Those days are gone, with a lone Friendship sloop named the Sarah Mead as the only known exception. Rescued from disuse and neglect by father-son team Randy and Nate Jones in 2006, the Sarah Mead took to the ocean once more to charter guests and, yes, haul traps — the last boat to do so in Maine waters, according to the Joneses.

Former Auburn resident Nate Jones supplemented that early charter sailing business, Sail Muscongus, by teaching in Lewiston at the Margaret Murphy Center for Children. But as the Joneses’ business grew, Nate migrated closer to the Sarah Mead’s home waters in Boothbay.

While most of us think of a sailboat as a self-sufficient means of conveyance, maneuvering in and out of port these days is usually accomplished by alternate means — often a loud, noisy, exhaust-belching diesel engine.

Enter Electric Yacht of Minnesota. Enterprising engineers at Electric Yacht developed custom electric conversions for all levels of boating, including full and partial conversions. With the hopes of offsetting the winter boating slump, Jones senior founded Electric Yacht of New England in 2012, a subsidiary of Electric Yacht.

With an aging diesel system that left them stranded more than once in 2012, the Joneses carefully weighed the costs: $15,000 retail for an electric motor or $12,000 for a new diesel.

Seeing an opening for a possible commercial market in the Northeast, Electric Yacht in Minnesota offered the pair a new electric motor for $10,000, making their decision list toward electric.

The Joneses remained on the fence however, not ready to take a dollar amount that high lightly. That’s when they came upon a little-known Maine Department of Environmental Protection grant from the Clean Marine Engine Program. Directed toward larger commercial vessels and ferries to entice them to give up old, inefficient fossil-fuel rigs, the grant had few takers.

Decisions on the grant are based on how much fuel consumption will be reduced with either an upgraded hybrid system or a complete conversion to electric. The Sarah Mead did not have a high fuel bill for getting in and out of port, however, given that her overall consumption would go from modest to zero with an electric conversion, the Joneses’ situation fit well into the program’s sliding scale.

They were awarded a $5,000 grant toward a full conversion — if they could prove their 1980 guzzler was put out of use. For this, former North Berwick Police Chief Randy Jones took a video of himself putting a bullet through the old engine block. (To see the video of the fateful shot, go to: http://sailmuscongus.squarespace.com/sailing-green/)

Lynne Cayting of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection developed the Clean Marine Engine Program in 2009 with federal stimulus money. She worked closely with the Joneses throughout the grant process.

“The Sarah Mead was the only pure electric engine repower and the least expensive project. The American Promise, a 60-foot sailboat that made history sailing around the world in 1985 by Dodge Morgan, is the first in my grant program to replace the diesel engine with a hybrid diesel-electric engine,” said Cayting. “I believe that Nate Jones has done a good job of publicizing their repower project, which will result in more sailboats considering installing electric inboard engines.”

George Hope, a salesman for Electric Yacht, took more than a passing interest as he helped the Joneses prepare for the refit. “I had full support from Scott McMillan, founder of Electric Yacht, so it was logical to connect everyone and form a plan as to how to proceed. Nate and Randy decided that they could be more involved in the promotion of Electric Yacht and it was a pleasure making that happen also.”

Indeed, the publicizing is already well under way: Nate and Randy drew a crowd in March at the Maine Boatbuilders show in Portland, showing off their new system and dispelling myths about short range and minimal battery power.

“It was fantastic,” Nate Jones said. Since it was their first year attending the show, Jones said, they were up on the third floor, where less-than-nautical gear — such as jewelry — was being sold. According to Jones, people would walk by and stop dead in their tracks at the sight of the electric motor, one of only two at the entire show.

According to Jones, the first reaction he received from most sailors was, “Why didn’t I know about this?” One visitor did know about it, and attended the show just to see the new motor. Jones said the man was building a boat to live on and wanted to see the electric system firsthand.

Having lived on a sailboat before, Jones recalls the smell of diesel permeating the cabin of the boat and his clothes each day he went to work. “It’s 2013,” Jones said. “There’s no reason to put a diesel in the bottom of your boat.”

That diesel, Jones said, also bleeds out into the sea no matter how tight of a system someone runs.

Besides the smell, Jones related, there are the myriad engine parts to deal with and the things that traditionally go wrong in an internal combustion engine. From intake, to spark, to drive train, engines leave much to go awry, especially if you are a long way from home and the wind is less than cooperative.

As for power, Jones says that at full throttle, his sailboat’s electric motor can run 16 nautical miles without a charge — a non-issue since a built-in turbine in the propeller recharges the battery while under sail. Add to that a solar panel that will be affixed topside and a small generator if needed, and the Sara Mead could potentially run nonstop.

Beyond the talk of grants, torque and mess, Jones appreciates what the electric conversion will really bring: the experience of truly sailing, of being on the ocean and not hearing anything but the waves lapping on the bow or smelling anything but the ocean breezes as they haul up the next buoy.

The Joneses plan to launch the Sarah Mead with her new electric engine on May 10. Trips start in June. For more information go to http://sailmuscongus.squarespace.com or call 207-380-5460.


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