As the threat of global warming is forcing policy makers around the world to explore ways to wean their economies off carbon based energy sources, it is only natural that a sailor might want to reassess their auxiliary engines. The rising popularity of electric propulsion and recently adopted industry standards for the higher voltage systems required for these electric motors provide further enticement for ditching ye ol’ diesel.
Every reduction in CO2 emissions counts, as they say, but I imagine the amount of CO2 emitted by sailors each year is barely a drop, in a drop, in a drop in the bucket. Sure, there are other negative side effects to having an auxiliary engine (typically diesel). Lubricating oil, unburned fuel, and spillover at pumps eventually finds its way into the water. Then there is the noise and smell.
But when I consider the impacts of mining and fabrication associated with electric propulsion, I wonder if the estimated $20,000 and 50-hours spent replacing my Universal diesel with a state of the art electric propulsion system and lithium ion batteries would be better spent working to change government policies that are inhibiting the growth of solar power in my home state of Florida.
Maybe a simple switch to plant-based diesel would achieve the same net benefit for the environment? How much will I actually be running my engine, anyway? These are the questions I plan to examine as I contemplate repowering my recently acquired S&S designed 1971 Yankee 30, Opal. The stout little sloop is in dire need of some love and will be the basis of a series of articles highlighting the variety of products, tools, and skills associated with a major refit— from masthead sheaves to prop nut (see page 23). Many of these articles already exist in our archives, many need updating, and some have not yet been written.
Our last big report on electric propulsion (see PS September 2008, “Electric Propulsion for Sailboats”) pre-dates the newer standards established by the American Boat and Yacht Council, which opened the door to a range of electric and hybrid-electric systems now entering the market. Late last year, the ABYC posted a round-table discussion on electric propulsion, and the variety of options was astounding (www.youtube. com/watch?v=7ibuqEvQcZ4).
Opal’s diesel is a bit of a mystery. Based on the incomplete logbook and the now stalled hour meter, it appears to be a remanufactured late 1970s Universal 5411 diesel installed sometime in the 1990s. I bought the boat assuming a repower or rebuild was in the future, but so far, the engine, which is essentially a marinized Kubota Z500 tractor engine, checks out pretty well. One of its saving graces may be the freshwater cooling system, delivered by a lovely cast silicon-bronze Oberdorfer pump and a 50-year old copper-nickel Sen-Dure heat exchanger that now gleam like an 18th century chronometer.
Except for a leak at the waterpump weep hole and associated corrosion beneath, I’ve found no obvious faults. An oil analysis and injector service is in the works, and the more I look at this marvel of machinery, the more impressed I am. The fact that it’s still chugging at least 40 years from the last year of production (1982) says a lot about the endurance of these old tractor engines.
Now, if I can just do something about the noise, I might just abandon my electric dreams altogether.