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S A I L I N G   E L E C T R I C

 A lot of great ideas arise out of necessity.  This was no different.  Over a year ago, we had just sailed over 1600 miles from St. Thomas to Charleston, South Carolina after a grueling and difficult transition from our 46' monohull to Ophelia.  The strain was immediate with numerous systems in need up upgrade or repair, including many that were very much unexpected.  By the time we reached the US for the purposes of doing some of these upgrades and additions much cheaper than in the islands, including new collaborations with Cruise RO watermakers and Chins lithium batteries, we were already wondering if we'd bitten off more than we could chew and barely keeping our heads above water.  Then, after 3 months of hard work and about a week before we were set to depart for St. Augustine, the unthinkable happened...we discovered our 30-year-old port side Volvo diesel had locked up.

After an exhaustive effort to free it, including visits from professionals, we were forced to give up at the time...we couldn't afford to sit in an expensive slip or on the hard in the US in order to take more time trying to fix it, especially with hurricane season creeping up.  We set sail for St. Augustine with one motor.  Issues with that motor ensued, causing us more stress and drama as we struggled to get out of the US and down to Grenada where we could sit, safe from hurricanes and free of dock or yard fees while we sorted out the motor and our troublesome generator.

We succeeded in restoring our young but mistreated generator to good running form.  But the more I learned about the condition of our port motor and the more I analyzed what it would take at a minimum to get it going - we had pirated many parts from it to keep the starboard motor running - it became clear we would be looking at $6,000 - $10,000 to make a 30 year old motor useful again.  It felt like a truly bad investment...no matter how much of it we fixed, what might go wrong next?  Replacing them with new diesels was FAR out of our budget, in the neighborhood of $20,000 per motor.  

While many viewers had casually suggested "convert to electric" I hadn't given it much thought.  The only decent conversions I knew of were extremely pricey, even more than new diesels.  But without other good options I decided to go down the rabbit hole and find out if I'd missed anything.  It turns out - I DEFINITELY had.  I discovered several smaller companies producing DIY kits for sailboats.  The components weren't sleek and sexy with state of the art packaging like certain high dollar options out there.  But they WERE trusted, durable, waterproof components compiled by true experts in EV (electric vehicles) and had been proven in many, many sailboats electrified by owners a lot like me.  DIYers who were fed up with old, smelly, messy, greasy, loud, smokey diesels requiring lots of maintenance and prone to any number of breakdowns, and who wanted a FAR cleaner, FAR simpler, and to my surprise, CHEAPER option.  One company's options stood out, and as I corresponded with the owner via email, hit the EV forums and researched on my own, I realized this was a very real option for us. 

 

It had already been done on countless monohulls, including some that had crossed oceans with no real issues.  Having a catamaran may double many of the components but it also grants you redundancy if issues arise.  And we have two big plusses - ONE, our boat is shaft drive, making the transfer of power to the props incredibly simple (saildrives really complicate things) and TWO, we're sailors.  This, I discovered is a BIG one, because a big part of understanding the philosophy of how to get the most out of electric motors on a sailboat and get the range you need is not forgetting - it's a sailboat.  One of the instances where electrics shine is when motorsailing in light wind.  At times when many might drop the sails and "hammer down" the throttle, a sailboat with electric motors on a long passage operates on a different philosophy, one where the motors and sails often work together.  This philosophy feels right to us as we're very much sail first sailors.  After all, we've travelled 2500 miles and counting with one 30 year old (and a little sketchy) diesel.  We use it very little even on long passages.

Another huge benefit we already have is a good diesel generator, which we are more than willing to use.  With the right chargers and an understanding of how to stay below the proper power curve when motoring (not hammer down), you can greatly extend your range in dead calm by running the generator and charging while motoring.  While we love the idea of being kinder to the planet, we're not electric purists...we believe having a generator for this purpose makes perfect sense.

All of the above said...this conversion won't be cheap, but perhaps surprisingly less than you might think.  Below is a list of all the components we plan to use and their price.  We also know there will be additional expenses along to way to make it all work.  We're currently in St. Martin working and saving to make this dream a reality.  Our very first step, coming VERY soon, is a major solar upgrade, then on to engine removal, restoration of the motor rooms, and then onward with the major components as we can afford them.  With a lot of luck and little bit of help, we hope we're ready to cross the Atlantic in May of 2025.  If you would like to help us out with any portion of this project, please drop us a line, consider becoming a Patreon (link below), or simply make a donation in the "TIP JAR" at the bottom of this page!  We're currently working on a "donor appreciation system" to be implemented soon.  Thanks for your support!

T H E   L I S T

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Electric Motors

This DIY kit from Thunderstruck Motors includes Sevcon controller, throttle control, motor display, wire harness, and other goodies.  Upgradeable to 24KW by increasing voltage.  X2 required.

