July 23, 2013

Hybrid Maine trawler to have all the trappings

Two Mainers plan to build their diesel-electrics for those who want an energy-efficient, lobster boat-style pleasure craft.

By Tux Turkel tturkel@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Eugene Story, left, and Eric Graves aboard their electric lobster boat July 8 in Boothbay Harbor.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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Eugene Story, owner of Maine Electric Boat Co., right, and Eric Graves, president of Boothbay Harbor Shipyard, leave the dock on their electric-powered lobster boat July 8 in Boothbay Harbor. Next month, they will install an 8-kilowatt, direct-current diesel generator.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

Either way, Electra's never going to compete in Maine lobster boat races, where a 900 horsepower turbo-charged diesel recently was clocked at nearly 60 mph. But a hybrid would greatly increase the boat's range. And for a burst of power, the batteries and the generator could run in parallel.

This all sounds interesting, but not very practical, to David Cousens, president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association.

"On a windy day, or close to a ledge, you need to have something powerful and reliable," he said.

Lobstermen aren't happy about fuel prices, Cousens said. His 40-foot boat, with its 450 horsepower engine, burns through roughly $100 worth of fuel a day. But any alternative has to be powerful, fuel efficient and affordable, Cousens said, and he doesn't see those three things coming together soon for commercial applications.

"I can't see people doing something other than diesel in the very near future," he said, "but I wish them luck."

Story and Graves are getting this message, and see a greater opportunity in pleasure craft. There are promising developments going on in that end of the market.

On the all-electric side, for instance, dealers such as West Marine have begun selling the Torqeedo, a German-made, battery-powered outboard. Power was limited to 15 horsepower until this year, fine for a daysailer or dinghy. Now the company is introducing an 80 horsepower version.

On the diesel-electric front, New Englanders this summer can test-drive a yacht that features a solar-electric roof, lithium batteries and a low-drag hull based on sailboats.

Six weeks ago, one of the region's largest powerboat dealers, Boston-based Russo Marine, began carrying the Greenline, a hybrid yacht built in Slovenia. Russo has a new 33-footer under contract and sold a preowned model during an introductory event last month in Boston Harbor.

The Greenline can take advantage of four power modes. At the dock, it plugs into shore power. Motoring at 4 knots, it can go up to 20 miles on battery power. In diesel mode, it recharges the batteries. At anchor, the solar array also can charge the cells.

The $350,000 price is on par with comparable, twin-engine gas or diesel yachts, according to Larry Russo Sr., the company's owner and president. One down side, he said, is that the gas vessel can cruise at up to 25 knots, while the hybrid's top speed is 15 knots. That's not a big deal for former sailboat owners, who make up 45 percent of Greenline customers. Many of them, especially older sailors, are moving to trawlers for cruising and overnight trips.

"This boat is a perfect transition," Russo said. "A sailor is used to doing 7 or 8 knots his whole life, so at 15 knots, he feels like he's racing."

Russo said he plans to have a Greenline on display next month in Rockland, at the Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors boat show.

By then, Story and Graves plan to have Electra in hybrid mode and ready to take potential customers into the harbor. They agree that the market for former sailors who are looking at trawlers appears strong.

Graves eventually would like to build a diesel-electric model at his shipyard, outfitted it for either cruising or fishing. He's working now on a new hull design for a 32-foot vessel. It would retain the lobster-boat lines and would be advertised through magazines and boat shows.

"We don't expect any great explosion of interest from marketing," Graves said. "That happens when you take people out on it."

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at tturkel@mainetoday.com 

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