Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Sailors For The Sea Sails the Sustainable J/88

J/88 Electra sailing off Newport (Newport, RI)- “The electric J/88 leads the way to 21st Century Solar Sailing,” says Max Williamson, a Sailors for the Sea Board member.  Max continues his commentary and perspective on sailing the J/88 ELECTRA, “The wind is solar-powered.  Quite literally, wind is convection currents created by sun heating the earth.  Now 21st century solar technology allows sailors to harness the sun, as well as the wind, to move us through the ocean."

"J-Boat’s sleek J/88 day sailor is a leading example of a growing trend in integrating alternative energy technology into boatbuilding.  We recently had the pleasure of test-driving the J/88 in Miami," comments Max.  Here are his perspectives below:

Oceanvolt Electric Drive
"Imagine having a quiet conservation on board when powering to the marina after a relaxing day sail, instead of revving up the internal combustion engine.  Imagine no more choking on diesel exhaust going downwind, no more gasoline fumes in the bilge, no more fuel dock runs.  The J-88’s solar package, built around an Oceanvolt SD6 6kW 48vdc propulsion system and UK Sailmakers SolarClothSystem® solar panels on the mainsail and bimini, opened our eyes to those possibilities.  With these innovations, fossil fuel propulsion may soon be a relic for "classic boat" aficionados.

The Oceanvolt drive is indeed quiet.  While not Hunt for Red October silent, the electric drive is a huge improvement over the diesel experience.  When motoring at five knots we actually had to ask whether the electric drive was on.  Down below one can hear the drive humming when engaged, and there is of course the mechanical churning of the prop thru the water, but the contrast with diesel systems was striking.  With some sound proofing around the engine compartment, the sound might be reduced to nil.  Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the electric drive was the brawny torque and “bite” on the water on acceleration or going into reverse.  The electric drive ramps seamlessly from a standstill to full power like a Tesla Model S, much more smoothly than a mechanical drive system.

Minimizing our Environmental Impact
Sailing is already relatively clean, but the solar sailing package reduces our remaining environmental footprint dramatically.  No “stinkpot” fumes will get in the way of enjoying nature, no fuel spills, and no greenhouse gases to worsen climate change and ocean acidification.

J/88 OceanvoltSolar and Hydro Charging
The electric drive is powered by an integrated system of Valence U24 lithium phosphate batteries and a 600W solar panel array.  The solar panels are laminated right into the mylar sailcloth in the mainsail, which charges while sailing, and bimini for charging at anchor or dockside.  In the J-88 configuration that we tested, the mainsail had 9 solar panels on each side, and the bimini has a zip-in 6-panel array.  The thin-film solar panels are as flexible as the sail itself, shape smoothly when hoisted and flake easily over the boom.  The panels can be placed in the lower third of the main for racing configuration, or in the mid-third for a cruising main to allow for reefing while keeping the panels in the sun.  Thin wires run down the luff along the mast into battery bank, similar to wiring from wind instrumentation.

Of course, the battery system can also be charged conventionally with shore power as well with a 5-6 hour recharge time from empty.  Apart from the solar charging, the electric drive can actually power itself – it you have enough wind to cruise at 6-7 knots under sail, the prop will freewheel backwards to charge the batteries, serving as an actual underwater generator.

Practical Sailing
The challenge of solar-electric propulsion has been range.  But the new technology is a breakthrough.  On a full-charge there is enough battery power to motor up to 20nm with no sail or solar power support depending on wind and sea state.  In theory, on a sunny day, with the solar panels charging and 3-4 knots of wind for the sails, the J-88 can motor-sail at a cruising speed of 5 knots all day long!  And, even gas or diesel runs out eventually.  We motored in Miami for almost an hour and the battery charge dropped scantly from 93% charge to 86% with no solar charging.  In any event, most recreational sailing is coastal and easily within the electric drive’s range.  J-Boats and other manufacturers are also looking at adapting highly efficient and clean fuel cell technology (which generates electricity from propane or natural gas) for sailors who need blue water cruising range.

The electric propulsion system is fully integrated, with high-tech power draw monitoring and other data systems.

The solar sailing package, being innovative technology, does cost more than a conventional diesel engine, adding 10 to 15% to the purchase price for a full solar-sailing package.  But, the cost is coming down rapidly and, interestingly, there are savings that one would not think of at first, such as not needing a muffler or fossil-fuel storage system.

The J/88 itself is a sporty day sailor with a nice mix of ease-of-sailing and race-ready performance-- but others will write about that.  What gets Sailors for Sea excited is J-Boat's integration of several new cutting-edge products into a green and clean energy package.”  Thanks for the review from Max Williamson - a member on the Board of Directors of Sailors for the Sea.  For more J/88 Oceanvolt solar-sailor information