View From a Bridge

Sunday 20th December

Having spent all day yesterday creating order and efficiency from the chaos of moving aboard, when we stowed everything away in a highly haphazard manner, we had promised ourselves that we would go out on our first “proper” cruise.

It hardly seems possible that it’s over a week since Old Nick was launched. It genuinely feels like home on board. We are cosy, comfy and warm and are sleeping like logs on our new bed. The boys – after careering up and down the boat madly for the first few days – are now nicely settled in and seem very content in their new home.

We had a message from Rob to say he needed to update the touch screen controller and he was happy to see us through some locks, so we all set off at around 10:30. The original plan had been to turn right and go down towards Droitwich town and beyond, but the River Salwarpe, which feeds the canal just above the town, was “on red” yesterday, which meant it was not suitable for navigation.

We thus came out of the Marina and turned left, towards Hanbury Junction. I elected to take the helm and managed the sharp turn out of the Marina pretty well, using the bow-thruster for the first time. It really is an amazing tool and I’m looking forward to becoming further acquainted with it.

Barely have you left the Marina, than you arrive at the first lock in the Hanbury flight of three. I dropped the crew and dogs off on the lock landing and had a slightly less successful entry into the lock. But it’s a learning phase so the odd slight bump is bound to happen, right?

Luckily, my entry to the next couple of locks was much more elegant. I was suddenly struck by how swiftly and easily I had made the transition from a diesel engine to an electric engine! I’d had a slight worry about how it would feel, whether it would be very different, but I needn’t have worried. Everything is the same – but quieter!

The Hanbury locks are very deep with side-ponds and raise the canal quite quickly in a pretty short distance. I struggled to find info about the actual height of the rise, sadly. You’ll just have to take my word for it!

At Hanbury junction we took a left turn and proceeded through two of the Astwood flight of locks, before winding. For the uninitiated, this means turning, in a special wide bit of the canal known as a “winding hole” – pronounced as in the blowy thing not the twisty thing.

There were people fishing in the winding hole, and we feared a bit of argy bargy but I think they were the friendliest fisherman we have ever encountered. And when you think the many hours we have spent on the canal, that is really saying something! We parted company with cheery seasonal greetings as we went straight back into the lock we had just vacated.

As we cruised it was very gratifying to find that Old Nick was much admired and people were genuinely interested in the electric aspect, asking questions and commenting favourably about “Old Nick’s” green credentials.

Talking of electricity, we started the day with 100% fully charged batteries and after 4 hours of normal cruising, plus several rounds of coffee (boiling the 3KW kettle) and using the microwave to reheat one of the coffees, we ended the cruise, returning to our beautiful and peaceful mooring at Droitwich Spa Marina, with 85% battery charge.

We had been hopeful of being able to cruise for a couple of days, during winter, without resorting to running the generator and this first outing gives us much confidence that this is easily achievable. We even managed to generate a little bit of solar (0.8kW/h) albeit significantly less than we will be producing in the summer months.

The Vetus E-Line 10KW electric engine performed perfectly and even in Eco mode at low revs, gave us plenty of forward motion. We loved how the boat handled, cutting through the water and barely creating any wash or disturbing moored boats.

All in all, then, a very pleasant and informative, inaugural cruise. Here’s to many more and a big thank you to Rob from Ortomarine for his socially distanced assistance and company. We cannot wait to do it again.

14 Replies to “View From a Bridge”

  1. It must be very satisfying knowing you aren’t burning diesel every time you move your boat.
    As electric motors produce a lot of torque at minimum revs I’m curious to know what size propeller you fitted and what the maximum speed of the boat through the water is (not needed on canals but rivers are another story).
    Thanks, Bill

    1. Well contrary to convention, we have not “gone large” as previous electric NBs have, but taken advice from Vetus, who ran the numbers and used their proven algorithms to recommend a 13” x 9” prop. Initial sea trials which really put the engine through its paces, showed good acceleration and stopping power and we achieved just over 5 MPH in the stretch of water we had available- I think we could have gone faster in a longer and deeper section. Only time will tell but early signs are good.

