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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Motorboats with sticks

It's said that in foreign ports one can spot the American sailboats by the fuel jugs lining the deck. They might be on a sailboat, but they aren't comfortable unless they have enough fuel to motor the whole way. What's the sense of owning a sailboat and only rarely sailing it?

Last year my lovely wife and I stopped at a really nice marina. The owner gave us one heck of a discount. Turns out he has a soft spot for people who actually sail their boats. One of the marina staff told me how the owner was so mad when a sailing club canceled a trip to his marina. The reason they canceled? It was windy. He called them motorboats with sticks.

Now some folks are honest with themselves. The really don't want to sail and expect to motor everywhere. They get themselves a nice trawler type boat with lots of room and take good care of their engines. If you aren't going to use the wind anyway might as well be comfortable.

On the other extreme are a few hardy souls who don't even have engines on their sailboat. It's not really that radical an idea. For thousands of years there were no motors on sailboats.

I fall somewhere in the middle. My lovely wife and I will sail in very light winds. If we are moving along at 2.5 knots that's good enough. If where you really want to be is on a sailboat, exactly how fast the boat is going isn't a big issue. Focus on the journey, not the destination.

However, we do use a motor. Last year we averaged about a gallon of gas a day. Some days we motored most of the day. Other days we lifted anchor, sailed out of harbor, then dropped anchor at the end of the day, all without starting the motor. Sometimes having a motor made the difference between powering into a channel or anchoring for hours waiting for the tide to change.

When the throttle of my outboard fell apart and the parts went into the Gulf of Mexico, I wasn't worried. We had enough wind to move. My spouse suggested we turn back and buy a new motor, but I figured I had plenty of time to jury rig a throttle. Worse come to worse we could always sail into a harbor somewhere. We'd done it before. Our MacGyver fix worked for the rest of the journey.

When we got home, instead of replacing the gas engine we used an electric trolling motor. The Oday 19 only moved at 3 knots under electric power, but that was good enough. Better yet, we used it so little that our 30 watt solar panel kept the battery charged up.

So with all this in mind I'm looking at our power options for our boat. We plan on traveling the ICW down the East Coast. By all accounts parts of it are not very good for sailing, especially if one is trying to head south before it gets too cold. Do we invest in an efficient 4 stroke outboard? Another option is to add more battery power, a larger solar panel, and use the trolling motor. There are pros and cons to both.

Of course, we've sailed where most folks motor before. The section of the ICW north of Tampa called “The Narrows,” isn't supposed to be good sailing either. We've successfully sailed it twice and had a good time doing it.

No matter what auxiliary power we decided to go with, we'll make sure our sailing rig is in good condition. That's what's important on a sailboat.



  1. good question as gas or propane powered motor makes for faster travel then take it slow with an electric

    better than asking why you can't move out of the way when a coastal cargo barge bears down on you

    best to have multiple options handy


    1. That is a concern. It's not as if a cargo barge can change direction or speed in a hurry -even if they see you. It's up to the small boater to stay out of the way.

  2. Decades ago we lived on Emerald Isle, our little house was right in the middle of a narrow part of the island. I could sit on the deck and watch boats come up the intercoastal waterway. I think, though it's been a long time, that even the sail boats were using motors. I know some of the sailboats were pretty big and they seemed to have lots of room. It looked like a very luxurious lifestyle to me. Of course, I've always been like Toad in the Wind in the Willows, and at that time sailboats were my latest "Canary Yellow Cart."

    1. There is nothing better than messing around on boats.

      For me, one of the most important things for the places I want to go is shallow draft.

      Small boats make for small problems.

  3. Why don't you get a small 2 cylinder diesel engine and run it on veggie oil?

    1. If I ended up with a diesel boat I'd definitely make that happen. Of course, they don't make diesel outboards.

  4. Maybe a small gas genset (like the Yamaha or Honda 2000 watters) and an extra battery or two along with your trolling motor? Would help charge those batteries even on cloudy days too.

    1. That would work, but I'm not a huge fan of generators. Actually, I'm not a huge fan of maintaining and repairing generators. I'v'e got a couple good battery chargers and the occasional stop at a marina would work to charge them up.

    2. The Yamahas are pretty reliable, being inverter types. And you can run 'em empty (unlike the Honda) because they have a separate fuel shutoff (clogged carbs due to improper storage are about 70% of the issues with small engines, generators in particular) the inverter styles also are VERY frugal on fuel. Might be nice to have the backup when you NEED the trolling motor after several cloudy days.

      these gensets will last hundred of hours if you take the time to do proper maintainance like oil changes and such.

    3. I'll look into the Yamahas. Thanks.

  5. Could you provide more details on which electric trolling motor you have on the Oday (and maybe size of battery)?

    I don't know much about powering boats, but have you considered twin trolling motors? Maybe there is something that makes that unworkable. I'm not sure, does two motors that would each run you at 3 knots mean you could go 5 knots? Would their speed need to be synchronized? I don't know.

    Just seems like a cheap way to go slightly faster, and have a backup should one fail.

    1. The battery is rated for 92 amp hours at 12v. The trolling motor is a Newport 55 pound thrust.

      It would be awkward to mount a second motor on my boat. The motor bracket is located on the Starboard side and there's a swim ladder on the Port side.

      Two motors give a bit more speed, but the main thing is that they accelerate faster.

      I might benefit by going right to a bigger 24 volt motor, but it would complicate things a bit. I might just be better off with a spare motor.