the locals at their favorite spot. How do you say, HECK YEAH in Espanol?
It’s not all glamour out here as you can imagine. We pitchpoled our sailing dingy in rough surf in the Channel Islands after a harrowing passage around Point Conception. We’ve also had a horrendous experience with corrupt harbor patrol in Marina Del Rey and discovered first hand the harassment of local boaters (that’s a whole other story). We’ve also been caught numerous times bobbing for hours in dead wind.
Needless to say, sailing an electric boat certainly requires a special brand of patience, foresight and tenacity at times.
We’ve learned that the wind will always blow and hey, we are at home. The experiences and places we’ve discovered so far seem to erase those frustrating times. The payoffs are incredibly worth it and we wouldn’t trade anything for it.
Looking forward, we are studying weather patterns south to Costa Rica where we would like to spend some time with family and friends. This is where we want to make the big puddle jump with the Panama boats to the Marquesas and onward through the South Pacific to New Zealand… and onward around the world. Want to see where? Check out our proposed travel routes here and stay tuned for more blog posts. They are coming, we promise 🙂
We wrote this for Latitude 38 who published our article in the January 2018 issue. You can read it online here!
I can now say that we have extensively sea trialed the Manta Drive. We started with a little trip around Lake Union then stepped it up to a few overnight cruises.
First Trial – Cruise on Lake Union
Ava and I motored off the dock one faithful summer night here on Lake Union to test her out. I completed tightening the bolts holding the belt tension and said, “Alright! let’s take her out!” Ava looked down at me skeptically from the cockpit. The sun had set, so it was going to be a nice night time trial cruise, maybe 30 minutes or so.
The first thing I noticed was how responsive the boat was, I can now turn the propeller at 1 rpm if I so choose. This is a very nice perk for backing Cinderella out of the slip. I could use quick bursts to overcome wind drift and keep the bow under control, yet go back to a very cautious slow speed in an instant. This was not the case with the Yanmar, the Yanmar did not like shifting from neutral to reverse, and would die occasionally during the shift. This kept me on high alert in close quarters, and I tended to over throttle to compensate making close quarters tricky. (To enter and leave the slip I have to slide Cinderella between two boats with about a foot on either side, and the same goes for reversing out of the slip)
We then proceeded to motor around the lake and I let Ava take the helm so I could go below and look at the gauges, I could not believe that under full throttle, not only were we hitting 5 kts (the same max speed as the Yanmar), but we were only drawing 25 amps! I was expecting closer to 100, so this was huge. Backing her down to 10 amps Cindy would hover right around 3 kts. I was taken aback by how little energy this was taking (though I shouldn’t be too shocked, I managed to row the boat to 1kt when we were out of wind Sailing around Canada). Let me tell you, the motor sure beats rowing!
At full throttle, the belt was slipping and smoking. There was no trouble motoring around at 3kts, but if we pushed it, the belt would slip and smoke. I first wrote it off as bad tension, but on further inspection I was sold a A type drive pulley and a B type driven pulley from the bearing house. The B type belt was not getting enough purchase on the A type pulley and slipping under load. I called McGuire Bearing here in Seattle, and they remedied the situation by swapping my pulley at no charge. The belt no longer slips under a load, and all is well.
Next Trial – Afternoon of crabbing, and a day sail to Poulsbo
The first decent cruise with the Manta Drive was to Poulsbo, WA with 5 friends aboard. 3 of us had the afternoon free, so we headed out the lock early to do some crabbing until the rest of the group could get free. At this point I was completely unsure of the range of my battery bank. To get through the locks out of the lake and into the Puget Sound its about an hour trip, and I bought the cheapest batteries you can find, they aren’t even full deep cycle batteries, but the plan is to test inexpensively and upgrade prior to departure.
We sailed most of the way to the locks, only motoring under the two bridges and through the locks themselves. It was a beautiful summer day, and we were tacking like crazy to get up the canals and across the bays. The wind was perfect 15 kts or so, so we played around setting the crab traps and retrieving them while under sail. (This was actually good practice for a MOB drill, knowing how to heave to where you want to, and how the boat reacts). After a delicious crab lunch, we headed to Shilshole Marina to pick up the rest of the crew for the trip. I still had only motored the boat for a grand total of maybe 30- 40 minutes and had 67% of my battery bank remaining.
