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SKYLINE ENGINEERING camera ready 7.3 inches wide by 1.55 inches high
Relaunching the Esther
©1993 Richard Orawiec and LeRoy Wolins he date is October I 16, 1992. Live at 5, a a Grand Rapids TV station news team, has traveled to Saugatuck, a historic Michigan port and resort. On the hoist at the Tower Harbour Marine dock is a launch. Its propulsion system is an electric motor and it is powered by batteries. It is not a prototype. Its a piece of history. It was designed to be electric powered. Soon it will celebrate its 100th anniversary
Right now, the launch is going back into the water. Tom Van Howe tells the story to tens of thousands of viewers through a satellite uplink, interviewing Bruce Herron and the two of us when he is able. Also present is R.J. Petersen and his son, Matt, who have loaned facilities and helped us immeasurably these years as we've struggled to restore this ship. It is the Esther. She takes to the water gracefully — as she once did, without nearly so much fanfare, nearly 100 years ago.
Some 250,000 spectators watch as President Grover Cleveland pushes a button. The World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago begins. It is a time of celebration — of the
anniversary of Columbus' find and America's emergence as a world power and technological leader. The date is May 1, 1893.
There were many important events at the Exposition to attract the crowds. Few of them, however, were as popular as the boat rides being offered on the canals, lakes, and on the Grand Basin itself, a lagoon half a mile long and 250 feet wide. Special attention is given to a special fleet of 55 launches. Each is 36 feet long. They are built specifically for passenger service. All are equipped with the latest mechanical marvel — battery-powered electric motors.
Subsequently, the front page of the Nov. 1893 issue of Scientific American devoted its front page to the ELCO craft:
"No electrical feature at the World's Columbian Exposition was entered upon with more uncertainty than the introduction of electric launches on the lagoons. Up to this time, such launches had not been made use of in this country except in an experimental way. In spite of these uncertainties, however, the launches were among the first electrical features that were ready. And they have fulfilled their requirements during the entire period that the Exposition has been open. With gratifying results. They have carried over one million passengers. They have earned $314,000.
"The launches were in constant use from 12-14 hours per day on a single charge. The greatest test was on Chicago day when the fifty electric boats made a total of623 trips, each 3 miles in duration. Six of these boats averaged fifty miles each — another twenty of them averaged over forty miles — carrying 40 people per trip.
"The batteries are of 150 Ampere hours' [sic] capacity. Each boat has 66 cells. These are arranged in three groups of 22 cells, or two groups of 33 cells each for propulsion. One lever alongside the steering wheel selects four speeds forward and two backward."
The success of ELCO launches at the Exposition encouraged the Navy to use them as gigs for its major warships. This was unusual, since most launches of that period were powered by steam — and generally faster than the electric ones. Yet, when charged off the battleships or at dockside — the Pearl Street Power Station in New York was opened by Edison in 1882 — the electrics represented instant torque with no fuss or muss. No head of steam to build, no wait. And no problem with reliability, as with the engines of the day.
One of the many 36-foot electric launches delivered to the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1896 was the Esther. It appears to have been the one used by Admiral Sims as a private gig. It served with Teddy Roosevelt's Great White Fleet.
In 1897, Leopold Rice purchased the Electro Dynamic Company (later to become General Dynamics Corp.). William Swanson writes in his history, Launches and Yachts, "Rice was fascinated by electricity and electrical gadgets. In 1888, he acquired the patent rights to Clement Payan's "chloride accumulator" battery — the electric battery as we know it today. Rice established the Electric Storage Battery Co. (later to become Exide) in Philadelphia. By 1897, Rice had achieved a monopoly on all storage battery manufacturing. He founded the Electric Vehicle Company, too. Soon, a fleet of more than 100 electric taxi cabs operated in the city of New York. Remember, it's 1897!
Below: Esther as she looked in 1896. Reprinted from the 1902 ELCO catalog
Below: Esther as she looked in 1896. Reprinted from the 1902 ELCO catalog
Above: Richard Orawiec removes the Chrysler inline eight remarking, "Beam this INFernal thing outta here.."
Below: Bruce Heron, left, and Richard Orawiec check the Sovonics PV panel and GNB battery that power Esthers bilge pump.
Above: Eighty years after Esther3s electric motor was removed, the rotational electron star drive is reinstalled.
In 1903, the Navy sold the ELCO launch to the Reverend Alexander Dowie. Dowie was a wealthy fundamentalist preacher. He named the launch Esther, after a daughter who died from burns caused by an alcohol lamp. From the oldest book in the bible, Esther means "star" in Persian.
Dowie died in 1907. The electric power plant was pulled from Esther in 1909. Thereafter, Esther received a long series of INFernal combustion engines and the launch became a ferry. With some superstructure changes, the wooden-hulled Esther changed roles again. She became a tugboat. She enjoyed a record fifty-year service. For a time during the 1970's, she was on display at a maritime museum in South Haven. Then, she was abandoned.
Rescue came in 1988 at the hand of Bruce Herron of Blue Star Woodwork. Herron was looking for an old boat to restore — and a home for one of his steam engines. It was at this point that we joined the project. When we realized Esthers history, we knew it was time
to turn back the clock. To restore the electric propulsion — and power it with non-polluting sunlight. We knew we wanted to do it. We didn't know how.
