Making a Quiet Splash: Elco Wins National Acclaim by Building upon the Traditions of Clean, Quiet Boating
Nearly 125 years after the Electric Launch Company was established to ferry passengers through the lagoons, canals and lakes of the Chicago World’s Fair, Elco is again the nation’s premier builder of electric drive systems for boats.
That’s due in part to Joe Fleming, the former summer resident of Glenburnie who revived the Elco electric boat company in 1987, and who has rejoined the company as a design engineer.
According to Elco owner Steve Lamando, Fleming has made significant contributions to the company’s new electric drive system, which is geared primarily toward sailboat owners.
The system uses a 3-phase AC electric motor, the equivalent of a 14 hp diesel engine and produces no noise, vibration, heat or fumes. It’s powered by batteries that can be recharged by hooking to shore power or by onboard solar panels and a wind generator. Fully charged, the batteries will provide 6-8 hours of propulsion.
Equipped with Elco’s powerplant, the Hunter 27E sailboat was nominated for Boat of the Year honors in the 30’ and Under classification by Cruising World and was awarded the prestigious Green Award by Sail magazine.
“What’s really exciting about owning Elco is the opportunity to be a leader in green, fossil fuel- free technologies,” said Lamando. “The automobile industry has adopted electric propulsion, and so should the marine industry. Joe Fleming says timing is everything, and we’re in a situation now where people appreciate the virtues of electric boats now more than they did 20 years ago. In the United States, but even more so in Europe, the company is blossoming.”
Lamando, Fleming and Peter Houghton were at Hall’s Boat Corporation in Lake George on May 12 to discuss the company’s new electric drive systems, its modern launches and the Wenona, an 1899 Elco owned by Lamando.
The restoration of the Wenona, a 36-foot launch once owned by Bishop Ernest M. Stires, is nearly complete, and the boat will be re-launched on Lake George next month.
When the Wenona was built, Fleming said, “the technology was new, and Elco was at the forefront of that technology.”
But, said Fleming, it was not as efficient as the new system.
“What we’re producing today could hardly be improved upon,” said Fleming. “It’s Elco’s most efficient and environmentally sensitive system yet.” An electrical engineer, Fleming revived the brand in the 1980s after he sold a company he had founded.
While he had intended to focus on building electric drive systems, his passion for antique boats (he’s a founder of the Antique and Classic Boat Society) led him to direct his energies toward building launches.
While Elco concentrates today on electric power systems, the company is still building the launches, said Peter Houghton.
A contemporary electric boat can travel fast enough “to knock you out of your wicker chair,” said Houghton.
But, he added, getting somewhere fast is hardly the mission of an electric boat.
“It’s not the destination, it’s the experience; that’s the saying in my family,” said Houghton, whose great grandfather, W.K. Bixby, brought a 36-foot Elco, the St. Louis, to Lake George in 1903.
“There’s every type of boat imaginable in my family’s boat house, but it’s the St. Louis that’s always in use,” said Houghton.
“People slow down, and because there’s no noise, they’re able to listen to one another,” Houghton said. “There’s nothing quite like a cruise on the St. Louis.”
The attributes of the St. Louis are shared by contemporary Elcos, said Houghton.
“What’s the best way to sell a boat? You put people on the water, and they get it,” said Houghton.
Elco makes 19, 24, 30 and 36 ft launches, which range in price from $40,000 to $125,000 depending upon size and customers’ preferences.