After picking up the crew, we sailed on towards Poulsbo (approx a 17nm trip), but the wind decided to stop just as the sun was setting with about 4 miles remaining to the destination. We were out of the strongest current area of Agate Pass, but we were going to fight a slight current most of the way there. Based on my rough calculations, we did not have enough battery remaining to make it…. We motored slowly for about an hour until the battery was toast. Unfortunately, I did not really pay attention to the amps or the time, so I am not entirely sure of the capacity of the bank. We drifted close enough to shore to drop anchor and everyone crashed out for the night.
I spent the night in the cockpit fearful of the anchor. I was not able to set it adrift, so as soon as the wind picked up I was going to weigh anchor and set sail. Sure enough, I awoke around 6am to a very slow dragging of the anchor, and I hoisted the sails and headed out before the crew woke up. The wind was gentile, and I sailed under main alone back out Agate pass. My plan was to sail slowly and arrive at the pass just as the current started build into an ebb. After we got out the pass I again dropped anchor, this time along with crab pots and went back to sleep for a few more hours.
When we all woke up, I told everyone of the new plan to sail to Kingston due to my fear of losing wind in Poulsbo again and not getting back to Seattle on time. We continued on and the wind was perfect, 15kts and Cinderella was charging along at 6kts to windward, the perfect time to test out the regeneration from the propeller. I gave the motor a quick burst in reverse to open up my folding prop, and put the motor back in “neutral”. The prop was now spinning and recharging my battery bank. We sailed on for about an hour alongside a half dozen orcas playing all the way to Kingston.
Upon arrival, I was unsure how much battery I had to dock. I decided to come in under sail, and use the motor only minimally to stop us neatly at the dock. (It’s also fun to engage a bunch of non-sailors in the group challenge of dropping sails on command while coming into a marina). The motor performed admirably stopping our forward motion at the dock. I again didn’t have the for-thought to check the charge level of the bank when we arrived, this was the first time using regen on the motor, and my regen amp gauge wasn’t hooked up yet, so I couldn’t get a good feel for how much power was going back into the batteries.
I paid for a few hours at the marina in Kingston and plugged into shore power to recharge the bank. We wandered around, had lunch and set sail again to Seattle. After dropping everyone off, I motored back through the locks, all the way back to my slip, about an hour and a half of motoring, and there was still plenty left, at this point, I was pretty happy with the motor. I could get out of the locks from my slip, and the regen seemed to work enough to handle docking in a marina. I called it a win even though I drained the batteries to dead on the trip.
Remaining Trials – A couple cruises and a few races
Over the course of the late summer, fall, and so far this winter I have taken a handful of trips to further my understanding of this new electric motor drive. We entered a Duck Dodge race last minute, I participated in the Race Your House, and attempted to first of the Snowbird Series. The latter two showed me that I have right about 3 hrs worth of usable motoring on my battery bank at about 3-4kts, just enough to get out of the locks and back into my slip. We also cruised a bit further to Port Ludlow (again anchoring when the wind died to sleep for a few hours) and later to Port Townsend over Thanksgiving (through a gale on the way there, and navigating micro wind bursts on the way back)
Manta Drive Overall
I am happy with the manta drive, it serves the purpose I wanted when I came up with the idea. I have a simple, clean drive system with no maintenance, and very minimal points of failure. I can motor into the Sound and back from my slip, and I have opened up my cabin allowing for me to build a better layout for our living space.
1 – I can drive the boat the the same max speed as I could with the yanmar (I believe this can be bettered by modifying the propeller)
2 – I have a bout 3 hours of motoring available or approx a 9 mile range as a slow cruise with the cheapest batteries on the market (after upgrading to Oasis Firefly’s we should have about 4x the range) 12 hrs is going to be plenty for what we plan to do with Cinderella
3 – Regen seems to work well, I was able to charge my battery from 57 to 75% over the course of a couple of hrs worth of sailing. I still have an issue where the controller stops the motor if we sail too fast which is kind of annoying, but I am sure there is an easy solution.
