Electric Hybrid Yachts Date Back 100 Years

The electric hybrid yacht Elfay
Trial trip of Katoura. May 3, 1914. [Inscribed on verso by Nathanael G. Herreshoff. From NGH Collection.]

The electric hybrid yacht Elfay commissioned in 1920 occupies an important niche in Marine engineering history.  She was the first yacht equipped with electric propulsion using electricity produced by oil burning generators.  Now finally after nearly a century, the idea is catching on and electrically powered and hybrid configuration craft are beginning to infiltrate the leisure yachting market

Built as a two masted schooner to a design by Nathanael Greene Herreshoff the first hybrid yacht was 162 feet overall and 115 feet on the water line.  Her beam was recorded as being 30 feet with a draught of 21 feet. Registered in New York she flew the ensign of the USA and under sail sported a sail area of nearly 2100 square feet.

Hull 722

Originally built in steel without an engine as hull 722, she became Katoura in 1914 after she was completed at the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company in Bristol Rhode Island


The Atlantic Yacht Club Commodore, Robert Eliot Tod a New York investment banker commissioned her. He reportedly paid US$162,400 for her construction

In 1915 an internal combustion engine was fitted but that was subsequently removed in favour of the electric hybrid plant which was installed by Geo Lawley and sons in Neponset Mass during 1919.


Tod sold the yacht in 1918 to Mr R A Algers.  It was he who decided to make the yacht he rechristened Elfay into the world’s first electric hybrid yacht fitting her out with new engines.

According to George Story Hudson, writing in January 1920 edition of Motor Boating;  “The new engine was a 125 hp Winton Diesel connected directly to a 75kW Westinghouse generator.  That is turn was connected to a 9 kW exciter for control purposes feeding the field rheostat controlled from on deck.”

The electric hybrid yacht Elfay
Katoura, 162 foot steel schooner, the largest yacht built by the Herreshoff company.

A smaller auxiliary version of the same thing lay to starboard of the main engine.  In this case a 25hp Quayle engine powered a 15kW generator.  Both generators could be used either separately of together.

A bank of batteries to port had a 300 ampere hour capacity and in addition to driving the yachts propulsion also provided power for winches windlass pumps and the on board hotel side of things.

A 3 inch shaft drove the single 40 x 42 Hyde propeller and with the yachts sails furled Elfay was said to glide along at a steady 7 knots with a 2,500 range obtainable at that speed.

Voyage around the world

Under the ownership of Mr R A Algers and the command of Captain J H Crawford Elfay set off to sail around the world in 1920 passing through the Caribbean to make a Panama Canal transit

It is difficult to trace the yacht from when she left but what we have found out is that in 1926 she became the property of W G Jameson whose family produced the Irish whiskey of that name.  Jameson named the yacht Magdalene (II) presumably named after his wife.

Electric Hybrid
Schooner Katoura, 1927

A French lady became the yachts next owner in 1932 and she changed the yachts name to become Lou Kiani (II).  By 1935 she had been acquired by Katoura Holdings Ltd who gave her back her original launched name: Katoura.  She kept that name until unknown buyers bought her in 1939 and renamed her Ea.  What they did with her we may never know because our research shows nothing from then until 1951.

The records published by The Herreshoff Foundation reveal rather starkly that in 1951, she was wrecked off the French coast or was dismantled in Genoa.