On a Norwegian adventure with the crew of Viking-inspired engineers at Evoy, Simon Murray discovers not only the fanatical dedication behind the race to build the fastest electric boats in the world, but the true meaning of “skol!”
Evoy’s electric motors are propelling Norwegian boats to some of the fastest speeds achieved by electricity alone. Now, the builder is turning its focus to America.
Florø, a sleepy hamlet on the westernmost shores of Norway, was for the longest time preoccupied with the landing of wild-caught herring. The shiny-scaled havets sølv—Norwegian for “the silver of the sea”—can be abundant closer to shore when migrating into the fjords to spawn, which was welcome news for fishermen living and working among the series of islands, islets and skerries that make up the vast archipelago extending to the west. Herring was still closely tied with the village’s identity when exploratory offshore platforms were constructed in the North Sea in the mid-1960s and drilling for oil began in earnest five years later.
Today, farmed salmon is far and away the leading catch, if you can even call it that, and Saga Fjordbase, along with the hundreds of oil rigs currently operating in the North Sea, provide job opportunities for the 9,000 people living in Florø. Saga Fjordbase also counts itself, somewhat improbably, as the former employer of Evoy’s founder and CEO, Leif A. Stavøstrand, a well-spoken, ursine-like figure who would not look out of place with a battle-axe in his hand on a gray, windblown set of Game of Thrones.
Evoy is a portmanteau for “electric voyage,” and has been in the business of creating 100-percent green, emission-free experiences on the water since 2018. They do this by focusing their efforts solely on propulsion, building a series of electric motors in both inboard and outboard applications at their plant, a 2.5-mile drive from Fjordbase. (Evoy partners with boatbuilders who provide them with hulls which they optimize for electric propulsion.) Ironically, if it weren’t for his six-year tenure in executive management with Saga Fjordbase—the last two years as CEO—Stavøstrand may never have built up the soft skills and conviction he needed to see his plan through. Launching Evoy would necessitate selling three of his boats and his car, refinancing his house, and living on nothing but savings, while deferring a salary for a year until the company was approached by a group of investors.
The 43-year-old Norwegian entrepreneur also credits his two daughters. He couldn’t help but think of them, their future and the reckoning that’s coming in their lifetime—especially for those, like him, with crude oil on their hands. “Twenty years from now, when my kids are grown up and I maybe even have grandkids, I’m going to have to look them in the eyes and say I was a part of this shit or I tried to do something about it,” he tells me.
We’re seated in Evoy’s conference room. If you didn’t know any better, you would think these offices belonged to a Silicon Valley startup, with as many programmers and developers wearing t-shirts and turtlenecks dutifully crunching code as there are mechanical technicians wrenching on motors. It’s late March, and a weather station in Antarctica has just recorded data even a skeptic might find troubling: temperatures 70 degrees higher than average for this time of year. There’s also a report that the Conger Ice Shelf, a gargantuan piece of ice roughly the size of Los Angeles, has just broken off from the continent.
And yet, it’s not all bad news. Earlier this year, Evoy secured €7.3 million in capital from an ongoing series of investment rounds, with €3 million alone coming from the European Union’s Innovation Council. Evoy also just announced a partnership with Aqua superPower, which is in the process of rolling out a dockside network of fast-charging stations around the world. The largest beneficiary by far will be commercial operators that have already adopted electric propulsion fleetwide, as well as most of Evoy’s current clientele.
You don’t earn comparisons to Tesla by producing slow-going trolling motors alone. In the summer of 2019, Evoy1, a demo boat, was christened by the Prime Minister of Norway before claiming an unofficial record as the fastest production electric boat in the world with a speed of 55 knots. Stavøstrand tells me the next-generation Evoy Explorer, tied up at the municipal dock in town, can go even faster—and it’s not even fully optimized yet. “[Tesla] understood that if you can do something really cool, then you can attract the high-net-worth individuals,” he said.