4 – I was able to repurpose the seacock for the engine water inlet for my sink drain along with regain lots of room in the boat.
5 – NO MAINTENANCE!! Being a permanent magnet DC brushed motor, the only maintenance I may have to worry about are changing a belt if it wears out, changing brushes if they ever wear out, or changing the motor bearings if the wear out. 3 simple parts that I can carry in about 1 L of space. I won’t need spare alternators, starters, exhaust fittings, fuel filters, gaskets, pump impellers, and so on. The best part is that the components I may need can be easily be found anywhere in the world as they are standard parts used in many different applications.
After the motor was installed I was under a time crunch to complete my EV drive before the weekly beer can race on Lake Union, Duck Dodge.
I only had a few hours, so I didn’t take very many photos, but I did install and wire my contactor, controller, gages, and key. I followed the diagram shown below. After all was installed, I hurried to the local ORiely’s to pick up three more cheap marine deep cycle battery to match one that I had purchased in hopes of resolving Yanmar starting issues I experienced prior to the winter sailing trip Ava and I wen on.
Hurdle 1 – ORiely’s only had one more battery. Oh well, my controller will work on 24v. I bought the one thinking we should have enough juice to get out of the marina and go for it.
Hurdle 2 – My PC would not recognize the the controller to program it for my motor. This issue was a simple one, restart my PC, gotta love windows USB to Serial Drivers.
Hurdle 3 – The controller sends error signals when the throttle is activated. This was a wiring issue of the potentiometer. To solve the issue I had to contact Curtis Controls who directed me to one of their dealers who explained how the potentiometer should be wired. This step was not completed until the following day, we missed Duck Dodge but proceeded to drink some beers and grill some brats at the dock and enjoy the evening.
Hurdle 4 – After the batteries were connected and I heard the contactor make a solid “click click” as I turned the key on, but still received a low voltage error code from the controller. I was told that the contactor was not meant to work with 24V, so I needed to buy two more batteries. Back to ORiely’s I picked up the final 2 batteries for my 48V system and hooked everything up.
Hurdle 5 – Still receiving the low voltage error code. More back and forth with Kelly Controls (Fany was very helpful) only to determine the wiring of the coil on my contactor was incorrect (although it followed the schematic on the website). Once I grounded the coil properly, everything worked! Instead of hearing the “click click” I simply heard a “click”. This step took a while as I was sent to Australia for work for a month.
Wohoo! The Manta Drive is Alive!!
Up Next, Sea Trials on My Experience with EV – Part 8.
My plan to mount the motor beneath the floor boards took a turn for the worst. The motor wouldn’t fit once connected to the CV joint.
It was time to rethink my approach and consider Plan B. Plan B was to mount the motor above the propeller shaft and drive it off pulleys. This would place the motor directly below the last rung of the companionway ladder. While the motor would not longer be hidden below the floorboard and a direct drive, I sat back to think about the benefits.
Not accepting defeat, I changed gears and came up with an idea of how I was going to mount the motor. I was going to fiberglass in vertical stringers between the hull and the floorboard, to the stringers I would mount angle brackets and atop the angle brackets I would bolt the mounting bracket. Simple, right??
At the end of the day, it should look something like this.
After glassing in the stringers, I painted and epoxied some angle iron I picked up from the local recycle yard for $0.88. Notice in the photo the drive pulley is already on the prop shaft, what a PITA to install.
After I secured the angle with stainless lag bolts, I drilled the angle to accept the aluminum cross-member which I also picked up at the local recycle yard for $4.00. After a bit of discussion on the forums, I decided to place some rubber pads between the angle iron and the aluminium plate to further prevent galvanic corrosion and allow for some flexing. Thankfully I had an old mouse pad laying around that I was able to cut into strips and place between the dissimilar metals.
I then drilled holes for the 4 bolts that would be used to align the motor to the propeller shaft. In order to tension the belt I decided to use longer bolts and “float” the motor on nuts much like the leveling of a coinventional refrigerator.
Here is what the motor looks like fully connected. All that was left was to cut the floorboard to make room for the motor and take her for a test spin!
So simple, sleek, and elegant!
Follow along on My Experience with EV – Part 7 for the wiring details.
