Sailing through: Marine expert Nigel Calder talks shop with APS

The APS engineering team enjoyed a visit from the world’s foremost writer about marine systems maintenance, Nigel Calder.

Calder is the author of numerous books about sailing but is perhaps best known for his “Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual” (first published in 1989) and “Marine Diesel Engines: Maintenance, Troubleshooting, and Repair,” originally published in 1987.

The former has grown from 300 to 1,000 pages over four editions. It represents six years of full-time work and has provided Calder and his wife, the artist Terrie Frisbie-Calder, a base income for 30 years as they’ve sailed the world, raising and homeschooling their children and charting new waters along the way – quite literally.

“The book has let us do more-or-less whatever we wanted,” the writer says.

Calder currently is working with marine systems integrator Bruce Schwab, owner of Ocean Planet Energy, Inc., to help usher in the newest wave of marine technology for cruising and racing boats.

Ocean Planet Energy provides energy storage and charging systems for marine applications, and APS assists with smart alternator regulators and lightweight, high-output, small- and large-case alternators for onboard current and charging.

“APS has some amazingly powerful alternators,” Calder says. “We need big, powerful alternators to charge the lithium-ion batteries we’re using today.”

From left: Jim Dunlap, North American Sales Manager; Adam Jennings, Assistant Manager, Applications Engineering;
Nigel Calder, sailing expert and author; 
and Greg Yerington, Manager, Applications Engineering

The Early Years

Calder’s interest in boats spawned early, when he was just 12 or 13 years old, before the popular around-the-world BOC Challenge and Vendee Globe races were established.

In 1968 and 1969, their predecessor, The Sunday Times Golden Globe, became the first round-the-world race of its kind.

The Golden Globe would see just one of its nine entrants cross the finish line as the first person in history to sail single-handed and non-stop around the world.

Other participants were not so lucky. One sailor sank his boat while in the lead. He survived, while another skipper lost his mind and, sadly, killed himself.

To say the Golden Globe was controversial and dramatic would be an understatement.

It captured the imagination of the young Calder, whose logical mind nevertheless longed for great adventure. He wanted nothing more than to sail around the world, too.

“I’d sit in school and daydream about it,” he says.

The blue line represents the ideal route of the 1968-1969 Sunday Times Golden Globe, the first round-the-world race of its kind. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

Changing Tides

When Calder entered the marine world in earnest after college, solid state electronics—such as multi-step voltage regulators and DC/AC inverters—were changing the industry and subsequently formed the basis for onboard electrical systems for the next 30 years.

“Today we are in a similar state of change,” he says.

Enter new, smart electrical devices, powerful alternators and lithium-ion batteries. These components, in combination, are disrupting the industry, putting more comfort and faster speeds within reach.

Today’s cruisers enjoy all the comforts of home while aboard, including overnight air conditioning, without the need for heavy, maintenance-intensive generators.

“My goal is to help keep Ocean Planet Energy on the front end of these changes,” says Calder. “These are not small changes; they are qualitative changes. We are seeing more power, better efficiency and substantially more reliable systems.”

Collaboration and the Future

As the APS engineering team continues to collaborate with Ocean Planet Energy, they’re looking forward to further work with Calder, as well.

With APS high-output alternators and smart regulators, along with leading-edge lithium-ion battery solutions, Ocean Planet and APS are well positioned to serve the cruising and racing needs of today and beyond.

Five Fast Facts with Nigel Calder

While Calder is known for the depth and breadth of his marine mechanical knowledge, we couldn’t resist asking a few whimsical questions about the sailing life he has enjoyed with his wife, the artist Terrie Frisbie-Calder, for the last 48 years. Here are his responses.

1. Best Sailing Food: Baked potatoes. They’re easy to transport and prepare, can be dressed up with any number of toppings, and provide palatable nourishment during times of seasickness. However, eating extremely well aboard is not only possible but one of the draws of today’s vessels, which include complete, upscale kitchens. Even better, local food and drink can be explored during times of anchorage, widening the sailing experience into a gustatory adventure in addition to a geographical one.

2. Best Sailing Music: No music is necessary! While cruisers are equipped with complete entertainment systems, Calder sees no practical reason to focus on movies and music aboard with so many other things to see and do.

3. Best Trip: The West Coast of Scotland. The terrible weather during the trip was more than offset by the breathtaking mountain and wildlife views. At one point, the Calders saw “tens of thousands of puffins.” Some of the birds actually hopped right onto Terrie’s drawing pad!

4. Worst Trip: The Yucatan Coast, 30 years ago. The Gulf Stream, in combination with the steep rise of the ocean floor along the coast, made for frightening conditions, including pyramid-shaped waves from every direction. “It was like being in a washing machine,” he says.

5. Top piece of advice for new enthusiasts: “If you want a boat with all the bells and whistles, hire a professional.” Calder suggests building systems right the first time to avoid “fixing problem after problem,” citing maintenance and repairs as “the number one reason people get out of cruising.”

Note: The original interview for this blog took place in November 2019.

What You Can Do Next

Contact us

Watch our Marine Video

Visit Ocean Planet Energy’s website

Read about APS alternators in the Vendee Globe