We used the excuse of wanting the mast epoxy primer to full cure before using the filler to go out in the Dinghy again.
So a very, very early start (alarms off at 7:30am and straight out as soon as we could to catch the falling tide out to Puffin Island. We bumped into both the SeaCoast Safari and Starida teams getting ready for a busy day doing tours from Beaumaris to Puffin Island and they thought we were made 🙂
This time I found a new technique which helps a lot with the longer walk with the Dinghy at low tide. I tied the two ePropulsion batteries to the very end of the tubes. This brought their weight well behind the axles and made the front much lighter to lift.
Notice the coffee, essential for an early start.
Some pics of the ride out:
Yes we saw a seal 🙂 He swam around us a few times, having a good look.
We managed to land on a very rocky beach just past the lighthouse. We got the dinghy well up using the wheels, then we went to find the Pilot House Cafe where we had a fantastic and huuuge brunch, sitting outside in the sun with a view towards Conwy 🙂 Excellent, highly recommended.
On the trip out I ran the trial version of Navionics on my phone and also OpenCPN on my tablet (with the oeSENC OpenCPN Encrypted System Electronical Nautical Charts for the UK from o-charts). Navionics is easier to use, but is limited to phones and tablets with communication to dedicated chart plotters. However, our plan is to run our main navigation on a Raspberry Pi and for that OpenCPN is the only option I’ve found so far. Been doing some playing and while the Android version of OpenCPN shows signs of not being fully adapted to mobile sizes and touch screens the actual display is good (especially as the tablet should be a mobile duplicate screen rather than the main navigation system).
After a rest on the beach to check that the tide would be with us all the way back we set off. Getting off the beach was the trickiest task of the trip. We got some water over the bow because we left the wheels on a bit too close to the waters edge (so dipping the bow down). Despite having 30 minutes of battery left we switched to the second one and opened the throttle to 600watts for most of the trip back (and still had loads left when we got back), which was in glorious sunshine.
After all that work we needed a nap 🙂 Therefore we didn’t get any boat jobs done (other than ordering some mast parts off ebay for a huge saving over new items). We have also made a tentative, weather permitting plan for the filler, undercoat and 2 top coats (the challenge being much shorter maximum overcoating times).
We have done a lot of thinking about our foredeck (mostly related to anchoring, sail plan and dinghy storage).
During one of the lockdowns we did some thinking about how to use the forecabin beyond the anchoring plans in terms of layout. We checked a lot of those measurements when we were able to visit, however, we didn’t really check the forecabin as it was full of stuff.
Now that we have cleared space we were able to see how the plans above and below the deck can work together.
Length is our key challenge, above and below decks.
On deck we want to store our 2.9m rib upside down on deck in front of the mast. Actually we can store it so that the two tubes slightly surround the mast, but to get it on and off the deck it is going to be a million times easier if the gap between the dinghy and the inner forestay is at least 2.9m.
Starting from the bow we need to cut the existing locker hatch so that the forward part becomes part of the fixed base for the bow roller extension.
Aft of the bow roller will be the electric windlass. We will need to cut the aft section of the locker lid so that becomes part of the base for the windlass. The windlass needs to be far enough aft that we can have a small opening to the locker below (just to store ropes). The opening to this locker space is critical as we need to be able to get our arm and head in to be able reach 5 nuts (3 from the deck, 2 from the bow) that need to go on the bolts holding the bow roller in place. On the other hand if the windlass is too far aft it will interfere with the inner forestay and the dinghy being on deck.
In the end we have decided on a compromise 🙂 The windlass will be directly on to of the existing chain pipe. We will cut the locker lid to position the windlass here and we will add a glassed in network of wood beams under it that the windlass will be bolted to. The aft section of the existing lid will end up sandwiched between the windlass and the network of beams. The middle section of the lid will be refitted with hinges and a latch. If we find we can’t get good enough access to all the bow roller nuts then we can unbolt the windlass and remove the aft section of the old lid to give us more space.
All of that leaves little space to attach the inner forestay. However, as we do not want a low tack point or a low foot for the staysail or storm jib (because they have to be above the dinghy when it is on deck) we have a little more freedom. So we are going to use a bridle, one leg connected to the deck each side of the tail of the windlass. The tensioning of the inner forestay will happen between the top of the bridle and the bottom of the shroud (which is where the tack of the sail will be attached). Conveniently this means the bridal legs are attached (using the same system as all our chainplates) right next to the bulkhead that is the aft end of the existing anchor locker. We will strengthen this to handle the extra loads with the network of glassed beams for the windlass.
So, we are confident that we can fit everything on deck. There will still be room to move when needing to raise/lower/reef the staysail and for anchoring.
Below decks we have reached a new set of compromises. First, the acceptance that the existing forecabin was never really suitable for two adults. The longest measurable bed length is 6 feet, that assumes you have your head right in the aft outer corner and your feet taking the opposite corner at the forward end.
So rather than try for a substandard double bed that puts limitations on what we can achieve for anchoring we are going to put in a much better single berth that will allow us to improve the chain storage and fit some crash bulkheads.
To achieve this we will move the ply foot board from the V-Berth. Approximately, 100mm forward of this (which is just forward of the where the chain drops down from the windlass) we will put in a watertight crash bulkhead (with little inspection hatch). This means the berth will be 100mm longer, so more full adult size.
With just one full length berth on the port side we can bring the chain down inside a low friction tube that curves to the starboard side (so the berth can be a more comfortable width) and brings the chain much further aft to a carefully shaped “bin” that is the correct proportions for the chain to self stack behind the current anchor locker.