Behind his desk, Stavøstrand has a map of the world affixed to the wall, with thumbtacks marking certain places of interest. When I was there, the North American landmass had no tacks. However, Stavøstrand disclosed his hopes to have Evoy’s first electronic systems arrive on U.S. shores sometime next year after initiating dialogues with certain builders. He wouldn’t elaborate any further, but allegedly half of the traffic to their website is from the States alone.
The last time a small band of Nordic people invaded North America, they were looking for land to conquer. Now, they’re looking for hulls to assimilate into their sustainable vision of the future. In an unusual coincidence, both were led by a man named Leif.
“It was supposed to be Erik the Red, not his son, Leif, who first sailed to America,” Stavøstrand tells me at one point. According to legend, Erik, an outlaw even by Viking standards, fell off his horse on the way to his longship. He took this unfortunate accident as an ill-fated warning sent directly from the gods and wiped his hands clean of the enterprise. In his absence, Leif is widely credited for leading one of the first ocean-crossings to North America, landing in what is now considered Newfoundland. Which is why, almost one thousand years later, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution to make October 9th “Leif Erikson Day.”
We were standing on the floating docks in the center of town. It was cold, wet and dreary, or the perfect weather to go boating in coastal Norway, which routinely gets battered by gale force winds. Joining us for the day was Sten Ingve Hellevang, a good-natured developer who would operate the chase boat, an adapted Hydrolift E-22 runabout outfitted with a 150-hp Evoy Breeze outboard. Leaning into their motherland’s fierce meteorological conditions, Evoy offers its inboard and outboard motors in a series of progressively powerful wind-inspired names: from the lowly Breeze, to the 200-hp Gale and the supercharged 300-hp Storm.
I hoisted the black zipper of my highlighter-yellow neoprene suit all the way to my chin.
If you followed the low, leaden sky to the highest point across the channel, you could spot an unmistakable blanket of snow dusting the highest parts of a mountain range. And spinning on top of its highest ridge, like so many steel pinwheels, were a series of wind turbines. “We have to power these electric boats somehow,” said Stavøstrand in a matter-of-fact tone.
Next to the Hydrolift was the kind of boat Stavøstrand had dreamed of owning since he was a little boy. Sleeker, more aerodynamic and all-around more aggressive-looking than the E-22 was the innocuous-sounding Goldfish X9, equipped with a force of nature, or what Evoy calls their Hurricane motor. At 400-hp, the inboard sterndrive—powered by twin 63-kWh lithium iron phosphate batteries—is their most powerful to date. The Goldfish RIB’s narrow proportions and featherweight displacement were what Stavøstrand and Gunnar were imagining as the perfect platform for electrification all the way back in 2005, when the German-based Torqeedo was an outlier and there were few, if any, competitors in the marketplace.
Looking back at those early days can feel like ancient history. In the intervening years, as the energy density of lithium-ion cells has markedly improved and lightweight composite materials have become less expensive, it can seem as if everyone is racing to create a one-of-a-kind skeleton key that will unlock the green revolution.
“I would be really worried by now if we didn’t have any competitors,” said Stavøstrand. “One of our main barriers is building trust. We need people to trust that this is a feasible and viable product, right? But it’s hard to do that alone, so we welcome them.”
He and Hellevang had been unplugging the shore power cords from the ports located under the boats’ dashboards. Electric car owners accustomed to a lifetime of gas pumps need a crash course in electrical architecture and systems, but for most boaters, this comes with the territory. Before freeing the lines, they rolled up the cords, and left them beside the Aqua superPower station on the dock. With a 120-kW DC charge (the Aqua superPower stations are rated for 150 kW) the X9—aka the Evoy Explorer—could be powered to 85 percent battery capacity in just 45 minutes. That’s faster than getting seated, ordering, eating lunch and paying the bill at most places. Of course, your average 30- or 50-amp dock pedestal can easily charge the batteries overnight, or provide a little juice in a pinch.