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Gear Reduction Unit

Bolts directly to shaft and delivers the proper RPM for the application.  We'll have to makes some guesses to get the reduction right, but our feathering props help dial in the perfect thrust.  X2 required.

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Radiator Kit

The ME1616 motors are liquid cooled by a combo of distilled water and glycol.  This is the only fluid in the system.  No thru-hulls required for electric motors. X2 required.

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LifePo4 Battery Pack

For economy, precise monitoring, and ease of cell replacement if ever needed, we'll be building one 32-cell pack, resulting in 48V and nearly 600 amp hours. X32 required.  

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MCU

This Master Control Unit is a BMSC and more - for controlling and protecting the battery pack and monitoring its state at all times and also controls up to 4 chargers.  It's packed with too many features and functions to list.  X1 required.

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BMS Satellite

The BMS Satellite works in conjunction with the MCU and provides the individual measurements from each cell in the pack.  X1 required.

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Dilithium Display for MCU

This is a display designed specifically for the MCU and provides virtually all necessary battery information.  While under way this will show us exactly how much power we're using and replenishing in real time.  X1 required.

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TSM2500 Charger CAN Enabled

This waterproof charger supplies 25 amps of charging power at 48V and is designed to be controlled by the MCU.  We believe our generator will handle two simultaneously.  X2 required.

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310 Watt Solar Panel

These are from Budget Marine right here in St. Martin at a REALLY good price.  We've heard great reports from friends using them of over 320 watts output.  Getting these locally is a huge win.  X4 required.

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BougeRV 200 Watt Flexible Panels

These panels and this company come very well reviewed and the panels are well priced.  These will be installed on our cloth cockpit canopy, providing another 1200 watts of solar.  X6 required.

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Victron 150/45 MPPT

These model will work at both 12V and 48V, at a high charge rate, which we'll need as we transition from our house LifePo4 bank to the new 48V pack.  X2 for the 4 stern panels and X2 for the 6 flex panels.

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Victron Orion DC/DC Converter

Ultimately, all charging sources, solar and AC chargers, will be directed to the 48V pack.  This DC/DC converter will charge our 900 amp hour 12v bank from the 48V pack.  X1 required.

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Dual Lever Throttle Controls

The electric throttle controls for the motors are controllable by cables, but you need a continuous, one-direction throttle motion.  I think these will do the trick with our existing cables but I'm still researching.  X1 required.

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Stainless and Connectors

Our new stern solar panels will require a simple upgrade of our current solar frame.  At 4 panels instead of 3 and slightly bigger, I plan to make the frame from stainless and eliminate our tilt feature.  Amount unknown.

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General Cables and "Stuff"

We know we'll need solar cable and also quite a bit of cabling for the batteries, motors, etc., though we have a LOT of very heavy useable cable already built in from the battery runs.  So we'll have to figure this out as we go.

T H E   P R O C E S S

Okay, so if you're REALLY interested in this and have been keeping tabs, that's a total of $18,362.  Let's round up to $20,000 to account for the stainless steel frame (it's very simple), cables, etc.  Hopefully we can make a little bit back on a few things we're swapping out - the old solar panels, the Outback MPPT, and of course, the one still running Volvo MD22 - but those are big unknowns.  $20,000 is a LOT of dough...I'm a little dizzy thinking about it...and if you've watched our channel for long at all, you'll know we don't operate out of deep pockets.  In fact, there's not ONE SINGLE THING on this boat - repair, fabrication, addition, installation, restoration, clean up, jerry rig - that we haven't ultimately done completely ourselves.  This philosophy and working nearly full time while we cruise is how we manage to do this at all.  So it's a BIG number for us.  But that's also the price of ONE new diesel motor, IF we were lucky.  Add on having that motor installed, the haul out, yard fees, etc.?!  Forget about it.  Never mind two motors.  We truly believe we're onto something GREAT here, now we just have to make it happen.  And as always, we'll be doing every bit of the work ourselves.  

 

This whole thing will be a learning process, but we at least know where we need to start, and that's with solar.  One, it's an item we've just now saved enough to tick it off the list.  Two, it might as well be first so we can reap the benefits of it in our daily lives over the next year or so, running the generator much less and saving back a little of that cost.  I'll begin with the upgrade to our stern solar.  Our three old 200w panels are very anemic so the change will be huge for us.  From about 400w max to over 1200w.  The first step will be building the frame, then swapping out the panels and installing two of the Victron MPPT's in place of our current Outback, which is a bit small.  From there it will be on to figuring out how to remove the port motor first and then doing a major overhaul to the motor room, complete with water sealing, new paint, and LED lights.  From there on the steps will be pretty obvious and also dictated by our available funds.  ALL of this in addition to our ongoing renovations to continue making this old boat a beautiful home for our family.  We can't wait to see how it all shakes out!  Many, MANY updates to come!!

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