This frees up what was the chain locker and the route to it for an additional watertight crash bulkhead. This is the area most likely to be damaged by hitting a floating object and will give us some protection. It also moves the weight of the chain about 1000mm further aft than it actually was (about 500mm aft of where it should have been).
We will change the current floor level of the forecabin which provides a tiny space with headroom with a too small awkward step so you can get on the bed (which is then too tall compared to the floor to use as a seat). Instead there will be a new floor at the right height to sit on the single port bunk. You will climb up onto this from the heads compartment (which becomes your entrance/dressing area) as you enter the cabin. The reason for this change is that under that new floor, running full width, right down to the hull and forward to the new chain locker will be a built in GRP water tank (to make up for the loss of the water tank in the bilge which is now for our batteries).
The starboard size of the forecabin will now be a dedicated storage area (which means it should be a lot easier to free up the port side bed from a storage area to be available for single guests).
We will therefore ensure that the dinette in the saloon is easily turned into a comfy double bed with thick curtains separating it from the galley/companionway/chart table. That means we still have capacity for 2 double and 2 single beds which is plenty. When sailing we can have 2 excellent sea berths in the saloon plus the aft cabin. If we find the aft cabin is too close to the stern for comfort, and we need a 3rd sea berth often enough, then we can create “pop-up” quarterberth in the corridor leading to the aft cabin. All of which means we are happy with the choice to reduce the number of beds from the theoretical (but completely impractical) original 8 too 6 by switching the forecabin to a single and not having a pilot berth above the starboard “sofa” in the saloon.
What we like about this plan is that we have significantly reduced the amount of work to get the foredeck and forecabin ready for our launch compared to what we feared. We also gain a far better chain storage, a large water tank so that we are heading back to enough capacity for ocean crossings, and watertight crash bulkheads that are better than we expected (with less work too). Plus on deck we have a workable solution that gets us much better anchoring, a proper cutter rig and space for the dinghy on deck.
So our dinghy is a Highfield Classic 290, an aluminium (for long life, light weight and fully recyclable) hull with Hypalon Tubes (much longer lasting than PVC, especially in the tropics). Jane has already made a fantastic all over cover for it (when it is stored right way up) and it sits at home on a little cradle I made.
We chose our dinghy as the largest that we could fit inside our van, that happens to also be the largest we can fit on our foredeck. We chose that size as we expect to have four summers of using it in the Menai Strait (where due to the tide speed and the funnelling of the wind you get quite big waves), including transporting everything we will own onto the boat when we become retired live aboard cruisers. It also has a false floor which means that even if some spray or rain comes in your feet and bags do not rest in a puddle.
However, the key disadvantage is that it weighs more, just under 60kg. So we don’t want to carry it up a beach or slipway and despite it being Aluminium we don’t want to drag it much either (especially on stones or concrete).
So we have bought some launching wheels that can fold and that can also be removed. These were at the budget end of the market so we will see how well they last. They did need some “adjusting” with a Dremel for them to latch properly in the down position. I also had to add some pads to space them from the transom so that they don’t touch the lip of the hull. Unfortunately the lifting points on the transom stop them fully folding but we can hold them up out of the water with an elastic bungy which should be perfectly satisfactory.
It is easy, on my own, to attach them and get them into the down position as well as to remove them. The dinghy is easy to move by myself when it is on the wheels (although I don’t think we will be loading it up with much stuff at that point).
Altogether pretty happy 🙂 We will be taking it to test during our summer holiday.
So we have a holiday, it being half-term, however, as Manchester is in a tier 3 Lockdown and Wales in a Firebreak, we are at home. It does mean we can take time not just to do jobs and study (including propeller shaft and RYA Yachtmaster course) but also time to reflect on where we have got to and what next.
As we have been talking through where we have go to we realise we have reached the point where we can make some changes:
We have realised that we have now reached the point where we can avoid big/heavy loads to and from the boat. All the major clearing out is done. The largest/heaviest stuff has already been taken.
I’ll create a Van page with details that will be updated as we prepare it for sale, it is a Citroen Dispatch panel van (65 plate), we had the back professionally fitted out with windows, floor, carpet lining, LED lighting and 3 reclining seats with 3 point seatbelts – it has been completely reliable and awesomely useful and flexible.
We had bought the VAN as we were overloading our previous Citroen Berlingo because we had our Sprint 15 Caravan on the roof, bikes inside and caravan behind for holidays. The Van was absolutely brilliant for this.
It proved brilliant when we were refurbishing a house for our sons and for carrying all the rubbish, tools, cushions, timber, electric motor etc for the boat. Several trips with the van full, often towing a very full trailer too.
But now we think we can change down. For the first time, we think we can manage without needing to tow anything. That means we can switch to a 100% electric vehicle (none of them can tow anything). It will take careful planning in what we take when and we will mostly need to cut timber to size at home.
The biggest challenge will be our RIB dinghy after we launch Vida. There is nowhere to store it securely where we need to launch it for our mooring. So we need to keep it at home and take it each time. At the moment it can either go inside the van (if we deflate it) or we could put it on the luggage trailer.
Our Sprint 15
Our Sprint 15 is what really helped us rediscover our love of sailing. We had a long gap due in part to our sons not enjoying sailing and in part my work taking us a long way from the sea. Then a short few sails on my brothers Laser 13 reminded us that we were missing out big time. We tried the Laser Pico that the boys had ignored for years and discovered to nobodies surprise that the two of us didn’t really fit in it. Plus it was really heavy to lift onto the Berlingo roof (and so much wind noise it was horrible).