As of my last post, my plan was to mount my electric motor below the floorboards to open up the cabin layout. This would allow me to better utilize the space within the boat for living aboard. This dream was FOILED!
Here is what happened.
After I mounted the sprocket on the motor and bolted it to the CV joint I quickly learned that the motor would not fit below the floorboard! Earlier when I had tried it, I did not have to motor attached to the CV joint, and once I did, the motor would no longer fit. I tried rotating it, I tried moving it around, no dice. There was one angle that would allow it to fit, but it proposed several more issues that I was not willing to deal with.
Back to the drawing board, this was frustrating, I had a self imposed timeline that I would not meet, and one last Duck Dodge that I would not make prior to leaving for a work trip to Australia for a month. But the ever optamist that I am, I quickly changed gears and came up with a new solution. The motor would now mount below the entry steps, and spin the propeller shaft by way of pulleys.
There were a few advantages to this setup, so all in all, it was not a loss.
The new plan:
I was going to fiberglass in some wood pieces between the floor and the hull vertically. To these mounts I would bolt two short pieces of angle, and across the top, I would bolt a piece of aluminum plate. In the plate, I would use bolts to make adjustable motor mounts so that I could easily tighten/loosen the belt and properly align the motor.
In order to make it work, I would first have to remove the transmission coupling from the propeller shaft so that I could put the new pulley directly on the propeller shaft. According to the forums, this can be a daunting task that may include cutting my propeller shaft!
I decided to start with what I knew, I cut 4 pieces for wood to fit between the floor and the hull and sealed the wood with epoxy. After the epoxy cured, I glued the wood to the hull and the floor, and screwed them to the floor.
Once the glue cured, I came back across with fiberglass matte to make the mounts rock solid. Pro tip – cut the fiberglass matte to manageable sizes, and wet it out on wax paper before applying to the area. A good reference for this is a video from the folks as Sailing Uma found here. It is very important to completely wet out the fiberglass matte. Fiberglass has this uncanny ability to wick moisture into the entire matte from a single strand of dry exposed fiberglass. Since this mount is below the floorboards, there is a slight chance of moisture, and I don’t want my motor breaking the mounts free.
Now, onto that propeller shaft. Before I started disassembly, I had to first educate myself on how they work, how they are assembled, and what I needed to watch out for.
YouTube turned out to be the best source of information, and this video turned out to be very useful in giving me an understanding on how/why they work, and how they are assembled. The forums were filled with horror stories about how difficult the are to disassemble and how most people just end up cutting the shaft and starting fresh – an option I was not too keen on.
After some search, I came up with a plan to remove the coupling. First step was to remove the set screws on the caliper and loosen the hose clamp backup. Then I would pry the shaft apart from the CV joint and insert and socket between the coupling and the CV joint. I would then tighten the coupling and CV join back together and the socket would press the shaft out. This process worked like a charm, but was a serious PITA and took a couple hours, a video of my efforts can be found here. After getting the coupling off, I sanded off the rust and slid the new pulley on the shaft and reassembled. The reassembly was straightforward, but light sanding was required on both the shaft and the coupling.
Back to the motor mounts, I went on a hunt for some aluminum angle and plate. I ended up in South Seattle at a scrap yard where I was able to buy the angle cut to size along with the plate for a less than $10! Unfortunately, the angle was steel and the plate was aluminum, left to their own devices the two dissimilar metals would undergo galvanic corrosion, essentially eating each-other away. To combat this, a coat of paint and epoxy was used.
I took extra precaution against the corrosion, and cut up an old mouse pad to place between the two metals as a “rubber spacer.”
I screwed the steel angle to the fiberglass mounts I made with 8 hearty stainless steel screws and the mount was rock solid. After the plate was bolted down, I set the motor on top to mock up the mount and size the belt I would need.
I needed a 28″ B series belt, which I sourced from O’Riely for $11. The end result looked something like this:
Woohooo! The motor is mounted, time to make those electric connections!
Follow along for My Experience with EV – Part 6B for the end result of the motor mounts.