Help came from R.J. and Matt Petersen at Tower Harbour Marine. They provided the longterm storage and workspace we would need. Esther was stripped. We replaced her keel, stem, and stern with new oak. Esther even spent one summer on display near the Petersen's S.S. Keewatin, a well known floating museum and restaurant. We used solar modules, batteries and an inverter to power our tools. About this time, the IRS awarded our Good Ship Esther Foundation its tax exempt status.
Esther has a displacement hull, designed for entry and exit from the water. Imagine flipping the hull over, upside down, and sitting it on axles. You'd be looking at an electric car with good aerodynamics. The master shipbuilder had his own version of a personal computer to help as he sighted down his thumb from 20 paces at Esther. It was quite a lesson to learn what our forefathers knew — how to shape a renewable resource, trees, into a hull that moved quickly and easily through the water.
The original power plant (electric motor) in Esther was probably 6 horsepower (hp). The 1902 launches had a "radius of action" of up to 80 miles with maximum (longrange option) batteries.
Esthers new power plant will be essentially the same as the one used in 1896. A pulse modulation controller will be substituted for the mechanical control relays. The original launch had the motor midship. Ours will be positioned over the shaft with a sprocket and chain reduction. We have a 5 hp Baldor electric motor, rated 48 V and 2200 rpm. Its amp-hour curve suggests that, at 1250 rpm, it will drive Esther through the water at 5 knots at a discharge rate of 40 Amps.
Five "strings" of four PV modules (48 Volts at 50 Watts) will fit easily on the launch roof. This photovoltaic canopy will generate 250 Watts of peak power toward the propulsion effort. A tracking array would work best dockside, trimmed underway to maintain a low-profile.
The only way for us to know for sure what prop will work best is to complete Esther, do shakedown cruises, and fine-tune the system. Prop diameter and pitch, motor rpm, load, cruising speed — all will be balanced to an optimal solution.
Toward this end, we contacted Joe Fleming, a marine engineer who has experience with the ELCO craft, about Esthers system. We received this reply:
"Cruise speed on the ELCO boats is 5 to 5.5 knots. I enclose the boat-horsepower-speed curve for a hull similar to Esther's hull. I'd recommend a 15/11 prop (15 inches diameter, 11 pitch). It will want to turn at 1000 rpm.
"The system will use 20 amps for each horsepower the propeller will want. Horsepower is determined by multiplying volts x amps x system efficiency. Figure 80% efficiency. Divide the product by (the conversion factor of) 750 watts, which equals one horsepower. Thus, 48 volts x 20 amps x 80% efficiency — divided by 750 watts equals 1.024 horsepower.
"[I recommend during trials that you] put a voltmeter and ammeter on the batteries. Steady your speed at 40 amps draw. That should be 2 horsepower. (Note the speed.)
"Twelve 8D-type batteries (12 V, 220 A-h), wired in three strings of four batteries will give you 48 volts at 660 A-h. At a 40-amp rate, Esther should go 660/40, or 16.5 hours. Converting knots to speed, that's 5.7 mph for 16.5 hours, or a 94 mile range."
[Editor's note: 94 miles represents a 100% discharge. A better service life will result from only 50% DOD, or depth of discharge. This still gives a 47 mile range — with a safe 100% reserve. Also, 8D batteries are too heavy. Choose another type. MH]
The purpose of this project is to further demonstrate the feasibility of solar electric transportation. We propose to bring "history" out of the museums and back to life. In this spirit, we wrote a letter on March 19, 1993. In part:
"Dear President Bill Clinton
"One hundred years ago, 55 electric-powered boats carried over one million passengers at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. In November, 1893, Scientific American front-paged their success. The U.S. Navy was impressed enough to adopt this model as Captain's gig on every major ship in the fleet. These gigs, in their mother ships, circulated throughout the globe in Ted Roosevelt's Great White Fleet. Our Foundation is named for the Esther, delivered to the Navy by the Electric Launch Co. (ELCO) at the Brooklyn Navy yard in 1896.
"The foundation is prepared to donate the Estherto the US Navy for your use as a Presidential yacht. The restored hull has been relaunched ... and [we'd like to] sail it to the East Coast on an educational voyage for delivery to the Navy and you."
We received this reply, in part:
"We sincerely appreciate your generous offer to donate the Esther. However, the Navy does not have a program that maintains a vessel for use as a Presidential Yacht. Given Esthers interesting history, you may consider extending your offer to the Smithsonian Institution. You may contact them at ..." — Gregory R. Nowak, Director, White House Liaison Office, Office of the Secretary of the Navy
Where do we go from here?
The Good Ship Esther Foundation is still not done. If there's anyone out there that will help us, we ask them to contact us. We could use it. We have appealed to a variety of manufacturers, including PV manufacturers, for hardware and support. Not much response. We don't feel most of them realize what we have here, in Esther. Maybe this article will help make it clearer. We'll keep you informed of our progress.
LeRoy Wolins is a founder and long time member of Veterans for Peace. Effort expended in turning a former warship into a solar peace ship is his way of beating swords into plowshares. POB 255, Pullman, MI, 49450 • 616-236-5880.
Richard Orawiec lives in an off-grid home, is a Michigan licensed contractor, and installs solar systems. POB 255, Pullman, MI 49450 • 616-236-6179
Electric Launch Company (ELCO), 261 Upper North Rd, Highland, NY 12528 • 914-691-3777
The Good Ship EstherFoundation is a Michigan corporation with a tax exempt status. Write: POB 265, Pullman, Ml 49450
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