Almost by chance we found the Sprint 15 and had a half day test sail/training with Windsport International. It was brilliant and unique. We couldn’t find any other dinghy that could sail with 2 adults and that we could manage to lift onto a roof rack (needed because we were going to be towing a caravan). So we bought one, and have had some fantastic times with it (see our video playlist). They are brilliant boats to sail and also have a really friendly class association. Highly recommended 🙂
Anyway, we can’t carry the Sprint 15 on Vida and can’t tow it behind an electric car so it is also going up for sale.
Yup, the Daxara 147 trailer is going to be up for sale too. A really useful size that has been brilliant for taking stuff to the recycling centre, and for both house and boat building projects.
The Next Car
So we have been looking and within our price range/needs there is only one option so far as we can see. It is just under 100 miles to the boat and also to our sons. We need to be able to carry 4 adults and we need to be able to put our RIB dinghy on the roof.
That means a Nissan Leaf. If we get a 30kWh model from around 2017, even allowing for battery degradation (not too much if under 50,000 miles) it should have a range of about 100 miles. We recognise that, at least in winter or with the dinghy on top, we will need to stop between home and the boat for a 20 to 30 minute recharge.
By default the roof rack load limit is not quite enough. However, a towbar can be fitted (not for towing but for bike carriers and the like). With a T-bar on this, where the top is level with the roof bars, the combined weight capacity is nearly 100kg (for a 59kg dinghy). That might be unusual and will probably attract a fair bit of attention but at least it will be within the limits 🙂 It also means we can carry our bikes at other times though 🙂
Looking at the alternatives, the Renault Zoe isn’t approved for roof racks, plus most have leased battery packs costing about £50 a month (for a vehicle that is roughly the same price as a Leaf that is £600 a year more expensive). Only one or two examples of anything else in our price range (so far I’ve seen one Kia Soul but ugh!)
So as soon as we can sell our van we will be going electric for the car. Obviously that fits much better with our sustainable living goals. By doing it now, as soon as we can, we will not only be cutting our carbon footprint and contribution to air pollution significantly but we will also save ourselves a lot of money each year (for the cost of about 30 to 45 minutes longer journey times to/from Vida – currently about 1h45m).
So watch for some more For Sale pages and posts. Get in touch if you are interested in the Van, Sprint 15 or Luggage trailer 🙂
So a quick update on where we are at. The situation for Manchester is still chaos without agreement between the national and local governments regarding the level of lockdown we should be in. However, we are expecting to be more restricted soon (bearing in mind that Manchester has had it’d own lockdown for months anyway). As for travelling to Wales it is hard to find clear guidance as to whether the Welsh government have now made it illegal to travel from either tier 2 (High) or 3 (Very High). We took the view that it would have been wrong to go on Thursday when a ban was expected from 6pm on Friday (still unclear if that has happened). There now seems to be an expectation that a Welsh “Circuit Break” ban for a few weeks will be announced in the morning. We are working on the assumption that we might not be able to get to the boat again this year.
Fortunately we left her in good shape, the most watertight yet. So we are not worried about any problems on board.
We have some jobs we can do at home, while many of these are not urgent as far as launching is concerned they will at least allow us to feel we are making some progress while we can’t get to the boat.
Propeller Shaft: I wrote about the pitting issues in my last post. As none of the pitting is where bearings or seals go we decided to try to tackle it. Where there is pitting which is probably caused by electrical currents – either through poor earthing (electrolytic) or by currents between dissimilar metals (galvanic) – we are going to remove it. Pitting encourages more corrosion. The best way to avoid corrosion in stainless steel is a bright mirror polish and to have not used any other metals (eg saws or files) to achieve it.
So I have started removing the pitting using the angle grinder with a flap sanding disk. None of it is deeper than about 1mm. So far I’ve done about half of it (starting with the worst bits).
Once I have used the 80grit flap sanding disk to remove the pitting the shaft is no longer perfectly round and is definitely not smooth or polished. So I have 50m of a 25mm wide strip of 80 grit Emery Cloth. Using a strip of this wrapped around the shaft it should be possible to get it pretty smooth and round. I then have finer grades to remove the scratches before using a paste with a cloth to polish it as smooth as possible.
That should keep me busy for hours. A new propeller shaft would be a simpler solution but this should be perfectly serviceable for a few more years and saves waste.
Motor Mount brackets: I have the 4 angle brackets that will be bolted to the original engine bearers and which the flexible mounts will be bolted to. Just got another 10 or more holes to drill in them (10mm). That will leave only the 4 holes in the motor frame for the flexible mounts (not quite sure what size they are and the position isn’t finalised yet).
Domestic Battery Box: I’ve got to make some cut-outs in the timber for the nuts where the leads bolt to the busbar so that the busbars can be fitted. I can also make a lid (and adjust the design for a new expectation that the batteries will be lowered into it via opening the cockpit floor).
Motor Throttle Our motor throttle has a 6mm square shaft and I need to make or find a control lever for it. Trying to find something that doesn’t cost much, is reliable and doesn’t look clunky.
Motor Controller Heatsink: I want to get a really big and effective (and cheap) heatsink for the controller (because apparently they get really hot). My idea is so mount this through the (to be built) bulkhead between the motor compartment and the cockpit locker. This way the heat gets put into the cockpit locker while the controller is away from it in the motor compartment.
Dinghy: Jane has nearly finished the cover for the dinghy. I need to get and fit removable launching wheels to get it over the mixture of rocks and shingle where we will launch it.
Solar Panel mounts: I should be able to make everything I need to mount the solar panels to to the boat both on the wheelhouse roof and at the guardrails.
