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The Wye Island Electric Boat Marathon 2010

Jim Campbell

The 2010 EB Marathon was scheduled for Friday, October 1, but due to small craft warnings, it was postponed until 8 AM on the morning of Saturday, October 2nd.  Steve Lawing (2010 volunteer eCanoe Crew) and I took the eCanoe over to the Chesapeake Maritime Museum for the start of the Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival.  Visitors are few on Friday, however, so we had time to look at all the fine-crafted boats arriving for the show and had some good technical conversations with other electric boat owners.  Then it was back to the Miles River Yacht Club to recharge the batteries at the dock and ourselves at the (pre-)marathon dinner.  Todd Sims was awarded the eCanoe “E” Flag for his work in developing and promoting electric boating with his company – E Power Marine.

 On the morning of the marathon, the weather had cleared, but the wind was still brisk out of the north-northwest.  I measured it at 17 MPH while we got ready for the start.  Tom Hesselink piloted Stealth Princess, a fine wooden-hull launch by Budsin Boats, carrying two passengers. Large lead-acid batteries under the polished floorboards provided power.  Todd Sims was going solo in a Torqueedo-powered Calypso Classic with several large lead-acid batteries amidships.  Jay Bliss sat low in Elektra, his custom wooden boat, also powered by a Torqueedo motor and a bevy of used Prius battery cells rigged for 36 volts.  I was solo in the eCanoe 20-ft Old Town Tripper XL configured with two individually steerable MinnKota Endura-30 motors driven by the latest 1236D differential power module design.  Nine new 12V, 55 A-H lead-acid batteries wired for 36 volts in triple parallel provided the juice for the run.  The start was delayed by the late arrival of Geoff Elliot who got his very sleek custom-built lithium-ion powered wooden electric boat in the water and out to the starting line as fast as he could. 

 At the starting horn we headed into the strong wind and high waves.  The eCanoe was pitching, slamming, and taking a lot of splash as I used both tillers to keep the bow into the wind, bailing when I could get a quick break between the wave sets. I took a brief look at the instruments – GPS speed was down to 4.4 MPH at a power draw of 925 Watts.  There was no way to make good time or take good notes in those conditions.  The big Budsin entry and the Calypso launch were able to handle the waves much better than Geoff and I.  We were getting tossed around a lot.  I could see the waves breaking right over his bow.  Todd Sims took the lead quickly, with the Budsin close behind, followed by Jay Bliss.  eCanoe was pulling up the rear. 

 The eCanoe was 2.03 miles into the race when I saw Geoff began to take in water through a broken bow hatch cover.  Tom in the Budsin turned back to help him, losing about 5 minutes of time as he secured Geoff’s kayak from the waves.  Then the chase boat took Geoff’s boat and the Budsin started back into the marathon, but by this time the eCanoe was about a half mile ahead, closely following Jay Bliss as we both fought the wind and chop.

 The waves and wind thankfully began to subside as we got into the mouth of the Wye River.  By the time eCanoe reached Wye Island, the Stealth Princess had stealthily caught back up and pulled ahead.  Todd Sims was in the lead and out of sight.    Jay Bliss and I were neck and neck as we passed Drum Point, with the eCanoe using 1026 Watts to go 5.5 MPH GPS into the headwind.  Tide flow was about zero.

 The Wye Island Bridge was in sight when I realized that Jay Bliss was falling behind.  He had evaluated his remaining battery power and calculated that he could not complete the run at the speed of the eCanoe.  I had plenty of battery left, and could even put on more speed if needed, but not enough speed to overtake the Stealth Princess. As we passed under the bridge, it was Todd Sims in the lead, Tom Hesselink second, eCanoe third, and Jay Bliss fourth.  Steve Lawing was in position on the bridge and took pictures of the boats as they passed underneath.

eCanoe appraches the Wye Island Bridge

 The weather had really improved by the time eCanoe threaded the Wye Narrows.  I was able to take off my gloves, loosen my rain jacket, and have a bite to eat.  The water temperature was warm in these backwaters, but there was no sign of the motors overheating, even with the intrinsic “current amplification” of pulse-width modulation driving them beyond their 12V specifications.

 As I exited the narrows and Wye Landing came into view, I got a glimpse of Todd’s boat pulling out.  The Stealth Princess was still at the dock.  eCanoe wasn’t that far behind.  I started the 10-minute countdown timer in my cell phone as I touched the sand so I didn’t have to watch the time as I checked the batteries and tidied up from the pounding the canoe had taken.  After cleaning up, I lit the cigar I had saved for the return leg.  When the timer went off, eCanoe was ready to go.     Jay Bliss was just coming in to the landing as I pulled away, enjoying the smoke of a good cigar. 

