Moving forward by looking back…

Above: Alcatraz’s Hybrid Tour Boat

C.E. Grundler

I’ll admit it wasn’t easy, giving up the wind for a diesel engine. The sailor part of my brain still cringes at the thought, and while I’ve vowed that Annabel Lee *will* sport a mast and sail before I’m done, I know they’re only to dampen her tendency to roll like an inebriated Weeble and for my own personal tastes – at least I’ll have some sort of sail, which is better than none. But that doesn’t change the fact that her propulsion is mechanical rather than wind, and by design that’s something I can’t alter. And even though she sips a mere gallon an hour, the less carbon footprints I can leave in my wake, the more I’ll enjoy my time on the water. But I have a plan, or rather, stages of a plan, and those actually weighed into my decision to buy this very boat to begin with.

First off, the naturally aspirated 4 cylinder, 80 hp Lehman diesel is a perfect candidate for conversion to biodiesel. Diesel engines were originally designed to run on vegetable based fuel and do very well on converted waste cooking oil, though these days science is turning to algae as a new source of biofuels, and biodiesel users report cleaner, better running engines. The issues, conversion-wise, involve concerns with standard fuel lines and gaskets designed to handle petroleum based fuels, as well as biodiesel’s cleaning properties, which can lead to clogged fuel filters as the new fuel breaks up residues left behind from years of petrol products. But with every passing day more resources become available to simplify conversion, so once I clear up most of the other major projects onboard, I’ll turn my attention to this endeavor. But even as I continue my research, I’ve found myself considering a second, quite intriguing, (though initially more expensive) alternative – going hybrid.

Electric motors have existed in boats long before Henry Ford was cranking out Model Ts; in fact, Elco Yachts was using electric drives in the launches back in 1893, and electric motors, charged by a diesel engine, powered submarines through WWII. Diesel-electric transmissions are a proven system in trains and ships as well. Elco still offers marine electric engines, both in new boats as well as to retrofit into existing boats up to 50 feet, and they’re not the only one. Electric engines can run as straight electrical, or can be combined with a diesel engine, solar panels and wind turbines to keep the batteries topped off. With the displacement hull and easily adaptable engine room, a change like this would be simple. The way I see it, a nice electric motor, combined with a diesel, a wind generator, and a hardtop of solar panels over the bridge should keep my little boat moving along quite cleanly and greenly into the future.

For more on electric/hybrid systems, check out this month’s BoatU.S. Magazine article: Run Silent, Run Green

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One Response to Moving forward by looking back…

  1. C.E.
    I’ve been on this company’s mailing list for a couple of years now and they are getting quite good at repowering older boats –
    I, too, dream of lessening the carbon footprint. Because I would like to cross oceans, I would like a diesel/electric combo. The technology is there. And it’s getting more affordable.

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