Propeller: We have the propeller at home and it still needs a lot of cleaning. One day money permitting we will replace it with a Bruntons Autoprop Ecostar, until then cleaning it is.
Emergency Steering: The two part emergency tiller (if the wheel steering breaks) has probably been in storage under the after cabin bunk for the whole life of the boat. There has been a little corrosion which means the parts no longer fit together. So we will fix this.
Consumer Unit mount: We now have a consumer unit for the mains power. We have a place for it which will allow us to access the trip switches. It is quite large as we have one switch for each of the 13 sockets we will have around the boat, we are running a separate wire to each rather than a ring main. However, it will need to be lowered for full access so I’m making a wooden frame for it to slide up and down in.
Navigation and control systems: I have plenty of fun planned getting Raspberry Pi computers sorted to run the chart plotter and other navigation software. I want them to interface with all our instruments, with the battery management systems, the solar charge controllers etc. We will have an indoor and an outdoor Pi so we can see everything when steering or when below. The indoor one will also be our entertainment centre and office computer.
We have 4 x 120AH Lithium (LiFePo4) batteries from KS Energy KS-LT120B. These have Bluetooth BMS’ which I have been able to connect to from a Raspberry Pi (so one day will be able to monitor and control from the integrated navigation system). Their high continuous current rating of 160 Amp and 30 seconds surge at 250 Amp means they are easily able to power our inverters. It also means that we could rewire them in series to replace the motor batteries if we needed to.
These batteries are going to be connected in parallel so they act as a 12 volt, 480AH bank. This is one decision we agonised over. An alternative would be to have a 48volt house battery bank (and even have a common battery bank for the motor and house – such as Sailing Uma have). The biggest advantage of a 48 volt system would have been for the inverters. However, there are also disadvantages, particularly if you want to add additional battery capacity (you need to add four 12 volt batteries at a time).
Powerful 12 volt inverters require a lot of current, they therefore need very thick cables and short cable runs. Ours are going to be very short and so on balance we have gone for the simplicity of running everything on the house side at 12 volts.
So our batteries are connected in parallel using a massive 60mm x 6mm tinned copper busbar. We will be using very short 95mm2 cables to connect the batteries to the busbar. All 8 cables will be the same length. This form of connection is one of recommended ways (simplest of them in our opinion) of making sure that the battery use is balanced equally across the batteries.
From the battery box +ve busbar we will have doubled 95mm2 cables to a fuse. Then doubled 95mm2 cables to a shunt (used so that the Victron battery monitor sees everything). Then again doubled 95mm2 cables to the main battery switch. Finally the doubled 95mm2 cables go to a +ve secondary busbar at the forward end of the battery box.
From the battery box -ve busbar we will have doubled 95mm2 cables direct to the -ve secondary busbar at the forward end of the battery box.
The reason for doubling the 95mm2 cables is twofold. First, our inverters could potentially draw more current than one 95mm2 cable can carry. Second, the inverters are very sensitive to any voltage drop over the cable (it can cause fluctuations which can damage the batteries). By doubling the cables and keeping the lengths very short we should avoid both problems.
We will have 4 connections from each secondary busbar. All of them will have circuit breakers or fuses on the positive and all of them will have 95mm2 cables to the circuit breakers/fuses.
Inverter 1: a Victron 12V inverter giving up to 2000 watts (95mm2 cable)
Inverter 2: a Victron 12V inverter giving up to 2000 watts (95mm2 cable)
Lofrans Tigres Horizontal Anchor Windlass windlass 12v connected via 70mm2 cables (thicker than the 50mm2 specified by the manufacturer)
Distribution busbar for Main 12volt switch panel (busbars situated above the corridor to the aft cabin, switch panels on the bulkhead above the entrance to the corridor)
The 230volt AC systems
The Victron inverters get connected together into a single mains supply. So we have a 230V 4000watt mains supply via a standard circuit breaker box. The main purpose of having so much 230 volt power is the galley. In the galley we have
And no doubt we will be adding coffee machine and a few other gadgets.
So we will be able to run any 2 of these devices at full power at the same time (and to be safe we won’t run both hobs on full power at the same time).
Beyond the galley we have
230volt water heater to supply sinks and shower
Device like our current laptops which only have 230 volt power connectors.
Two wall infrared panel heaters.
Power tools (most of them are now cordless but the batteries are charged from 230volts)
One day in the future a 230volt watermaker
Our electric outboard motor for the dinghy has a 12volt charger as well as a 230volt one.
4000 watts should be plenty with some simple house rules
only one cooking device while using the windlass (why would anyone be cooking when you are either raising or lowering the anchor?)
if using two cooking devices then turn off most other mains devices (possibly via the circuit breaker?)
The 12volt DC systems
These are mostly very normal for boats with lights, instruments, electric autopilot (we mainly want to use a windvane anyway), fridge (not planning a freezer), windlass (a lot of current but not for very long).
However, we are also going to be building our navigation, entertainment and office systems around 12volt Raspberry Pi computers and 12 volt screens. This will include WiFi to our phones etc. We will be fitting a hi power/long range 3G/4G antenna that will make it’s connection available via WiFi to everything else.
The Raspberry Pi’s will be used for navigation (we have a touch screen for the cockpit) with OpenCPN as well as for general use (everything from NetFlix to general office to video editing) on a TV screen in the saloon.
We will be using a SignalK server to connect the Raspberry Pi systems to marine instruments (AIS, Radar, WindSpeed/Direction etc). Anyway that is a whole lot of other posts.
