Oct. 7, 2012, Annapolis Fall Sailboat Show: I traveled from New York City in search of an alternative to my Yanmar 40-hp diesel motor.
After spending three years and thousands of dollars searching for a small but elusive fuel-line leak somewhere below the aft cabin of my Hunter 386, I needed a solution. As a liveaboard working in Manhattan, I had serious problems getting the diesel fuel odor out of my clothes and bedding; suits and overcoats were especially a problem. Cleaning bills were mounting, with no solution in sight.
I researched my options online and at boat shows, and read many blogs. I decided that my sailing style would fit well with an electric motor. I narrowed the field to three electric motor manufacturers and planned to visit with them, as well as battery, solar and wind power suppliers, determined to head back to New York with a final answer.
That Friday, I purchased a 20kW AC motor from Electric Yachts of Annapolis and spent the next three days of the boat show learning about my new technology. I spent much of my time with Scott McMillan, the owner-designer-builder, and Mike Gunning, his marketing guru, listening to them discuss their products with prospective electric propulsion candidates.
I was amazed by the sailing community’s intense interest in a green, clean alternative to traditional fossil fuel auxiliary power. The curious to the serious prospects had very diverse motives for their interest. Many had environmental awareness, some had cost concerns, and others were interested in simplicity of care and maintenance.
As the show progressed into Sunday and Monday it was apparent, if not obvious, that electric auxiliary propulsion was coming of age, even though marine electric propulsion had been around since the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of many famous venues, such as New York’s Central Park, was tasked with designing the fair to include a prominent waterway feature. He didn’t want the soot and fumes associated with steam engines of the day, so he asked General Electric, which had won the contract to light and power the entire fair with AC, to build him electric motors for the fair’s waterways.
Today most large vessels, cargo as well as cruise ships, find many advantages in the efficiencies of AC electric propulsion powered by generators, but this technology has yet to get a major footprint in the recreational yachting market.
Although battery, solar and wind technologies are quickly evolving, they are still best suited to the sailing and hybrid power markets. We’ll soon see the technology develop to serve all segments of the recreational boating communities.
And so began my crusade. After researching, buying and learning the details of electric propulsion technology, I offered to drive Scott to his flight back to Minneapolis from Baltimore-Washington International Airport for a more thorough discussion of the opportunity to be a part of his enterprise in some way.
By the time we arrived at the airport, I had a signed agreement to represent Electric Yachts in the mid-Atlantic region, had resigned my position as a regional sales and project manager at GE Healthcare (how ironic — GE, the first marine electric motor) and had made plans to build a new business in Annapolis.
Fast forward three years, and we’re going strong after a well-attended 2015 Annapolis Sailboat Show that produced many new prospects. I’m “living the dream,” living aboard my Hunter 386 at the Chart House in Annapolis and educating fellow sailors about the green, sustainable sailing lifestyle.
Robert Leichtman is the chief executive officer of Electric Yachts of Annapolis, Md.