The Solar Power Expert Blog

My Boat – the Rock ‘N Row

by Chris - November 26th, 2011.
Filed under: Boating.

I’ve been intending to write a post on my boat, the Rock ‘N Row, for some time now. I’m sure a lot of readers wonder what makes me so devoted to DIY solar that I’d want to write a blog about it. Well, the reason is my boat.

The Rock ‘N Row is a 1977 Cruise-a-Home with twin Chevy 350 inboard engines. My wife and I bought her in March of 2011 and have been restoring her ever since. Her engines hadn’t run in 5 years when we bought her and she had dry rot in her stringers, transom, and six bulkheads.

To date I’ve got both engines running and tuned up, two of the six bulkheads replaced, and I’ve currently got the boat out of the water and doing some serious repair work on the transom.

The Rock 'N Row - my 1977 Cruise-a-Home

The Master Plan

My wife and I plan to move aboard our boat in September to begin living on it full time. Not only will it allow us to live closer to nature, it will significantly reduce our cost of living. Within a couple years, we’ll be debt free and will be able to live frugally and spend our lives cruising the Inside Passage and Puget Sound from Olympia, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska.

Cruising On a Dime

So far I’ve got both engines tuned up and running great and I’ve almost completed the essential structural repair work that the boat badly needed. In a couple months I’ll be able to turn my attention to the boats electrical system.

The plan is to install two Torqueedo Cruise 4.0 electric outboards to the transom. Each outboard has the equivalent thrust of a 10 HP engine. With the two of them, this should generate approximately 440 lbs of thrust, enough for this big 14,000 lb boat to putt along in decent weather. In this way, the boat will have its big, gas engines for docking and nasty weather, but we’ll be able to cruise in calm water between 3 and 6 miles per hour on the electric drives.

At first, we’ll be reliant on charging our battery bank from shore. However, over the next couple years I plan to install a combination of solar panels, wind turbines, and gasifier generator to allow the boat to be as self-powering as possible. Ideally, I would like to get the boat to a point where it can charge its drive batteries with 48 hours at anchor between the solar panels and wind turbines. If the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, I can always fire up the generator, which will run on either gasoline or carefully prepared fire wood.

The other part of the cruising plan is to pick our tides carefully. Because of the narrow channels created by the hundreds of islands throughout the Puget Sound and Inside Passage, the ocean tides generate very significant currents. Many a new sailor has been caught by surprise by these currents. It is not uncommon to see currents as fast as 5 to 10 miles per hour – more than enough to send a good sailboat moving backwards despite full sail and full engine power.

However, for those who know about them, tides are easy to predict and plan for and can save you a lot of gas if you can learn to use this natural ‘subway’ system. Over the last couple years I’ve gotten pretty good at it – to the point where I can get my boat into position, shut off my engines, and let nature whisk me away to my destination while I sip a morning coffee.

The Rock 'N Row rafted to our friends sail boat.

Independence and the Future

The other reason for doing this is independence. Like many in my generation, I feel disillusioned by my governments lack of ability to deal with our economic, environmental, and human population problems. My personal belief is that our government will not be able to fix these problems. Furthermore, I personally believe that the American economy has peaked and will continue to decline in power (relative to other countries) for the rest of my life.

In addition to this, I studied climate data in college and have been keeping my eye on it ever since. Based on the data I’ve looked at, I don’t believe that the governments of the world will be able to make any significant improvements to the degradation of the environment and that the forecasted famines, droughts, and extreme weather will ravish our world between now and 2050 with little to nothing that we (as a society or on an individual level) can do about it.

That’s a bleak outlook, but I don’t feel hopeless. My solution is my boat.

If the best of all possible worlds occur – i.e. the governments overcome the present financial crisis, the world is able to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees C, and the forecasted doubling of the worlds population is somehow managed responsibly – then my wife and I will be able to cruise on a dime and enjoy the rest of our lives with a great boat. If not, then we’ll be all the more prepared to deal with it. Either way we’re prepared, because we’re independent.

Solar Power is Independence

Independence on the individual level – independence from your local economy and government – is the only way I know of to feel confidence in weathering the storms of the future.