While it is perfectly ok for us to plan the system so that we can deliver 4000watts for cooking at full power on two hobs or run all these other devices the fact is that we still have a battery bank with limited capacity.
Here we admit there are a lot of unknowns and variables. However, we think that being able to monitor our battery use very accurately will allow us to modify our behaviour to suit the available battery charge (eg no hot showers or minimise cooking power use).
The next key part of the picture is how we recharge our batteries, both house and motor banks). That will have to be a separate blog post.
The traditional “passive” approach to solar is not going to work for us. By that I mean the idea of putting up a few solar panels and forgetting about them. We need to generate far more electricity from solar than this approach achieves.
So what do I mean by “Active Solar power generation”. Unlike shore based like people living on boats are used to being proactive about energy use and supply. So the mindset includes managing consumption and keeping an eye on battery state. However, for a long time this has been done with the expectation that you can always charge the batteries by running the diesel engine or a generator or by going into a marina and using the shore supply.
We are making a determined effort to keep electric consumption down through a number of deliberate choices:
Wind vane self steering, keeping the electric autopilot only for redundancy
No freezer. Yup it does constrain the food you can take and keep but fridge and freezer are huge electrical power hogs.
Reduced Computer consumption. We are going to be minimising laptop use by having Raspberry Pi single board computers for navigation, entertainment and “office work”. They run on 12 volt.
However, by committing to Zero fossil fuels we are increasing our electric consumption significantly and reducing our energy sources.
Electric Motor. This uses a lot of energy and is the opposite to the norm. When we motor we will be drawing lots of energy from our batteries rather than putting it in. While we will have regen (charging the batteries when the propeller spins while you are sailing) the change is incredibly significant as the norm is to see the diesel engine as a provider of almost unlimited “free” electricity and hot water. Of course it isn’t free at all, but more a desirable side effect that has resulted in a significant increase in the number of hours the engine is used. So has become a norm to motor whenever the wind speed drops because at the same time you will charge the batteries and heat the water.
Electric cooking. All forms of electric cooking (Induction hobs, Microwave, Pressure Cooker) use a lot of power (although mostly for a relatively short time). The norm is to burn bottled gas (occasionally diesel or paraffin). By cutting out another fossil fuel we increase our electric consumption.
Dinghy Outboard. We have an electric dinghy outboard engine. So far the boats we have seen with electric motors (Sailing Uma, Beau and Brandy) have not switched to electric outboards (despite the hours they spend maintaining their petrol outboards). In part that is because they want to be able to go faster in the dinghy (see this video from Sailing Atticus for a good reason for this) but it is also about the need to charge the outboard engine battery.
So this is the heart of the challenge. By committing to no fossil fuels all our energy needs to come from renewable sources. We have three options:
Engine regen. We are hoping this is going to be significant for us. On longer passages it will do more than recharge the motor batteries from leaving harbour but will contribute something to the daily consumption. It also has the potential to provide power through the night. However, it is only available while sailing and only while you are sailing fast enough (probably won’t contribute much below 5 knots). As liveaboard cruisers typically spend the vast bulk of their time at anchor the contribution isn’t that great.
Wind generators. These have the significant advantage of potentially providing significant power at night and through the winter. However, there are problems. Many people complain about the noise and vibration. Fitting them without causing shading on solar panels is a challenge. They do require a lot of wind, probably more than you would normally be looking for in a sheltered anchorage. We’ve looked at the Rutland 1200 but at the moment feel the cost and installation challenges are too great.
Solar. The typical installation of solar has been changing quite significantly. For liveaboard cruisers the norm now seems to be to have a solar arch with between 300 and 600 watts of solar panels. That is enough for minimal electric motor use (see Sailing Uma, Beau and Brandy or Rigging Doctor) but not for electric cooking, electric outboard etc.
So Active Solar
This is where our plan differs. We are going to have to be far more active about our solar generation. That means a number of things.
Our solar arch needs to be tiltable to increase it’s efficiency (both Sailing Uma and Beau & Brandy do this but the vast majority of solar arches do not).
When sailing we will need to be active in adjusting our solar generation. Some panel positions will be pretty much setup and forget (such as covering the upturned dinghy on the foredeck with panels before leaving harbour). Others will only be possible in lighter conditions (some along the guardrails for example).
The goal will be to have enough permanent solar when sailing (solar arch and wheelhouse = 510 watts) so that with the regen and battery bank we will be able to get through a gale when we have to put all the other panels below. That shouldn’t be too hard as in those conditions you are not likely to be doing much cooking and you can put off charging the dinghy outboard.
When conditions improve we should be able to sail in light to moderate with an additional 1,050 watts (2 x 175 watts on the dinghy, 4 x 175 watts on the guardrails from the cockpit to the stern. Some of this is going to suffer from massive shading at times so we are assuming it will be about 1/2 as efficient as the solar arch.
Then at anchor we need to have lots of solar panels that come out and are positioned dynamically. We will need to have solar panels positioned above the mizzen boom, around most of the guardrails and possibly above the deck. How many of these we will need is still uncertain (it depends so much on where we sail – if Coronavirus and Brexit mean we have too stay around the UK then we are going to need a lot more solar in Scotland than the Caribbean).
So far we are planning on a total of around 2,400 watts (13 x 175W + 4 x 40W) which so far I have only heard of on large catamarans.
We will need to be active in working with these panels. We will need to adjust the tilt during the day so that as the sun and boat move their efficiency is kept as high as possible. We will need to move them if other boats come alongside or if we are in a marina. We will need to put a lot of them below when sailing.
