Nigel Calder warns against joining him on the 'bleeding edge' of innovation

 In the December 2005 and January 2006 issues of Yachting Monthly Nigel Calder explains why he is having a new boat built.

There’s been great interest in these articles and here Nigel expands on his thoughts and offers some answers to the questions he’s been asked.

My articles on why we are selling ‘Nada’, distributed power systems, and diesel-electric propulsion are generating a lot of emails! Unfortunately, I do not have the time to answer these individually, so I’ve written this generic response. I hope it covers your questions.

‘Nada’:

Yes, ‘Nada’ is for sale. She’s brand new, with 70 hours on the main engine and 24 on the DC generator, and 1,000 sea-trial miles beneath the keel.

The price is $645,000/360,000 GBP, which is just above the base price for this boat. Upgrades include Kevlar reinforced hull, electric primary winches, a bow thruster, a DC generator, a watermaker, Monitor wind vane, a powerful DC system, extensively modified ground tackle arrangements, asymmetric sail locker, an extensively modified galley (super insulated fridge and freezer with independent refrigeration units, 4-burner stove, etc.), low energy lighting, 7 fans, custom wet locker, and numerous other items. See discoveryachts.com for complete specifications.

Distributed Power Systems

Normally, I will not have new technologies on my boat until other people have tested them for several years and gone through the teething problems.

However, distributed power is, in my opinion, the most important new technology to have come into the boating world in the 30 years I have been tracking boat systems.

This is why, as someone who makes a living writing about boat systems, I feel the need to get extensive first-hand experience, which is the driving force behind selling ‘Nada’ and building a new boat.

I caution others that although this technology is well tested in the automobile world, it is not in the boat world. There will be problems, maybe severe problems.

At the moment there are a very small number of boats using this technology, but by the end of 2006 there will be thousands, which will start to give us a reasonable experience pool.

My recommendation to anyone interested in getting into this technology is to wait and see for another year. Unlike the rest of you, if it does not work out on my boat, I can at least make money writing about the problems I experienced!

There are at least half a dozen companies jumping into the marine distributed power arena, with several different approaches. It’s like the early days of Betamax versus VHS.

Eventually, one particular approach will emerge as the predominant one, at which point all those boatowners with the technology that did not win will find it increasingly hard to service their systems.

With this in mind, if you are tempted, like me, to get on the bleeding edge of development and, in effect, become part of the research and development effort, you should consider the following issues when looking at any particular product:

? A company with staying power and a proven track record in the marine world
? The functionality/coverage of the system (it varies widely)
? Protection of ‘mission critical’ circuits on the boat from a system failure
? Replaceability of individual components
? Ease of installation (plug and play?) and programming (user friendly software?)
? Ease of adding future software upgrades
? Robustness of the software (does it lock up unpredictably?)
? Speed and bandwidth (will the system have the capacity to handle any future expansion you may contemplate?)
? Power consumption (this varies considerably, and may be a significant energy overhead)
? Cost

Notice I put cost last! At this stage in the game, the key thing is to have a robust system that will do what you want it to do, and to know that the company that is selling it will be around to back you up for years to come, even if it loses the fight for technological dominance.

I have written three extensive articles on distributed power systems for Professional Boatbuilder magazine (proboat.com) the first of which has been published, the second is in the hopper, and the third will come out in spring 2006.

Key players are:
Carling/Moritz (moritzaero.com)
Teleflex/Megatech Electro (megatech.qc.ca)
EmpirBus (empirbus.com)
E-T-A (e-t-a.com)
Digital Switching Systems (dnagroup.com)
Airpax/ED&D (edd-inc.com)
Victron (victron.com)

Diesel-Electric Propulsion

Diesel-electric propulsion is widespread in commercial shipping, but it has taken years to refine it, and scale it down, to the point that it is practical in pleasureboat applications.

As with distributed power, it has the potential to make a major impact on boat systems if (a) it is proven to be trouble free, and (b) the cost can be dramatically reduced through volume production. It is not clear at this time that either of these things will happen although I believe they will.

The relevant pool of boats with diesel-electric propulsion systems is quite small (dozens, rather than hundreds) so the experience base is very limited.

Unlike distributed power, for a number of reasons this pool will expand relatively slowly over the next year of two, limiting the experience base, but it is my belief that by the end of 2006 there will be enough real-life testing to have a pretty good idea of where this is going.

So, as with distributed power, unless you want to be on the bleeding edge of development (as I do, given what I see as the significance of this technology), I would advise caution and holding off for a little longer.

Key players are:
Solomon Technologies (they have been the leading proponents of this technology for some years; however, they have serious financial problems, so be careful solomontechnologies.com)
Fischer Panda (fischerpanda.com)
Glacier Bay (glacierbay.com)
Siemens (sea.siemens.com)

If you want to get into this technology early on, once again a critical concern must be the track record and resources of the company from which you buy your system – does it have the financial depth and commitment to stay around for the long haul, and if other companies win the predominant share of this marketplace, will it continue to service its products or will it abandon its existing customers?

Nigel Calder