That’s why I think DIY solar is such an important concept. The raw parts are readily available, but most people don’t have the technical skills to make use of them. Solar may never be inexpensive, but the costs and risks can be heavily mitigated with careful research, planning, and education. That’s why I write my blog.

6 Responses to My Boat – the Rock ‘N Row

  1. I share your pessimistic forecast of our likely future and admire you for taking action now to prepare. As you say, if a miracle happens then great; if not, we’ll be prepared.

    Dennison’s Blog – Serendipities of a Writer’s Life:

  2. I was just listening to the public broadcasting radio station this morning. Apparently the Kyoto Protocol is currently being renegotiated, but is being largely overshadowed by economic problems.

    I also ran across these articles about how experts expect global temperature rise of 3.5 C by 2035 and what the potential consequences are.

    The most important quote from that last link is probably this:
    “However, the amount of carbon dioxide that can be absorbed decreases as temperatures rise. We will reach a tipping point from which temperatures will go up even faster. The world will then start to look very different.”

  3. Wow, I just came across this article on a large discovery of methane deposits in the arctic. The take-away that I got from it is that global warming could occur far faster than anyone has predicted.

  4. Very nice idea Chris – I would very much like to know how this turns out. I have fro some time been wondering about propulsion without gas engines (my blog at is about how we sail without an engine in a 54′ concrete boat. If you ever get time and have any inclination I am trying to gather writings for my new website at www chameleonslair com for eco sailors amongst other things. I would love to put your piece and a link on there? Either way, I wish you the very best of luck with your boat.


  5. Hi, i share the paranoia about government and direction, but my optimism extends further than yours. however i don’t think this seachange of government will be accomplished without pain.

    I am feeling reticent about the rest of my post as it has some elements of discord, but these have also occured to me in my dream of living at sea.

    i am constructing my own trimaran with solar etc but much less living space than your boat house. my feeling is that sail could accomplish much of what you seek, but that it requires a bit more knowledge and less space. i am assuming you are just used to motoring and need the space. in the area you are motoring i don’t know much about storm cells but in my area we have huge hurricanes (southern US) which require safe harbor and even then that is a problem sometimes. its usually best just to outrun the storm if one can. hence my feeling a faster boat might come in handy. also recovery might be an issue and with motors and weight caspizing or sinking is a spectre. the materials used in making the boat would also be issue to this. another thought is that any harbor is going to cost money, and moorage off harbor presents risks. also contending for space are numerous fast moving cargo ships and one needs to keep a eye open. not so much a problem for a small moored coastal hugger, but a problem none the less.

    my last thought is that boating to circumvent a social meltdown would be a stopgap measure at best. also it is a limited measure as the number of people involved could hinder things. hence promotion of said enterprise would not be a good interest to effect survival. even seasteading could present ecological problems if taken to an extreme.

    however none of these things is going to stop me from trying to live on the ocean in some way as my soul is tied to it. i hope all works well for your houseboat and am looking forward to hearing of your adventures.

  6. Hey Greylyn,

    Thank you for sharing! Your concerns are well thought out. I too have considered them. Many of those concerns are completely legitimate, especially where you live.

    The Puget Sound and San Juan Islands where I live are about 100 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. It’s all protected water with weather that is both mild and consistent. We have our blustery days to be sure, but they rarely come on quickly and the weather stations are pretty good at seeing them two weeks out. As for commercial traffic, we get our fair share, but (with few exceptions) it’s easy to avoid them. Overall, my choice of boat and mode of transportation was based on my unique skill set (I’m an electrical engineer) as well as my unique (and preferred) geographical location.

    Your larger point in that my solution would neither be preferable or sustainable by the majority of humanity is well put. I’m well acquainted with the fact that life aboard a boat – even one as comfy as mine – is not a life without sacrifice. Like you, I’ve weighted the pros and cons and discovered that the lifestyle suits my unique temperament.

    I think that’s why the work of the Seasteading Institute is so important. There are many concerns in terms of environmental sustainability as well as infrastructure that need to be addressed if sea steading is to be seriously considered as a mainstream solution. However, as the earth is over 70% water, I think we can both agree that it’s a worthy endeavor.

    Please stay in touch and let me know how your adventures progresses!


    Chris Troutner

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