So I’m going to be building a standardised wooden surround for each panel. This will provide attachment points so that any panel can be fitted to any section of guardrail (and be tilt adjustable) or to the supports above the boom and dinghy. The edging will provide bump protection when moving them around and allow panels to be stacked without scratching the glass. We have chosen the 175W Victron panels as our standard because they are about as large as we can lift, manoeuvrer around the boat and fit through the main hatch into the cabin.
Exactly, where we will store all the panels that need to be “reefed” (taken down) in a gale is currently not fully sorted. Some might go on the aft deck or aft cabin. Some in the corridor to the aft cabin where one of the diesel tanks was. Some in the forecabin (which is likely to be mostly storage when there are only 2 of us).
We are under no illusions that we can achieve zero fossil fuel without ongoing, daily labour to maximise solar generation. But while that might seem a lot of work remember that we won’t spend any time (or money) finding and visiting fuel docks or carrying jerrycans around in the dinghy.
We believe we can capture several orders of magnitude more solar power than is generally the norm for monohull cruising yachts. But it will require us to work at it every day.
I’ve been quiet on here during the COVID-19 pandemic so far. More urgent priorities and has seemed inappropriate when so many have been dying, ill or struggling in other ways. However, some countries are now starting to move beyond lockdowns and it now seems more appropriate to focus on building a better future. One that is more human in scale, more caring of people and planet, more sustainable. So here are some thoughts of another aspect of bringing Humans into Sustainable Sailing
With a goal of zero fossil fuels being central to our understanding of Sustainable Sailing there is a big gap in what we have been planning so far.
What about using human power?
I’ve come up with a number of potential uses for human power when Sustainable Sailing. Let’s see if any make sense.
Moving the boat
Replacing electric powered items on the boat
Getting to/from shore
Getting around on shore
Now we have a list, time to consider them in some detail.
Moving the boat
The best examples I know of for actually moving a yacht by human power come from two races. In the UK The Three Peaks Yacht Race (run to and climb the highest peaks in Wales, England and Scotland; sail between them; engines only allowed within specified areas of the ports) and the Race to Alaska (No motor, no support, all the way to Alaska. The physical endurance, saltwater know-how, and bulldog tenacity to navigate the 750 cold water miles from Port Townsend, Washington, to Ketchikan, Alaska). There are great videos from Race to Alaska 2019
My conclusion is that if you want to be able to make any real progress with human power to move a yacht then 3 conditions need to be met
You need a large crew so that you can have people who are rested enough to cope with a storm that follows a long calm where you have been using human power.
The lighter and easier the boat to move the more practical it is. A racing multi-hull is the best option, a live-aboard heavy displacement mono-hull very bad.
So far the most effective solutions for speed are also fragile and take up a lot of space. Neither good for long term cruising.
Therefore, it seems to me that it is better to invest in improved sailing performance in light winds to minimise the amount of time that human power could improve your speed. For shorthanded cruising (eg a couple living aboard) an electric motor is going to be far less risky in harbour situations where you don’t have spare crew or where you need to be able to cope with tides and headwinds while manoeuvring.
Replacing electric powered items on the boat
Probably the only electric powered item that we plan to have that we could easily (and more cheaply) replace with a human powered version, is the windlass for raising and lowering the anchor.
The electric windlass we are fitting can be used manually. However, having an electric windlass seems to us to be a great safety feature.
It allows us to have a much heavier anchor and chain,
it means we won’t put off moving to a more sheltered anchorage because we don’t want to manually raise the anchor,
if you need to leave an anchorage in bad conditions we won’t start sailing while physically exhausted from raising the anchor.
It raises the anchor much faster, which with the saving in physical effort makes sailing on and off anchor much easier
So we think investing in better electrical capacity is a better option here.
More and more yachts, particularly larger ones now have electric winches and/or electric sail furling. We plan to stick to manual as long as we are physically capable, possibly getting an electric powered winch handle rather than a whole winch when we need help.
Most of our other electrical systems are cooking or water related. So far no obvious human powered options (water-making would be great but falls far short of daily needs for a lot of effort).
How about using a bike or something to generate electricity while we exercise? Our conclusion is that it can’t generate enough to be worthwhile (especially when you factor in a small crew). Time and money better spent ensuring maximum power from your solar by keeping it clean, shadow free and pointing at the sun.
Getting to/from shore
This is where I believe it starts to get very interesting.
We have gone for probably the most popular dinghy style (A rigid inflatable with aluminium hulls). Having inflatable hulls makes getting on and off the boat so much easier and safer with no risk of damage. An aluminium hull is both lighter than the traditional grp and much tougher for dragging up beaches (it is also fully recyclable). Ours is a Highfield Classic 290 which we should be able to store on our fore deck when sailing (just in front of the main mast), it also fits inside our van for transport to and from home (nowhere to keep it near the launching place near our mooring).
Ribs are pretty rubbish to row (the hull is too wide with too much water and wind drag, plus the seating position is inefficient. So we have an electric motor, but that means we sacrifice speed, it won’t be possible to plane (but we don’t expect to want to zoom to fantastic diving spots for example).
Could human power provide an alternative? We have looked at various “toys” to use when at anchor. SUP’s (stand-up paddle boards) are very popular and the inflatable ones easy to store. But practical and useful they are not, unless it is warm enough to wear just a swimming costume and you don’t need to go far and it is smooth water without much wind and you don’t want to carry anything. An inflatable kayak is a little better in practicality.
