WILL NICE QUIET electric motors take over from diesel and gas engines on small boats? Given the current state of evolution of the electric motor and its batteries, it seems unlikely to happen soon. Fossil-fuel engines have, after all, become very reliable and economical. But I believe electricity will eventually take over.
We’ll need better, lighter batteries or other methods of storing electricity, and more efficient ways of generating it from sunlight or chemicals, but I believe we’ll eventually get there.
In any case, history tells us that we should believe the unlikely, if not the impossible. For example, according to the eminent engineer Benjamin H. Latrobe, there was no way that a steam engine could be used to propel boats. No way.
Now, this man was no lightweight. For a start, he designed the United States Capitol. In a paper delivered to the American Philosophical Society in 1803, he listed the reasons why:
1. The weight of the engine and the fuel.
2. The large space it occupies.
3. The tendency of its action to rack the vessel and render it leaky.
4. The expense of maintenance.
5. The irregularity of its motion, and the motion of the water in the boiler and the cistern, and of the fuel-vessel in rough water.
6. The difficulty arising from the liability of the paddles to break, if light, and from the weight if made strong.
Well, Latrobe might have been eminent, but he was also wrong. He lacked foresight and he lacked faith.
I don’t have much in the way of foresight, but I have lots of faith, which is why I say diesel and gasoline are on the way out. It will take a while, certainly, but the writing is on the wall and the electric motor is coming to the bilge. In its turn, it might be overtaken by some other form of propulsion. But meanwhile, I can’t wait.
The best scientist is open to experience and begins with romance — the idea that anything is possible.
— Ray Bradbury
“You look lonely.”
“Yeah, my wife’s gone to the West Indies.”
“No, it was her own idea.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for a new Mainly about Boats column.)