Best Boats 2016: Systems

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Clockwise from right: the Balance 451; the G4’s lithium-ion battery bank; part of the G4’s foil-control system; the J/88e under sail with its SolarCloth main

Clockwise from top: the J/88e under sail with its SolarCloth main; the Balance 451; the G4’s lithium-ion battery bank; part of the G4’s foil-control system

Gunboat G4, J/88e, Balance 451

An OceanVolt saildrive leg

An OceanVolt saildrive leg

Few are consistently willing to push the technology envelope and accept the (often considerable) risks that this entails. In the mass production marketplace, Groupe Beneteau stands out. In the high-end custom marketplace it is Gunboat, with this year’s G4 as a quintessential example. It’s not just the G4’s foiling capability, which has grabbed the headlines, but also its clever foot-operated hydraulic mainsheet trimmer, creative engineering in terms of foil control, Pontos four-speed winches and a retractable electric saildrive from Oceanvolt, an up-and-coming Finnish company. The Oceanvolt is also found on the all-electric J/88e from J/Boats.

The Achilles heel of electric propulsion in boats is the high levels of energy it takes to power at cruising speeds (as opposed to the relatively low levels necessary to maintain highway speeds in a car) since enormous and impractical battery banks are required for any kind of substantial range. However, the G4 and J/88e are both impervious to this in as much as the propulsion system is needed only to maneuver in and out of slips, after which the boats are sailed.

The batteries in both cases are lightweight lithium-ion. Although Oceanvolt saildrives have folding propellers, Oceanvolt has found a way to trick the propellers into staying open and freewheeling when so desired, with the electric motor now being driven as a generator to recharge the batteries. The J/88e also flies a SolarCloth main from UK Sailmakers, which includes a number of integrated solar panels to further top of its battery banks by generating electricity from the sun.

On another tack altogether, in previous years we have given the technology award to digital “distributed power” systems. These are still gaining almost no traction in the marketplace. However, at this year’s Annapolis show the Balance 451 had a well-executed conventional electrical system using distributed power principles. It does not have all the bells and whistles of a digital system, but achieves many of the same cable reduction and circuit simplification benefits without the risks inherent in a new technology.,,


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