So instead we are wondering about carrying something designed to row well. The best option that we have found is from Angus Rowboats, they have an amazing track record (first human powered circumnavigation, rowing across the Atlantic, coming first in the under 20 feet category of the Race to Alaska). They have this beautiful Oxford Wherry available as plans or a kit. I’ve had a chat with Colin Angus and we agree it should be possible to make a minor adjustment so that the wherry can be divided into 3 nesting parts for storage on deck (we think it would fit on our aft cabin). We think that this would be the most efficient human powered dinghy that you could carry on a yacht. With a sliding seat you will be able to carry yourself and a passenger to explore rivers and harbours at a similar speed to our outboard engine on the rib.
We don’t think this would be suitable for our only tender, the key issues is that with the sliding seat you have to have outriggers for the oars and this makes coming alongside a yacht very difficult without causing damage (so instead we will use the rib as a dock/boarding platform). The lack of an engine option makes carrying large amounts of shopping or fighting the fast tide in the Menai Strait unattractive.
Getting around on shore
It amazes us how few of the sailing YouTube channels carry bikes with them to get around on the shore, particularly to go shopping. In a recent video Beau and Brandy had a 30 minute walk to the supermarket. They then had to push the loaded trolley back before an hours round trip returning the trolley.
Matt and Amy on Sailing Florence seem to be the best sorted with two Brompton bikes but we think they too are missing a key thing to transform using bikes for shopping. What they need is a trailer. For us there are two stand-out options (they need to fold and they need to be suitable for any bike and they need to resist corrosion). If we didn’t already have a trailer then the Cyclone Range from Radical Design are brilliant. The other option (and yes we have one) is from Carry Freedom We have an old Large Y-Frame but there are other options now. Here is mine in use (Cargobike sadly not so suitable for fitting on board boats, plastic box is just bolted on, anything else could be used). It works as a hand cart too for getting right to the loading point.
By far the most cost effective and transformative use of human power in Sustainable Sailing is a bike with a trailer.
A good rowing dinghy (probably in addition to a RIB) comes second.
For everything else your energy is better used improving your boats sailing ability and electrical generation and storage.
The goal for the environmental element of Sustainable Sailing has to be a zero use of any fossil fuel, at least for energy when using the boat. I don’t think we will be there in terms of all inputs for a long time yet (zero fossil fuel food supply or clothing or replacement parts as examples).
When we bought Vida there were 4 fossil fuels aboard her.
Diesel: For the main engine providing propulsion when not sailing
Paraffin: For the hot air heating system (used batteries as well for fans)
Propane Gas: For cooking
Petrol: For dinghy outboard engine (some petrol was included, an engine wasn’t – but is the default for most cruisers)
Where we are at
So far we have removed 3 of these (Paraffin, Propane and Petrol). Two of these we have replaced with electricity (cooking and outboard engine) and we are confident that we will have enough solar power generation for these to be powered fully by renewable energy.
But here on the challenges get bigger. We haven’t replaced the boat heating system yet and we can only have hot water if we burn diesel in the main engine (which heats hot water as a side effect). We will be removing the current hot water system anyway as it is 42 years old, totally inaccessible and the immersion heater doesn’t work. It is less dangerous than the risk we had of paraffin leaking all over the engine compartment but it is a metal tank full of water right by the alternator that I can’t inspect. So it will come out.
So we need electric only heating and hot water. This is a significant challenge and I’m struggling to find examples of people who have done this at all and certainly not without running fossil fuel battery charging.
The main engine
So far I haven’t mentioned replacing the diesel engine with an electric motor. To reach zero that will be essential, but for the moment our plan is to simply minimise it’s use by a) improving sailing performance & our skills so that we use the engine less b) not relying on the engine for hot water heating or electricity generation. An electric motor will have it’s own battery bank. It will also have the potential to generate some electricity when you are sailing (water turns the propeller and the motor turns into a generator). So it can be possible (in some circumstances) to consider this a as a separate, self contained system (if like us you intend to keep motoring to an absolute minimum)
Challenges and calculations
However, there are more challenges. There are other significant electric uses and we need to limit the daily average electric consumption to the daily average renewable generation. At the moment we don’t know what the real levels of power generation will be (see the post on Solar generation for our current plans).
For the rest the calculations all get tricky because generation and consumption both vary according to the current climate/weather and activity (sailing or anchored). Unfortunately, in colder places in bad weather energy consumption will rise (as you want to stay warm and are less tolerant of cold water for washing) and solar generation will drop (less sun).
There are also significant differences between when you are sailing and when you are anchored (or in a marina or whatever).
Cooking: much less energy when sailing as tend to restrict hot meals and do simple one pot cooking.
Hot water: much less energy when sailing as showering will be tricky and so reduced, also little washing up
Lighting: Much more when sailing due to navigation lights and someone up all night long
Navigation: All instruments on when sailing. Particularly heavy users include Radar and AIS.
Autopilot: If using electronic (all we have at present) then a pretty high use when sailing
Other things will probably vary less when sailing or at anchor eg refrigeration and heating.
Contrary to what we expected it seems that the biggest challenges are not the high draw items (induction hobs, watermaker, windlass) that are run for small amounts of time but the things that need to run for long hours at a fairly constant draw (refrigeration, autopilot, navigation, heating). That is especially true if you can use high power systems when you are generating renewable energy with a fully charged battery bank.
One of the key advantages of heading for zero fossil fuels is the longer periods of independence possible as you don’t need to refuel. However, the three other key factors frequently limiting independence are:
Food: Not much we can do differently, however, if you choose you can stock up for longer periods if you are willing to sacrifice fresh food after a while.
