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HomeA Torqeedo Review

A Torqeedo Review


Published: Monday, 15 September 2014 15:57 

Last August I purchased a Torqeedo Travel 1003 L for use on my Ensign, which is
based at the Saratoga Lake Sailing Club, home of Fleet 72. My decision was driven by
a desire to not deal with cans of gasoline on the boat, to get away from the pull
starter on my Honda 2 HP outboard, to have a three part system where each part was
lighter than my Honda so the outboard could be easily installed and removed, and to
experiment with new technology. Hopefully this review will be useful to other Ensign
owners.
I would dub the Torqeedo Travel 1003 an “outboard that only an engineer could love.”
The outboard is ugly, at least compared to most modern outboards. More importantly,
while the electronics are sophisticated, the mechanical design is crude and
cumbersome.

Many of you know that the Torqeedo has a high performance lithium battery and a
built in GPS and computer that displays your current speed and power consumption,
and figures out how far you can go at your current speed and battery charge. Very
nice! I found the range of the battery more than adequate for use on Saratoga Lake.
A typical round trip from my mooring to the dock, and them back to the mooring after
sailing would use about 1/10 of the battery capacity. The trip from the Club docks
to the New York State boat launch, a distance of about 2.6 miles, and a trip each
member of Fleet 72 does at the start of the sailing season and again at the end,
uses a bit less than half the battery capacity at a speed of about 3 knots. The
motor is quiet and starts at the turn of the tiller. So, what’s not to like?

The outboard is composed of six separate and removable pieces, compared to perhaps
three for a normal outboard with an integrated fuel tank. These are: 1) the motor
unit with the propeller that mounts on the motor mount and hangs in the water; 2)
the battery; 3) the tiller; 4) a plastic pin that prevents the motor from rotating
on the motor mount, 5) a plastic rod that is inserted into the battery after it is
mounted on the motor unit so the combination can be tilted out of the water; and 6)
the magnetic safety shutoff. My Honda has: 1) Main unit, 2) gas cap; and 3) safety
shutoff device.

Torqeedo warns that the battery should not be left in a high temperature
environment. I take this to mean that I should not leave the battery on the motor on
the transom of my boat at the mooring in the hot blazing sun all summer long. Last
year I was very conservative and took the motor home in my dinghy after each use, as
I was unsure if the cabin of the boat was cool enough. This year I just moved the
battery from the motor to the cabin, unless it needed to be charged. Assembling the
size parts each time I sail, and disassembling them after I am back on the mooring,
is a pain.

Last year I broke one of the fingers on the battery housing when I was not careful
enough mounting the heavy battery to the motor assembly. That’s a problem because
Torqeedo will not sell you a battery housing due to concerns about the danger of the
lithium battery, and you also cannot just ship the battery back to Torqeedo, because
it is considered hazardous. You need to call Torqeedo, and they arrange for a
certified freight hauler, typically using a tractor-trailer, to pick up the battery
from your home. (Torqeedo can ship the battery back to you using UPS since they are
a certified hazardous material shipper.)

The plastic anti-rotation pin and plastic battery securing rod can easily fall into
the water when you are assembling the system each time you sail. For that reason I
tied them together with a 1/8 inch line that also passed through a West Marine Boat
Key float.

There is no adjustable anti-rotation device on the outboard. You need to install the
anti-rotation pin if you want steer with the tiller instead of with the motor. Also,
if the anti-rotation pin is not installed, the weight of the battery makes the
system rotate when you tilt it out of the water. However, since the plastic
anti-rotation pin can only be installed or removed when the battery is not attached
to the motor unit, if you have the pin installed and wish to use both the tiller and
the motor to turn the boat in a tight space or at low speed, you cannot.

Unlike a normal outboard, the motor unit does not have a handle or recess to help
lift it on and off the motor mount. However, it is relatively light, and I have not
yet dropped mine in the lake.

Moving on to less serious issues, the information display that shows speed, power
consumption and maximum distance is located on the top of the tiller. Due to the
large rear deck of the Ensign, this display cannot be seen while sitting in the
cockpit. You need to lean over the rear deck, and even then the display is hard to
read. (You can purchase a cable that allows the tiller, or even the battery to be
mounted away from the motor, but the battery cable is not long enough to allow the
battery to be placed in the cabin.)

