I was told to go fast – so I did

Kidderminster Trip Day 3 – a technical perspective

Travelling through the 1.66 mile long Harecastle tunnel was an experience.  We had been warned to go quickly by the attendant, and that most people with new boats go too slowly and end up zigzagging, hitting the walls and scratching their paint.  I took the man seriously and took my first opportunity to see just how much power we have from out electric motor tried to see just how much power our boat has, my first opportunity.

We travelled through the tunnel in exactly 30 minutes at 580RPM, at 147 amps, (7.5kW).  In total we used 73.5AH (3.7kW hrs) traveling through the tunnel at an average speed of 3.3MPH.  That is the equivalent of less than 1.25 litres of diesel or 89p at the price we pay.

I was pleased with this because we were told that the normal time to do the tunnel is 40 minutes and we did it in 30 minutes.  Apparently one boat the day before 1 hour 15 minutes.

We travelled from the tunnel to Stoke at high speed because the canals were wide, deep and with very few boats allowing me to test how well the boat performed in wider canals, at higher speed.  The boat handled well and I had plenty of extra power in reserve.


Distance cruised – 15.3 miles
Locks – 11
Tunnel – 2,675m
Cruising time – 8 Hrs 40 mins
Battery used – 358 Amp Hours (33%)
Power used – 18.6 kW hrs
Average speed – 1.8 MPH

9 hours crusing for 1 hour generator use

Kidderminster Trip Day 2 – a technical perspective

We cruised for 9 hours and covered 13 miles, and lost 110 feet of altitude.  I was particularly interested to see how the electric propulsion working through the lock flight at Bosley.  12 locks in the space of one mile.

I have to say it was lovely coming down the flight, no noise of engine or exhaust reverberating around the stone lock chambers, no diesel fumes to breath as I wait for the locks to empty, and able to hear Cheryl from the lock side.  I think Cheryl would say it was B#### hard work – the locks gates weigh about a ton each but are surprisingly easy to move for their weigh.  But some of the lock paddles are really hard work to wind up.

We travelled 13 miles and used 198AH (10.4KWhrs) from our batteries, which means we used just under one fifth of our battery capacity cruising today.  That equates to just under 3.5 litres of Diesel and at the price we last paid works out at £2.50 for the whole days cruising.   We can replenish that much power in about 1 hour from our diesel generator.

I measured the power we used during the lock flight itself and in the 1hr 40 minutes it took us to do the 12 locks we used just 16AH (0.8KWhrs) from our batteries, so we used the equivalent of under a quarter litre of diesel to come down the flight.

I am closely monitoring our batteries to see how they perform.  We started the days cruise with the batteries at 52.4 volts and ended it at 52.3 volts.   For people who are used to Lead Acid or almost any other type of battery such a tiny volt drop after using a fifth of the batteries capacity is unheard of.  But our LiFePO4 (Lithium Iron Phosphate) batteries have almost no voltage drop between 20% and 80% state of charge.

Over all I am pleased with how little power we are using to cruise, its is a little less than I had allowed for from all my research and calculations.

Boating with a difference, How to spot a Firecrest

Narrowboat design is evolving to take into account modern technologies.  We’ve tried to incorporate a lot of the benefits behind the facia of  Firecrest.  We’ve chosen to embrace the environment, making Firecrest, albeit a very beautiful one, a means to an end, our comfortable home from home that maximises our ability to explore and enjoy our surroundings.  We’re reading that more and more boaters are pushing the boundaries of how much you can fit into a long metal box.  We’re loving the interest shown in our boat, and likewise how interested we are in the more traditional.

Firecrest’s features aren’t unique, just not as traditional as a lot of modern boats.

What makes her unusual.

1) Instead of a diesel engine we have an electric motor for propulsion, giving us totally silent cruising.

2) We are a gasless boat, so don’t use bottles of LPG for cooking as is usual, instead we have an electric oven, an electric induction hob, use an electric kettle, and an electric toaster.  These are all powered from the batteries so we can use them any time day or night without running the generator and disturbing the neighbours.

3) With my background in electronics and computer control, we have a modern computerised CANbus wiring system so all our lights, water pumps etc., are powered and controlled by a system much the same as is in all modern cars, lorries, coaches, and many commercial boats.  This gives me a lot of flexibility how things work, greatly simplifies the wiring, and reduces the amount of wire needed too.

4) Instead of the normal deck at the bow that is above the canal water level, ours is below the water level, a dropped well deck, at the same level as the rest of the interior of the boat.   Instead of the canvas cover (a cratch cover) we have extended the steel roof over the bow deck to make it an indoor sitting area, with headroom to stand up, and overhead lighting.  We have cratch sides that can open up, or be removed completely allowing us to have fresh cool air, but also shelter from wind.

5) Since we don’t get “free” hot water every time the engine runs, we have a modern high efficiency diesel boiler for our central heating and hot water, more like the ones found in homes with oil heating than the typical boilers used on narrowboats.  This means we have hot water all the time, Cheryl can wash up as many dishes as she likes and take as long in the shower as she wants.

6) We’ve opted to have a waterless Eco toilet, (composting toilet.) which are becoming a more and more popular choice for boaters. One of the biggest benefits is because we don’t flush, we don’t have to fill up the water tank so often.  And no, it doesn’t smell.

7) Our battery charging system is also computerised, and nothing like the usual alternator run from the propulsion engine.  This I have had to write the software for.

8) Our batteries are LiFePO4 (a type of Lithium battery that is much safer than the ones used in phones and laptops).  These have very different characteristics to the usual leisure Lead Acid batteries making them ideal for our boat.  These are charged from an onboard GenSet or shore power when available.  These need electronics and software management which I have also designed and built myself.

Lots of people seem interested in our electric propulsion and how we charge our batteries so I will add some “techie” posts in the future to describe that in some detail, and how we find it works in practise.

For all of Firecrest’s individuality, she still requires polishing and painting to keep her looking good.