I’ve run many different electric-powered boats over the last 30 years. Some were hybrids—combining a diesel engine, a battery bank and an electric motor for a 6-knot speed. Others were fully electric boats—most of them 20- to 30-foot launches. The more I ran these boats, the more I grew to dislike them. Their all-electric ranges were unpredictable and underwhelming, the switching systems for the hybrids felt like clunky high-school science projects, and the general idea of moving along at 6 to 8 knots was something I’d personally rather do in a salty, diesel-powered displacement trawler that sips fuel. My distaste became so acute that one of my colleagues at Soundings began calling me the “fossil fuel curmudgeon.”
My sour taste for electric boats was going to change, though.
I was at the 2021 Newport International Boat Show when a text popped up from Patrick DeSocio, head of North American sales for X Shore, a Swedish boatbuilder and technology startup based in Stockholm. DeSocio was excited about showing me the Eelex 8000, an all-electric, 26-foot center console that was making its U.S. debut at the show.
“Meet me at Bowen’s Wharf; you won’t be able to miss the boat,” read DeSocio’s text. I quickly learned he wasn’t exaggerating. The olive-green boat was handsome and modern-looking, and mobbed with inquisitive show-goers. DeSocio and I headed straight for the demo docks, where an identical Eelex 8000 was waiting. On board was Will Greene, head of operations and logistics for X Shore North America.
When we pulled away from the dock, Greene tapped a virtual toggle on the 24-inch Garmin MFD labeled “Power of Silence.” It queued up software that optimized several different battery and motor functions. There were also “Cruiser” and “Speedster” toggles on the display—two modes that enhanced battery and motor performance through software that could be updated over the air. Also displayed were speed, depth, motor rpm and range. The rest of the display was dedicated to the usual chartplotter functions.
It all struck me as very Tesla-like, resembling the vast flatscreen displays the automaker installs in its electric vehicles. Greene was wearing an optional $3,200 Garmin smartwatch that integrates with the MFD and acts as a MOB device that kills the motor if the wearer goes overboard. The option is expensive but slick.
Once clear of the harbor, Greene activated the “Speedster” toggle and forcefully twisted the throttle. The instant acceleration was impressive. Greene and DeSocio laughed at the surprised look on my face.
“That reaction to the instant burst of torque is one of the best things about showing people this boat,” DeSocio said. “No one expects this sort of performance from an electric boat.” We accelerated to just over 30 knots, where range dropped quickly to 28 nautical miles. That may seem like a miserable number, but it’s plenty of range to run at high speed from Newport to Block Island and back with a short charge up on the island. Running at 6 knots gives around 80 to 100 nautical miles of range. My guess is most folks will use the boat to make the sort of hops that allow them to dock, explore shoreside, grab a bite and come back in a few hours with plenty of juice.
The boat comes with an adapter cord that accepts 15-, 30- or 50-amp, 125-volt shorepower cords. With 30-amp service, the batteries charge from 0 percent to a full charge in 6 to 10 hours, according to DeSocio. Though the technology is not widely available at marinas yet, DeSocio says the adapter cord has “supercharge” capabilities that when plugged into the right pedestal can charge the batteries from 0 percent to fully charged in about 90 minutes. “We’re working with a number of marinas to get that technology installed,” DeSocio says. “It’s going to come quickly, just like Tesla’s charging network evolved.”
I took over the helm and admired how the Eelex sliced through the Narragansett Bay chop with ease. The boat was responsive and a joy to run around the bay. Still, I wanted to test it in a real-world situation.
I hatched a plan with DeSocio to run the Eelex 8000 to a popular crab-cracking joint from the U.S. Powerboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland, where the boat would be displayed a few weeks later. Because it’s a 12-mile round trip from the show docks, I thought it would be a nice way to use the day boat as many owners would—for dock-and-dine adventures, port-to-port explorations or seeking out secluded anchorages.
