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Hyde Sails 2021 - Basic LEADERBOARD

Living the Future: Electric Propulsion on a Classic Yacht

by Maddie & Herb Benavent 6 Jun 05:45 UTC
Rigging Doctor © Maddie & Herb Benavent

Maddie and Herb Benavent have been sailing with an electric engine since 2015. As many of us are contemplating moving away from fossil fuels, they share their experience for our benefit.

Many would argue that electric motors are the future of sailing and we agree. Herby and I (Maddie) live and cruise on a 1968 Morgan 45. In 2015 we decided to replace our diesel motor with an Electric Yacht QT20. In the beginning, we had 8 AGM batteries, which we switched out for lithium years later. The expectation was that we would be able to cruise full time and never spend money on diesel or worry about loud noises, the smell of exhaust, or constant maintenance.

It is important to note that electric motors are for those who primarily use their sails. It is simply a backup for cases in which we are going so slowly we have no steerage or when we are docking. It does not have the range nor strength of a diesel, but it has many pros such as hydro regeneration and the ability to "fuel up" with the sun.

When we were cruising the Atlantic for three years, we used our motor so infrequently that we only carried 300 watts of solar. We also supplemented it with a Honda EU2000 generator.

Now that we are motoring up the Intercoastal Waterway, we have a kilowatt of solar and we are able to motor an average of about 14 miles per day. If we go over 20 miles, we stop for a full day to recharge.

For those sailors who rely heavily on diesel propulsion or have major time restraints, electric drive is not ideal. The weather has a very large influence on whether or not we move on any given day. For us, this deep connection with nature through the gift of pure sailing is worth the patience that we have had to learn. We provision and plan for many extra days at sea if the wind does not cooperate and there are days in the intercoastal waterway when the winds are against us that we simply can't move.

A huge game-changer was our lithium battery installation. We hand-built five 48 volt LiFePO4 batteries and now have a substantially larger range. My advice would be to factor lithium batteries into your budget if you decide to make the transition to electric drive. The motor is quiet and peaceful, and requires very little maintenance. When parts do need replacing, they are small and easy to transport. After five years of cruising full time with this setup, and with the knowledge that battery technology is improving rapidly, we can confidently say that we will never return to diesel.

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This article has been provided by the courtesy of Ocean Cruising Club.

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