For decades I resisted boating under power and took pride in getting where I wanted to go under my own steam or under sail. That changed when I had kids: they were too young to help with rowing, the summer winds are usually too light for getting anywhere by sailing, and the joy of hanging out with them meant more to me than manning the oars. I built a Caledonia yawl with them in mind and installed a motor well. I bought a small 2.5-hp Yamaha outboard—a four-stroke to avoid leaving behind a cloud of stinky blue smoke typical of two-stroke outboards—but it still had an environmental impact in both the fuel it consumed and the peace it disturbed. For the past 11 years, Torqeedo has worked to eliminate both with their electric motors. In 2010 I tried the smallest motor they produce, the Ultralight, on a kayak. The equivalent of a 1-hp motor, the Ultralight would drive the kayak at an impressive 4 ¼ knots and an exciting 5 ½ knots after I added a foil-shaped fairing to the tubular shaft.
The two Travel motors are the smallest of the Torqeedo outboards. The Travel 503 is rated as the equivalent of a 1.5-hp gas motor; the Travel 1003, the equivalent of a 3-hp. I tried the Travel 1003S (S for short shaft) on three different boats: the Caledonia yawl, a Whitehall, and an Escargot canal boat. Torqeedo lists the shaft length for the Travel 1003S at 62.5 cm (24 5/8″), a measurement from the bearing surface of the mounting bracket to the center of the prop. On gas outboards the shaft length is commonly measured to the anti-ventilation plate, not the propeller axis; the Travel 1003 has no anti-ventilation plate, but I measured 46.5 cm (18 ¼″) to where one would be. That’s roughly the maximum span between the bottom of the hull and the site for the mounting bracket. The shaft length for the Travel 1003L is listed as 75cm/29.5″.)
The Travel 1003 weighs 30 lbs, 7 lbs less than my Yamaha, and it separates into three pieces—the tiller and its computer just shy of 2 lbs, the battery at 12 lbs, and the lower unit about 16 lbs—making it a whole lot easier to move around, mount, and stow.
I used the Travel 1003 first on my Caledonia yawl, a 19′ 6″ x 6′ 2″ double-ender. With the motor at full throttle, the yawl peaked at 5.0 knots. My Yamaha logged a top speed of 5.8 knots. (I have an electric trolling motor rated at 40 lbs of thrust, but it falls so far short of the Travel 1003 that I don’t bother including it in these trials.) A built-in computer with GPS shows the percentage of battery charge and the distance it will take you at the speed indicated. At full speed a full charge had a cruising range of 2.4 nm. At 4 knots that range increased to 6.3 nm, at 3 knots 9.5nm, and at 2 knots 15.6 nm. The speeds and ranges I recorded were consistent with Torqeedo’s data for the Travel 1003.
There is a slight lag in the response to the throttle, and the motor will ramp up to the selected speed rather than apply full power immediately. That keeps the boat from lurching about, and, I imagine, prolongs the life of the motor and the boat. Even with the lag and ramp-up, I was impressed with how quickly the Travel 1003 could bring the yawl from 5 knots at full speed ahead to a dead stop: just 3 seconds and less than two boat-lengths.
The Travel 1003 operates in reverse, and a latch keeps the shaft locked down to prevent the prop from climbing. The yawl made 3.5 knots with the Travel 1003 in reverse at full throttle. (The Yamaha does not have reverse but rotates through 360 degrees, as does the Travel 1003.) Releasing the latch allows the motor to kick up over obstructions while moving forward and to be raised to reduce the drag while rowing or sailing. A removable pin will lock the Travel 1003 facing straight ahead for steering with a boat’s rudder.
The Travel 1003 is quiet but not completely silent. It has a whine that rises in pitch and volume as the throttle gets cranked up, but even at its loudest it is neither an impediment to a conversation nor anywhere near as loud as my gas outboard. It doesn’t vibrate either, so there’s no rattling anywhere on the boat. Its relatively quiet operation at low-to-moderate speeds is great for dinner cruises. I’m used to gauging speed by the racket my gas motor makes when moving along at a good clip, but even at full throttle, the sound the Travel 1003 makes belies how fast the boat is moving; it’s more like sailing than motoring.
On my 14′ lapstrake Whitehall the Travel 1003 peaked at 5.5 knots. (I didn’t—and wouldn’t—try to mount the heavier Yamaha on the transom—there’s little buoyancy in the stern.) I also did trials with my son’s 19′ 6″ x 6′ Escargot canal boat, weighing over a half ton with gear and two of us aboard. It brought the canal boat up to 4.4 knots, just slightly slower than the Yamaha at 4.7 knots.
Torqueedo claims on its website that the Travel 1003 “can do everything a 3-hp petrol outboard can, plus it’s environmentally friendlier, quieter, lighter, and more convenient.” The latter half of that is certainly true, but I’d suggest the former isn’t a good comparison to make. According to the owner’s manual, my Yamaha has a maximum output of 2.5 horsepower or 1.8 kW at 5,500 rpm, while the Travel 1003 display reads 1,000 watts (1.0 kW) at full throttle with maximum propeller speed listed by Torqeedo at 1,200 rpm. Going by the numbers gets murky. The Yamaha rating is for propeller-shaft horsepower, and the Torqeedo rating is for input power with propulsive power at 480 watts; static thrust is listed as 68 lbs, but that’s not calculated the same way as it is for trolling motors. Torqeedo offers some clarification on the terms and their equivalence with gas outboards, but my sea trials for top speed didn’t bear that out for the Travel 1003, even up against a 2.5-hp instead of a 3-hp gas outboard.
I haven’t made precise mileage calculations for my gas outboard, but one measurement I made on Google Earth for a passage on a full tank of gas (0.24 gallon) was 6 miles, running at about two-thirds throttle. That’s 25 miles per gallon. At a comparable speed the Travel 1003 will cover about the same distance. To extend the range of my gas outboard, I’ll carry two 2.5-gallon gas cans for a range of 125 miles. For the Travel 1003, an extra battery, at $650, brings the range to 16 miles. For charging away from home, Torqeedo offers a 50-watt solar charger for the Travel 1003, and it is possible to recharge its battery from an in-board 12-volt system. In my experience recharging was an overnight process, only slightly more than the 14 hours listed by Torqeedo; the latest models have cut that time in half. While I don’t have to think much about my range with my gas outboard, the Travel 1003 would require some thoughtful planning to achieve the same range for an extended cruise. If your outings with the Travel 1003 aren’t pushing the limits of its range, you can use the energy for other purposes: its battery has a port you can use to charge electronic devices.
While Torqeedo notes that the Travel 1003 is the equivalent of a 3-hp gas motor, focusing only on range and maximum speed is to overlook their product’s best features and to suggest poorly suited applications. My gas outboard allows me to take five-day island-hopping cruises, but I don’t take it on the vast majority of my outings. For day trips I’m content to row, paddle, or sail short distances in peace and quiet, and with the Travel 1003 I’d be tempted to motor too. I enjoy taking friends and family out on the water for dinners, but my Yamaha is noisy and its fuel messy and smelly; it would be great to be underway with the Travel 1003 during the evening when the sun sets and the city lights come on. I don’t fish, but having an electric motor with the oomph to get to the fishing hole and the quiet operation for trolling would be a boon. I’d also feel much better knowing that my boating under power didn’t add to the burden borne by the waters that carry me and by the air that I breathe. To that end, the Travel 1003 has the clear advantage.
Christopher Cunningham is the editor of Small Boats Monthly.
Thanks to reader Elliot Arons for suggesting this review.