 The water was warm, muddy, and full of floating grasses from the recent rains.  The eCanoe was doing 5.8 MPH using 1026 Watts as I rounded the tip of Wye Island into the Wye East River.  After eight or more of these marathon runs I have learned how to go the shortest distance down the points and coves without running aground.  It was just before high tide, so the major obstacle was the strings of crab pots that lined the shallow waters.  One of those crab lines can snag a prop and ruin your time.  But there was no problem as I skirted the multi-million dollar summer homes with their docks and duck blinds.  On this fine October Saturday the homes were all vacant and their boats hung dry on electric sling winches. 

 The sixteen-mile point found the eCanoe crossing the mouth of Quarter Cove into a slight headwind.  GPS speed was 5.5 MPH using 963 Watts.  Boat traffic was very light as I continued on down the river.  None of the other marathoners were in sight.  Two and a half miles further, I spotted Geoff Elliot idling his boat at the tip of Wye Island.  Apparently the chase boat had taken him into the quieter waters of the Wye River and he was waiting for Jay Bliss and the eCanoe so he could follow us back to the starting point.  The wind had subsided considerably and with the waves coming from behind, Geoff should have no problem with the run home.

I lost sight of Geoff as the eCanoe rounded Bruff’s Island Point and headed into the home stretch. A light wind and rolling waves came from the rear.  Four miles of open water to go.  I plowed along at 5.8 MPH burning 1118 Watts. Battery voltage was still over 34 volts, indicating that less than half of the stored power had been used up.  I reached behind my seat and felt the power module – it was running only warm, not even slightly hot.  Power to spare there, but the motors could be a problem if I dialed it up.  I had pushed Endura 30 motors to the point of failure before, and I didn’t want to do it now.  The motors were running with special bearing grease and new brushes, but if the plastic that held those brushes in place were to soften, the eCanoe would come to a rapid halt. 

The water was cooler out in the broad expanse of the Miles River.  I figured the motors could take the heat for a short time. With the finish line only four tenths of a mile away, I cranked up the power to 1436 Watts – over 2 HP – and the eCanoe sped up to 6.0 MPH as the yacht club came into view.  Everything held together as eCanoe crossed the finish line in a strong third place.  Jay Bliss in the Elektra came in fourth, 12-1/2 minutes and over a mile behind the eCanoe.  Geoff Elliot pulled in safely shortly after Jay.  

 Marathon statistics from my Garmin GPS data are as follows:  The eCanoe went 22.4 miles in 4:21:04 (hr:min:sec), or actually 4:11:04 subtracting the 10-minute break at Wye Landing.  Thus the average speed of eCanoe over the course was 5.35 MPH. Though the eCanoe placed third overall by a good margin, the official EBAA results placed me in fourth by using the concept of “hull speed,” which is based on the waterline length of a displacement hull - the longer the waterline length, the “faster” the hull speed.   With a waterline length of 19 ft, eCanoe was able to achieve almost 80% of its theoretical hull speed of 6.72 MPH.  Not bad for the initially rough conditions and an electrical input power of only 1-1/3 HP (shaft HP is estimated at 1 HP, assuming 75% conversion efficiency).  If I can raise the power to 2HP, eCanoe should be able to cruise much closer to hull speed – if the wind and waves cooperate.  Stay tuned for the 2011 marathon!


 2010 Wye Island Marathon Official EBAA Results

Single Hull Category

Captain                    ET*                Hours                MPH         WL Length      Hull Speed**      MPH/HS                            Boat type

Todd Simms            3:40                3.66                6.50             21.00’              7.06             92.1%                  Calypso Classic “23e” skiff

Tom Hesselink         3:46                3.76                6.32             20.83               7.03             89.9%                  Budsin “Phantom” launch

Jay Bliss                  4:45                4.75                5.01             15.67’               6.10              82.1%                  Custom built

Jim Campbell            4:30                4.50                5.29             19.00’               6.72              78.7%                  20’ Old Town Tripper XL

Geoff Elliott                DNF                                                                                                                                     16’ Custom built

Multi Hull Category

No entries this year

Course length measured at 23.82 miles or 20.70 nautical miles.

 MPH/HS is the basis for displacement hull handicap award.

*Total elapsed time less ten minute required stop. 

**Optimum hull speed (HS) calculated using commonly accepted formula:   hull speed in mph = 1.34 x √WL x 1.15  (conversion from knots to mph).