Our Scandinavian challenges part 1

For a while now we have been watching YouTube Videos that have made us want to sail the Norwegian Atlantic coast and visit some of the thousands of islands and Fjords, we have also long fancied visiting the Baltic. Particularly:

  • Juho with Alluring Arctic has spent two years spent entirely above the Arctic Circle, his experience and videos are amazing. We are not tempted to believe that we can become expert with skis (or even want to) or that we would want to spend a winter so far North. But there are so many places he has shown that would be wonderful to visit, even without going as far as Svalbard
  • Erik Aanderaa with his No Bullshit Just Sailing slogan. His video Sailing Haugesund to Lofoten- Around the Norwegian Sea pt.1 is a particular favourite.
  • MJ Sailing spent last summer sailing up to Lofoton (see their Northern Europe playlist)
  • Sailing Uma are wintering in Norway at the moment (I don’t know how they have managed the 90 days in 180 Schengen rule). Their videos are exceptional quality.
  • Ran Sailing have spent the year a little further south around Sweden and it too looks beautiful (both the Baltic and Atlantic coasts).

The challenges for us

In many ways we would love to plan for a couple of years of our eventual retirement cruising the Baltic and Atlantic Coast. There is so much beauty to see, so many places to explore. We could imagine needing a couple of summers to explore both coasts, while retreating some considerable distance South for the winters.

However, this is going to be a huge challenge for us. In this first post I’ll tackle one of those:

First, Schengen

We are living through the nightmare that is the tragic national self harm that is Brexit, and especially the appalling choices made by our government to go for such a hard Brexit. It is obvious that they never thought through (or maybe are capable of understanding or only care about their own pockets) the implications for Northern Ireland, for the Fishing Industry, for UK citizens who have retired to the EU, for musicians touring etc etc. If we were 5 years older and had been retired a few years we could have spent unlimited time exploring Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the rest of the Baltic.

Now, we will need to tightly plan 3 month summer cruises. Options to cope with bad weather are going to be a lot more difficult, at the end of your 90 days we have to be somewhere where we can leave direct to somewhere outside Schengen. That needs to be somewhere we can stay for another 90 days without going back into Schengen (or it needs to allow us get to other places outside Schengen until the 90 days are up). While attractive to visit, 90 days in either the Faroes or St Petersburg doesn’t really appeal (safe wintering also being a factor).

90 day cruises means more summers will be needed if we are to get to the countries and beautiful cruising grounds that we have seen are there without rushing.

MJ Sailing got as far as Lofoten from the UK in one summer, mostly using coastal hops. However, they didn’t get to spend much time there or have time for the amazing cruising grounds to the north. What is more to stay within the 90 days they spent hours and hours motoring to make fast enough progress.

Our situation is different. We have a more powerful electric motor than most electric boats, and a large battery bank, however, we need that battery bank for everything, not just for the electric motor. Coastal hopping with lots of motoring is possible for us, but only if we moor-up with mains power to charge the batteries for more than 12 hours between trips (realistically probably safer to assume 2 nights if we have pretty fully drained the battery bank). Anyway, we don’t want to spend our time motoring, we want to sail. We also want to anchor rather than always need to get a shore-power hookup. It isn’t just about a preference for remoteness, we can’t afford to pay harbour fees every night.

This probably means that if we want long enough to explore a Schengen cruising ground in some detail we will need to make long direct passages. Then we only check-in to a country as we arrive at the area we want to cruise in, then our 90 days are all spent where we want to cruise rather than getting there. That has significant implications for the boat, our skills and passage making. The difference between getting to somewhere like Lofoton using coastal hops (much of it protected by islands) or a direct passage from the Faroes is huge.

So for that beautiful area of Norway north of the Arctic Circle we could, perhaps, sail from the UK to the Faroes (not part of Schengen) and then onward towards the Lofoten Islands. We then would have to depart Norway within 3 months, again potentially doing this as a long passage rather than coastal hop south. Part of the significance of this option and what increases the challenge, the difficulty is that is just not what cruising yachts have been doing. Everything works on the assumption of getting somewhere like Lofoten by coastal cruising with occasional overnight passages.

We are very attracted to longer passages and to spending a larger proportion of our time actually sailing than seems the norm. We have a boat that is well suited to it but are very short of experience. An estimate of 90% of time anchored rather than sailing is often quoted by live aboard cruisers (not sure if they all count hours or if they mean nights). So this is a big deal which will require a lot of preparation and be a significant challenge.

Generally, if cruisers are forced to switch from coastal hops to direct passages to cruising grounds then this is going to change things for many people – but maybe few want to visit these places. Or maybe they are happy to spend a lot of time and money motoring to meet the schedule. Or perhaps they will pay others to deliver their boat for them. That is not an option for us a) financially b) where would we live while someone is delivering our home and c) we don’t want to fly due to trying to be Sustainable.

When it comes to the Baltic I’m not sure. A first summer route via Copenhagen (one of my favourite cities in the world), up to the Stockholm archipelago, through the Göta Canal and back to the UK would make a great 3 months summer cruise. But what about if we want to spend the summer in the Eastern Baltic? Could we get as far as Finland before starting to count our 90 days? Is it possible to sail into the Baltic without checking in at either Denmark or Sweden? Still Denmark, Finland, the Baltic States, even Russia and then back to Denmark in 3 months is possible, even if tight.

