Boat test: the Hybrid drive ‘Hunky Dory’
PUBLISHED: 11:46 16 December 2020 | UPDATED: 15:28 07 January 2021
With a new life afloat, Mel and Phil Wood aimed for clever propulsion, a high-spec fitout and looks to turn heads
A couple of months ago, we noted that hybrid drive boats were becoming increasingly popular. So it might not come as a great surprise that this boat is another one; Hunky Dory, though, has a very different set up from the last few hybrid boats we’ve seen. Undoubtedly the most popular hybrid system right now is the one which takes a diesel engine and adds an electric motor. This is known as a parallel hybrid system, where the prop can be turned by either the engine or the motor. Hunky Dory has a serial hybrid system — so there’s an electric motor to turn the prop, and a generator to charge the batteries. In the system on this boat, the electric motor is bigger so it can cope with the currents on rivers, but the generator is smaller, because all it’s doing is charging the batteries – and more efficiently than an engine. The owners, Mel and Phil Wood, had been considering a parallel system — but then started talking to the people on the Fischer Panda stand at the Crick Boat Show about their generators. They’d already chosen their builders, Ortomarine, because of their reputation when it came to electrics and electronic controls, so went to ask them if a serial hybrid system might be another way of doing things. Rob Howdle is the electrics expert at the firm, and they say his eyes lit up! The drive system isn’t the only remarkable thing about this boat. It has some striking colour choices inside and out, the layout is unusual, and there’s an electric incinerating toilet (and nothing gets boaters talking more than toilets!)
Mel and Phil lived in Devon, not far from a coastal marina — so their exterior choices for this boat reflected the boats they were used to seeing: white cruisers, often with teak decks. So they’ve gone full-on white for their narrowboat, which is an unusual choice. It looks very smart, though, especially with the dark blue detailing on the handrails, the stern rail, and the exposed edges of the steelwork, and the dual-colour modern take on a coachline. The sign writing, complete with little stick figures, can’t fail to make you smile. The name, by the way, comes from their favourite David Bowie album. The decks are covered in Tek-Dek, a synthetic alternative to real wood, which is both attractive and hard wearing, and is made to measure. The boat is an ususual 61ft long, simply because Mel and Phil found they couldn’t fit everything they wanted into a boat any shorter. It means they won’t be able to cruise the Huddersfield Broad or the Calder and Hebble, but they’ll still be able to travel the Leeds and Liverpool, and the Yorkshire Ouse. The shell is a Mike Christian by Tyler Wilson, which is supposed to be their budget brand of boat. But you’d never know, because while the handrails don’t have the flourish of scrolls, they instead finish in a gentle curved slope which suits the modern look of the exterior. Importantly, it also has an attractive bow and the Tyler Wilson underwater shape which makes handling so good. The stern is a semi-cruiser style, with a substantial metal dodger at the rear, but a cut out which stops it looking too heavy. It’s complete with built in seating for when you’re moored up. The semicruiser sides have a nice bit of shaping to them, and there are lockers either side for storage. At the bow, there’s storage in the nose and there are lockers on three sides of the well deck, making this another good outdoor seating area. The cross locker also gives access to the bow thruster tube. The front doors are an Ortomarine staple, being a uPVC unit for security and draught proofing. Outside, the frames are an anthracite colour. The portholes are by Caldwells and have double glazing and a thermal break, while the frames are powder coated.
As this boat is important technically, let’s deal with it early on. Everything needed to drive the boat is in the engine hole under the back deck — although one of the advantages of the serial hybrid system is that the gererator could be anywhere; indeed we’ve seen boats where it’s been at the nose, in order to maintain quiet at the stern. The electric motor is a sizeable 48volt unit by Bellmarine. Mel and Phil want to explore the system widely, including rivers, so didn’t want to be short of power if the conditions required it. Under normal circumstances it provides 10kw of power, which is plenty for canals, with a 15kw burst mode. It’s physically much bigger than other standalone electric motors we’ve seen. There’s also a bow thruster, which is the Vetus brushless 65kgf model. Power comes from 24 lead carbon batteries by Leoch Battery UK, which total 1000Ah at 48 volts. That’s huge: an equivalent battery bank at 12 volts would be 4000Ah. You could travel for around seven hours on one charge. The manufacturers give a 15-year guarantee and say the batteries are good for at least 3000 cycles of 60 per cent discharge, so even though they’re expensive to buy, they should last a long time. In addition, the makers say there’s a residual value at the end of their lives, because of the carbon inside. The generator is by Fischer Panda. It’s rated at 12kva, and is one of their super silent boxed-in units. It can be turned on from inside the boat, from the stern deck, or from a mobile phone. Mel and Phil chose lead carbons over lithium batteries as they’re less sensitive to temperature changes. During the summer, however, there’s every chance that the generator will be somewhat redundant, because of the huge solar array on the boat’s roof. There are 12 panels, each of 160 watts — which amounts to 1.9kw; that’s the most we’ve ever seen on a narrowboat. Rob Howdle joked that he was building a solar farm with a boat underneath. Everything on board the boat is electric, so there’s a 10kva 48 volt Victron inverter charger for a 240 volt supply, and a step-down system for the 12 volt circuit. Ortomarine are known for their monitoring and control systems, so there’s a colour touchscreen display which shows exactly what’s going on with the whole system. It’s possible to see the state of the batteries, the amount of solar going in, and what’s being used. To make life easier, a colour-coded system is used, so if the battery icon goes from green to amber, you know it’s probably worth putting some charge in before it turns red. It’s a good way of making what is undoubtedly a complicated set-up, as easy as possible to manage. Heating is from the latest Eberspacher diesel boiler. The boat also has an alarm and a GPS system, which will alert the couple if it’s moved while they’re not on board. Many things can be operated remotely, such as the heating and the lights on the bow and stern decks.