Water: This is where a game changer is available. A watermaker (turns sea water into drinking water) can significantly increase independence and in many cases save money (as well as being higher quality and safer in many places). However, it uses a lot of energy.
Laundry: The two most common options seem to be a) laundromats (time consuming, quite expensive, reduces independence) combined with occasional hand washing when you run out or b) a standard home washing machine on larger boats.
I’m now going to review all the main electricity uses and what we are planning (or just thinking about). Of course at the moment many of these are provisional and will depend on what we find in the real world is possible in solar generation (and whether we go for other means of generation).
We are starting with 2 separate 1 hob induction cookers. We will have a gimballed tray so that one of these can be used safely when rolling around at sea. We are going for two separate hobs as this provides redundancy. It also means the gimballed tray is smaller. This way each hob is capable of 2,000 watts, when you have a double hob the total is less than 4,000 watts, either one hob is less powerful or both can’t be run on full power. We will look at other items in the more distant future if there is power to spare (oven, breadmaker etc).
Fridges and freezers can easily become the biggest users of energy when in the tropics. We don’t have anything at present so will be fitting a keel plate based fridge condenser (most efficient) and in our refitted galley will be creating a new highly insulated fridge space. We will not fit a freezer.
The three most common types of boat heating system are:
blown hot air
fuel burning “stove” typically diesel or wood
hot water radiators
I’ve found no examples of any of these using renewable energy.
The most promising option that we are going to try (it will at least work while we are in a boatyard with mains power) is an electric radiant heat wall panel. These are 240 volt and can work with electric socket thermostats/timers. They claim to be highly efficient. There are far too many unknowns at present to know how viable this option will prove to be, all we can say is it is the most promising option with the fewest energy losses that we have found so far.
The two options I have found so far are:
A “standard” marine calorifier (hot water tank with immersion heater and often additional heating from the engine cooling water), with the immersion heater potentially changed from 240volt to 12 volt or powered from the inverter. These need an expansion tank.
Getting hard information to compare these is difficult.
Before we start living aboard we will be installing a watermaker to increase our freedom from expensive marinas or lots of time and labour carrying water bottles to and from the boat. As water becomes more expensive and scarce this saves money and reduces demand on a limited resource in poorer communities. We will need to build a system ourselves from parts (cuts the cost to about 25% of a ready packaged system), the downside of this is a higher power consumption. Likely to be restricted to times when we are at anchor with the sun out
Our preference is to combine a hand powered washing machine with an electric spin dryer as allowing us to avoid the need for laundromats while keeping energy use way below a washing machine. The key benefits are:
Time: finding and using laundromats/laundry’s is costly in time, money and location
Space: a standard electric washing machine is much larger, not portable and will require permanent plumbing.
More suited to boat needs. The hand powered washing machines are robust and give good results. A spindryer will get clothes much dryer than the washing machines typically installed on boats.
Vida has very poor internal lighting (eg just 2 12v lamps in the main cabin), none of the lighting is LED. So we will be able to get much brighter lights that are more reliable and use far less power.
Currently the masthead light doesn’t work. None of the lights are LED so we can save power and gain reliability.
In terms of instruments the systems are very old. We are not going to rush to replace them but they are not complete and are not connected together. The total draw is likely to grow a bit over time. Plenty more research to be done.
Vida still has an original working Necco autopilot. They are supposed to be effective although we don’t know how much power it will use compared to a more modern one. We need to add an external on/off switch as the original broke and has been bypassed (it isn’t safe to have to go below to turn the autopilot on or off in an emergency). The controls are very limited compared to a modern autopilot. You have to set the compass dial to the course you want. The two key features we will miss compared to modern ones are follow current course and tack.
The good news is that it is installed in a really good way. The drive unit is completely protected from the weather and has an excellent connection via a chain to the steering rods.
For the short term we hope that this will be enough. If it fails then I would expect we would replace it with another electric autopilot. I can’t imagine us not wanting to have one. However, in the long term if we are finding ourselves making long ocean passages then we will be looking hard at installing a mechanical windvane self steering system as they work well without using any electrical power at all. We would probably fit a Hydrovane as it doesn’t need any connection to the existing steering system (which would be tricky due to the layout and space constraints). A hyrdovane also gives the option of attaching a very small/cheap electric autopilot to it as a backup, it is also the only common system that also acts as an emergency rudder if your main rudder fails (one of the most common worst case scenarios when crossing oceans).
We are upgrading to an electric windlass to raise the anchor (more in future posts). The current draw when in use is large, however, it is not used for very long and so we are not concerned about the impact on our power capacity.
As we look at what other people are using we are clearly aiming at the lower consumption end of the spectrum. No big audio visual systems, no scuba tanks, no massive computer power for continuous high quality video editing, no air conditioning, no bow thruster.
Our goal remains to get to zero fossil fuel dependency. So we will change the consumption side to match what we can achieve from maximising the renewable generation side. That will not just affect the renewable generation we fit but also where we cruise. For example if we can’t generate enough renewable energy to stay warm and comfortable in a cold climate then we will move to a more temperate one. If we need to stay at anchor for a few extra days to fully recharge batteries then we will do so.
So Highfield provide a pdf download plan for a cradle to store your dinghy so that it is under least stress.
I’ve just knocked up one using the wood from the pallet that our solar stuff arrived on. It isn’t going to win any prizes but should be practical enough. The intention is that the cradle will fit in the van to make carrying the dinghy easier (the front section might need to be lifted a bit so that the front of the dinghy will fit between the front seats).
I’m going to add some rubber padding and if it works in the van will paint it so that it lasts a bit longer.