So we could be looking at needing 4 summers to explore a significant amount of Scandinavia. Something like:

  • Denmark, Stockholm archipelago, Göta Canal: winter in the UK, maybe based near Falmouth
  • Norwegian Coast and Fjords towards Lofoten and back: winter in the UK, maybe based around the Solent for a change
  • Eastern Baltic: winter West Coast of Scotland/Northern Ireland
  • Faroes, Lofoten, Northern Norway: winter head south and onwards to the Caribbean

But there are other options. You could include an Atlantic circuit. So instead of a UK winter head down to the Canaries, then the Caribbean for December, then the East Coast of the US before crossing back but keeping North of the UK to get to Norway but it would be a rush to arrive for any summer in Norway.

Obviously, these Schengen rules are not new for people from countries outside Europe. However, I suspect these cruising grounds have not been so frequently visited by non-Europeans. I’m very interested in different experiences and views as well as ideas for reading and research

In part 2 I’ll look at the other key challenges these cruising grounds have for us (particularly heating and renewable energy).

Simplifying guardrail solar panels

From the beginning we have been planning Solar panels fitted to the guardrails. We have seen lots of boats with Solar Panels attached to the guardrails. However, as we are wanting to have zero fossil fuels we need more solar than most.

We have gone for Victron 175 watt panels for the guardrails and will start with 2 each side (as a centre cockpit we have more length available without blocking our view).

Later we plan to add more, although the extras will probably only be put in place when we are anchored.

The goal is for the panels to be:

  • removable (so we can take them down and put them below in a storm)
  • foldable (so we can let them hang down alongside the guardrails when we are docking etc)
  • tiltable (so we can improve efficiency by improving the angle to the sun). This will also allow them to compensate for the boat heeling so we can keep the ones on the “downside” out of reach of waves.
  • stackable (we want the edges to provide protection so that we can stack them on deck or below without damaging the actual panel sections).

We have been through lots and lots of ideas for attaching the panels looking at all the examples we can find while trying to keep the costs and amount of work to a minimum.

The existing stanchions are too widely spaced to be used to directly attach the panels (and a little too low). The wires between them will not be rigid enough (and neither are designed for these loads in addition to the load if someone is thrown against them). So we looked at adding legs to support them panels but then everything was getting very complex, heavy and time consuming.

Currently we have just one stanchion between the pushpit and side gate. That length is plenty for two solar panels.

So the current plan is to remove the one stanchion and replace it with four. Two per panel.

The panels will have two wood beams across their underside and these will bolt to the top of a stanchion. The panel can hang down from the stanchions in it’s stored position and a dyneema guy-line going up to a low fiction ring attached to the nearest shroud will be used to lift the outer edge of the panel to adjust the tilt.

The aftermost of these stations will be very close to the pushpit. We will use dyneema lifelines and as these stanchions are taller than the rest we will have 3 lines at this point (top one goes up from the pushpit and down to the gate).

To remove a panel we just need to undo the two bolts and disconnect the dyneema.

It looks like it will be cheaper to buy carbon fibre tubes and make our own way of attaching them to the deck than to buy stainless steel stanchions and bases. Plus Carbon Fibre tubes won’t need any bolts through the deck but it will be a bit more time consuming to fabricate. However, it is something we can put off for a while – we don’t need this to launch.

House Battery Bank: Should we go 48 Volt?

While we wrote Going 100% electric: the “house” after Going 100% electric: the Motor we had in fact made most of the decisions around the house electrical system before we made the decision that we would go straight to an electric motor instead of the diesel.

Now we are thinking about making a change. The things prompting us to consider a change include:

  • The high cost of 48 volt battery chargers. We do need the option of charging our battery bank when in a marina or harbour (or even ashore in the boatyard). We can imagine spending sometime alongside in winter or even popping every so often just to get the batteries fully charged (the expectation of needing to live in colder climates in Winter is influenced by both Covid and Brexit which might limit our options for where we spend our time).
  • We think our house battery bank has ended up a bit small (4 x 120AH) and so are going to be needing to charge it from the Motor bank (4 x 300AH) quite often.
  • Having two battery banks at different voltages ends up creating quite a lot of extra complication.
  • With one exception (the anchor windlass) we have realised that our 12 volt usage is relatively low (LED lighting, boat instruments, water pumps).
  • While we have specified really thick cabling with big busbars and fuses, it is challenging to power 2 x 2,000 watt inverters from a 12 volt battery bank. The current that we need to safely pass is huge and this is where the vast majority of our house consumption will be (induction hobs, microwave, multi-cooker, watermaker, water heater).
  • We didn’t understand enough about how you can power 12 volt systems from a 48 volt battery bank. We thought they were too inefficient but have now realised that we either incur that inefficiency when charging a 12 volt battery bank from the 48 volt bank for all house uses OR when using a 12 volt house appliance (but not a mains powered item from a 48 volt inverter). The total losses are much smaller if we incur them only as we need the 12 volt power rather than to keep a whole batery bank charged.
  • We deliberately chose 4 batteries for the house bank that had enough output so they could be re-wired to be a 48 volt battery bank for the motor if the main bank failed. However, it would take ages to do. So a bigger 48 volt bank with two sets of 4 batteries wired in series and then the sets connected in parallel gives immediate access.