As I said earlier, one of the biggest perks to an electric motor was being able to open up my floor. Previously, in the middle of my cabin was a large coffee table the hid the Yanmar. Now that the Yanmar is gone, I decided to oust the coffee table as well. The new electric motor will be small enough to fit under the floor boards, so time for some renovation!
Cinderella’s Yanmar Diesel engine space converted to house the new tiny motor drive. We call him “Ol’ Sparky”
The first step was to break out the saws and cut away the fiberglass bed that the motor mounted to. This turned out to be a serious PITA. Lots of sweat, saws, and beers later, I had cut the old mounts away. For the record, the sawzall was the best tool for the job, I cut the fiberglass with a dremel and followed it with the sawzall. Any fine work I did with the Ryobi all in one, it’s easy to handle and can cut any of the funky angles. Of course, various pry bars made the process much quicker as well.
The fun thing about this boat project is that all of the tools I own are aboard along with all of my belongings (after all I do live on the boat), so I tend to get crafty with the tools I have to complete the job. I have not come across anything yet that my $250 Ryobi cordless set can’t handle.
After the engine bed was removed, I was left with a hole in the floor, which was no good. Fortunately, someone at the marina had decided to tear up his old teak deck and throw it away! New floorboards were free.
I was hoping to make the floor flush, and my Ericson has a slight downward angle in the floor which I had to account for when I was cutting the boards to fit. I decided to make the floor in 3 panels. The first panel would be made of wood (free teak), the second and third panel would be made together and later cut into separate pieces. Because the second panel was also to be the new electric motor mount, I decided to make a template out of cardboard to use when I get the steel/aluminum panel that the motor will mount to.
After cutting the board and cardboard to fit, I wrapped them in wax paper so I could use them to bed the fiberglass I will be using to make the floor flush.
Fiberglass is easy to do once you get the hang of it, but it really takes a toll on my patience! Fortunately, the controller hasn’t arrived in the mail yet, or I would be chomping at the bit as I watched the fiberglass dry.
When they installed the engine, they did me a great service and aligned it using a CV type joint rather than directly connecting the transmission to the propeller shaft. What this means for me is that I don’t have to worry as much about aligning the motor perfectly and the thrust from the propeller won’t damage my new electric motor. I just have to make/find a coupling to convert the CV flange to my electric motor’s 3/4″ shaft.
I inquired at one of the local machine shops and was quotes $300! No way was I going to spend that kind of money on a little piece of metal, surely there was another way. After work, I drove down to the local bearing shop and found a sprocket that mounts to my motor, and fits into the bolt pattern of the CV joint, and for a mere $27! One last mounting challenge, I need to find a steel or aluminum plate that I can transfer my cardboard template onto and use to mount the motor to the floor….
Follow along on My Experience with EV – Part 6 as I finish up the motor mounts.
While I sit here anxiously waiting for my parts to arrive, I decided to sit down and draw out a wiring diagram for what my system will look like. Kelly Controls has a recommended wiring diagram on their website for their controller, so I started there and added a few things specific to my system.
First off, I wanted a key to turn everything on and off, to keep people from jumping on-board and taking Cinderella for a joy ride without my permission. I also wanted a buzzer and a fan that will kick on if the motor got too hot for any reason. And because amazon is at your fingertips, I bought a couple of meters to display the battery percentage, the amps being drawn, the battery voltage, and the total energy used. This should make the system look a little sleeker and give me feedback on how it’s running. The wiring diagram also called for a resistor, a diode, and two switches (one to enable regen, and one to go between forward and reverse.)
After a few hours comparing options, I hit the bank account for another 30.62 bringing my total to 638.97.
The last components required are a throttle lever and 3 batteries. This should be another ~$400.
This should bring my total cost of the system to 1038.97, or 1588.97 excluding the engine sale. Not too bad considering I was expecting $1700 overall. Before I get too excited, let’s wait and see how it goes.
Follow along on My Experience with EV – Part 5 for adventures in motor mounts.
After loads and loads of searching through online EV forums and watching videos on YouTube, I decided to take a chance on the Manta 2 DC permanent magnet electric motor. I was able to find the motor and an adapter plate on EBay for a cool $463.35 with tax and shipping ($60 above my estimate, but I also purchased a mount). Wohoo!! It’s happening!
