Vlog 169: Hire Purpose

I visit a narrowboat hire firm in Gilwern, South Wales, on the Mon & Brec canal. Amongst their fleet of conventional narrowboats they also have two fully-electric ones that don’t even have solar or a generator on board. So how have they managed this feat when it would be impractical elsewhere? Watch and find out!

Castle Narrowboats:

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  1. I am quite interested in the electric narrowboat option. I hired the Narrowboat Lady Susan from Anglo Welsh at Tardebigge and had a wonderful two weeks cruising with friends to Stratford-Upon-Avon and back. We could not do the Avon Ring as the Avon and Severn were in flood. I have watched your videos on the Severn and Avon particularly the oil change sequence.

    In your Vlog “Hire Purpose” you state that you require 10kw to run the electric motor. I guess when you run your Lister, which may have produced 30kw once at peak power say 2400rpm, but wait, how often do you run at 2400rpm? Have you ever reved her to 2400rpm. From my limited narrowboat experience on Lady Susan we barely opened the throttle except when manoeuvering. I would say to keep a narrowboat moving you only require about 1 horsepower, that’s about 0.74kw depending upon the size of the horse.

    Well I have been following the reviews of the Narrowboat Shine which you toured at the Crick Show. It appears she has been able to cruise with little need to run the huge 6kw generator and even did a run down the Thames to Limehouse on electric alone. I would be interested if you can find out more on the Shine “proof of concept” and why has she got such a huge generator? However, that is only a 6kw diesel not a 30kw Lister diesel.

    • Hi. Thanks for the comment. Yes, since saying that I have done further investigation and found that a typical narrowboat is drawing around 2kW for general canal propulsion, just going along at normal speeds so the 10kW draw as a constant is clearly too much.

      Narrowboat Shine did that trip as I understand it in mid-summer when there was lots of solar and didn’t move every day. Plus the trip up the Thames isn’t even that long so I’m not surprised it could do it on solar alone, given a fully charged battery bank. Using the boat constantly as a liveaboard might be another matter! Weekend use, maybe. Holiday use would probably require some generation depending on sunshine.

  2. David, hope you find occasions to investigate other hybrid options. Here in the US some RV manufacturers are introducing LiFePO4 batteries. Pricey to be sure, but the advantages over lead-acid are numerous, not the least of which is the essential doubling of useable ampere-hours for similarly sized batteries…200 ah lead acid could be obtained with 100 ah LiFePO4, for example. Also, the weight of the LiFePO4 batteries are about 40% less and the ability to take a recharge is a fraction of the time of lead-acid right up to full recharge is remarkable, which means that solar recharging is much improved over lead-acid and diesel generators in lieu of alternators on a main diesel propulsion engine are both desirable and feasible. Worth further investigation for your viewers I should think. Cheers.

    • Hi. As you would expect, I have indeed investigated the other battery types including lithium. Indeed, see my recent vlog 178 (https://cruisingthecut.co.uk/2019/06/14/vlog-178-carbonaura/) where I put new batteries into the boat. Lithiums have their drawbacks, of which cost of the biggest – a 100Ah Lithium is around £800 – £1000 GBP where a conventional lead acid would be £100. Since weight isn’t an issue on the boats, you could just put double the capacity of traditional batteries in for just 20% of the cost of lithium.

      Plus lithiums need specialist controllers, different solar setups etc. Yes, some are “drop in” replacements but a lot of those can’t be assembled into larger banks of multiple batteries which a narrowboat usually has. Plus they don’t like being charged when cold and in a narrowboat engine bay over winter, it can be very chilly so you need to move them inside or heat them.

      Also you don’t actually get 100% use; you’d need to start looking at recharging by the time you’re down to about 10% really, and they don’t like going above 90% so you’ve actually only got 80% usable, not that much more than the 50% of traditional batteries, especially when you factor in cost.

      I’ve bought lead-carbon, which have thousands of cycles of use, only cost £200 / 100Ah, can also accept charge quickly and can even be taken down to 0% up to 500 times without harm. I think they’re the best value solution on the market!

  3. Hello David,
    I’m a huge fan of your vlogs, and a boater myself. Some thoughts on electric boating, now.
    In spite of the joy of traveling in utter silence I do not believe in all electric, for boats nor cars. The humongous cost for charging points along any network, be it roads or canals, isn’t the only stumbling block. What do you think would happen when, just after rushhour, all these batteries need to get charged? The whole electricity network will probably have a meltdown, leaving millions powerless, litterally. Neither the powerplants nor the grid are up for this kind of use.
    I truly believe there will be a kind of diesel revival, but more interesting will be the hydrogen-related developments. A hydrogen container, a fuel cell and an electric motor, some batteries for your appliances maybe. And the only waste you produce you can use to make a cuppa! How wonderful would that be?
    Anyway, that’s enough of me ranting, thanks so much for your vlogs! It’s lovely to see the scenery so different from the Dutch waters I’m used to. And of course your unsurpassed sense of humour. Please keep it up, looking forward to the next one already.
    Kind regards, Jobim

    • Thanks. I presume (though I have no specific knowledge about this) that the National Grid are considering this issue very carefully as it is likely to become hugely significant, and will install appropriate means for distributed power storage but quite what that means in practice I do not know!