So a little maths about the issue with power over 12v cables.

P = power in watts (W)
V = voltage in volts (V)
I = current in amps (A)

Power = Current x Voltage or P = I x V

Switching it around we have I = P / V
So 4,000 watts from 12 volts = 4,000 / 12 = 333 Amps
Whereas on a 48 volt system we have 83 Amps

More amps = thicker cables and lots of care to avoid melting connections or high losses.

The disadvantages of changing from a 12 volt hour battery bank

Our current thinking

  • As we install them, we will configure all 8 batteries as a single 48 volt battery bank. This is pretty straightforward.
  • We will sell our unused 2 x 2,000 watt Victron Phoenix inverters (get in touch if you are interested).
  • We will use our Victron Orion 48 volt DC to 12 volt DC converter to power all our 12 volt appliances. We can always add extra Orion’s to run together if we need more power (eg for the electric auto-pilot)
  • It would be very expensive to add enough Orion’s to provide all the 1,500 watts at 12 volts for the windlass. So we will add a 12 volt battery close to the windlass. When the windlass isn’t being used we can charge the battery through the standard 12 volt system.
  • We will add 2 x 48 volt 3,000 watt Victon Multi-plus charger/inverters (2 of them to provide redundancy, we can run appliances with some limitations off one of them).

The Multi-plus inverters are smart. They provide mains power to the boat circuit and they automatically take that power from a shore power connection or if that isn’t available from the battery bank. When connected to shore power they automatically charge the battery bank. Two of them can put a total 70 amps into the battery bank.

We will have a 48 Volt battery bank with a total capacity of 1,680 AH (4 x 300 plus 4 x 120). Suppose we arrive at a marina with it fully depleted (ie down to 10% charge). That means we need to put in 90% of 1,680Ah which is 1,512 AH. At 70 Amps charging we are talking about 21 hours to fully recharge the battery bank (realistically we would expect many marinas to be limited to either 16A or 32A supplies so this will be a lot slower). Gradually we would expect marinas to upgrade their electric supply as the number of electric boats increases.

While there are costs to this change it does simplify a number of things, particularly with cabling and charging. All our charging goes into the one battery bank without having to switch solar panels between banks or do inefficient bank to bank charging.

It gives us much simpler use of the battery capacity as we can choose how we allocate the available power between house and motor. For example if we are not going anywhere and expect some sunny days in a while we can use all the capacity for the house. Or if we are motoring up a river to a marina all the house capacity is available for the motor.

In the long term we would expect more boat appliances to be available in 48 volt versions which will gradually reduce the need for DC to DC converters.

We haven’t made a final decision on this yet, but it does look like we are heading this way at the moment.

More safety from moving to fossil fuel free Sailing

In my post Safe, Sustainable Coffee for sailing? I made the point that using an electric filter coffee machine is safer because you do not have to pour boiling water. Especially you do not have to pour boiling water onto a tower of things resting on each other (eg V60 filter holder balanced on a mug).

What I didn’t emphasise is that this safety aspect is only possible (or at least far easier) with a switch away from fossil fuels. Many yachts are now fitting small inverters to use small mains electric gadgets. However, unless you design a higher capacity system in terms of renewable generation, batteries, wiring, inverters etc and implement it with gimbled surfaces for extra devices you are not going to be able to make the switch to an electric filter coffee machine (unless you run your engine to recharge your batteries a lot).

Unfortunately, there are few good options for making coffee without mains electrical appliances. A moka pot is probably the only option, but you don’t see many people using them with pan clamps to hold them securely on a hob at sea (and very often see them perched quite precariously on pan supports that are designed for much larger pans. Anyway they are not preference for coffee when sailing, I want a longer drink to provide warmth and comfort rather than a quick shot.

The same comes to other cooking options. An electric multi-cooker (on a gimbled tray) seems a lot safer option for cooking a stew or soup at sea (well most one pot meals) than either a pan or a stovetop pressure cooker. The advantages include:

  • they cook at a lower pressure/temperature than a traditional stovetop pressure cooker.
  • there are fewer exposed hot things to touch and handle. An advantage when cooking is done but it also means that unlike a stovetop pressure cooker or pan it can be held down in place not just clamped to avoid sliding. So should be safer in more violent motions.
  • Unlike most pans they have a securely fitted lid and don’t need to be stirred while cooking. Reduces the chance of hot food going flying around the cabin (several examples from the Vendee Globe this year).

While we don’t plan to fill the boat with lots of electric devices for cooking, these two seem to us to have significant safety benefits that have not been widely recognised. The main safety concerns that have been addressed in past regulations mainly relate to gas explosions or burning fuel.

Safe, Sustainable Coffee for sailing?

