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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Our Boat Just Got Bigger!

Fata Morgana

Fata Morgana

You might think it’s impossible for a boat to get bigger. Usually the opposite phenomenon occurs: boats get smaller with time. Stuff accumulates and every niche, every corner gets filled with things. Books, clothes, shoes, dishes, tools, food reserves, extra sails, and spare parts slowly and almost unnoticeably pile up on top of each other and inevitably conquer the entire space.

Fata Morgana´s salona dn galley

Fata Morgana´s salon and galley

Usually, there is no remedy for this situation. In the battle of stuff vs. people, stuff always wins. People, defeated, simply abandon the boat and move to a bigger one where the process repeats. But there are a few rare instances where a boat can get bigger, which has nothing to do with stuff. And I am not talking about adding a second floor or half the crew members moving out taking the salon table along. No, I am talking about an enclosure.

 

The cockpit with its new enclosure

The cockpit with its new enclosure

Fata Morgana got her new custom made „jacket“ here in Rio Dulce, and she is sexier than ever. We always wanted to have a dodger and an enclosure as it transforms the open cockpit into another roomy space sheltered from wind and rain where the family can now enjoy dinner ever when the weather is nasty and the helmsman doesn’t get soaked while sailing in the rain. It is like installing glass panes around a balcony.

 

But the first time we got a quote for a dodger and an enclosure in Florida, we got shocked. The cost of such a luxury in the United States is more than the price of most boats we have seen until now. The materials are expensive and the per-hour fees are lethal. So we considered making an enclosure or at least a dodger ourselves and ultimately dropped the project, as we don’t have a clue how to do it. Until we got to Rio Dulce and met Elmer Rauda.

 

Elmer Rauda

Elmer Rauda

Elmer has the biggest upholstery company in Rio Dulce, AquaMarine, with six full-time workers and an extensive 15-year experience in the business of making furniture, marine enclosures, boat cushions, dinghy covers, hatch covers, and whatever canvass work you need for the boat.

 

AquaMarine office

AquaMarine office

We found him by asking around and he was the only one strongly recommended by other boaters who have been using his services, even though there are four more small upholstery shops in the area. For less than a quarter of the price we were asked to pay in Florida, he and his men made for us not only a dodger and a full enclosure but also a dinghy cover and even repaired a big hole in our jib. The jobs were done in less than one month: from measure taking to installation. We also got an additional discount thanks to this blog: AguaMarine is now one of our official sponsors. Check them out on our Sponsors page!

 

Elmer and an employee taking measurements for the dodger

Elmer and an employee taking measurements for the dodger

Conclusion: If you are ever in need of a custom-made dinghy cover, dodger, enclosure, cushions, etc. for your boat and you want to save money and time, head to Rio Dulce and call Elmer at: 4966-7095. AquaMarine is located in Fronteras de Rio Dulce, Cruce San Felipe de Lara (in front of the Panaderia San Antonio)

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Installing the enclosure

Installing the enclosure

 

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