I went to the Crick boat show for the first time over the weekend just gone. It was very intense experience for me, and gave me a lot to think about. Some of it a bit overwhelming. That’s kind of the whole boat experience, oscillating between excitement, overwhelm, and ignoring it all. I’ll collect together some of the points I came away with here.
I am not an expert on these topics, and all knowledge is stuff I have absorbed from talking to people where I trusted what they were saying. I try to talk to engineers rather than sales people. It seems quite easy to tell the difference, as when I ask a more technical question their eyes light up, and they can share the nitty gritty about inductive load AC phase shifts, for example.
Systems for electric propulsion were very present. Many electric boats exhibited, and many stands with electric motors on. Also many different opinions. That’s another thing I’m getting used to. It’s not a mass production industry, and not like buying a car where there are oodles of reviews, and buying any of the “main” brands will get you a high quality vehicle.
There are two main approaches to electric propulsion, parallel electric and serial electric.
With parallel electric you have a regular diesel engine, with an electric motor strapped on. Both can drive the prop shaft. This gives redundancy, if you have no electricity but some diesel you can use the diesel engine, and vice versa. It also means you can use the electric motor for easy conditions (cruising along the canal), and the diesel for more demanding scenarios (rivers). The gearbox needed reduces efficiency.
The serial hybrid uses a diesel generator to charge batteries which then powers a motor to drive the boat. An advantage is being able to use a modern relatively quiet generator that can be optimized for power generation, and it does not have to go through a gearbox. The motor size would need to be appropriate for the most demanding use case.
Most people seemed to say a 10kW motor would be suitable for the size I am looking at 55′ x10′, although I’d like a bit more reassurance on that. Also, it seems quite possible to restrict the use of the boat such that it does not need huge power, e.g. not expecting to travel on a fast river. Everything is a big set of compromises anyway.
One engineer from a company that designs boats but does not directly sell either system said parallel or serial systems are horses for courses, and depends on your use case. Everybody seemed to agree it’s pretty infeasible to run a purely electric system if you are not marina-based as you can’t get enough from solar alone (in the winter especially), and there is no charging infrastructure along the canal.
The batteries were another interesting topic. Lithium Ion Phosphate seem to best performing, although some are cautious as they are still quite new, so less long term experiences. They are more expensive up front, but totally lifetime costs are more favourable as they have significantly increased number of charge cycles (3000+ vs ~600). Another cost is that people generally recommended to get them installed by a professional due to increased need to get it right.
The biggest factor by far for me is cost, I don’t know if I can afford an electric system at all. I would at least like to cost it out. It’s not as simple as looking at the propulsion in isolation as with increased electricity generation and storage capability it’s possible to switch to electric cooking, and maybe even heating/cooling using a heat pump. So, always have to think about total costs.
This is a parallel hybrid beta marine engine from Hybrid Marine.
I really wanted to feel how different bathroom sizes felt to be in, as I’d like to make this as small as possible without it being cramped. My current model has it 5′ x 6′ (minus some losses for sloping side + doors/panel/etc, so maybe 5′ x 5′ 6″ internally).
Here is a bathroom! It’s much bigger than I’d be able to have, but the shower tray is the same size 800mm x 1200mm (excuse mixed metric/imperial units, that’s just how it’s going to be…). I also like some of the design aspects of it, the tiles, some of the black trim, but not the hipster-squareness of everything, I think that will age badly.
I think my sizing will work, feel spacious enough, esp. the shower. 1200mm is also wide enough to have a sliding door that is contained within the unit (so 600mm entry) without it feeling cramped. I did try a small shower with the same design, I think 900mm wide, but that door definitely felt cramped to enter.
By far my (and most of the people I was with) favourite was this “solid wood with wobbly edges” kind of look:
We also really liked the central floorboard plank with the rest coming off at 90 degrees. That also seemed very practical for easier access to under the floor.
As a counter balance to that, there were many “IKEA”-style new-build boats. I didn’t take any photos of them. I looked around this one, which maybe is somebodies dream, but far from mine:
I am not part of the canal boat community and I’m learning more about how people perceive narrowboats vs widebeams. I am getting a widebeam that is about 1.5x the width of a narrowboat, so 10′ vs 6′ 6″.
At the bar I got chatting to a narrowboat guy who was sharing his views, we were having quite a nice agreeable chat about the need to change your expectations of how your life works when living on a boat, not just seeing it like a house on water. He stopped using a fridge at all, for example.
I mentioned I was getting a widebeam and he turned around so his back was facing me, and didn’t say another word to me!
People are very good at dividing themselves into subgroups and pouring scorn on those in other groups, without particular consideration of the circumstances by which people are part of one group or another. I better get resilient.
Maybe I’ll be seen as the equivalent of being an SUV-owner (or more horrifyingly, maybe I’ll actually be the equivalent of an SUV-owner).
I found the whole thing quite overwhelming and hectic, and enjoyed a morning run on the last morning along the canal and up a hill:
A lot to think about.