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 E-Pod 3000+ Electric Drives Cruising the SF Delta Summer 2009

Overall the e-Pod 3000 electric drives and the Honda 15 Outboard performed better than expected during the two SF delta cruises we made this summer.  Having an electric and outboard powered boat has resulted in trouble free cruising so far.

Docking Now a Pleasant Experience
Docking was pleasant task rather than the dreaded experience it tended to be with the diesel/drive leg combo.   Having the quiet and powerful twin e-pod 3000 engines that can run really slow and provide complete control over the boat at speeds below idle speed for the diesel takes all the tension out of docking even with a strong cross wind that always seems to be blowing when I am trying to dock.  Having the two drive mounted out on the bottom of the two hulls (see photo gallery) gives you the leverage to turn in place and the counter rotating props allows moving slowly forward or backwards possible without the typical prop walk issues normally experienced by single propeller drive solution found on most boats.

Anchoring is Easy
Anchoring is simplified since the e-pods variable speed range allow you to precisely match the wind and current speed to hold the boat on station for extended time while the foredeck crew sorts out the tangles in the anchor line or windlass jam ups.    Once you get the engine speed right to hold you in position you can even go up and help straighten things out.   In a word, my anchoring experience was simply “wonderful.”

Controlling the boat while pulling up both anchors was easy even with my brother’s large jet boat tied along side.  At the end of the second trip my son and I handled bringing up both anchors while the family was inside having a pleasant conversation punctuated by laughing from time to time.  After completing cleaning and stowing the anchors I hated to cut short the conversation to tell everyone we were ready to leave.  This is a prime example of how different and nice life is under using electric drives, just think about the last time you had a nice conversation with a diesel running…


Communication with Crew Now Easy
Another great advantage is “talking” instead of “yelling” over the engine has become the normal situation during low speed maneuvers with no combustion engine to be heard over.  Working with inexperienced crew who need continuous direction was easy.  I know that people have developed elaborate hand signals to overcome the noise and make the communication between helmsman and crew easier, but even the best hand signals is no match for the casual conversation possible now.  Having complete control of the boat at slow speeds takes away the urgency to drop the anchor quickly which takes all the tension out of the situation.

Honda 15hp + Electric Start/tilt + Remote Controls = Dream Come True
If you must have a engine, having one that can be lowered into place and started from the helm is fantastic.  The old drive leg was always a bit of concern in that if you were sailing fast the diesel's drive leg would not lock in the down position until the engine was engaged using the diesel power to provide a bit of thrust to push the leg forward to lock it down.  I was always nervous about this operation as running the engine at all with the leg not fully down and properly aligned seemed like a bad idea, however it seemed to survive this treatment well enough.

In contrast the remote controls for the Honda 15 outboard are a “dream come true.”  With a touch of a button the motor is down and ready; turn the key and it is running.   Basically you could have the motor down and running in the time you could count to 5….if the winds drops and you want some extra speed the motor is down and running without moving from the helm; it does not get better than that.  The outboard does not seem to mind being engaged within 30 seconds of being started no matter how cold it is. 

The diesel needed to warm up to operating temp before it could be engaged which often meant another 10 minutes waiting, listen to a noisy vibrating engine before you could actually use it….I really don't think I will own another boat with a diesel aboard.

Range and Fuel Consumption
Range with the little fuel supply I carry is a bit limited (two 3 gallon portable tanks) but more than sufficient for the day trips I typically make.  To boost our range while delta cruising, I added two jerry cans (2.5 and 5 gallon) to use to refuel the outboards and generator. This brings the total fuel aboard when including the built in tanks on the Honda Generator and 2 hp Outboard to about 15 gallons.  All 4 tanks fit nicely in the port cockpit locker which is ventilated out the bottom making it a safe location to store the fuel. (I also have a small halon type automatic fire extinguisher in this locker just in case a fire were ever to break out.) This is still less than the half the fuel normally carried for the diesel as I typically kept both 18 gallons tanks full even though we never used that much fuel (keeping them full reduces the water build up due to condensation, so you really have no choice.) 

 During our 4 and 3 day trips we made (to/from the delta which is about 40 miles; 20 miles each way) we used less than 6 gallons for everything (this includes the fuel used for the generator and 2 HP Honda Outboard on the dingy) leaving plenty to spare. 


Fuel Consumption during the Trips
Typically the trip downwind to the delta use very little fuel, since we sailed most of the way there each time (typically were there in about 3 hours averaging around 6.5 knots.)  Coming back upwind was typically full out motor sailing (outboard running ¾ throttle plus e-pods pushing at 5+ amps or more) with a reefed main and headwinds in the 15-25 knot range is when the majority of the fuel was used.  Whenever the boat would feel like it was slowing due to the high winds or waves I would add a little more e-pod power to the mix (typically the winds and waves get larger as you come back towards SF Bay.) It is nice to have the reserve power to add like this to keep the boat moving well.  We covered the 20 miles u
pwind in about 3.5 hours (averaging around 5.5 knots) typically current and wind always seemed against us on our trips back; however we tended to move at will to our schedule ignoring the tides.  We could have saved fuel, sailed more and utilized the currents to our advantage but with a large group with busy schedules, the schedules always seem to win. 