Planning for live aboard cruising on a sailing boat presents particular challenges for one of the highlights of the day – especially if you are aiming for a sustainable life. Almost everything about the environment of sailing makes coffee a challenge, particularly: Availability, Space, Power, and Safety. Clearly we need to get this sorted because otherwise I’m not fit to be around anyone else 😉

As for our expectations. I love coffee and drink a lot, Jane much less. Although we have both worked in a Café which did include barista work we are by no means coffee snobs, so we don’t have the highest standards or expertise 🙂

At home we do have a big commercial grinder (thanks to some lovely friends). We buy our coffee in bulk from TankCoffee, so get away with keeping longer than ideal to benefit from bulk buying prices by starting with great quality beans. We mostly use a Melitta Look IV Therm Timer Filter Coffee Machine. I guess that illustrates what we look for, so no hotplate (spoils the coffee) but also no manual control of temperature and no sophisticated brew cycle that includes a bloom phase.

At the moment we use a very simple plastic holder for filter paper on the boat (we take coffee we have ground at home). When camping I’ve typically used an AeroPress with a cheap Porlex hand grinder (oh look there is now an improved version II and much higher prices).

If we were to want to make Espresso coffee we would really need to have rather fresher beans than we get away with at the moment.

This video from the amazing James Hoffmann: Coffee, Climate Change & Extinction: A conversation with Dr Aaron Davis at Kew was interesting and highlights some of the challenges to coffee for the long term, meanwhile all we do, so far, is try to buy the most ethical coffee with the least big corporations involved as we can.

Availability: Getting hold of coffee and keeping it presents challenges when you are crossing oceans or cruising in remote areas.

Space: A 38 foot boat, particularly an older design has very limited storage which of course challenges high coffee standards in two key ways:
a) shortage of dry places that keep a nice even temperature for storing the coffee
b) a very small galley without much counter or cupboard space.
So that rules out a lot of coffee appliances.

Power: By sailing yacht standards we do have lots of mains electric power but the capacity is limited. That again puts constraints on the number of electric appliances.

Safety: In this video from Ryan and Sophie the dangers of making coffee on a boat were dramatically illustrated.

Our Coffee Plan

Everyone needs a coffee plan! Running out of coffee would be a very serious situation, and I don’t think the RNLI are ready to help us in this kind of emergency. So this is where we are at.

Initially we plan to stick to buying roasted beans in bulk and grinding them as needed. We should be able to carry enough for 6 months at a time without too much difficulty (we currently use between 1 and 1.5kg a month). For us that is a reasonable sweet spot between long storage between shops, quality and price. Hopefully we can buy in beans in decent quantities in most cities – one city every 6 months sounds reasonable 😉 I admit I’m interested in exploring roasting our own beans in the future. Green Beans potentially last a lot longer (up to a year). Maybe we can fund our retirement by roasting coffee to order for the cruising community 😉

When sailing I’m concerned that we avoid any of the (many) ways of making coffee that involve pouring boiling water or unsealed containers with boiling water in them, or free standing stacks of items that hot liquids are moving though. So that rules out all manual forms of coffee filtering, the AeroPress, French Presses and lots of others.

So it looks like a simple filter coffee machine, like we already have, where you add cold water and it puts the hot coffee straight into a non spill, unbreakable thermos flask. Our plan is to have a gimbled tray which can be used for any appliance (induction hob, coffee machine, multi-cooker) so it should be safe to make coffee when heeled or in waves.

If we add one of the higher quality, higher capacity hand grinders (needs less space, less power), then we should be good to go. These can grind to suit Espresso as well as filter machines.

We already have a number of basic thermos style travel mugs which are definitely more suited to a moving boat and drinking outside.

When it comes to making fancier coffees for use at anchor we can look at one of the manual Espresso machines such as a Flair (no power needs and they fold away for storage). There are also an increasing number of ways to froth milk without the steam wand from an Espresso machine.

I’m sure we will also carry an AeroPress as a reliable backup if the filter machine breaks, just a lot of caveats about safety if using at sea.

I’m not interested in a any of the Pod machines (Nespresso etc), while re-usable pods are now available I’ve not heard good things about the drinks they make. Anyway as I prefer a longer drink (such as a long black) you would have to add hot water to the drink.

Continuing Solar planning

Sadly, we can’t do much but plan at the moment. However, that does at least give us the opportunity to improve those plans.

In More on sustainability, I included a bit about Jimmy Cornell needing to abandon his attempt to sail around the world with zero carbon emissions. So another incentive to improve our plans.

This is what we have so far:

Wheelhouse roof

4 x 40 watt panels (total 160 watts) for the top of the wheelhouse roof. To be connected so that the two sides are in parallel reducing the impact of the considerable shading as the main boom is just above the wheelhouse.

Guardrail mounted

4 x 175 watt panels (total 700 watts) to be fitted alongside the guardrails. They will be moveable, tiltable and removable. So we can have up to 4 on either side of the boat (to catch the sun). While sailing we should be able to have 2 per side (positioned about 3/4 of the way aft), with the option to drop them to be vertical (like canvas side dodgers but with a gap for water drainage below them) for docking or if waves are a problem. But there are plenty of people sailing with these pretty permanently mounted (eg Rigging Doctor, Millennial Falcon, Sailing Project Atticus). We can also remove them and store them below in really bad weather (recognising that ours are larger and hence more windage).

