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by Ted Flanigan, EcoNet Newsreader

“You can’t move a mountain alone,

But if each of us carries a stone,

We’ll turn back, look and see

That the mountain has moved.”

EcoMotion theme song

Hybrid Sailing on the Ramblin’ Rose

What a day at sea. What a day of making new friends. Sailing on the Ramblin’ Rose thanks to its owner, an EcoNet Newsreader, the talented, charming, and down to earth, James Richmond, pictured above winching in the mainsail. He was kind enough to invite us for a sail on his experimental yacht.

James Richmond, President of Sunwater Marine

As instructed, Terry and I have brought food and drinks. We rendezvous at the Coronado Yacht Club. We board and meet James and today’s crew, his wife Leah and their great friends Fred and Suzanne. I’d invited my great friend and bassist-extraordinaire Adam to join us. We tour the boat. Each hull has a head… totally luxurious in size. The master suite has a major shower. We could get used to this!

Time to get underway. James provides a quick safety check. Then we untie the lines and ease out of the berth. We motor south out of the anchorage and then east under the Coronado Bridge. It soars above us. What a blustery day! There’s a strong headwind driving down San Diego Bay. I’m struck by a crazy motor boat thrill ride going on. I’ve never seen so many people strapped in like a carnival ride. The “Patriot Jet Boat” was making high speed spins and tricks and turns, getting everyone on board soaked. You can hear the cheers, the shrill of their voices.

What terrific views of downtown San Diego. We pass the Convention Center, the Maritime Museum complete with its ships and aircraft carrier. We pass the Disney cruise ship, then round the bay near the airport, flights coming and going and adding to the color and cacophony of it all. The harbor is alive… lots of boating activity on this Labor Day weekend Saturday.

I had a really good time getting to know James. He has an infectious laugh and loves his new work/life balance at the helm of Sunwater Marine. He describes it as a nautical transportation company with a keen focus on spreading the benefits of renewable energy and electric propulsion to sea dwellers. James is my kind of guy… a renaissance man for sure, with many interests and capabilities. We hit it off.

His story of moving from energy efficiency and solar to the Ramblin’ Rose is a good one: During the pandemic, and while holed up in his Colorado mountain home, he searched the ads in Yachting Magazine. A sailor for all of his life, he wasn’t naive about boats. And there it was… an ad for the Ramblin’ Rose. It was, and still is, a charter catamaran docked at the Coronado Yacht Club. James bought the 2015 Leopard 40 catamaran site unseen, and prepared it for charter and as the anchor for his new company.

James initially planned to add more solar panels, but then he began to learn about electric propulsion and how that might work on the Ramblin’ Rose. This excites him. James is handy and retrofitted the boat with lots more solar, tucked battery banks in the hold, and installed the electric motors, their controllers, and propeller shafts. He converted the Ramblin’ Rose into a hybrid sailboat.

We’re all used to the notion of hybrid cars. They have two sources of propulsion energy. Hybrid buildings is a somewhat more obscure concept that we have reported on here at EcoNet News. They use battery banks to provide an alternate source of power during peak periods. Now this… a hybrid sailboat. It primarily is a sailboat, relying on Mother Nature’s gusts of wind. It also has solar panels on board that charge battery banks that power Oceanvolt electric motors.

While catamaran’s are certainly not sleek sailing vessels, they are perfect for entertaining. They’re also quite perfect for solar. The catamaran provides lots of roof space for solar panels. Jim equipped the boat with Sunflare CIGS panels because they are flexible and durable and because they operate individually given a bypass diode on each panel. That’s important as the sails are always shading something. How durable? You can walk on them. The coolest feature, and one that clearly excites James the most, are the two Oceanvolt 15 kW ServoProp motors. There is one motor on each hull. These motors have drive shafts that spin propellers. The propeller blades can be pitched to optimize efficiency. They can also spin around to run backwards. I was fascinated by the way James used the electric motors to give the boat a boost when coming about. The motors can also generate power, the propellers capturing energy like a wind turbine as the boat proceeds under sail. Each electric motor is powered by a bank of 12 lithium-iron phosphate batteries which provide 21 kWh of power.

Once we got to the top of the harbor, we killed the engines, hoisted the main, unfurled the jib and had that great feeling when the strong wind filled our sails. We pass a 12 meter that takes out passengers. There’s a major naval presence here on Coronado. Coming out of the head of the bay and into the open Pacific, we head down and swing south to avoid the acres of kelp forests off Point Loma. James points to a favorite surfing spot at the base of the cliffs only accessible by boat. I’m happy to take the helm and get a sense of how this catamaran performs in the open waters. It’s a glorious day to be on the ocean.

Heading back into the harbor, we pass the San Salvadore. It is a replica of the flagship of explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. His 100-foot, full-rigged galleon was the first European vessel to reach America’s West Coast. The San Salvadore arrived in what we now call the Port of San Diego in 1542. It now takes out passengers for four-hour sails in the San Diego harbor. How fun.

In no hurry to end our afternoon together, we dropped anchor in Glorietta Bay. There’s a flotilla of partygoers on ships of all sizes around us; there’s lots of music as boats pass by. Lots of bathing suits and canned beer. More for us too, laughter, being together, plotting future voyages afar, and enjoying the afternoon on the water. I recommend it.

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