 I always dream of cruising with no schedules to meet, but that seems almost impossible in this day and age with a large group of people.  In fact, I was pretty impressed with the number of people who did manage to join us, many just for a half day at a time…

Water Taxi with Style: a Yamaha Jet Boat
It helps to have a friend with a fast boat to make the time in the delta more enjoyable. My brother used his large Yamaha Ski boat with its twin inboard jet drives to provide water taxi service to us during each trip; taking up to a dozen people to/from the boat at a time at the 40-50mph speed making reaching the nearest marina really easy and fast (typically less than 20 minutes round trip.)  We ate at restaurants for at least one meal every day which gave everyone time off the boat and minimized the load on the far too small holding tank.

The jet boat also significantly added to the fun during the trips with waterskiing, wakeboarding and tubing in addition to the hours of kayaking and swimming kept the children entertained and tired them out fully each day.

Honda EU2000 Provided Electricity to Recharge
The generator was run a couple hours each day to recharge the main bank as we did not hold back on power utilization much as the stereo, DVD player/TV, lights and microwave were used liberally; the Honda EU2000 was able to run all three chargers (main bank and two e-pod banks dedicated chargers) at the same time so the e-pod banks were recharged during this time and were always at full charge by the next time we moved the boat.

Although the Honda is one of the quietest available it was still loud and I did my best to wait until everyone was off the boat in the water or off in the jet boat to run it.   I am surprised that Honda has not come up with a installation kit to allow the generator to be mounted below deck in a sound proofed location.

Performance Under Sail the Same or Better
 Overall the performance of the boat seems unchanged from before, although I don’t recall ever loading the boat so heavily before making comparison difficult. However given you are always technically motor sailing once the e-pods are installed so you are generally sailing faster than you would be without them.  Although you can set the e-pods for about 1-2amps and so they zero feather or balance for the drag they create being there; I typically liked to them at 5 amps so they are pushing you along slightly adding about half a knot or more to your speed.  

Tacking and Sail Handling Easier and Safer
Tacking and raising sail are handled differently now given the e-pods are there.  Holding the boat head to wind without having any headway is now easy so you tend to turn into the wind and nearly stop while raising or lowering sail allowing you to do it safely in a much smaller area.  Missing a tack is no big deal either as just the touch of the appropriate e-pod control lever to give the little push to turn the boat around to allow the sails to catch and off you go.  When doing this I always tended to feel I am cheating somehow; but I really cannot imagine not having the e-pods at this point, they make life so simple….

No Testing on Performance Done this Summer
I must apologize for not doing more testing on the e-pods to determine speed and power utilization; but given the boat was really overloaded with gear and lots of water toys (three kayaks and more); plus a dozen people always seemed to be aboard when we were going anywhere so the opportunity never really seemed to present itself to do a valid test.  We were just too busy enjoying being out on the water and the boat….but maybe next year.

Changes before the Next Cruising Season: Natures Head and Wash Down Pump
Maybe it is easier to understand how great everything went by how few changes I plan to make before the next cruise. I will install a Natures Head composting toilet and get rid of the ridiculously small holding tank and the manual head.  Pulling up anchor and going to the pump out station each day is just not practical and 1 day is about all an 18 gallon tank will hold when you have 7 or 8 sleeping aboard and more visiting during the day.

Water consumption was about 20 gallons a day since the group is not use to conserving water; most of this went into the holding tank to flush the toilet or for washing dishes.  I was using about 5 gallons a day in the solar shower for rinsing off at the end of the day; having a warm shower at the end of a long day is really a great pleasure and makes the trip seem much less like camping.  With only 40 gallons storage this means that we were out of water after 2 days and needed to make a run to the nearest marina to fill the tanks.  I think switching to the Natures Head will save us enough water to last 4 days which is typically as long as we can handle staying on the boat at any one time with that many people. 

Also I will add an anchor wash down pump installed in the sail locker and utilize one of the through hulls no longer needed by the head.   The delta mud that comes up with the anchor and chain is the sticky black stuff that defies mortal’s efforts to remove it by rinsing with a bucket and brush… making the anchor retrieval an unnecessarily long and slow process to clean up fully.

Consider Shade/Covering for Large Front Windows
The only other thing I can think of that I would improve things is to add window covers over the large forward main windows so when we are anchored there is protection from the midday sun and it does not heat up the cabin so much.   Although I have to admit the summer in the delta was mild and rarely did we feel hot with the nice cool breeze blowing most of the time so it is not that big of priority.  And there really was no excuse for being hot since you could easily go for a swim in the almost too cold delta water….just hanging your feet in the water while kayaking was enough to feel comfortable.

ShaftSharks were a Worthwhile Investment
Something noteworthy of mention which I am really happy I added to the props for e-pods is the Shaft Sharks.  They cut anything that would foul the props, given the amount of weed that is present in the delta I thought that we would have problems with weed hanging up on the pods.  I was pleasantly surprised that they always were clear when I checked them after arriving at our anchorage or dock.  The outboard and rudders on the other hand needed to be raised up and cleared of weed dragging from them a couple times during each trip…but for the outboard this was easy and fast with the electric tilt and we typically waited until we were on a tack that allowed us to sail at the close to the same speed without the engine running before we did it so we never lost any time.

Overall my experience with the new propulsion system has been trouble free while meeting or exceeding all the requirements for maneuverability and speed.


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