Ned Farinholt of Winchester, Virginia, had a career as an electronics engineer, so it’s no surprise that he took an interest in electric boats. They had fallen out of favor since their beginnings in the middle of the 1800s but have been making a resurgence with the development of new technology in batteries and motors and a growing concern for the environment. In 1992, a group of enthusiasts formed the Electric Boat Association of America, dedicated to “the enjoyment and promotion of clean, quiet electric boating.”
To encourage advancements in electric boats, the association created the Wye Island Challenge, a 24-mile-long electric-boat marathon that starts and finishes in St. Michaels, Maryland, and loops around Wye Island. The island is surrounded by estuaries and rather protected waters, but to get to the island racers have to cross 5 miles of open water and may encounter up to 2′ Chesapeake Bay chop.
Ned’s first entry in the race was in 2011 in a 15′ aluminum utility skiff. Ned had been keeping tabs on the development of lithium batteries for electric cars and chose lithium as his power source. All the other boats in that year’s race, whether using ready-made electric trolling motors, outboards and inboards, even gas outboards converted to electric power, were using lead-acid batteries, so his boat—ERGED ON—had a distinct weight advantage. He was the first racer to exceed the limits of hull speed and begin to plane.
“There was,” says Ned, “considerable teasing about my hot-rod approach at a gentlemen’s game. I resolved that next year that I would come back with a pretty boat.” His only boatbuilding experience had been making a plywood kit kayak with one of his grandchildren. He searched for plans for a boat he could build in plywood. To do well again in the race he needed a boat that could exceed hull speed. Other racers, working with the same idea, produced multihulls, long slender shells, and even hydrofoils. Ned decided upon a planing hull, the best option for his boatbuilding skills and the space he had in his shop. He found Charles Mower’s WHIZ, a skiff the well-known naval architect designed in 1926 for the Johnson Motor Company to complement their new 6-hp outboard.
Ned stretched the 16′ hull to 18′ 10″. He built the boat over molds, in the traditional manner, but used plywood and stitch-and-glue construction. There was too much twist in the bottom at the bow, so he had to use three strakes instead of a single panel to take the shape.
Before decking the boat, he did sea trials, using used a Torqeedo 4 electric outboard. Consuming 4.5 kW of power, the motor brought the boat up to 12 mph. That more than met his expectations, and Ned later entered the finished ERGED ON II in the 2012 Wye Island Challenge. He won but didn’t do as well as he had expected. The motor began to overheat and automatically cut back to 3.5 kW to protect the electrical system. Ned solved the problem by adding a second Torqeedo 4 and another bank of batteries. That stood him in good stead in the 2013 race until he cut a corner in the Miles River, clipped an oyster reef, and knocked out an engine. With the remaining engine he was able to finish in second place. The following year he gave the shoals a wide berth and won the race, in spite of having the extra weight of a passenger aboard.
In 2015 conditions on the race course were roughened up by a 15-knot wind, and only 6 of the 11 boats that started finished the race. Ned, with his wife Marilyn aboard, broke the two-hour barrier, but he wasn’t alone. John Todd, in MISS WYE, his slender 20′ racing hull, also broke the two-hour barrier, finishing 11 minutes ahead of ERGED ON II. Ned may be back this year, pushing for more quiet speed.
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