Sunday, September 19, 2010

Trolling for Peace

Though I had my doubts about using a trolling motor on Neoma, I followed the advice of Birdwatcher builder and modifier, Aeneas Precht (whose wonderful boat is no longer available to view online). Aeneas said any cheap electric would work on this easily-moved boat, so I picked up a 36 pound-thrust model from a well known manufacture and did a few trips. You can just see mine on the stern in the picture.

I would hate to disagree with Aeneas about anything — he's a smart fellow — and the electric kicker does work wonderfully well within certain limits. I think those limits are reasonable to him. For me, they started to chafe after a season.

Electric motors are close to perfect. Unto themselves, they are cheap. I bought a surplus deep-cycle battery to run the motor, but even a new one of those does not cost too much. Such batteries are very heavy, nearly as heavy as a gas motor, but this boat can handle a lot of gear weight. E-motors are extremely long-shaft by design, and you can dial them to just the right depth. Mine clamped sideways on the canoe stern and was ready to use.

The real beauty is the silence. The boat moves along and yet would not disturb a loon. Electrics run emissions-free in the field, and battery charging can be likewise if you employ solar or wind options.

That brings us to the limitations. Recharging during a cruise is impractical. Good photoavolaic panels are expensive, and anyway you can't bolt enough of them on a sailboat to power her cruising. A windmill might give you the wattage, but these are extremely expensive, and there is no room on a boat of this size to mount one.

If you use the motor very sparingly, just for a few minutes a day to get into and out of anchorages, then one battery charge can support a cruise of a few days. Contrary to the misleading advertising of trolling motor companies, you cannot move a boat around for many hours a day and not damage your battery through over-discharge.

In windy conditions — and I'm not talking gales, just fresh breezes —you run into the same handling problems you get with oars. Birdwatcher's high-sided design can be a real liability in crosswinds, so you have to be sharp on the tiller to stay in control. And if there is much headwind at all, it can be very difficult to move against it.

Despite its limits, the electric is so reliable, so simple and, above all, so peaceful to use that I have made many cruises with mine.

Then the day came when Mark and I chose to make a cruise on a long, narrow reservoir. The forecast was for days of high-pressure weather and likely calms. We'd have to keep a schedule and cover distance in order to meet our  ferry vehicle driver. And when you get all-business like that, you start to covet a real motor. I slunk down to the shop and bought 3.5 horsepower Tohatsu, wondering if was going to propel me to hell.

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