Aug 172012

To start off things that the boat itself will need, we might as well start out with one of the most important, and most expensive, a motor.  I know what you are thinking…”It’s a sailboat.  Can’t you just sail around?”.  Well, yeah, kinda sorta.  People were sailing around for centuries on boats without motors.  Some really good sailors still do today.  But I, Capt. Fritter, ain’t a good sailor.  While maneuvering under sail is ok out in the open water where you can’t hurt anyone, trying to get through a narrow channel or move a boat into a slip or dock under sail takes some skills.  Skills with which I am sorely lacking.  Sure I could try, but squeezing my cheap ass boat into a slip with a multi million dollar yacht on either side is just a YouTube viral video away from infamy, and a lawsuit or two.  A motor can save all that.

In fact, sailing is a nice cheap way to get around.  No fuel, no noise, little maintenance, but…it’s a slow way of getting around.  And what do you do when the wind stops, or bad weather moves in, or you are in a hurry?  For that, an auxiliary motor comes in handy.  Most sailboats will have an engine.  Some have the engine built inside.  The big storage space under the cockpit I have on the Fritter is where a motor would normally sit.  It may be diesel, it may be gas, and it will be attached to shaft that goes through the hull into the water, with a propeller on the end.  Built in motors are nice because you can put in something a bit larger and with more power.  But they stink up the cabin, doing maintenance is a chore due to the confined space, and there is always something leaking.

The alternative of course is the trusty outboard.  Depending on the size of the boat, a small outboard will push your vessel around pretty easily.  It’s fairly simple to attach an outboard to the rear of a sailboat.  There are many brackets that will do the trick.  The size of the engine will depend, as I said, on the size of the boat, and how much power you will need to get around.  There are many options when it comes to outboards for sailboats.  A long shaft is popular due to the configuration of the vessel.  A short shaft engine will just spin in the air in choppy conditions.  Not much use if you need to move.  The old 2 stroke engines are being phased out due to their noise and pollution.  Four strokes are quieter and getting better gas mileage.

And speaking of fuel.  If you pull up to a marina and get fuel from the dockside pump, expect to pay at least a dollar more than if you bought fuel at a gas station and trucked it in.  Why?  Because marinas know you need the fuel, and they can charge more.   (If you think that is bad, go buy an airplane and start pricing fuel.  It’s even worse.).  And then there is the problem of fuel storage on board.  Some vessels may have built in fuel tanks, others will require a portable tank.

What I have:  As I have mentioned in the past, the Fritter was built without an engine.  It was designed to be run on sails or with the addition of an outboard.  There is a handy outboard mount on the stern with a easy lift handle to bring up a heavy engine out of the way.  It’s a pretty easy task to get an engine, clamp it on and be ready to go.  In addition there is a portable fuel tank, I haven’t checked it’s condition yet, and a throttle control up near the wheel.  It’s in rough shape but usable.  All I really need is an engine and I am ready to go.

What I want:  Electric!  I would love to be able to propel this fine vessel under electric power only.  No fuel, no noise, no maintenance.  In fact there are some options out there for electric outboards.  A large trolling motor might be enough to get the Fritter in and out of the slip on a calm day.  Maybe even get her out of the channel if the tide ain’t running against her.  But it wouldn’t be enough for quick moves or emergencies.  However, there are some real genuine electric outboards that would fit my needs.

Torqueedo out of Germany makes a beautiful line of lightweight pure electric outboard motors including a new one with the equivalent power of a 9 hp fuel burning outboard.  Here is what one looks like…

That is actually the smaller version but you get the general idea.  Electrics have a lot of torque so you can get by with a smaller engine.  The guys at epowermarine have a very informative website to help you choose the right size engine and batteries for your vessel along with some other electric options that are available.

An electric outboard would solve so many issues that come with a gas powered motor.  My ideal set up would be an electric motor with sufficient power and batteries to propel the Fritter about 100 miles at 5 knots in calm seas.  That would get me from one end of the Keys to the other.

With electrics there is virtually no maintenance, no noise, and nothing to go wrong.  No oil to change, no plugs, no pollution.  As long as you have battery power you can go.

Reality:  But as you may have guessed, electrics ain’t cheap.  About twice the price of an equivalent gas motor plus you’ll need to add in sufficient batteries and a way to charge them.  It’s a very expensive option at least up front.  When gas outboards can be had all over the place for cheap, is it worth it to drop $4000 or more on electrics?  If it was a different boat, a Gemini for example, this would be a no brainer.  I would have twin electrics and lithium ion batteries and solar chargers and wind generators and lobster for dinner every night.  But it ain’t.  It’s a cheap old sailboat, and I don’t have a lot of money to play around with.  And I’m eating a lot of salads lately.

For the moment, an engine is not a high priority, unless I were forced to evacuate the marina due to a storm or something else.  A trolling motor might work for emergencies to at least get me someplace safe but sooner or later, I will have to invest in a motor of some sort.  I’ll hold off as long as I can or until a good deal comes along.  In the meantime I’ll be brushing up on my sailing skills.

Capt. Fritter