You may have read about the ordering process of my new boat which was done some months ago – in this, my boss suggested that we, not the yard, may be installing the engine just to combine delivery of my boat with some learnings for our employers. Well, I´ve done it and so the yacht arrived without and (even pre-installed) engine gear. The past few days my colleagues worked hard to have GEKKO fitted with her engine and here´s how we did it: Maybe this article can serve as inspiration for other fellow sailors, re-fitting their small boats with electric propulsion.
For a start: My Beneteau First 27 SE – formerly known as Seascape 27 – is to be fitted with a German-made Torqeedo Cruise 4.0 electric engine set-up. This comprises of three major parts: The engine itself, which essentially is the propulsion unit mounted on a swing arm; the main power-source, the high-tech Torqeedo WH 48-5000 Lithium-Ion-battery and finally the side mounted throttle. Our Chief Engineer Sven enlisted to install the gear and here is what he did – I´ve sided with him documenting a 2-day work schedule – this is part 1.
Torqeedo Throttle side mounting
We started by “dry mounting” all components: That is taking out all of the delivered parts and putting them in order as they would be inside the boat. Sven did it next to the boat so that he could gain an oversight on the material, check connections and connectors and also lengths of the cables. It´s good for the whole picture, he said. Right so he was. We then entered the cockpit as he decided to have mounted the side throttle lever first.
The throttle control comes with the engine lever and a display. Torqeedo delivers these parts mounted on a gauge made of very strong cardboard. Taking off the products, Sven utilized this gauge as a blueprint to mark the cutting line. He asked me several times to tell him exactly where I´d like to have the lever and I mocked sailing and docking to find the best position. I am not superstitious but of course the throttle has to go to starboard side.
Taking a saw and cutting a hole into a GRP-hull of a boat is always a very odd feeling. Listening to the sound of the cutter and smelling the all-too distinctive odor of freshly cut GRP made me shiver, nevertheless the edges came out quite nicely and in no time the two holes had been cut, deburred and cleaned to take on the instruments.
And doesn´t it look just gorgeous? We fitted throttle and display with two people, respecting the torque given by the manufacturer. Torqeedo sends its products with self-sealing rubber/foam rings so that no Sika or Pantera is needed. Looking from inside behind the instrument I guess I will go for safety and have some fitted later from behind, just to be sure. That was fun, all agreed so we switched to the next item: The battery.
Torqeedo WH 48-5000 Lithium-Ion Battery mounting
GEKKO´s powerhouse is a high-tech monster called WH 48-5000. A Lithium-Ion battery of the latest generation. A software-controlled heavy duty battery that is absolutely state of the art. Talking of this, the price of this battery alone clocks in at no less than 5.000 Euros and – judging from other articles and reviews – this one is absolutely worth it.
Reading the installation manual provided by the Seascape yard we found out that the battery needs a baseplate to stand on and must be securely fitted by some sorts of straps. In the yard´s description that´s an EVA-foam base plate and some Dyneema-stripes put through self-adhesive Ropeeyes. Sven, our Chief Engineer, agreed to use EVA-foam as basement but due to the fact that we did not have any of these Ropeeyes nor did he trust all too much in the thin Dyneema ropes, he decided to fit the good old fashioned belt-straps.
We sanded the hull inside and glued the base foam with the straps to the very hull by using Epoxy resin. A lot of it. Since drying time would be at least 24 hours and we didn´t wanted to take on any rush at all, we decided to leave it here, let it dry thoroughly and finish mounting of the battery in the coming week – and switched to the next item on our to-do list, the engine fitting.
Cruise 4.0 Engine Swing Mount fitting on the First 27 SE
In the meantime the small cockpit of my boat became slightly chaotic: Tools, a vacuum cleaner, paper-towels and loads of gauges, a folding rule and offcut material floated around. The Seascape 27 – or First 27 SE – comes with a foldable outboard engine bracket that is to be lowered from inside the cockpit. Putting the screw to this position has a lot of advantages, one of which is that in heavy seas the screw won´t come out of the water when the stern part is lifted by the waves. Another one is that whilst sailing there is no saildrive and no screw hindering the flow of the water around the hull.
