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Adventures in the Amp Eater aka “Aquatron”

On October 14, 2020, in Glen-L Styles, by Gayle Brantuk

by David Fannon

This year Melissa and I along with our son Wayne decided to go on a new adventure in our Glen-L Amp Eater, Aquatron. We registered to be a participant in the Wye Island Challenge Electric Boat Marathon which took place on Friday, 2 October. The 24-mile course begins at the Miles River Yacht Club at the mouth of the Miles River where it empties into the Chesapeake Bay. The route then crosses the bay and goes up the Wye River into 16 miles of sheltered water which circles picturesque Wye Island, then back to the start. The eight miles of relatively open water assures the boats have some real world capability while the 16 miles around Wye Island provides an enjoyable and interesting cruise.

David & Melissa

Our hand-built boat Aquatron falls into the Class 1 division of single-hull boats with length to beam ratio of less than 6 to 1 and powered by lead acid batteries. This class is handicapped by waterline length. We also entered into the picnic class where quiet, comfort, and company (additional passengers) are judged as well. Other requirements in the class include having at least one cut flower aboard (Zinnias from the garden) and, of course, a picnic lunch. We were the only boat entered with three passengers.

The lighthouse in the distance and Zinnias in the Aquatron…

We had been on the boat in the Tennessee River several times and were confident of the boat’s seaworthiness to handle the wakes and waves of larger boat traffic, but we’d not had a long, continuous cruise of that distance. To be sure that the batteries and motor were up to the task we tested the boat on Hoover Reservoir on Labor Day. We decided to take four laps around the bridges which are about three miles apart. Most all day there was a moderate breeze with some white caps. Downstream was very choppy and our grandsons who were with us enjoyed the bounce and the spray. Upstream cruising was very delightful. We completed our test covering 24.5 miles and averaging 4.6 mph according to the GPS. The batteries showed 28% remaining, which would give us a measure of comfort.

The day of the marathon arrived and only five of the expected seven or eight boats arrived. We knew that the number of entrants were quite a bit fewer because of the Covid crisis. After the boats were launched one of the five boats had an electrical failure on the way to the starting line. What a disappointment for them, as this entrant had built several boats that competed in the past and was a previous record holder.

The day began a little overcast but with a gentle breeze; the water was fairly smooth and we were off. I knew our course heading from the chart, but being unfamiliar with the area we were happy to find that there was a lighthouse at the mouth of the Wye River that was visible as soon as we rounded the shallow water buoy coming out of the Miles River. It feels like cheating having the Garmin, but we kept our laminated chart in hand which provided a wealth of info on landmarks, submerged piles, etc. Wayne was an excellent navigator and took notes every so often on voltage readings and speed.

The “Aquatron” on the Chesapeake

We enjoyed viewing the many beautiful waterfront estates along the way, and we were happy to make the halfway point at Wye Landing where there was a mandatory and for us, necessary, ten-minute stop. After we tied up to the dock, I won the race to the porta-potties that mercifully were recently cleaned and emptied. I did enjoy my thermos of coffee but was somewhat uncomfortable as we were approaching the stop. We were accompanied around the course by Tom Hesselink, president of the Electric Boat Association of America, in his beautiful 15-foot mahogany “Lightning Bug” from Budsin Woodcraft. Tom said that he was impressed with and complimented the Amp Eater on its speed and handling, etc. (It was nice to be complimented by a commercial boat builder whose boats start at more than three times what I spent on mine!)

Tom Hesselink and his “Lightning Bug”

After our stop, we shoved off and had lunch that Melissa had packed in the antique picnic basket borrowed from her niece. It was perfect weather: sunny and warm, blue skies with fluffy white clouds. We saw several bald eagles, blue herons, and cormorants along the river. We were joined by one of the “chase boats” manned by the editors of Prop Talk Magazine, who were covering the event and took many pictures of us from multiple angles. I look forward to seeing the article in the December issue.

As we exited the Wye River, we saw that boat traffic had increased dramatically from four hours previous. Some of those yachts looked more like ships as they were cruising past at 20 mph or more, creating some fairly large wakes that even a 30-foot trawler slowed for. We headed across the bay staying clear of large boats that seemed oblivious to our presence. We finished in five hours and 15 minutes official time, including the mandatory stop which, because I am a talker, was longer than the required ten minutes. My GPS log indicated five hours, one minute moving and ground covered was 23.9 miles. We finished first in our class of two boats and had a very fun and satisfying day.

This is a screen shot of a video clip of the huge wake of a large yacht that went by a couple hundred yards away at high speed. I had plenty of time to turn into it. It was so big, a 30 ft trawler slowed to turn into it.

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