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The Eco Warrior

by John Curnow, Global Editor, SailWorldCruising.com 19 Apr 22:00 UTC
Lone cruising yacht up in Australia's Cape York, adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef © John Curnow

Juxtaposition. The passage of time. Evolution. Meeting today's needs. These and a whole range of thoughts around the theme of compare and contrast had been floating around in my head. Pretty much in the same way as I had been evaluating what it would be like to be lazing away on a lilo in some idyllic anchorage, whilst undertaking the very passage to get me to said euphoria. An Arcadia, Utopia, Atlantis, or Eden.

You see, it is not that long ago that the idea of a cruiser designed to stay off-grid (not sure that was even a term back then) for prolonged periods of time came in the form of a monohull with perhaps a raised coachhouse, but a small cockpit, and an undignified helm position that was difficult to get to, as too were all the control lines.

Yet, by far and away, the characteristic elements were heaps of bulkheads down below, boxy little spaces for cabins, galley, dinette, and nav desk, let alone the head, and a disastrous lack of air flow. Even wind scoops funnelling huge amounts of breeze down the for'ard hatch had a hell of a time getting any of it to exit back out the companionway.

Now their performance was just about as uninspiring, but many were good sea boats, with a kindly motion, which was great, for you were never going to be able to outrun anything, especially your shadow. However, possibly the most memorable item on board all was the huge, outrageously noisy, and downright dangerous wind generator spinning its blades at near supersonic speeds, mounted on what was effectively a 316 telegraph pole, at, near, or part of the pushpit.

Said pole needed the hideous main stick with absolutely no rake, and more often than not the welded on steps to be on board with it to try and make it look less ghastly, and I am not sure that EVER worked. People used to be terribly disparaging about washing hanging on the rail trying to dry, but frankly I welcomed the distraction. Anyway, the redeeming feature was that they did, and still do, generate a decent amount of power.

That was then, and this is NOW!

March on, and we get to today. One hull has grown to two, or even three. There is about as much glazing as a skyscraper, and the house power demand to run all the TVs, AirCon, USB devices, Nav Gear, MFDs, lights blazing on top and down below, five refrigerators, two ice makers, induction cooktops, al fresco BBQs, de-sal plants, pre-amps, amps, and 20-inch woofers, has grown to about the same height as said CBD towers.

Effectively, you have to start with: nothing is as cheap as litre of Diesel. True, this too has gone up a lot of late, but the mix today is always going to have solar, wind, hydro and fossil fuel to look after your house needs. What has changed, is what solar can deliver, and how much hydro will assist. However, arguably the biggest change is in the storage.

Best of all, you no longer have to have a set of Iron Ladies in each hull for propulsion, and then one (or a pair of) gensets in the same engineering spaces. Alternators can now deliver massive charging off the mains, and it won't be long before hydrogen fuel cells will be able to deliver the kind of backup grunt required for the apartments afloat.

Over the last few years, it has been our pleasure to liaise with, and run material from, Marc Hawxhurst, the President of Nova Luxe Yachts. His knowledge of the electrification of yachts, and the ability to distil it down to manageable pieces, has proven to be exceptional. Little wonder then that our last conversation covered off three important elements in the whole eco warrior equation.

Hydrogenation

"Hydrogenation is allowing the propeller to spin whilst sailing, and then this rotation energizes the electric motor, sending power back to the battery. All electric motors are capable of hydrogenation, but some are much better than others. Arguably more important than the type of electric motor, is the type of propeller you have. Servo-props allow you to change the pitch of the propeller, and this improves power generation ten fold.

"If you're thinking about hydrogenation the first question to ask yourself is how fast can your vessel sail? If the answer is less than seven knots then forget about hydrogenation in your buying criteria," said Hawxhurst.

"The Ocean Renegade R5 by Nova Luxe has the Torqeedo Deep Blue System with 25kw motors. It often sails at 10 knots, and at this speed each propeller regenerates 1kw per hour. There is a speed reduction of about half a knot. As you increase speed, power generation increases exponentially, as does the drag from the propeller. At say 15 knots the reduction in cruise speed is about a knot, but power generation more than doubles. As an added benefit, I expect hydrogenation to be the first course of action if considering reefing."

Living at Anchor

Life at anchor is considerably better if your vessel has electric motors versus diesels. If you have electric motors, then you also have batteries, and you can use that electric power for other things whilst at anchor. "If you have two 15kw motors and a properly sized the battery bank for a 1c discharge, then you have 30kw of battery power," says Marc Hawxhurst.

N.B. Editor's note. I had to seek complete clarification as well. The only dumb question is the one not asked at all! '1c discharge' means it can discharge the entire battery rating in one hour. So a 10kw battery is capable of sending all 10kw to the motor in just one hour. Higher than 1c rating is usually for high performance things like drones. It's great, but gets hot. Below 1c are lower quality batteries, but they could also be more reliable and long-lived.

Back to it with Marc: "This is more than enough power to run everything on the yacht, including AC for over 24 hours. Induction cooktop, hot water, watermaker, electric grill and air conditioning should always run off inverters that get power from the battery bank."

"The more solar you have the better. This quietly charges the batteries all day long, and in many cases can overcome the power usage from the night before, as well as top the batteries back up. If it can't, then at some point in the day, at your convenience you would run the generator to charge the batteries. Using multiple sources of power to your batteries ensures you always have power when you need it."

"Even diesel models are taking steps towards a more enjoyable experience at anchor. The old strategy of 1 or 2kw of lead acid battery power for the house is changing. Instead, the house/hotel battery bank should be 5-10kw. Really, it should be sized to cover the amperage draw of all electronic devices and run everything for a 12-hour night."

"If you do this you do not need a generator to run heavy loads, then actually you don't need a generator at all. The alternators on motors have gotten better, and using them to charge the battery bank eliminates the added expense of the generator, and allows you to spend that money on additional batteries."

"Finally, the last tip which I recommend to propellerheads (nerds) is a 48v hotel bank. Get all the devices you can that run on 48v, and use Victron step down units to run the small loads that need 12v. You will save a significant amount of weight with a smaller wire gauge and everything runs more efficiently."

Motor Sailing

"The benefits of motor sailing with an electric motor are generally not known. Once this information is understood (and better yet, experienced) it will be the death of diesel motors for many sailboats."

"Electric motors are always on, silently sitting there, just waiting for power. By contrast, you know when Diesels are on by virtue of the sound, smell and vibration. In a light wind situation, bobbing around at three knots, you can apply 100 watts of power into the water and what happens? You increase your speed by one and a half knots. Now you keep your sails from luffing, can hold a truer course, and you have steering control for tacking manoeuvres. Oh yeah, you are only using 100 WATTS! Your 30kw battery bank can operate for 25 days at this output."

In closing, Hawxhurst offered, "The cold hard truth is sailors motor sail over 80% of the time. Why not make this time as enjoyable as sailing under only wind power?"

OK. We have stories, lessons, inspirations and history to regale yourself with. Please use the search window at the top of the homepage if you are after something specific, as only the latest news appears on the website as you scroll down. We enjoy bringing you the best stories from all over the globe.

If you want to see what is happening in the other hemisphere, go to the top of the SailWorldCruising home page and the drag-down menu on the right, select the other half of the globe and, voila, it's all there for you. Also, we have just had a significant upgrade to our systems, and trainspotters will have seen that the button next door to 'Home' now says 'Editorial' which collects the latest from our team and also lets you see what each member has been up to of late.

Finally, stay safe, and ready for all that 2022 will offer,

John Curnow
Global Editor, SailWorldCruising.com

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