Not yet. But advancements are coming in the next decade, and the long awaited emissions free cruising dream is nearly reachable. It has been a long time coming. Countless sailors have pursued the impossible over the last decade as lithium batteries have been advanced and costs lowered. How many sailors have attempted to power the air conditioning from lithium and ended up with failure or anemic units which act more like dehumidifiers? With power hogs like air conditioners and electric motors, how many wind and solar keep up? The new ServoProp saildrives from OceanVolt especially when doubled on a cruising catamaran give us hope.
What They Are
OceanVolt’s new ServoProp sail drives do the impossible, free wheel while you are sailing, harness the power your motion through the sea, and push that hydro generated energy back into you lithium power bank. Amazing and great idea executed finally in one integrated package. And they are powering both Jimmy Cornell’s new catamaran as well as the recently announced new catamaran of the YouTube stars of La Vagabonde. Good bye Outremer and hello emissions free sailing.
What They Are Not
They are not a solution for straight shaft or single propeller boats. Garcia who has built Jimmy Cornell’s Exploro Cat previously installed a ServoProp on other vessels with disappointing results. It simply doesn’t work with traditional straight shaft drive boats. And it doesn’t work well with a single saildrive. Now on boats that already have a generator this may not be a big deal as they can minimize the number of diesel engines they are maintaining. But they will not be emissions free. They will depend on a generator to power the electric motors or see their range shrunk to the estimated 20 nautical miles available on a single charge.
It is going to be a fascinating decade ahead and OceanVolt’s saildrives are simply another in a growing list of reasons why catamarans are the vessels of the future. Will we see a large number of emission free catamarans soon? I doubt it, and I would expect we need lithium battery prices to go down which compose the majority of the for example $75,000 USD for twin ServoProps with enough horsepower for a 50 foot catamaran. This price point is only slightly higher than equivalent diesel costs. But I think when we both get emissions free simplification as well as a lower materials cost then it will be a no brainer for many cruisers on both the environmental and boat budget fronts.
Will we ever get fully away from hydrocarbon fuels onboard?
I think that is a long way off. Sailing is prone to equipment breakdowns in the worse conditions and places. A generator (at least of the honda gas variety) will continue to be a important safety item for cruising no matter how reliable, inexpensive, and efficient electric motors are. Yes we finally have gone sailing without sextants and depend entirely on GPS. And yes someday maybe the solution is a complete backup parts replacement including motor onboard. But do not forget that we have gas outboards on most vessels powering tenders, and as anyone who has tried a Torqeedo knows, electric outboards are disappointingly wimpy and not viable for real cruising yet either. Continued advances in lithium technology are coming, and we catamaran sailors eagerly await them.