Grenada: Installing Solar Panels

 

Installing Solar Panels

Installing Solar Panels

Time to leave St Lucia and head directly to Grenada where our friends Mel and Caryn are getting two new huge solar panels shipped from Florida for their Island Packet S/V Passages.

We have been cruising together with Mel and Caryn since Guadeloupe, for over two months now, and we have become very close friends. They are both extremely humble cultured sweet people who enjoy travel and adventure very much.

Mel and Caryn at Champagne Reef, Dominica

Mel and Caryn at Champagne Reef, Dominica

Mel was born in Namibia and Caryn in Zimbabwe. They met in South Africa and later moved to Australia where they live since 7 years now. We have spent many evenings sharing meals aboard Fata Morgana and Passages, listening to their incredible stories of Africa. „You have to be very careful with Africa, said Caryn one evening. Once she gets in your blood there is no getting her out of you. You always want to comeback there.“ When she speaks of Africa, of the places in Africa, the sounds of Africa, the animals of Africa, the sunsets of Africa, her voice fills with tenderness and nostalgia.

Caryn with a Rasta Man in St. Lucia

Caryn with a Rasta Man in St. Lucia

Mel is a mechanical engineer but works in business software now, and Caryn is a school teacher, and she must be the best school teacher in the world. They are now in their early fifties and have ventured for work and for fun all over the world in most continents, in hundreds of countries. In 2013 they bought S/V Passages, a beautiful island Packet, and have been sailing through the Bahamas and the Caribbean since then, pretty much n the same rout as us. After a few months, they will be leaving the boat here in Grenada and return to Australia to work for awhile, before continuing with their sailing adventure.

S/V Passages

S/V Passages

Mel is also a professional marathon runner. He is participating in marathons all over the world almost every year. He can run a lot… So Ivo, who likes to go jogging early in the morning found a great companion. They run for about 6 to 10 km every second day and of course talk about all sorts of things while running, like solar panels and lithium batteries, boats, and other important stuff. Thus, the plan to instal more solar on S/V Passages was consolidated and soon put into action.

Ivo and Mel installing solar panels

Ivo and Mel installing solar panels

Ivo is excited to help with the installation. After all, it is his fault Mel and Caryn ordered two panels a lot bigger than they initially wanted. We have 5 big solar panels aboard Fata Mоrgana and two smaller ones, producing a staggering 1,500 Wаtts of pure solar electricity, and often we inspire cruisers to get more solar panels. We also have lithium batteries, instead of AGMs or flooded, which is something very new and innovative in the world of sailing. We think, it’s the future of boat batteries. I have previously posted a very detailed article about our solar installation, which can be found here. So Ivo convinced Mel to go bigger, get double, supersize! We are all about off-grid living and alternative energies, so when friends go solar, we all celebrate.

Viktor and Ivo installing Kyocera solar panels aboard Fata Morgana, November, 2013, Florida

Viktor and Ivo installing Kyocera solar panels aboard Fata Morgana, November, 2013, Florida

We sail 110 NM to Tyrell Bay in Carriacou together with S/V Passages bypassing the big island of St Vincent and the smaller islands of The Grenadines where we are planning to return in due time and explore them thoroughly.

We are getting 18-20 kt east winds between the islands, but when we are behind the island, even though we keep at least 10 miles distance between us and land, the wind just stops and of course we stop too… We wait, Ivo pulls the boat with the kayak and we even try the „new“ used spinnaker we bought in Martinique. But nothing works. After a few hours the wind returns and we sail again.

Flying the Spinnaker

Flying the Spinnaker

We arrive in Carriacou on the second day of our passage and we stay there only a couple of days, just to check-in and to rest a bit.  Then we sail again, to St George’s, Grenada.

St George’s is the capital and biggest city of Grenada and a popular tourist destination. Its big wide horseshoe-shaped harbor is surrounded by a hillside of an old volcano crater crowned by the 1705 Fort George on the northwestern tip. The city is beautiful, old colonial buildings standing guard around the harbor, narrow streets crisscrossing the steep hills, providing glorious vistas of the bay.

St George's Grenada

St George’s Grenada

We drop anchor in the anchorage outside of the harbor, S/V Passages go to Port Louis Marina, ready for some new solar panels. In the next two days Ivo and Mel work hard from dawn till dusk. Looking for parts, which can be tricky in Grenada, building two frames with stainless steel one inch tubing, one over the bimini an one over the davits, and finally mounting the panels.

Mel and Ivo busy with the solar panels

Mel and Ivo at work

The biggest problem they encountered while doing all this was that the fittings which were labelled one inch, where actually smaller, 7/8, and there were no one-inch fittings anywhere on the island. To order them from Martinique would take one month and so Ivo came up with the idea to grind the stainless steel pipes and make them fit in the 7/8 fittings… This took a whole day. But the next day the frame is ready and the new Kyocera 350 watt panels are up on the boat.

Installing the Solar Panels aboard S/V Passages

Installing the Solar Panels aboard S/V Passages

 

While Ivo and Mel are busy with the solar panels, Caryn, Maya and I spend the days at the marina swimming pool, where Maya quickly makes a great new friend, Meagan, another cruising kid.

Maya and Meagan at Port Louis Marina's pool

Maya and Meagan at Port Louis Marina’s pool

And when the job is done, we celebrate with a lovely dinner aboard solar-powered S/V Passages.

