A look under the ‘Hood’ of Marblehead designer’s all-electric boat

Laurie Fullerton
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The C.W. Hood Yachts team on the Hood26E during its trial run are, from left, Chris Stirling, Will Parker, Quimby Valliancourt, Nick Nowack, Dave Robison and Chris Hood. Photo by Laurie Fullerton

Chris Hood’s reputation for innovation and success in boat building and design is widely recognized in the marine industry. The company’s CW Hood 32 daysailer has been sold all over the world, while its power boats include the recently launched and widely admired Hood 35 LM and Hood 57 LM, along with the beautiful Wasque and Katama designs, many of which we enjoy seeing right here in Marblehead harbor. 

As a lifelong resident of Marblehead, Chris Hood possesses a native talent and skill for innovation that runs in the family. It brought great success to his father Bruce Hood, uncle Ted Hood, grandfather Stedman Hood and great-grandfather Ralph Otho Hood, which continues to this day.

The legacy for innovation makes it even more exciting that Hood and his team have created the first boat of its kind—the Hood 26E—an all-electric, high-speed, classic New England center console.

Launched in November, it is a perfect fit for a large portion of recreational boating needs, and boaters can also enjoy a nearly silent day on the water with no pollution of the air or water. 

What follows is an edited version of a conversation between Chris Hood and Laurie Fullerton of the Marblehead Current.

MC: How did you decide it was time to build an electric boat?

CH: It has been a theme of the Hood family in the marine industry to take technology and make it better, make it more user friendly. We set out not to transform all boats from gas to electric, but simply show it can be done in a logical fashion. To take “range anxiety” associated with all electric vehicles and put it in context of how most small boats are used nowadays.

When our designer, Dave Robison, and I set out four years ago to create this boat, we were aware that the electric technology was not quite ready for the boating market. Since then, battery technology has greatly improved and will continue to evolve.

The biggest hurdle remains accessibility to charging, but as it did for land-based vehicles, the infrastructure will be provided once municipalities see there is a need and a benefit. Not too far down the road, we envision floating charging stations, a dock situated on a mooring that can charge three or four boats at a time by a single underwater cable providing power from shore, and because of the dock’s size, a solar canopy can provide additional power. 

MC: Can you describe why you expect increasing demand for electric boats in the marine industry today?

CH: In just looking at Marblehead Harbor alone, approximately 60 percent of boats in the harbor are power boats, with about 10 percent being semi-long-distance cruisers designed for trips up to Maine or down to the Cape and Islands.

This means the remaining 50 percent are of the “day boat” variety: small outboards, center consoles, small picnic-style boats, all using gasoline or diesel for propulsion. The big question is: How are these boats used during the boating season? And can an all-electric boat check their boating boxes?

If you are fortunate enough to have a dock or a spot at a marina, it’s a no-brainer. But what about boats that live on a mooring? Will solar work? No, there is not enough area for panels that would produce any meaningful charge. But adding a charging station to one of our public docks would be a very good option, just like what we see for electric cars in town. If you don’t have a mooring and you are a trailer boater, then just plug it in at home.

It is also my opinion that the design has to look like a boat, not a spaceship. A good example is Tesla’s first cars looked like experimental future concepts. It was not until the vehicle looked more mainstream did it really catch on. 

MV: Can you tell us if you think it’s possible to achieve that goal of full-on summer and recreational fun with an electric boat?

CH: Here are a few perfect examples right around our area. A lot of boat owners with smaller boats like to fish. Can you run out to Stellwagen Bank in the Hood 26E? No! But it is perfect for a weekend of fishing around Salem Sound, out to Halfway Rock, around Tinkers, etc.

Further, the boat is ideal for a ride over to Brown’s Island. Load up the kids, paddleboards, and coolers, nosing up to the beach. If it gets too crowded, you can leave and head up to Sand Dollar Cove in Manchester at 22 knots. The round trip will use less than 50 percent of available battery charge.

Or you can run over to Salem and tie up at Pickering Wharf and visit the sights. Get back aboard and head out to see the sailboats racing off Marblehead and return to the harbor with plenty of battery to go fishing the next day.

Or a perennial favorite, you can take the Hood 26E to Gloucester and tie up at the Studio for lunch. At 22 knots, you will have used 50 percent of your battery. So, you have two choices: head home at a slightly lower speed or plug in your fast charger, top off your batteries as you enjoy lunch while monitoring the charging status on your phone. After lunch, you will be back up to 85 percent, and after another hour, you will be close to 100 percent.

MV: Can you give us a little background on where this tradition of innovation and experimentation began in the Hood family?

CW: Interestingly enough, this is not the first time the Hood family has looked towards electricity for the mainstream market. My great grandfather, Ralph Otho Hood, of Danvers was an electrical engineer from Tufts University (he studied under Thomas Edison) and was a top inventor of his time. 

Ralph O. Hood built the first steam carriage in 1899, with electrically operated valves that simplified cumbersome controls, making the steam carriage simple to operate. It was dubbed the “Simplex.” For the next eight years, he created an impressive list of vehicles, culminating in the Gas-Au-Lec touring car in 1905. 

The “Gas-Au-Lec” was the world’s first gas-and-electric car. The first hybrid! Back in the early 1900s, motor vehicles were scoffed at by many, especially in the cities where noxious fumes and noise made the vehicles a nuisance. Ralph O. Hood reasoned that if he could build a clean vehicle for the cities, sales would flourish.

The Gas-Au-Lec ran on batteries at city speeds of about 8 miles an hour. After 8 MPH, a self-starter would turn over the gas engine, and the car would continue along up to 40 MPH. The car won prestigious awards at the New York and Chicago auto shows.

Unfortunately, a better inventor than businessman, only eight cars were built, forcing Ralph to cannibalize the last car to pay some of his debts.

In a “Eureka” moment, he packed his self-starter in a suitcase and traveled by train to Ford Motor Company. Henry Ford paid Hood for his idea but not his patent on the design, and the rest is automobile history!

MV: What does the future hold for the Hood 26E now that you have launched the first one?

First, I have to thank the team, including designer David Robison, Chris Stirling and Will Parker for their electrical skills, Desmond Binger, Rick Baker and Nick Nowak for composite engineering, Quin Vaillancourt, Jack McGrath, and Logan Hood for construction.

We all truly believe in this project, and although an electric boat may not be for everyone, this boat will work in the real world. “Range anxiety” can be easily managed and will become less and less of a factor as the industry continues to grow and improve.

Further, this just makes sense for our planet. A study by the EPA takes a modern 4-stroke outboard motor and compares it to a modern, efficient mid-size car. The one modern outboard motor running for one hour produces as much CO2 as 50 modern mid-size cars based on both vehicles running at 30 mph.  

After some more testing, we will be starting production, offering the boat in either center console or sport boat configuration.

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