We have been exploring lots of potential ways of fitting these. Quite a lot will end up depending on how our budget goes over the next few years, but we have a cheap getting us started option using lightish timber struts. Update see Simplifying guardrail solar panels.

Longer Term Plans:

By adding a solar “arch” (see below) we should have a grand total of 1460 watts. That is more than Jimmy Cornell, plus we will be able to rotate and tilt them to improve efficiency. Coupled with significantly reduced power consumption (only 2 people, wind vane steering, only one fridge, no electric winches etc) we think we are heading towards the right ballpark figure.

Solar Arch.

We have lost count of the number of design options we have been through. Here was one. It got pretty complicated as we work around all the constraints. Our fairly narrow stern, mizzen boom and need for Hydrovane self steering make the structure very challenging.

Our current thinking is to mount two 300 watt panels almost completely independent of each other (total 600 watts). Through a combination of rotating and tilting we will be able to position them for maximum efficiency while also being able to have them either clear of the mizzen sail (ie sticking out aft beyond the boat length) or safe for docking or storms (ie extending forward over the mizzen boom and aft cabin) at which point we would not be able to use the mizzen sail. They will also be removable, even at sea so that again we can stow them (probably on deck due to their size) if needed.

Our plan is to first shorten the mizzen boom as much as we can for the existing sails. Longer term we might get a new mizzen sail with a shorter foot but fully battened with a fathead sail (google images of Fathead mainsails), that would keep the boom further out of the way,

Then the implementation we hav agreed with Hydrovane puts the actual vane a little higher than normal so that it is clear of the mizzen boom and sail (thus allowing us to tack without having to touch the vane mechanism).

The solar support will start with an upright carbon fibre tube in each aft corner of the deck (or possibly just down the transom a little), these will be positioned so that they are just clear of the boom as it swings across. They will have a diagonal strut going forward and another diagonal going across the stern. There is a vast array of carbon fibre tubes available up to 54mm diameter so we have some calculations to do.

The top 500mm or so will be above the diagonal struts and will be filled with thickened epoxy. This is then a base onto which the pole for the solar panel drops. These Carbon Fibre Tubes are designed so that each size slides into the next size up. So the poles for the panels will be one size up from the fixed upright tubes. They too will have a thickened epoxy filling but leaving 500mm open to drop onto the upright tubes. Connecting the tubes this way allows the upper section to be rotated or removed. We will have a hole for a pin will allow the rotation to be locked in two places (and will also stop the top tube lifting off).

A smaller tube will be fitted horizontally to the top of the solar panel upright. Using a smaller diameter will allow us to attach it by through drilling the upright for the horizontal to fit though. The joint area will then be filled with thickened epoxy to lock everything in place. The horizontal tube will only project out on one side of the upright (like an inverted L). Using the rotation and locking pin this can be forwards or backwards from the upright. This horizontal will be approximately 3/4 of the length of one of the solar panels.

To attach the solar panel we have two slightly oversized square tubes. These are the long enough to be fitted to the solar panel (going across the width of it). They have holes drilled in the middle, with short lengths of tube (next size up from the horizontal) fixed into them so that they can slide onto the horizontal tube. This attached the solar panel and allows it to tilt.

To support this we add a smaller tube as a diagonal brace between the upright and the unsupported end of the horizontal tube. At which point it will look a like we have a pair of gallows on the boat with solar panels on top 🙂

All the fixed joints will be created by smaller diameter tubes going through the larger, the smaller tubes will have smaller holes inside the joint so that when the joint area is filled with slightly thickened epoxy they get locked into place. We will also use epoxy fillets on the outside of the joints.

We will use dyneema guys to control the tilt of the panels with the option to use them to lock the rotation in other places than the locking pin allows.

To remove the panels we will use a halyard. We will rig it so that the pull is up a topping lift, that means as the upright tube comes free the whole thing won’t swing wildly about into the mast.

This give us multiple positioning options:

  • Preferred sailing option. Turning the panels aft so clear of the mizzen, with the ability to tilt them either for maximum solar efficiency or for minimal windage (compensating for the boats heel) depending on the conditions.
  • Preferred docked option. Turning the panels forward, the mizzen can’t be used but they are fully within the deck outline so not going to snag on other boats or be a hazard to people on the dock.
  • Moderately bad conditions. Assuming that you have taken the mizzen sail down, turn the panels forward and take the tilting control lines forward for maximum stability (better angle and braced to the deck rather than the support post).
  • Storm conditions expected (whether sailing, at anchor or in a marina). Lift the panels up so the uprights come off the fixed supports. Lower to the deck and secure.
  • At anchor. Rotate and tilt so the panels are as close to right angles to the sun, adjust to compensate for both the boat and the sun moving.

Safety

There are obvious concerns about having large panels relatively high in the air. However, there have now been multiple Atlantic crossings by boats similar in size to Vida with panels this size on solar arches.

We do recognise that our design is a little different due to the complications (mizzen and hydrovane). We do not think this design is possible with the typical stainless steel tubing designs. However, carbon fibre tubes can be used for a wide variety of purposes including masts and wind turbines, that support significant loads on unstayed uprights.