Right around this time, I managed to sell the Yanmar for $550 to a friend who is building up his own sailboat, an Islander 30. This is big, as it will offset ~ 1/3 of the cost to repower Cinderella. I could have parted out the engine and probably broken even, but the time and care involved was not something I wanted to take on.
So, I have a motor, but what about the rest? I needed a controller, what’s a controller, how do they work? Back to Google. Let’s simplify controllers, they are a means to “control” power flow into an electric motor to vary the speed of your motor. Otherwise, you have either full speed or no speed. Which, as you can imagine is not ideal when trying to maneuver in tight quarters.
Classically, DC motors were controlled by resistors. Resistors simply take the energy going into a motor and burn it off as heat, therefore reducing the energy going to the motor. Nice, simple, right? Wrong! “Burning off” as heat translates to poor efficiency and also adds heat to electronics which substantially shortens their life.
Enter the controller, the controller plays upon the concept of Pulse Width Modulation or PWM, a fancy acronym for a simple concept. Basically a microprocessor (think computer) controls a series of switches (kind of like really small light switches) which open and close very, very quickly. When this happens the stream of energy going to the motor is stopped, then started, then stopped, then started and so forth from those switches. The end result is a means to speed up and slow down an electric motor without excessive losses.
That’s great, but I still don’t know very much about controllers, which one do I need, what do I need to watch out for? I am after all pretty new to all of this.
More research, more google, and I landed on a company called Kelly Controls LLC. Kelly Controls makes controllers for all sorts of applications, for both AC and DC motors. Kelly Controls have a couple of benefits that set them apart from the others: cost, programmability, reverse, and regen ability.
The controller decision was possibly the most challenging so far. There are a handful of major brands: Alltrax, Curtis, Kelly, Sevcon and a few others. I only know this due to the EV forums, which spoke highly of Alltrax, Sevcon and Curtis, but had mixed reviews of Kelly.
From what I could tell, most of the major EV sailboat kits out there utilize Sevcon controllers. Why did I land on Kelly? Well after speaking with a few of the companies, I was told that their controllers “Don’t do regen” with PM motors. They also don’t reverse internally, I would need to buy another $200 component to make that work. Bummer! The decision was simplified, Kelly Controls it would be.
Controllers are rated by two basic numbers, Amps and Volts, sounds an awful lot like high school physics. Both of these components are defined by the motor and battery bank choice. Amps, or the measure of current through your system is the limiting factor for all things battery.
Batteries are rated in Amp/hrs or the amount of current that they can provide for a set amount of time. Remember I said my electric system in the boat pulled about 20-30 amps at 12V? That probably means little to anyone that hasn’t had a refresher in high school physics, but it simply means I can run my electronics for about 10 hours before I need to charge the batteries. The same concept applies to my electric motor, the only difference is that the motor will use a higher voltage, and the amp draw will vary with how fast I want to go.
After comparing Cinderella’s system with that of other conversions, I will hope to run Cinderella between 20 and 60 amps. That translates to speeds of about 2-4 kts or roughly 2-5 mph for those non-boaters.
Knowing this, I should be able to motor for 1 – 4 hrs on my cheap batteries and 2-8 hrs on the ideal Oasis Firefly’s. But the Fireflies will last a lot longer and can take more abuse between charges, they are the ideal battery. Motoring slowly, I should expect about a 30-40 mile range which is sufficient to allow Cinderella to get through the locks and into the Puget Sound (1.5 mile trip), remember I plan to regen under sail, and will eventually install solar panels. This should allow for plenty of summer sailing fun while I get my funds in order to upgrade before I make the trip around the marble.
Alright back to my controller choice. I will be running Cinderella’s motor at 48V, so I have one of the numbers figured out, what about the Amps? I told you I plan to run the motor at 20-60 amps right? Well the motor is capable of 100 amps, and from what I read, you want at least 50% head room to keep the controller running efficiently (why they don’t rate them practically is beyond me). This narrowed my search down to a 48V 200-300 Amp controller capable of regenerative braking. I also wanted the controller to have the ability to reverse the charge to the motor which will allow me to reverse without buying more components.