  4. Hi David,
    We really have enjoyed all your vlogs. On the electric boat theme we thought you may be interested in a beautiful lake on the German/Austrian boarder where we used to live. They have only electric tourist boats, which do trips on the lake, it is truely stunning. Link to website – http://www.seenschiffart.de and a lovely YouTube film – Konigsee Amazing lakes of Germany by Jebin Varghese. Hope you enjoy.

  5. Love it “next generation boaters”
    Call me pessimistic but l think there is not future for that. I don’t see it profitable.
    Nice to think boating the canal is for nostalgics.

    Cheers Dave
    An Italian chef in London

  6. I was so interested in this vlog. In September, 1996, my late husband and I hired Beaumaris from Castle Narrow Boats for a week. We did own a small boat of our own but of course could not take it on this canal. We did enjoy the quiet boating and the added advantage of it being electric was that on such a shallow canal we were guaranteed a deep enough spot to moor up! We did promise ourselves a return visit but time ran out on us, I do remember the only sound in places was the faint tapping noise as the prop made contact with the gravelly bottom. Look forward to your vlogs. Keep up the good work

  7. G’day, that dog at the start of the Vlog … is pure gold!
    No way of competing for attention with the dog in the background, sorry!
    Once he/she was out of the picture …Very interesting Vlog.

  8. Hello David. The vlog on electric boats and their (lack of) environmental impact reminded me how I wince every time I see you on a river…and the cows are right beside the water, drinking…and the thing they do from the other end. Here in New Zealand such a sight would prompt an immediate Greenie protest at the farm concerned, and a complaint to the local council. Is there no move in the UK to force farmers to fence their stock off from the rivers? (I realise the canals are different in that they are polluted anyway)

    • No such moves that I’m aware of and I’m not sure why there would be. It’s not as if we drink the river water… (well, not directly)

      • Obviously you Brits have a very different view of the desirability of clean rivers than we do!

        • I don’t really understand what point you’re trying to make. For a start, this is a canal not a river. The UK has very strict laws on environmental pollution – indeed as (currently) part of the EU, we’re bound by the same rules as countries like France, Germany, Spain etc. Pollution is dealt with swiftly and efficiently.

          If you’re referring to the appearance of the water, be advised that canals, being man-made channels which follow the level of the land other than when artificially raised or lowered via locks, have effectively no flow or current. Thus any sediment sits at the bottom, merely 2-3 feet down in this particular canal’s case, and can be seen easily through the (largely clean) water. When boats pass, this is stirred up but it is just sediment. I hope that clarifies thing?

          • David, it doesn’t really matter, but I am referring to the RIVERS not the canals…I get that the latter are polluted…and if Britain allows cows to shit in the rivers – as you clearly do – then your environmental laws are a very long way from “very strict”! Here, the aim is to make all RIVERS (we don’t have any canals) swimmable. We are some way from achieving that worthy goal.

            But enough…I love watching the vlog, and am looking forward to following your travels this northern summer.

          • Forgive me, the unhelpful “comments admin” panel in the website software doesn’t show me any prior context to each comment when I reply, so I saw your post as a new comment, not a reply to a prior discussion. Hence your remark appeared as slightly random on a video about canals. Having now looked at it in context, I see we were having a discussion. Mea culpa.

  9. Oh . . . and I forgot to mention, I found the relic of the Limekilns quite interesting. I must admit, I’ve never heard of Limekilns nor knew of their purpose. Doing a quick Interweb search, I found a Park in California among the Redwood trees which featured the remains of two iron Limekilns dating back to 1887 along the famous coastline stretch known as Big Sur, a bit of road I’ve traveled many times, quite picturesque. I learned that the lime was a key ingredient in the cement that was used for construction in San Francisco and Monterey.

    See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limekiln_State_Park.

    A truly beautiful picture of the Kilns can be found here surrounded by the famous Redwood trees. I very much enjoyed this video David, one of your best! Oh, and perhaps you can elaborate the purpose of the Lime along the canal? I suspect it was used for some sort of construction as well.

  10. A wonderful video David. This canal surely is among the most beautiful I’ve seen amongst all your videos. Now there are at least two items I want to see should I visit Wales, this canal and the Hemmels Mercedes restoration facility. Thanks for this one David, it is a real keeper.

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