Unlike other solutions we have a variety of options do deal with different conditions. We are not creating a fit and forget solution but one that fits with our expectation of Active Solar Generation which we believe is a critical factor in achieving zero fossil fuels. The real potential to increase solar generation isn’t clear but a 30% increase is possible when you can angle correctly and far more if panels can be moved to avoid shading.

Wind generators

We can potentially add a similar pole support base on each side of the boat by the mizzen mast. In suitable conditions a wind generator can then be deployed. Again using the active generation principle. Wind generators are only effective in certain conditions, so why would we want the noise and windage all the time? However, they are the best option for reducing the need for a generator when we need electric power for heating while anchored in winter when there isn’t much sun.

More on sustainability

I get quite frustrated with a number of ways in which claims are made for sustainability. Too often they can be most charitably be described as greenwashing.

So I took the Footprint challenge (again) at https://www.footprintcalculator.org

This time we came out at 2.3 that means 2.3 worlds would be required to maintain our lifestyle. It can also be presented as 3.9gha (global hectares per person). The world can sustain about 1.63gha, the UK average is 7.93gha and the global average is 2.75gha.

So while we are currently living at about 50% of the UK average (2016 data) and just below the global average (again 2016) we still have a long way to drop before we could consider ourselves to be living sustainably.

This is a reduction from what we have achieved in the past. However, by far the largest single item within our footprint is our housing. As that comes with my job we have almost no control over it, at the moment. The second (although only about 1/3 of the first) is driving our van. This calculator doesn’t factor in the cycling I do for transport and of course we are working towards replacing the van with a small electric car ASAP (that reflects changes including Jane commuting for the first time).

Factors that have reduced our score include:

  • No flying (more than 15 years since our last flight)
  • All our Electricity and Gas is the greenest, most renewable available (Ecotricity)
  • We are now nearly completely vegetarian
  • Most of our veg comes through a weekly veg box from a farm only 15 miles away (and everything in the box is grown organically on that farm).

However, Sustainable Sailing is about our long term, our retirement. At the point of retirement we have to find our own home (and we can’t afford to buy a house) and we want to be contributing to life not tearing it down for future generations.

So our goals are a retirement we can afford (which is why the catamarans costing hundreds of thousands of pounds are irrelevant) and which has a really low footprint (which is again why the big catamarans are out as well as diesel engines, new boats etc).

But we also believe that there are mental and physical benefits to a simpler and more sustainable life. So the choices are also good for us personally. Less stress, more beauty, more experiences, active lifestyle away from air pollution.

So it isn’t surprising that the people we prefer to read or watch are typically not the lifestyle experts, they typically don’t have old boats and low budgets.

It isn’t surprising that we reject the experts saying that fossil fuel free sailing boats are not possible because we have not seen them consider the footprint of their choices. Our goal isn’t to achieve or maintain a lifestyle that the planet can’t sustain. Our goal is to to live at a sustainable level, and within that, to live well.

A good recent example was that Jimmy Cornell who has had to abandon his attempt to sail around the world with zero carbon emissions. Our approach is very different.

When they start with a brand new 45 foot catamaran the embedded carbon footprint is incredibly different to that of a 43 year old 38 foot monohull and this is almost always ignored.

The key advantages of a performance catamaran for cruising without using fossil fuels are the large area for solar panels and the higher sailing speed which means that regeneration from spinning the propellers which turn the motors into generators.

However, we plan about the same amount of solar panels, and we plan to boost their efficiency by tilting them and moving some so that are not shaded by the sails as much.

We too hope to get some regeneration from the propeller but haven’t really budgeted for it.

Where the biggest difference lies is in consumption. That is where the expectations of sustainability are so different. We plan to live within what we can generate not generate enough for a particular lifestyle.

Within the consumption side of the equation comes a really significant disadvantage of catamarans. They can’t be steered by wind vane steering systems that use no electricity. We have seen a number of people whose boats use electric autopilots have to run their engines every couple of days because of the power drain of the autopilot. While we are going to maintain the original electric autopilot (useful for sail changes or when motoring) we won’t be using it on passages.

When you add electric winches, multiple fridges etc it becomes obvious that it is the luxury lifestyle that can’t be achieved. Yet for hundreds of years sailing boats have crossed oceans without fridges, washing machines, water makers etc. Even on a catamaran with it’s autopilot Cornell managed on a “minimal” use of electrical equipment.

Yet the naysayers always home in on the induction cooking and the electric motor as the problems that make zero carbon footprint sailing impossible. Neither of these need to be used if you don’t have enough power in the battery bank. Especially when crossing oceans.

For us the two biggest concerns (and the reason why, in the end we may well carry a generator) are:

  • Fossil fuel free heating (because electric heating is always going to be needed most when solar generation is at it’s minimum).
  • Canals and rivers (eg to get between the English Channel and the Mediterranean) where hours of motoring can be needed against currents or where timetables need to be kept (eg Panama Canal).

To be honest it is amusing that those telling us that a sustainable life isn’t possible haven’t even thought about the most difficult challenges.

It is important to note that we don’t think we have everything sorted yet. We are building up gradually on storage, generation and consumption of electricity so that we can find a good equilibrium for us – and yes, that will include restricting where we go to those places and seasons where we can maintain the equilibrium because anything else isn’t sustainable.