Maya aboard S/V Passages

Maya aboard S/V Passages

Installing solar panels aboard S/V Passages has been a great rewarding experience for all. And it is not over. Mel and Caryn are planning to get even more solar panels in the next months and thinking about switching to lithium batteries too. The lithium batteries are lighter, smaller, faster charging, holding their voltage much more, can be discharged at ones, can be discharged completely without damage, and are now very affordable. If you look at our Sponsors Page you will find a link to Balqon, the company with the best lithium batteries prices in the USA. You will also find E-Marine Systems, the best prices and quality for solar panels. After one year of using our lithium batteries, we are extremely satisfied and would recommend them to anyone. Lithium batteries are the future of cruising.

Mel and Ivo and the solar panels

Mel and Ivo and the solar panels

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Solar Power Rangers

 

Viktor and Ivo installing solar panels.

Viktor and Ivo installing solar panels.

 

We sailed back to Florida all the way from Guatemala, braving currents and winds, risking our lives, in pursuit of one thing and one thing only: energy. Turned out we need more solar panels and more batteries in order to produce enough electricity for the fridge, lights and ventilators,  watermaker, electrical heads, and electronics without using the engines or a generator (which we don’t have anyway), or any other fuel-consuming machine. It also turned out, that outside of the United States everything is a lot more expensive if you find it at all. So here we are, back in Key West, installing solar panels.

Our fridge, which has two compartments: one is a fridge and the other a freezer with two cold plates, is the biggest consumer of electricity on board; it draws somewhere between 8 and 10 amps per hour (Ah).

The electronics: GPS, autopilot, radar, sonar, wind vane, AIS, and VHF radio take roughly somewhere between 10 and 15 Ah when in use while sailing. When at anchor, they are tuned off.

The lights: salon, cabin, anchor, cockpit, and deck lights are all LED and consume very little electricity, using one tenth the power of conventional lighting. For example, the anchor light will take 3 amps, not per hour but for the entire night.

Our watermaker, Catalina MK II, takes 16 Ah producing 16 gallons of water per hour, 1 amp-1 gallon. But we use it very rarely, as we also collect rainwater every time it rains through an extremely efficient system Ivo came up with: two hoses attached to the hard top (the roof of the boat) run down to the water tanks. When it rains hard all night, we fill up the two tanks: 220 gallons of pure rainwater. But when it doesn’t rain for a while, then we turn on the watermaker which we bought and installed ourselves. This is a fun little contraption that takes the salty water from the sea and separate’s the liquid from everything else thus producing pure drinkable freshwater without any salts and minerals in it.

Maya collecting rainwater in a bucket. When we want to fill up the water tanks we plug hoses to the opening on the hard top.

Maya collecting rainwater in a bucket. When we want to fill up the water tanks we plug hoses to the opening on the hard top.

The electrical heads, two of them, which we installed first thing after we came back from Guatemala replacing the old regular ones, consume 16 Ah (but of course, we don’t use them constantly).

The air conditioning system which came with the boat went in the garbage with all its bulky tubes and insulations as soon as we moved in. ACs on boats need lots of electricity and the people who use them are usually those who stay plugged at the marinas and pay marina and electricity bills. We are not such people. Except in Havana Cuba where we had no choice, we have never stayed at a marina; always at anchor. And when it gets too hot, we turn on the small ventilators which consume 0.5 Ah, or jump in the water.

When we bought the boat she came with two solar panels 170 watts and 3 AGM house batteries 300 Ah. Initially, we bought and installed 3 more Kyocera solar panels, adding 750 watts, and we replaced the 3 AGM batteries with 10 deep cycle led acid batteries 6V, 370 Ah. Thus, when we started cruising, we were producing almost enough electricity for our needs, but had to be very cautious about it, constantly monitoring the amperage in the battery bank. What’s more, after two or three overcast days and when sailing and using all the electronics, we had to turn off the fridge or we risked the battery bank dropping below 50%.

Now, we solved our electricity shortage problem by buying two more humongous solar panels, 320 watts each, and replacing the 10 deep cycle batteries with four lithium batteries, all together  700 Ah. Total of 7 solar panels: 1390 watts of pure solar energy. That should be enough! Seen from above, Fata Morgana looks like a solar panel field floating in the sea. With so many panels, we produce electricity even at night, when the full moon illuminates the liquid world around us.

Fata Morgana from above

Fata Morgana from above

We got the new panels from eMarine Systems located in Miami Florida. They specialize in alternative energy systems and have some of the most competitive prices on the market. After spending much time answering our questions and helping us take the right decision as to which panels, how many to buy, and how to install them, Bob Everhard the sales manager of eMarine Systems, agreed also to become one of our sponsors by giving us a bit of a discount from the price. Thank you, Bob, for supporting our journey and our goals: to achieve self-sufficiency, to travel without polluting the environment, to live off the grid entirely.

A BIG thank you goes also to Balqon and their staff for all the patience and professional service in dealing with us; corresponding with Ivo via E-mail over a thousand times, answering all his questions. These are the guys who have the best and the cheapest lithium batteries in this part of the world.

And finally, we would not be able to do so much work on the boat in so little time without the help of the guys at the new West Maine store in Key West. Thank you all!

Next stop: Bahamas!

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