      1. Interesting. I was guessing you’d have a 17″ prop with a high torque at low RPMs electric motor. 13 x 9 seems… small.
        Using the PropCalc spreadsheet (freely downloadable from t’internet) I plugged the numbers in for the Vetus electric motor and jiggled things around until it recommended a 13 x 9 prop (assuming 3-bladed) – I made some assumptions about waterline length & displacement of Old Nick – and the theoretical top speed came out at approximately 6.7 MPH. In a shallow, narrow canal it would be less so your actual “just over 5 MPH” is probably in the right ball park with the theory. A flat out run on a deep and wide body of water would be needed to confirm the 6.7ish MPH top speed. 6.7 MPH is quite a bit less than max hull speed but it should be sufficient for the kind of rivers a narrowboat would venture onto. Although the current draw from the motor at this speed would be massive – something like 200 amps (so two hours cruising with your 800AH battery bank at 50% DoD). I guess this is where the generator could be run (+ solar) to reduce the current draw on the batteries in order to get a reasonable cruising range if going against a current (river current not voltage current!)
        It would be fascinating if you could at some point make a post with lots of real-world numbers. The theory is one thing but there are very few real-world experiences of electric motors (from what I’ve been able to find) from people who aren’t trying to sell something!

  2. HI Paul and Kay,
    We have just started following your blog – we’re really interested in electric propulsion! We also moor at Droitwich Spa, so hope to meet you at some point.
    We also follow NB Tentatrice and NB Alchemy who are also Droitwich bloggers.
    Best wishes for a good cruising year
    Debby and Dave

    1. Hi Debby and Dave
      Nice to hear from you. I love your boat name! And us t it great here at Droitwich? Our original plan was to stay here until kate December and then make our way down to Cowroast. Then the whole of Herts was placed in tier 4 and that suddenly seemed like a bad idea. Luckily, they had a space for us here and here we are go the time being! I’d love to be able to say pop in for a cuppa and a chat, but we live in strange times, eh? Where are you? We are in the West Wing!

      1. Chuffed is on the western jetties too, the end away from the wharf, next door to NB Sarah Kay which is right at the end – you have probably seen our neighbour Jayne walking her little dog as she lives aboard. We are in Devon, 3 hours away so unlikely to be up before March according to the latest pronouncements. A shame, but there we are.
        Best wishes

  3. Hi guys
    I’m.considering electric propulsion for my 60ft narrowboat that will be built next year. What is your battery bank size? Solar panels ? On canals, at 4mph is the 10kw motor overkill? Do you think that the 5kw motor would do the job ?


    1. Hi Steve, our battery bank is 48v 800Ah Lead Carbons. We went for an extra 200Ah rather than the 600Ah which is probably the minimum unless you want to be running the generator regularly.
      Solar panels are 1920w which on sunny days will power the 10KW Vetus engine at 800 RPM (2.5-3 MPH) just on solar.
      I would not go for the 5KW and would say that 10KW is a good size for a 60ft NB, you need the acceleration/braking power and for rivers.

  4. Wow, 38.4kw ? The batteries must have cost a fortune. I’m planning building my own Lithium Ion Phosphate battery bank as that’s significantly cheaper , or even the batteries out of a Nissan leaf. I read that a narrowboat on a canal uses about 1kw per hour on propulsion, I’m not talking about rivers. Do you find that with 38 kw batteries you never have issues with the propulsion? 10kw motor….. But it doesn’t draw 10kw unless you floor it ?? Sorry for the many questions, but you are living what I want to do…… 🙂

    1. I would say 1.5KW per hour and the batteries were an investment but when you are relying on them for everything propulsion, cooking, water heating, etc. then you need a good battery bank.
      I am an electronics engineer and I would still feel worried about building my own LiFePo4 setup.
      Very happy with our Lead Carbons.

  5. Sounds good., 1.5 kw per hour…. I hope Vetus will be at the Crick show next weekend so I can talk to them about your motor. The price information just isn’t on the internet !! I’m building the boat from scratch, so the cost of a diesel engine and gearbox seemed very high to me, that’s when I thought why not look at all electric. But the companies that are out there are just too expensive for me and it’s the batteries that are the killer…. There are new Solar generators with built in batteries in the US…. 5 kw , but can be connected together to increase the power… That’s all the electrics done in a sealed unit, just add batteries…. That seems like the way to go for me….. A sort of Tesla Power Wall that powers a house…. Can’t see why it won’t work on a canal boat. ….. Famous last words 🤣🤣🤣🤣

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