With those stipulations, I settled upon the Kelly Controls PM48301, a 300A 48V controller with Regen for $349. Along with the controller I purchased some fuses to protect the wiring, a contactor to allow for an on/off key switch, and a heat sink to help keep the controller cool in the tropics. The total purchase price was $695 with shipping.
This brings my total to $1158.35 if we subtract $550 for the engine I sold, that figure becomes 608.35. Not too bad, I’m still on track with my budget. I still need batteries and a lever that can convert my boats throttle lever into an electrical signal that the controller can recognize.
Follow along on My Experience with EV – Part 4 where I buy more electronics to get Cinderella electric.
Out with the Yanmar! On to craigslist it went. A few months prior I started watching some sailing channels on YouTube, one of which was Sailing Uma. I would highly recommend this channel and their website here, they have loads of do it yourself information, and are just inspiring to watch.
The inspiration for the electric drive came because of a few episodes Sailing Uma did about going electric. It looked clean, simple, and absolutely great! My interest was piqued. Conventional wisdom would tell me “battery technology isn’t there yet” “you won’t have much range” “electric motors are fine on flat water, but what about wind and waves”
That last one that really hit me hard. If there is wind I will… SAIL! After all, Cinderella is a sailboat, and we do intend to SAIL around the world. So I started researching, lots of researching.
Unlike internal combustion engines, I had no experience with electric motors. I didn’t even know how they worked. Are there different kinds? Which is best?
This took me down a path that lead me all the way back to Nicola Tesla, inventor of more electric gizmos that I realized. After lots of articles, a book, My Electric Sailboats, and some searching of the various electric vehicle forums, I was convinced. Electric is the way of the future, and oddly enough, it was the way of the past.
I began by calling around the local scrap yards and electric motor shops here is Seattle to try and source a cheap, used electric motor. No luck. To Ebay!
I was eventually persuaded to small permanent magnet electric motors in the 5000 – 7000 watt size. Due to the limited capacity in batteries and the cost of components, 48 volts was the goal, which would require 4 batteries. There are a slew of battery options out there, which to choose?
During one of my many stops at Fisheries Supply, I was handed a business card for Alex and Jack Wilkens at Seattle Boat Works. It’s amazing how tight knit the boating community here in the PNW really is, and everyone seems to be trying to help each other out.
I gave Alex a call the following week. I told him of my plan and asked for some advice. Alex was really helpful and after I sent him Cinderella’s specs, he happily did some calculations and gave me a rundown of what I should expect of my proposed system. Alex was really up to date with battery tech and gave me recommendations . It boiled down to really two options, use a conventional AGM system or a bank of Oasis Firefly batteries.
Ultimately, I hope to go the route of the Oasis Firefly, but cost unfortunately is keeping me away from them at the moment. I have way too many projects on my hands with Cinderella already. In the meantime I will make do with the tried and true cheap ol’ lead acid marine deep cycle batteries, 4 of which should cost about $400 and I already have one compared to the $2000 of a Firefly system.
The picture started coming together, let’s take a look at the expected cost:
Motor – $400
Controller – $400
Batteries – $300
Charger – $200
Misc – $300
Total – ~$1600
All in all, not too bad considering the cost of a new diesel engine is ~$7000 and this has the prospect of “maintenance free” operation which should simplify things considerably. I could also fit the motor beneath the floor boards in Cinderella which would completely open up the cabin! No more obtrusive coffee table.
I was also excited at the idea of regenerative braking, or the ability to charge my battery bank with my propeller while under sail. According to the web forums, this is theoretical, and I shouldn’t expect much, but Alex at Seattle Boat Works said he saw as much as 7 amps at 48V DC going back into the batteries while under sail, and only at 4 kts! I was intrigued.
I have an idea of current draw from installing a fancy Blue Sea Systems electric panel in Cinderella. Cinderella draws about 20 -30 amps of 12V DC while underway with instruments, lights, ipad charging, fridge, stereo and stove on at any given point in time. Granted this is a rough estimate, but by switching to LED for running and interior lights I have room to dramatically reduce my current draw, and while under sail I can offset a large portion of this without any solar or wind!
Follow along on My Experience with EV – Part 3 where I buy expensive electronic things.