While we wait for a weather window to move to the Bahamas, we take a minute to upgrade the solar system on our boat.  

Our trip has changed as we have moved along the journey as has how we use/live on the boat. At the beginning we spent about half our time at anchor and half in marinas and the mix was basically a day at each. When we hit the Trent Severn Waterway, we spent very little time in marinas and lots of times at lock walls, and we could usually find some sort of power every other day or so. Great Lakes was lots of marinas–turns out it is tough to anchor in the middle of Lake Michigan or Huron. Pretty deep.

Now that we are in Florida, we find ourselves either at anchorage or in a mooring field (which are either the best or the worst of both worlds, depending on your opinion of mooring fields). Either way, not a lot of opportunity to plug into shore power, so more reliance on the power provided by the boat.

Why we need the power is to charge our 440 amp hours house battery bank. Which provides power for: all our lights, both for the inside of the boat, as well as the running, anchor, deck and nav lights; instruments; radios; router for boat hot spot; water pumps; windlass; refrigerator; freezer; power our electronics; and more that I can’t think of right now. All of those pull from those amp hours. The battery bank consists of four Trojan T-105 6V golf cart batteries wired in series and in parallels to give us a 12V, 440 amp system. Of the 440 amps, we won’t go below 220amps (50%), so our budget for a day is 220 amps. When we are at anchor for a couple of days we find that we wake up at 70% (ish), and end up at 60% or worse by the end of the day with the result that we end up running our generator 1-2 hours each and every day to charge our batteries. The biggest culprit is our fridge and we have had numerous people look at it while on the trip and the consensus is that it is working, just not a great design. So it runs a lot in the day when it is hot.

We have three sources of power. First is an onboard 4.2Kw generator that provides power when we are at anchor and when we need to charge batteries, runs the A/C or water heater. It is installed in our back port cabin and came original with the boat. It doesn’t have a ton of hours on it (~250) and it works, but we have had to give it a lot of TLC. It has had a capacitor replaced, had to be rewired before we left and, most recently, blew an impeller. The second source of power is from our two outboard engines. When they run the do return power to the house battery bank, but not a lot; only a couple of amps while they are running. Unlike our old inboard on our monohull which was basically a mini-generator, these are for thrust only, not for power. The third source of power comes from solar, three 50W solar panels and charge controller, both of which came original with the boat. And they are both a bit long in the tooth. The charge controller regulates the charging of the battery and our old one was basically a switch–if there the batteries were too full, it blocked the solar charging from overcharging our batteries.

Not that there was much to worry about. Our panels didn’t produce a lot of power to provide to the batteries. Looking at our battery monitor, if there was a ton of sun, we could see 2-4 amps going back to the batteries. Not enough to cover the running of the fridge. With the generator recently giving us some fits, we decided it is a good time to upgrade the solar system so that we can rely less on the generator. When we were in Fort Myers, we ran into another PDQ sailboat and they had solar installed and they called it a game changer. The recommended Alex from Sea Tek in Marathon. We sent him a note and he said he could knock it out when we got to Marathon.

And now we are in Marathon. Alex came by and he is young. Like really, really young. And from Minnesota. Decided to leave the UofM before graduation to hop on a sailboat and come down to Florida and he never left. He was hit hard personally in the hurricane, but his business is still cooking along. He and his assistant Dan came by and looked at our boat, and after a long discussion, they agreed to install two ginormous panels above our back seat that would basically extend our hard top all the way to the rear of the boat. Each panel is rated at 360 watts; 720 watts total. Holy crap batman; we were going to do a serious upgrade. And it ain’t cheap, but we figure that we are going to keep this boat for awhile and plan to spend a bunch of time cruising, so this is an investment in the infrastructure of our house.

Alex and Dan showed up three days later with brackets, panels and the charge controller and over four hours, installed the whole kit. Unfortunately when they finished, it was the end of the day, so there was little sunlight left in the day to charge the batteries–we ran the generator.

Solar panels on the back of our boat; three old panels are immediately in front

Next day we were up bright and early and watching our battery monitor. And by ‘we’ I meant ‘I.’ It was a sunny day and at peak we were putting in over 20amps to the battery. For hours. By the time the sun came down we had charged the batteries up to 98%. Without using the generator.

And it has been over two weeks. We have run the generator twice One time to just get the oil warm. The second tie was after a cloudy day. During the day we actually put power into the battery going from 74% to 84% throughout the day even with the cloud cover. Otherwise we end the day with our batteries topped off. And all our devices charged. We also use our instapot during the day to make rice, or turkey or anything and we can use it at lunchtime and still have the batteries charged to 98% by the time the sun goes down. We are digging the solar. And not missing running the generator every day.

I just think this is a pretty cool picture of our boat!