Being off-grid vs being Sustainable

During the COVID-19 pandemic there have been plenty of YouTube Sailing channels talking about living Off-Grid and talking about their Sustainable lifestyles.

However, the two are not the same. Sustainable living is well suited to being able to live off-grid but not all off-grid living is Sustainable.

Off-Grid, for sailing cruisers tends to mean living away from harbours and amenities for extended periods. Usually time is spent mostly at anchor.

However, if that extended time is achieved by large tanks of fossil fuels then it isn’t sustainable, instead it is simply bulk buying. Some versions of off-grid living will actually be less sustainable than living in a marina or harbour. For example most economies are de-carbonising their electricity supplies. So being in a marina might be more sustainable than being at anchor in a remote location if:

  • you are using a town water supply rather than fossil fuels to power a water maker
  • you are using a marina electricity supply that is at least partially provided by renewable sources rather than burning propane for cooking and/or diesel for heating & electricity generation
  • you are using shoreside toilets connected to a sewage plant rather than discharging raw sewage

By not using fossil fuels Sustainable Sailing helps reduce key limitations for living off-grid . In fact it will allow you to live off-grid for far longer, as essentially food becomes the only limiting factor (assuming you have what is needed for hygiene etc and boat maintenance).

With preparation and care (and throttling your activities to the renewable energy you store) it is going to be possible to be self sufficient for energy and water (at least in climates where enough solar power is available). By combining long life foods with standard ways of adding fresh food such as baking bread, sprouting seeds&beans, making yoghurt and catching fish it is possible to be comfortable for long periods. If you add local provisioning of fresh vegetables and fruit rather than going back to the full grid then indefinite off-grid living becomes straightforward and attractive.

Sadly, few of the YouTube channels have risen to the Sustainable version of Off-grid living. Yes, a few solar panels are now the norm but so is running diesel engines, generators, and petrol outboard motors.

If a pandemic that has encouraged many cruising sailors to go off-grid, hasn’t cured them of their dependence on fossil fuels then you have to wonder what will. Clearly their complaining about the amount of time and money they spend fixing and maintaining their engines and the money they spend on fuel hasn’t reached the tipping point towards change yet.

Lessons from the Vendee Globe and other trends

We are really enjoying watching the Vendee Globe (single handed, non stop, no outside assistance round the world race). Our key sources are the official website tracking and their YouTube Channel but we are also enjoying the content from Sea Wolves.

The weather has clearly been unusual and fits with this article about Jimmy Cornell where the guru of sailing routes around the world writes:

In 2010 I sold my Aventura III and, as I was 70, felt that the time had come to call it quits. That didn’t last long and by 2013, with accelerating climate change increasingly making the news for those who were prepared to listen, I decided to get another boat and attempt to transit the Northwest Passage. Described by scientists as the “canary in the mine” of global climate, whatever happens there eventually spreads to the rest of the world. I did manage to transit this once impenetrable waterway, now opening up as a consequence of climate change. I also saw the consequences of global warming affecting the local population. With mission accomplished, in 2017 I sold Aventura IV, and that was it. But not for long, as three years later, with climate change surpassing the worst predictions, I decided to put retirement on hold for a bit longer and try something completely different. Like sailing around the world on a fully electric boat along the route of the first circumnavigation 500 years previously.

It is good to see so many of the competitors in the Vendee Globle are working to raise awareness of climate, ocean and water issues. Many are also contributing to scientific research on issues such as plastic in the oceans, water salinity & temperature etc.

There are also a number of competitors using electric motors (they have strict standards of being able to motor at a set speed for a number of hours) and renewable energy charging of batteries (solar and water generators being the most common).

However, it does highlight for us that planning to sail around and about the planet in a few years time that conditions will not be as people have come to expect. Trade winds are not as reliable, both big storms and large areas of doldrums are becoming more frequent and more extreme.

We think we are starting to see some trends in the responses to this. Some get a lot more coverage than others. These are most obvious where people look for their own balances between safety, comfort (and for some luxury) and cruising area.

The trend that has been going for a long time now is to bigger boats and towards catamarans. There is a significant industry push with lots of publicity towards 45 foot plus fast catamarans. This is typified by the Sailing La Vagabonde channel and approach. To cross oceans safely (and cruise around the Bahamas during hurricane season) they use the very latest weather reporting which they access while at sea (Predict Wind) plus they get professional routing advice (such as when the crossed the Atlantic bringing Greta Thunberg back to Europe a year ago). They rely on the combination of up-to-date weather routing (in some cases with shore based professional forecasters giving individual routing advice) and a fast 48 foot catamaran to avoid the worst storms.

Another approach, is again for large catamarans but with the focus shifted from lightweight high performance towards luxury. A good example would be the choice of a new Seawind by Sailing Ruby Rose. Their focus has been on a mid performance catamaran designed to be spacious and luxurious while at anchor to fit with an approach to safety which avoids risks. So while faster than their existing 38 foot monohull they will be staying out of danger though a more cautious approach about timing and planned routes rather than on speed and dynamic routing. It does mean long periods in marinas and anchorages waiting for good weather, it does mean a lot of motoring to keep to passage timetables and it does limit the cruising grounds somewhat. It remains to be seen how far that will continue to be possible as the climate emergency continues to disrupt the weather patterns that have been stable for hundreds of years.