At the Annapolis show, I located the Eelex on the demo docks. As we got underway the 8000 immediately drew looks from folks out and about in the harbor on a crisp fall afternoon. I suspected the “100% Electric” stickers plastered on both sides of the boat had something to do with it, but the boat’s modern and minimalistic Swedish good looks were likely at play, too.
We cleared the 6-knot zone just outside Annapolis Harbor with 85 nautical miles of range showing. Clear of the warning buoys we accelerated to 25 knots in “Cruiser” mode with 40 nautical miles of range displayed. The range gauge is constantly changing based on load, temperature, average speed, battery draw and other variables. Speed up and range gradually shrinks; slow down and it gradually rises. There was a bit of prop noise underway at slow speed, but it wasn’t objectionably loud, especially considering there wasn’t engine noise to drown it out.
The Eelex 8000 hull is laid up in a female mold using carbon fiber, e-glass, Divinycell core and vinylester resin. For those with an environmentally conscious mindset and a relatively fat wallet, woven flax fiber can be substituted in place of the e-glass, though none of the hulls have been built that way yet and pricing is yet to be determined. Other sustainable materials include the cork deck and toerails, which seemed rugged and easy to maintain and clean.
The boat—including two lithium-ion batteries, console and carbon fiber hardtop—is light and comes out of the factory at 5,730 pounds. That’s about the same as many similarly sized center consoles on the market with a single or twin outboard engine strapped to the transom.
Beneath the deck in the aft cockpit are the lithium-ion battery packs, which have a combined capacity of 126 kWh and weigh a total of 1,200 pounds. The batteries are manufactured by Kreisel of Austria. According to DeSocio, the batteries are bathed in a stabilized, non-conductive fluid that runs through a heat exchanger cooled with seawater from an onboard pump. Aside from winterizing the cooling pump, the
batteries are essentially maintenance-free and should last the life of the boat.
About 15 minutes after leaving Annapolis Harbor, we negotiated the curvy entrance to Mill Creek at 6 knots with about 55 miles of range remaining, but that figure increased to 62 nautical miles once we pulled up to Cantler’s, where a helpful dockhand tied us up. Some folks may worry about docking a single-screw boat like the Eelex 8000, but a beefy bow thruster makes pulling into just about any slip a cinch.
There’s a nice view from Cantler’s, which overlooks Mill Creek. We ordered a dozen steamed hard crabs and crab cake sandwiches and platters—a quintessential Maryland meal. Three of us were pros (DeSocio invited a nice couple from a local yacht brokerage) while Greene and DeSocio needed some coaching to break into the heavily armored crustaceans. The early dinner was amazingly good and a lot of fun.
When we hopped back aboard, I asked DeSocio about the two stainless steel rails that run the length of the deck. “The boat is highly modular,” he says. “We have tables, lounges, chair modules and other components that can easily be installed and taken out depending on how the boat is being used. For example, you can order a pair of dual-chair modules and a table that slide right into the cockpit to create a four-seat dining area, but there are an infinite number of ways to set up the boat. When you don’t need them, it’s very simple to pull them out and have a completely open aft deck and foredeck.”
We slipped quietly down Mill Creek toward home at 6 knots and got a thumbs up from a couple in a 17-foot Boston Whaler. Clear of the no-wake zone, I looked at Greene and said, “Punch it.” He happily obliged. The look on the faces of the folks in the Whaler reminded me of how my face must have looked the first time I ran the boat in Newport.
We quickly arrived back at the boat show docks, running at about 25 knots until we hit the no-wake zone in Annapolis Harbor. Motoring toward the demo dock, the range slowly crept up from 40 nautical miles to 48 when the boat was secured. Our dock-and-dine trip used up about 40 nautical miles of range with an average speed of 20 knots. That left plenty of range to think about heading across the Chesapeake for a sunset cocktail at Hemingways on Kent Island without even having to plug in. But I’d already kept the boat away from potential customers long enough.
“So, what do you think?” DeSocio asked. My answer was quick and succinct. “I’m a believer.” The Eelex had converted a grumpy old salt who loves the smell of diesel fuel into someone who can see the benefits of an all-electric platform.
This article was originally published in the March 2022 issue.