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Electric boat tests waters off Newport

A local hotel was sold on Endeavour, which can transport passengers on about $1.50 of electricity

The Hyatt Regency on Goat Island in Newport, R.I., is taking a decidedly green approach to their business.

Plug 'N' Play's quiet ride often takes passengers by surprise.

Last July the Hyatt bought a 24-foot Endeavour Electric launch to ferry passengers to and from downtown free of charge throughout the summer tourist season. The hotel completed its first full season of using the boat, playfully dubbed Plug N’ Play, built by Endeavour Green, a small independent company in Florida.

“We found out about the company through Ted Arps, the senior vice president of the Davidson Hotel Company,” says Hyatt Regency general manager John Karchner. “We did a test drive in St. Petersburg last spring and we couldn’t get over how quiet it was.”

Karchner says it only costs about $1.50 in electricity for them to charge it every night after its daily runs from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. It holds a maximum of 12 passengers, including the driver, and cruises up to 8 knots with a 13-hp D&D 48-volt DC motor that runs on 16 Trojan T-105 Plus 6V batteries.

“We take passengers from our dock and drop them off at Bowen’s Wharf, which puts them right in the heart of town,” says Karchner. “It’s a nice ride, about 25 minutes round-trip.”

Karchner says they do anywhere from 28 to 32 runs back and forth, and the charge on the batteries, which is distributed through two 25-amp on-board battery chargers, has never run out if it is plugged in for the night.

“She runs really smooth,” says Capt. Richard Proulx, who runs the shuttle. “People are always asking me if there’s something wrong with the boat because there’s no noise from the engine when we push away from the dock.”

Proulx says driving Plug N’ Play is no different from driving a gas-powered vessel, other than a little hesitation when he turns the key.

“It’s almost like sailing, in the sense you don’t smell anything or hear anything,” says Karchner. “And the maintenance is minimal. We have storage at the hotel, so we don’t have to pay for that, and add distilled water every two months to keep the batteries in good shape. We’ve had her for over a year and no problems yet.”

In fact, Plug N’ Play has been so popular that the hotel has signed a contract for two more Electric models to be built and delivered by May for a boat rental program that would allow hotel visitors to rent the boat for the day and take it around the harbor, according to Nancy Frainetti, co-owner of Endeavour Green.

“It’s a worthy alternative to traditional boating,” says Frainetti. “We’re thrilled that this has caught on in Newport.”

Frainetti, who grew up in Pittsburgh, learned how to sail on a man-made lake in nearby Canonsburg, where her family vacationed in the summers.

“We actually had a paddle boat that my Dad made for us,” says Frainetti, 48. “It was always just a lot of fun. I studied at Penn State for horticulture; I never thought I’d be doing this for a living.”

In 2006 a private investor stepped forward to help Frainetti and her business partner, Jeff Stringfield, and Vision Boatworks was formed. But just as they began manufacturing the vessels, the financier had to depart from the project for personal reasons, she says. The production of the vessels was put on hold for the latter part of 2008 until early 2009 when Frainetti and Stringfield were able to catch the interest of Endeavour Catamaran Corporation, a company based in Clearwater, Fla., that decided to tack on the electric boat project as a branch of their operations.

Frainetti says the base cost of the vessel is $41,900, but can cost upwards of $80,000, depending on the extras. For instance, prospective customers can choose to have a fully electric vessel or a hybrid with a 3.5-kw diesel Mastervolt generator. Other options include a manual or electric marine head, macerator pump option, recessed bow running lights, marine carpet and bow thruster.

Frainetti was so optimistic about the Endeavor’s capabilities that she and Stringfield covered 280.7 miles on their hybrid model, cruising inland waters across the state from Tampa Bay to the Atlantic last June, burning about $1.75 of electricity and $1.94 of diesel per day.

“We wanted to show what this boat was capable of,” says Frainetti. “People can use it just for day cruising, but it can also be used for extended trips. It handled very well.”

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This article originally appeared in the New England Home Waters Section of the January 2010 issue.