My first exposure to Nigel Calder, same as most people, was through reading his great marine technical bible, The Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual. I studied it constantly during the years I spent as a liveaboard cruiser during the 1990s and referred to it simply as “Nigel Calder’s How to Fix Everything Book.” The first time I actually met the man, at a boat show in 1997, where I pestered him about a problem I was having with my marine toilet, I was immediately struck by how down-to-earth he was. Talking boats with him was just like talking boats with any other cruising sailor.
In the years since then—having worked with Nigel as an editor for this magazine, having sailed with him, having gotten to know him as a friend—I’ve seen nothing that contradicts that first impression. Nigel truly is one of us. He’s a humble man, instinctively embarrassed by the notoriety he has achieved, but also deeply appreciative of it. He has described his relationship with his readers as symbiotic. He does their homework for them, thus enabling them to live the cruising lifestyle, and by buying his books they, in turn, enable him to live the same lifestyle.
Now it seems the symbiosis has come full circle. For the past 10 years Nigel has been on a quest, working through various projects and with various people to develop the ultimate cruising sailor’s energy system, a chimera he’s dreamed of ever since he overtaxed the electrical system on his first boat, an Ingrid 38 named Nada that he finished from a bare hull. The revolutionary new Integrel power-generating system—a winner in this year’s Freeman K. Pittman Awards and overall winner of the European Dame Design Award—is very much Nigel’s baby. At one stroke it promises to maximize engine and battery efficiency, allowing those who don’t have the space for a stand-alone generator to enjoy the benefits of one, and those who do have generators to do away with them.
Nigel not only helped create this system, but he has also worked hard at destroying it. As the public face of the project, with his reputation as a writer on the line, he insisted on personally subjecting the Integrel system to rigorous testing. I can tell you Nigel is very good at this, as he has shared with me over the years many stories and dramatic photos of exploded battery banks, frizzled alternators, burning wires, and what-not. He has now, he told me, had an Integrel system on his own boat, the fourth Nada, a Malo 45, for three years. During the first two years, he succeeded in provoking all sorts of calamitous failures. His favorite, I gather, was a harmonic engine vibration he induced that destroyed the drive belt on the Integrel super-alternator (a “Caldernator,” as he once described it to me) in just four hours.
“It was quite impressive,” he told me. “I destroyed 10 belts in 10 weeks before we figured out how to solve the problem.”
For the past year, he assures me, the Integrel system on his boat has been running perfectly. So much so he now intends to remove his propane system and rely on electricity to do all his onboard cooking.
“I know this sounds like a cheap promotion,” he said, “but I think it’s brilliant! It’s the system I’ve dreamed of having on my boat for the last 35 years.”
In conversations we’ve had over the past decade as he helped develop this system, Nigel has intimated he hoped he might make enough money from it to fund his retirement. Full disclosure (Nigel wouldn’t want it any other way): he does have an equity interest in the Integrel project.
Getting back to the symbiosis theme, Nigel also sees Integrel as something he is giving back to the folks who made his career possible. He describes it baldly in a video on the Integrel website (integrelmarine.com) as “my retirement present to the cruising community.” (Note to viewers: Nigel knows he looks a bit silly in that white lab coat he’s wearing there.)
And here’s the rub. It seems the Integrel system may be successful enough that Nigel won’t be getting lazy anytime soon.
“Right now,” he noted, “it’s looking like I’ll be working harder than I have in a long time.”