Now, in order to achieve this, we must have fitted the folding engine bracket, which kind of was a bit tricky. The yard´s description was very accurate when it came to finding the exact spot where to mount it – which is literally a matter of millimeters; but they had been a kind of blurry in describing how to fit it. But Sven as a keen mechanic quickly realized that we couldn´t do some halfhearted hustle here and refrained from using simple car washers. He drove away in his car and came back after lunch time.
A metal construction company nearby made a custom counterplate from stainless steel, even 2 millimeter thicker than the very bracket – bomb proof! Before taking on the drill bits we not only double but quadruple-checked the exact position of the bracket botch from above inside the cockpit and also by myself crawling under the hull and taking measurements.
Sven drilled four holes into the cockpit GRP-floor and another colleague crawled inside the boat and bent his body reaching under the flooring to attach the mighty custom made counterplate, which in essence is a giant washer to take on both the weight of the Torqeedo-engine and the thrust produced by the propeller as well. A load full of Sika which we used as a sealant and some minutes later the folding arm was fitted, tightly secured and put to a first test.
We hauled the Torqeedo-engine onto the bracket, fastened the screws and for the first time I lowered the engine down into the shaft. It worked just fine, although a bit tricky. What a great day, I thought and thanked my colleagues, congratulating for a first day of brilliant work.
The finished Torqeedo Set-up
The main part of the work has been done and finished: Mounting the side control throttle, setting up all internal wiring and pre-fitting the battery was just fine, having the propulsion unit installed thoroughly made my heart jump as I had huge respect for this work step in the first place. This whole electric engine-option is worth some 13.000 Euros ex VAT when chosen and installed by the yard, a huge responsibility and adventure when fitted by oneself.
I tested lowering and taking in the Torqeedo-unit several times. It´s a matter of millimetres indeed! The screw of the Cruise 4.0 is just as big as the shaft is wide: One has to be very careful when moving the unit up and down and must try not to put scratches into the hull (this damaging the antifouling) or – worse – damaging the tips of the propeller. I know of some First 27-skippers who have sanded down and shortened the propellers which is an option I´d try to avoid as long as I can. I think I will put some stickers on the shaft´s inside walls for protecting the prop.
Something struck my mind when I had the Torqeedo lowered and that was the fact that – in contrary to the combustion engine-alternative which is always sticking out of the cockpit – the Torqeedo-engine is small enough to have the cockpit floorboards covering all open parts. A definitive plus in safety and a huge gain for the boat. I will be sailing with my two kids and thinking of them maybe falling into the shaft directly on the moving prop is something that gives me a chill. But I am happy that this is off the table now.
It was a day´s work but essentially, taking into account that most of this was driving around for the counterplate, reading manuals and talking, net-working time had been no more than 4, maybe 5 hours. Sven was very happy with the outcome and told me that the whole fitting, with a bit more practice, can easily be accomplished within one single working day.
Next steps in finishing the GEKKO
Now, what comes next? After this weekend we will finish our work on GEKKOs Torqeedo-setup. That is mainly fitting of the battery, this heavy 36 kilogram-monster, installing the charger and wiring it all together. The whole unit will receive some switches and controls and a thorough test. Sven is pretty sure that this will be done on Monday next week, a day to which I am looking forward very much.
A huge stone is falling from my stomach as I am relieved that this experiment goes on so well, having regrated the fact that I did not have ordered the boat with pre-installed Torqeedo-unit in the first place. But in this, I am sure, I receive a better, stronger and safer mounted propulsion unit with out bomb-proof washer-plate and I could choose by my own where I preferred to have the throttle placed. Besides, I learned a lot more from watching Sven installing the set-up, which is a bonus.
GEKKO is now nearly finished and readily pre-commissioned to be towed North to her new home port. Her custom design is awesome and the date in my marina to have her craned to the water moves closer ever so slightly. Weather gets better by the day and my heart is jumping when I think of the boat immediately. What a great, productive and successful week this was.
You may also like to read these articles:
Torqeedo Travel 1003 S sea trial and dinghy-test
Technical: What I´ve learned from my first ever offshore sailing trip