Layout and fitout
Hunky Dory has a reverse layout with a twist. The galley is at the stern followed by an L-shaped dinette, which creates the equivalent of a kitchen-diner. The walk-through shower room is next, followed by the cabin. Then at the bow there’s an extra room which the owners call the snug. It’s multi-function, in that it makes a comfortable seating area away from the galley — and with the doors onto the well deck makes a great relaxing or entertaining space for summer evenings. The bench seats can also be used as a couple of extra beds. The fitout is modern and colourful. There’s plenty of white, but with splashes of bright colours throughout — and no wood! Lots of different materials and textures are used and the quality of the fitout is excellent throughout.
Galley and dinette
Three steps lead down from the back deck. On one side there’s a space for hanging coats; the electrical cupboard is behind. Opposite is a cupboard which has the calorifier in the base, meaning it gets nice and warm. There’s also a unit which houses a small Lec freezer, the control panel for the electrics, and provides space for a microwave, accessed from the side. Ortomarinefit Howden’s kitchen units in their boats, and Mel and Phil have gone for a top of the range model. It has a handle-less design, and the white high gloss units all look as though they consist of two drawers. Some do, but others are disguised cupboard doors. There are also drawers hidden in the plinth. The worktop is a Zenith compact laminate, which is incredibly durable in spite of being so thin, and is also resistant to heat, mildew, and bacteria. The dark colour contrasts with the white units, and with the rail lighting underneath and the under-gunwale lighting above, it appears to float above the units. The cabin sides appear to be tiled with a white mosaic tile — but in fact each side is just one single panel. They’re Reco panels, which are acrylic and look like many styles of tile. It means they are very easy to keep clean, and there’s no grouting to crack or become discoloured. This galley lacks for nothing when it comes to appliances. There’s a Neff oven with a hide and slide door, and a Neff induction hob with four zones, two of which can be combined into a single large one. There’s a washer drier, and a very smart drawer dish washer by Fisher and Paykel. Mel’s favourite gadget, though, is the Quooker hot water tap, which provides boiling water for drinks from a small tank under the sink. A flat screen TV on the wall is on a bracket so it can be swung round to face any direction, and there’s a built in audio system, with a control panel mounted on the wall and speakers built into the dinette, and on the stern deck. The dinette itself is L-shaped and built in, with storage in the base. There are three different -tables which sit on Desmo legs, either here or out on the stern deck. There are also short legs, which allow for the conversion into a double bed. This area is really colourful, with bright upholstery on the dinette cushions, and painted tongue and groove effect on the hull sides. The cabin sides are lined with marine vinyl, which is textured, soft, and resistant to stains and mildew.
There’s more bright colour in the shower room, where the generous rectangular cubicle is lined in acrylic and has a nook for soap and shampoo bottles. The same colour is used for the worktop of the vanity unit, which carries an impressive round basin. The unit above has a mirror, which is heated, lit from behind, and has a touchless switch. There are two towel rails, one of which has an electric option, so it can be turned on without having the Eberspacher going. The room has low level lighting, to light your way at night. The toilet is an incinerating unit by Cinderella. This is the Comfort electric version more usually found in remote cabins (we’ve previously seen the smaller gas-fired one designed for mobile homes). Mel and Phil say there’s no doubt that it’s power hungry, although it hasn’t yet caused them a power problem. The idea is that deposits are burnt, leaving just a small pile of ash which needs to be emptied every week or so. Lifting the lid stops the combustion process, though, so an ideal situation would be for everyone on board to do what they needed to do and then start a burn cycle. The loo draws air in through a vent in the hull side, and there’s a chimney out through the roof. It’s an interesting idea, but is probably only viable on a boat with the size of battery bank that this one has.
The bed is in-line, fixed, and 4ft 6in wide. It looks like a proper bed thanks to the wooden footboard. Access to storage below is easy because the bed rises on gas struts. A large padded head board gives a feeling of luxury, and there are reading lights under the high level cupboard – which contains a router connected to internet receivers on the roof which are 5G ready. There’s plenty of storage space, with wardrobes each side of the door through to the snug.
This room has built-in seats each side of the boat, which are 6ft long, meaning they’re big enough to be beds. There’s storage in the bases and a plinth heater under the step to the well deck.
On the water
It goes without saying that travelling under electric power is quiet. You can hear the prop through the water, and water rippling along the boat. Instead of a big Morse control, this boat has a very neat stainless steel control. On the column below is a touch screen which shows how much electricity is being used, and what proportion of the motor’s power is being used. Even during our trip on an autumn day, the solar was putting into the batteries more than the motor was taking out. The generator can also be turned on using this screen. We tried it out during the test and it started fine. Once running, it’s also pretty quiet. What’s confusing at first is that it runs at a constant speed, regardless of what the motor is doing — so the engine note bears no relation to how fast you’re going. The Tyler Wilson shell handles extremely well. We winded without the bow thruster, although it was useful when manoeuvring in the marina.