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CWB Volunteers Test Electric Motor They Created on Historic Wooden Boats

January 29, 2013

The Tower of Power…no, not the legendary soul band, a new electric boat motor….has sea-trials at South Lake Union.

Did you ever wonder what happens when a bunch of The Center for Wooden Boats volunteers with time on their hands and inquisitive minds look at the kinds of expensive new electric boat motors we’re starting to see on the market? They tend to ask questions such as, “Hey, maybe we could build one of those things ourselves.”

And thus, the Tower of Power was born. We’ll let Ed Hutsell, one of those volunteers, explain.


The Tower of Power Story
Or, Franken-Motor, It’s Alive!
By Ed Hutsell

It all started at the CWB Electric Boat Showcase last September. CWB member Joe Grez founder of the PropEle Electric Boat Motor Co., brought his boat Sweet Pea with a converted electric outboard on the back. Longtime volunteer and marine motor guru, Don Rothwell took one look and said, “Cool! We could do that!” Dave Barden, the resident electric car expert must have said, “Yeah, cool. We should do that.” but that’s lost to history. Anyway, the next thing anybody knew, Don dragged in his 35 year old, clapped-out Evinrude 18 horsepower outboard motor, and started tearing the thing apart. He and Dave Barden then tapped several sources and bought, begged and borrowed (we can only trust that nothing was stolen) most of the components required. Don set about fabricating mounting plates while Dave wired up a control box.

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With the connivance, encouragement and occasional assistance of the rest of the CWB Electric Boat Team; Dave Erskine, Larry Smith, Ed Hutsell, Norm Petersen, and Jerry Hopple, what was then fondly referred to as “Franken-motor,” got assembled in the CWB Northlake Workshop & Warehouse. Then one cold day in early December, IT RAN!

Now renowned as the Tower Of Power, it found its way on to back of a borrowed Cama Beach skiff for testing in Lake Union on January, 18, 2013. That day testing was curtailed when an electronic gremlin was detected in the forward- reverse switching relays. In non-technical terms, ya can’t go both ways at once. Dave B exorcised that gremlin and testing resumed the next day and on January 19th  ToP  powered Cama Boat number 64 (One of the boats showcased in CWB’s new FishOn! Exhibit) smoothly moved out into the lake.

Well, it moved smoothly until they found out the 48 volts worth of batteries were actually more like 40 volts. Good thing Cama Boats had oars.

Tower of Power 008

Okay, electric boats need battery chargers.

Finally, on January 20th, the ToP left the dock in grand fashion with the two Daves manning the helm and monitoring the instrumentation. They recorded a speed of over 6 mph and made 3 runs out to the red nun. Success. Testing and the Tower of Power saga continue.

One might ask why a bunch of wooden boat nuts would become electric boat nuts. Well, sustainable, clean recreational boating seems like a good idea. And, electric boats are in fact very traditional as evidenced by CWB’s electric launch Dora, a replica that harkens back to the ELCO electric launches built for the 1893 World’s Fair.

One might also ask, “now that you built it, what are you going to do with it?” The idea from the inception was that if successful, an electric outboard would be very useful, green and safe powering a safety and coaching boat in support of CWB’s sail training and racing programs. And anyway, the number of guys with time on their hands during a cold, wet winter had reached critical mass. Something had to get built. You can bet CWB will figure out a creative way to use the Tower of Power. Look for it on our docks.


So thanks to the entire Tower of Power team for the time and dedication. Who knows if it will become the standard on CWB boats, but it sure has been fun to come along for the ride. And if you visit the CWB Seattle Docks this spring and notice that funny looking motor on the back of one of our safety boats remember it is a testament to the Tower of Power that volunteers give to CWB.

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And yes, if you look closely at the cover over the motor, you’ll see that it’s two diaper pails glued together, with a wicked looking fin added at the top. I’m sure that gives it some aerodynamic advantage…and they didn’t do  it just cause it’s wicked cool looking.

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