Category Archives: Solar

Solar panel upgrade, and waiting for a window

Harbour Cay Club, Marathon, Florida Keys
Posted by Bill

I haven’t had much time to blog lately…too many things going on. We have started the watch routine for the big window, a window of good weather to cross to the Bahamas. We usually like to have at least 2 days of decent weather to cross the Gulf Stream. This winter has brought the worst weather in a long, long time to south Florida. Lots of north winds, strong winds, and rain. Typically, these come in short spurts and maybe once a week, but this year it has been almost constant except for the rain, which has been much more frequent than normal. Everyone here and in the Bahamas is pretty much weathered in. A couple of days ago we saw a window for next Tuesday so we have been working like crazy to get everything done that we need to get done to depart. The forecast has been changing drastically every day, and the window has opened, closed, opened again, closed again, and opened again. In the last day, the forecast for next week went from 45-50 knot winds to less than 10 knots…who knows! At any rate, we need to be ready to go, so we can take advantage of a possible window. Every day, we need to ride our bikes to the grocery store to haul back what we can carry to provision the boat, and we need to get our projects completed.

In the last week we knocked a few projects off the list. One of them was putting on new solar panels. Last year we ordered 3, 135 watt panels, 2 on back order, installing 1. The ability to get the other 2 fell through, so the company we bought them from took back the 1 panel and got us 4, 100 watt panels. We figured out the best way to sew them into the bimini canvas and Tricia did her magic. 2 of them had zippers sewed into the panel, so she had to devise a way to sew the other half of the zippers into the bimini, and the other 2 we decided to do velcro since it worked so well with the one we did last year. First, Tricia made pieces of backing canvas to sew the zippers and velcro on, which would then be sewed to the bimini.
At least we had a good work area in the lanai at Harbour Cay Club! The zippers took a couple of attempts to get the alignment just right, as it changed when the bimini was installed on the boat frame, but she nailed it! It was a very tedious job because there were a lot of zippers that were part of the bimini that were in the way, and it has a lot of material to wrestle with while sewing. After 3 days of work we installed the panels:

In the mean time, I set out to get the Honda generator running again. It would only run if the choke was fully open, so I knew it was not getting the proper amount of fuel. I overhauled the carb, finding the jets plugged:
I put it back together and it wasn’t any better. Next I tore open the end of the case to get at the fuel filter…no problems there…so I broke down the carb again, finding it was plugged again! The second overhaul solved the problem and it runs great again! It only took one bike ride to Home Depot to get some carb cleaner. It took the better part of a day, but I had this view while I was working:
Not so bad!

This week I also tested the macerator plumbing for leaks. The first check was opening the under water overboard discharge valve that leads to outside the boat, and I’ll be damned if the new diverter valve that I installed leaked like a sieve…not good! It was late in the day, and I just closed the overboard discharge valve, thinking it would stop leaking as soon as the water ran out of the hose. It leaked all night, meaning the overboard valve was leaking too! Really not good!! To fix the discharge valve we would need to haul the boat out. Asking our friend Mark to double check my logic, we decided to pull the hose off of it and put things back the way they were before the macerator work, and we discovered that the overboard valve did not seal completely, but it was a very small drip…something that could be contained if the diverter valve was fixed. We could then fix the overboard valve the next time we hauled the boat for a bottom paint job. I took the diverter valve apart and found that an O-ring was not seated properly and pinched, then spent the better part of a day riding around looking for a new one to no avail. The next day, I figured I could try to seat the existing O-ring properly, reassemble the valve, and try it again…no leak…yay! I let it sit for a day to make sure it didn’t leak and reinstalled the hoses, and today I will check out the rest of the plumbing.

We spent some time with Matt, Shirley, Kurt, Sharon, and the moms over the week; but Matt and Shirley left today to head back home. So sad! It was great getting together. We also had breakfast with our friends from Columbus, Dave and Cindi, and Cindi’s parents. Dave and Cindi are here for a week, then back to Arizona until the weather improves in Columbus. Now back to our rush to get ready to leave. As it looks now, we will be leaving next week.

Adding solar power

Marathon FL
Posted by Bill

We debated back and forth about adding solar to our boat. We have a Honda 2000i companion generator that we use to charge our battery bank when we aren’t tied to a dock and shore power, but with our current battery bank, we need to charge at least once a day and can’t leave the boat for longer than one day. There is much debate as to the economics for solar, but after dealing with battery issues for 5 months, anything that keeps the batteries happy is worth consideration. We opted with flex panels rated at 135 watts. We purchased 3 panels, which generate 8-10 amps per hour each at optimum condition, and normally will give us a total of around 120 amp hours per day. This is close to what we use each day, so at best, we will only have to charge the batteries a few times per week when we are not attached to shore power. We got the one panel in stock and backordered the other 2.

We worked with a company called SALT – Solar, Air and Land Technologies, here in Marathon. They have a great reputation in the cruising community, and one of the owners keeps his boat here in Harbour Cay Club where we are staying. Double bonus. We looked at fixed panel solutions and flex panel solutions, both using Sun Power cells. Sun Power has a 23% efficiency rating and will work at better angles to the sun than most other panels which have an average 18% efficiency rating. They cost more but the price per kilowatt hour per square inch of panel is better than anything else out there. The fixed frame panels were going to require major modification of our bimini frame with substantial cost involved just to mount them. Flex panels can be mounted directly to the canvas bimini cover and can be bent to a moderate curve radius. We chose to sew industrial grade Velcro to the bimini with a wrap around flap to velcro to the top of the panel. The panel is attached with velcro to the top and bottom of the panel. In addition, we installed grommets to the corners of the panel and anchored them to the bimini, if for some reason the velcro doesn’t hold (overkill in retrospect). Here are pictures of the process…..

First Tricia sewed strips of canvas for the base velcro and velcro flaps:

At each corner, she sewed a tab where shock cord can be run through to anchor the panel to the canvas:

This is how it looks installed on the bimini frame:

Here is the back of the panel:

And the final installation:

There is a Morningstar Tristar 30 MPPT controller that controls the charge power to the batteries. This is the remote meter that shows how much amperage is being generated:

The total cost of the system is around $2,600. I’ll report later on how much power we are seeing on average. If you want more information or detail, just leave a comment or email me.