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.