July / August 2019


A battery-powered barrelback

On the outside, the 20′ runabout ZELECTRA harks back to 1940s-vintage Chris-Craft Barrelbacks. Under the hood, she’s on the cutting edge of propulsion technology, with a 90kW electric motor that will drive the boat to a top speed of 27 knots.

David Warren has been fascinated with batteries since he was a small boy. He has also been a keen sailor for a similar length of time. So, it was probably inevitable that one day he would have an electric-powered boat.

About a decade ago, David met Andy Gamlin, who at that time was director of the Wooden Boat Centre, an Australian boatbuilding school in the town of Franklin, Tasmania, just south of Hobart. Both of them were interested in electric boats. David, in fact, had by then advanced his youthful obsession with batteries, and in 2008 he built an electric vehicle, a microlight airplane that he thinks was the first electric aircraft to fly in the southern hemisphere. This was followed by an electric-car conversion and an electric quadcycle he built for a sheep farmer.

David and Andy came to an agreement whereby Andy would buy and restore an old boat and David would design and install the electric power system. The result was the 1938 GEORGINA, a 20' displacement powerboat that was a “sunken hulk” when Andy found her. But the hull was built of the wonderfully durable Tasmanian timber Huon pine, and was in remarkably good condition. With her electric propulsion system, GEORGINA had a cruising speed of 5.5 knots. Although Andy officially owned the boat, which he kept for about five years, David used her 90 percent of the time.

His experience with GEORGINA confirmed for David that he really would like an electric boat of his own. He had long been attracted to the Chris-Craft Barrel­back designs of the 1940s, so he decided to build a slightly stretched version of the Barrelback 19, to plans from Glen-L Marine Designs. As with GEORGINA, the Wooden Boat Centre would build the hull and David would install the propulsion system.

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