By now, most of us are familiar with the spiel accompanying electric vessels, so I don’t have to remind you about the whisper-quiet motor, or that the only susurration of any kind came from the propeller. But I will anyway, because I haven’t tired of the thrill. It’s always a surreal experience stepping aboard a platform that you have grown accustomed to all your life, only without the fuel tank, internal combustion engine, and thousands of parts that can break at a moment’s notice. As the Norwegians would say, takk for nå (thanks for now)!
We took the boats west, into the archipelago with its rocky islands that tower over the sea. Even the sky felt rough and jagged. When cruising along at 20 knots, the Evoy Explorer’s semi-enclosed helm provided brief respite from the elements. But that’s not why I traveled all the way to Norway. Standing at the helm, I opened up the throttle and unleashed the Hurricane. Like a Viking warrior going berserk, the motor sent us flying at 58 knots past the shipping lanes and the Stabben Fyr lighthouse all alone on its measly little rock. In 2022, I didn’t know it was possible to go that fast in an electric boat.
The only problem was you couldn’t maintain that speed for too long before the system limits you to prevent overstraining the batteries. We had configured the starboard screen with a chartplotter, while the portside screen tracked the duration of time you had left before recharging. (Thanks to system developers like Hellevang, it would adjust in real time based on the speed.) At 50 knots, it was a paltry 22 miles, but at a 35-knot cruising speed, it jumped up to around 28 miles. The screen also tracked battery temperature across two gauges and the overall level of charge, which was depleted laterally along a large rectangular icon that would not look out of place on a smartphone. At much lower speeds—say, 5 knots—you could take Evoy’s boats over 60 miles before the battery turns red.
Evoy, like its growing list of competitors in this burgeoning space, has to deal with the very real prospect of range anxiety in its early adopter clients. That’s why you’re beginning to see builders experiment with underwater foils and outlandish hull structures, as these manufacturers, poised on edge of this new frontier, try to wring every available ounce of juice they can out of the batteries. If you’re wondering why you keep reading headlines like “Why This [Solar/Hybrid/Electric/Hydrogen] Cruiser Could Change Boating as We Know It,” well, that’s the main reason. Alternative fuel sources are powering more than boats; they’re also fueling a groundswell of creative thinking that will eventually seep its way into the larger milieu. In turn, it’s creating what Stavøstrand refers to as “an arms race, and it’s coming like a bullet.”
In the past, it was not unusual for the boat’s lithium iron phosphate batteries to weigh almost 3,000 pounds altogether. Now, batteries in the Explorer weigh half that amount. “We used to be able to say we had fewer people going 50 knots in an electric boat than have been on the Moon,” said Stavøstrand. Every day, it seems, they’re breaking new ground—something he enjoys doing even in his free time.
On Svanøy, there is a tangle of unused pathways winding through woodland. The average person would avoid them in favor of a well-trodden path. Stavøstrand, on the other hand, carries a handsaw and an axe and clears away the overgrowth. He doesn’t get paid for this public service; he does it to unwind. “I find going on walks without making a path is kind of boring,” he tells me. “Why am I built in such a way that I’d rather make a path than walk it? I don’t know. Is it something I was born with, or did something happen to me somewhere along the way?”
When I first arrived at Evoy’s offices, Linda Sinclair Aukland, the company’s administrative manager, had warned me that Norwegians tend to be very reserved. “But if you give them a drink…” she said, her voice trailing. We took the Explorer out again a little after dusk; the reflection of the red and green sidelights bleeding across the inky water as we sped under a low-lying bridge and up the fjord. After a long night of pints and toasting skol at a waterfront pub, I met up with Stavøstrand and the youthful Marius Dyrseth, Evoy’s chief technology officer, dockside the following morning. Dyrseth was sporting his usual devil-may-care smirk. Also joining us for the day were two photographers, and Dyrseth’s 6-year-old daughter.