Of course a question is where that leaves everyone else who has neither £0.5 million to buy and the money to maintain a large catamaran.

Many will continue to follow the popular US market of slower, cheaper catamarans, many of them ex charter boats (such as Gone with the Wynns) and for the most part cruise in the Bahamas, Caribbean etc. With significant upgrades some will still cruise the world but for the most part need to make careful downwind passages and expect to motor or motor sail a lot.

We believe that another option, for years popular among those without lots of money, is for a well found older monohull. These can come from an era when you had neither the weather information nor the speed to route around storms, so they needed to be able to cope. With modern improvements such as Jordan Series Drogues for survival in the worst storms and better weather information they provide a more cost effective option and one that should allow cruising to continue as the weather becomes ever more unpredictable.

As the older systems such as diesel engines on these boats fail, sustainable conversions will become more common – as we see on Sailing Uma, Beau and Brandy, Spoondrifters, Learning the Lines and so on. They don’t get the publicity because there is not the same amount of money to be made from them, by the industry. They are not aimed at the wealthy wanting luxury. However, as an option to be able to go cruising in the face of climate change and be part of the solution rather than the problem they are a great option (the only option other than a DIY build?)

Avoiding engineering calculation paralysis

Two recent examples have in equal measures frustrated and amused me.

In their plans for Ruby Rose 2 Nick and Terysa have oodles of calculations but they appear to be aimed at justifying fitting large diesel engines because an all electric boat isn’t possible. They seem to have totally missed what was shown to be possible in their interview with Dan and Kika from Sailing Uma.

Then there is the subscription website “Attainable Adventure Cruising, The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site” with an article in the last week “Induction Cooking For Boats—Part 1, Is It Practical?” where I joined a discussion coming from our very different approach.

Both these present a numbers based “engineering” approach to decision making about the “practicalities” of moving away from fossil fuels. Sadly due to the initial assumptions the approach almost always leads to the conclusion that renewable energy sources cannot provide enough power for either propulsion or cooking.

The approach rejects working examples because they don’t present numbers in an “acceptable” way.

Our problem with this approach is that it is simply too easy to make assumptions about what is needed and the conclusion depends far more on the assumptions than on the calculations. In both these cases the assumptions are based on the expectations and lifestyle of a couple.

Ruby Rose have assumptions about never compromising on a luxury lifestyle with every modern convenience.

John and Phyllis have decades of experience cruising in high latitudes and strong views on what is safe and seaworthy. They have a stated goal of not considering anything that has not got a 10 year history of reliability.

Both these approaches are flawed if the goal is sustainability (or if budget constraints are tight). So if your assumptions are that you need to motor for an hour at full speed, and 500 miles at cruising speed, cook for a couple of hours every day, run a water maker, washing machine, multiple fridges and freezers, electric auto pilot, video editing laptops every day then you are going to conclude that renewable energy sources can’t cope.

Cynically if you control the list of things that you want to run all the time or anytime regardless of the conditions then you can guarantee that you will never be able to manage with renewable resources (at least until the last oil well has run dry and the Netherlands has disappeared under the sea).

Yet there is another way. One that we find most often from people with limited resources.

Embrace the limitations

Or start at the other end. Start with the resources that are possible.

  • What battery bank capacity can I afford?
  • What size battery bank can I fit (size and weight)
  • How many solar panels can I fit (and afford)?
  • Is wind generation going to fit my boat, my budget, my geography?
  • Is water power generation either from regen on an electric motor or something like Watt and Sea going to work (how much time sailing at suitable speeds)

These provide the constraints. Then sustainability becomes how you live within the constraints. There are plenty of options.

  • A vegetarian or vegan diet (as recommended as a key way of reducing our carbon footprint) can reduce the cooking energy significantly (no a roast chicken cooked for several hours is not required every week, if you want it then save your energy up first, or use a solar oven)
  • Set your passage plans according to the energy you have, probably slower (but then the whole point of sailing is surely to sail)
  • Set your cruising ground according to the season and energy available and required (so you probably can’t sail sustainably into an Arctic winter which is just a constraint, like the ones the majority of people live with all the time)
  • Have food available that doesn’t need to be cooked if you are short of energy (Huel and the like)
  • Plan to use appliances when you have the energy, keep the ones that have to be on to a minimum (eg freezers, fridges, autopilots).
  • Embrace the constraints. Do you really have to be able to do the washing, make water and cook for 2 hours on the same cloudy day – if yes then why?
  • To be honest the list is endless, we have gone in just a few years from it being normal to only use an engine in harbours to expecting to motor constantly for days at a time. From no refrigeration and basic hobs to dishwashers and ovens and drinks coolers in the cockpit.

The argument that it isn’t possible to live within the constraints of renewable energy is disproved by history. It is disproved by the examples already documenting their experiences eg Sailing Uma; and Beau and Brandy.

The challenge is to our assumptions, our privilege, our expectations of luxury. The opportunity is to open ourselves to the impact our lives have on others and to stop seeing ourselves as deserving something that our actions deny for others both now and in the future.