Jenny O’leary talks cruising the Stockholm archipelago onboard her and her partner's electric yacht, a new Arcona 385

Are we now able to rely on an electric drive as an auxiliary engine for a sailing cruiser? Having mused over this for a few years, my husband Niall and I decided to stop vacillating and we are now the proud owners of a beautiful new Arcona 385 equipped with an Oceanvolt all-electric Servoprop.

I had been feeling increasingly uncomfortable about using a diesel engine for a non-essential purpose. The idea of motoring from here to there when the wind or tide is against us just doesn’t appeal, not to mention the noise and smell. This sense of unease has crept up over the last few years as we have been trying to become more environmentally responsible. We also have had some experience of adjusting to living with limited range. Range anxiety was a term that became very real to us in 2013 when we became an electric car family.

Jenny at the wheel of a previous boat

In late May 2023 we turned up for the handover in Gustavsberg. Our boat was better than I expected! Sailing Amuse II was exciting. I felt like I was back racing a performance dinghy, a Fireball perhaps.

The interior finish of the boat is beautiful – carefully burnished solid wood, well thought out layout and plenty of light. It was immediately clear that the 385 is a fast boat, very light, responsive and easy to keep on track with a single deep rudder.

Would Niall and I be able to handle this on our own? Our first independent outing was a passage from Gustavsberg to Wasahamnen marina in central Stockholm. This is a typical archipelago trip involving a mixture of narrow canal-type passages and some relatively open water sailing. Swapping between sails up and down, and motor on and off gave us a bit of practice. We were also trying to understand the way the electric motor worked: how far could we motor and at what speed? If we ran into a headwind, how much battery power would we lose?

Surprisingly the most memorable part of this first trip was not anything to do with the electric drive or even the boat. Yes, it was remarkable to float silently past families of geese and be able to hear the bird orchestra as we ‘motored’ through the affluent watery suburbs of Stockholm. And yes, we had plenty of battery power left when we finally arrived at the Wasahamnen marina. But our unforgettable moment happened at the very end of the outing.

Threading the needle

This was our first time visiting the Stockholm Archipelago. The Swedes have their own preferred mooring systems, combinations of tying up to rocks, throwing out stern anchors, threading your mooring lines though metal eyes on buoys or through eyes on low lying floating pontoons. There are various gadgets available for sale in the chandlers to help you with all these approaches.

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We had equipped ourselves with an expanding boat hook and a clever boat hook invention that allowed you to thread a line through a mooring eye by using a devious rotating hook which seemed to magically thread itself.

The mooring system that is preferred in Wasahamnen turns out to be one which is very common in the archipelago. There are large mooring buoys positioned about 20m from the pontoons or harbour wall. On approach while driving forward, you thread your stern line through the metal eye on the top of the buoy and continue bow first towards the pontoon. Suffice to say, we ended up moored the wrong way around (stern into the pontoon) with one of us swimming in the icy Baltic. It was free entertainment for everyone watching!

A family of geese float by undisturbed by the quiet purr of the electric engine

Calculating speed

But to answer the question of how far can we motor and at what speed? We are still on a learning curve trying to assess this. There is a balance between how fast you want to travel and how much power you are happy to use.

A digital display beside the throttle gives a reading showing watts being used, revs and time remaining. We find that we get something like 800 revs with about 1kW of power output. We have a bit more than 22kW of battery power, so at this rate we can keep motoring for 20 hours or so. In flat water, with very little wind, we seem to get about 3 knots using 1 kW of power, so theoretically we can motor for 60 miles in this scenario.

However, if we motor sail and keep the motor running at constant revs then the amount of power used drops as the sails start to help drive the boat. Once we go over about 6 knots our Servoprop can be switched to a mode where we regenerate power. Our boat sails well in light winds, which is what we have mainly experienced to date, and we have not been in a hurry, allowing plenty of time when passage planning. So far most of our trips in the archipelago have been short hops but for our longer trips in mainly open waters, planning for an average of 6 knots wouldn’t be too far off.

As you approach the mooring buoys at Wasahamnen marina in Stockholm, you thread your stern line through the metal eye on the top of the buoy with a special rotating boathook

In early June, we were able to see how we could manage motoring into headwinds. We joined the CA’s Baltic rally around the Åland Islands. Getting from central Stockholm to the Åland islands involved picking up our crew, Geraldine and Günther, at Furusund and then sailing out of the archipelago across the open sea for about 30 miles. We had no shortage of wind and flew across to the Ålands on a close reach, throwing in reefs in a rising fresh breeze.

The trip culminated in a 5-mile upwind motor into 25-knot northerlies to get into Mariehamn West. It was great to see we had more than 75% battery power remaining, despite thrashing into the wind under motor for an hour or so.

Overall, for us it’s definitely possible to enjoy our cruising without a diesel engine as back up. Yes, there are planning adjustments to be made, but there are also benefits.

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