After zipping up our neoprene suits, we piled into the two boats. Like many of the towns and cities along the western coast of Norway, Florø is sheltered from the Atlantic Ocean by a vast archipelago, so the waterways can be calm, like a bay. I was riding aboard the Explorer with Dyrseth, his daughter and the two photographers, who were busy snapping photos of Stavøstrand grinning ear to ear while flying across some rollers on the E-22. Our destination was Mågøya, a flattish outcrop of rocks with little distinguishing characteristics. I was surprised it had a name. “Every single little rock has one,” said Dyrseth. “There’s always a name somewhere.”
The sky was covered in an unbroken mass of gray clouds and the temperature was hovering in the mid-40s. Yet the waters had that unmistakable aquamarine color typically associated with the Caribbean. Sales Manager Trond Strømgren met us in his own runabout, and he and Dyrseth began changing into wet suits to hunt for lunch: a mix of sea urchins, mussels and clams.
As Strømgren and Dyrseth donned diving fins and dropped in over the Explorer’s jet-black rubber collar, the boat’s “brain”—an IoT (internet of things) processor—was sending more than 500 data points every second to a cloud-based interface. Back in the offices, Chief Digital Officer Kjetil Watnedal and his team of software developers could look at the metrics and extrapolate a number of things, such as predictive maintenance and anomaly detection. (Evoy’s first client pulled a jellyfish into his seawater intake, which was detected by one of the analysts who noted an abnormal increase in temperature in the onboard cooling system.) On the user-side interface, accessible through an app, we could view the trip log and the location of the vessel on a map, start and stop charging on demand, and even set the desired amount of charge. At the time of this writing, a charging log, geo fence, alerts and an ability to pre-heat the cabin and book service appointments were reportedly coming soon.
“What’s underestimated is the complexity of the system; it’s an engineering feat,” Dyrseth told me at one point. He could probably relate, as the 33-year-old looks incredibly young to be leading a team of engineers. But Dryseth is one of the most talented people working on electrification in Norway, let alone Europe; his CV includes building the world’s first all-electric commercial fishing vessel in 2015. Without him, Evoy1’s first engine wouldn’t have been built in just four months.
“I can’t take credit for that. That was Marius,” said Stavøstrand.
For the past 20 minutes, the two divers had been surfacing every so often to drop off a dozen or so spiny rose-colored sea urchins on the Explorer’s cockpit. Dryseth stopped and smiled for a picture, holding one in each hand, while shaking his head at the embarrassment of riches.
I was manning the chase boat. As I throttled up and reversed the E-22 to spin the photographers into position, I could appreciate something I had never seen publicized before about electric propulsion: It gives you as much (or little) speed as you want. A combustion engine relies on sparks and heat, forcing you to settle for a finite window of speed when idling—a byproduct of its inefficiency. Conversely, electricity provides full access to the rpm range at any given time. This is useful when avoiding two preoccupied divers or rafting up to another boat in close quarters, as I eventually did at Strømgren’s house on Fanøya, one of the outermost islands.
After a flavorful lunch, we untied the boats and headed back to the mainland. There were no markers to lead us back to Florø. I had relinquished the helm back to Dyrseth, which allowed me more time to think. I was busy trying to read between the lines, as one traces a circuit board, or another reads code, to come up with an answer to a question that had been vexing me since I arrived here. Was I experiencing a precursor to an electric renaissance, or merely a flash in the pan?
Evoy has already accomplished the unthinkable after creating an electric boat that can easily reach 58 knots. But Stavøstrand stays modest, while setting his sights on the future. “We’re not reinventing the wheel; we can’t claim that, because electrification is all around us,” he told me. “So, we’re just taking the best parts we can possibly find globally, and where we don’t find them, we build them ourselves—and then just putting them together into a system and commercializing it. It’s not … well, it’s a little bit rocket science, to be honest. But not totally.”
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