Torqeedo warns you that you should not allow the motion of the boat to turn the
propeller. This is a problem on a sailboat. I sail out from a protected cove and the
wind grabs the sails and the boat starts to take off. At that point the motor is
suddenly in generator mode and I imagine it destroying itself, so I tilt it up as
soon as possible. (Of course, any motor should be tilted out of the water, but Honda
does not warn us about damage if we delay.)

This year I started having issues with the Torqeedo in the form of error codes when
I tried to use it. It’s disconcerting to be on the mooring, ready to go to the dock,
and have your outboard just sit there with Error Code E31! Since I did not have the
manual with me on the boat, I disconnected and reconnected the cables and the motor
finally ran. I learned later that the error codes were caused by corrosion on the
pins of the cables, and the proper fix is to clean the pins with WD-40 or just by
disconnecting and reconnecting them.

I also had an unusual problem with the magnetic safety fob. The fob is tied to a
cord by the factory, and I have secured that cord to the motor. Late this year the
fob disappeared, but the cord and knot were still there! A bit of research on the
Internet revealed that the fobs have been separating into two pieces and falling off
the cords. I contacted Torqeedo and they sent me a replacement, but that would not
have helped if I had not had a spare that day on the boat.

This year I decided to try to charge the battery on board my boat instead of taking
it back and forth in my dinghy. I have a 7 watt flexible solar panel on my boat that
is used to charge the battery that runs my bilge pump. The solar panel charges a 35
amp-hour sealed AGM lead-acid battery through a small Sunforce charge controller.
The solar panel fits easily on the rear deck of my Ensign, and I can walk on it
without any damage when necessary. I could fit a 15 watt solar panel in the space
available. Torqeedo sells a solar panel to charge the battery, but it is not only
expensive, but at 45 watts, also far too large for the rear deck of the Ensign.

The Torqeedo battery can be charged from any 12 volt source, including the on-board
battery. However, the capacity of the Torqeedo battery is much higher than the
capacity of my 35 amp-hour lead acid battery. To make this all work I purchased a 12
volt, 15 Amp, Low Voltage Disconnect from Battery Mart. This is their part number BM
1950-222. This device is to be connected between my on-board battery and the
charging jack of the Torqeedo. If the Torqeedo draws too much energy from the
lead-acid battery, the BM 1950-222 will disconnect the Torqeedo from the lead-acid
battery to stop further battery voltage reduction. The disconnect voltage is
adjustable from 9.0 volts to 11.5 volts in 0.5 volt steps. I plan to set the
disconnect voltage at 10.5 or 11.0 volts. The next day the solar cell will recharge
the lead-acid battery, and when the lead-acid battery voltage rises to 1 volt above
the disconnect voltage the Torqeedo will be reconnected to charge a bit more from
the lead-acid battery. As long as the Torqeedo is not used too much each day, the
solar cell can recharge the Torqeedo over a multi-day period. On a typical day, when
I use only 1/10 of the Torqeedo battery capacity, I expect to be able to recharge
the Torqeedo from the lead-acid battery without triggering the low voltage
disconnect.

While I am convinced the solar charging system described above will work with the
Torqeedo, I did not get to test the disconnect this year because a heavy infestation
of weed caused me to take the Torqeedo off the boat a couple of weeks ago and
install the Honda 2.3 HP that came with the boat. I will test the disconnect system
next season.

As for the weeds, the Torqeedo has a larger prop than the Honda, and it turns more
slowly than the prop on the Honda, for about the same net effect. This is normally
OK, but I think the larger prop on the Torqeedo make it pick up more weeds than the
smaller Honda prop. Also, as opposed to the Honda, if I open the throttle of the
Torqeedo to deal with the weeds, as I do on the Honda, the Torqeedo battery
consumption goes way up, and I run the risk of having the motor shutdown due to
reaction of the thermal protection circuits. The Torqeedo does have one big
advantage over the Honda in the presence of weeds; I can tilt it out of the water
and run the motor in reverse, which causes the prop to throw off the weeds,
unfortunately all over my new boat!

An electric outboard is a great idea. No more gas cans in the boat, low or no annual
maintenance, and no more pull starters. If Torqeedo puts as much effort and skill
into the mechanical design of their next electric outboard as they have put into the
design of the electronics and battery of the Traveler 1003, they could have a great
product.

Vic Roberts
Journey, #2032


Sponsor Number URL address
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