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.
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.
We are getting very close with the cockpit after today.
The epoxy work for the aft cockpit drains is nearly finished. After drying overnight we should have just a few little bits to fill with thickened epoxy to make sure that the lower lip if fully sealed (where it tucks under the old grp lip and flange).
With the lip bits are now fixed in place (to both the cockpit floor and to the drain area) and the area around the white skin fitting filled with epoxy so there should be nowhere for water to collect.
As you may be able to see our resin has gone a bit jelly like and so isn’t mixing as smooth as it was (don’t know if this is shelf-life or temperature or what). We are nearly at the end of a big bottle, so as it seems to still set hard we will use it up on areas where the finish isn’t too important (and hopefully ones not critical to safety).
I have managed to get both of the old drains out ready for new TruDesign skin fittings.
If we can’t finish them this holiday we will simply seal them up for the moment.
We also had a big delivery of shiny bits today (sadly FedEx left only parcel 1 of 2 so not everything).
Here is the PSS Pro dripless seal and the refurbished bronze flange it will fit to.
Here is the Aquadrive (thrust bearing and CVT that allows for the motor to be on a different alignment to the propeller shaft).
Then we have our motor mounts.
This evening we had a really nice socially distanced BBQ on the beach with the members of the NWVYC we cheated slightly as we don’t have a BBQ. So we ran a power extension cable from the boat and setup our Induction Hob on our workmate 🙂 It was very effective 🙂 Anyway it was lovely to see people and chat about boat refits (and other topics were permitted).
Hoping dry weather continues so we can get the cockpit watertight.
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.
We have had lots of comments that salt water and electrics are not compatible. We also see lots of YouTube channels who find that their electronics (laptops, hard disks, cameras etc) do not last well in salt water environments.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. So what are we doing about it?
First, we need to recognise that Salt Water and Diesel are also not compatible. Also that diesel engines still need some electrics (very few modern diesel engines can be started by hand).
Second, there is a lot that can be done to help electrics survive better and to be more sustainable in our use of them. So here are a few things we are doing that particularly relate to the electric motor.
Keep salt water out of the boat.
Reduce the number of holes in the boat. We are down to 2 seacocks which are for the cockpit drains and so there is no opening from them into the interior of the boat.
Change the traditional stuffing box to seal the propeller shaft with a modern dripless seal. The stuffing boxes always leak a little, right next to the motor which is clearly a bad thing.
Actively dry the air, we will be fitting and electric dehumidifier into the motor compartment so that the air used to cool the motor will be dryer. The model we are looking at (Ecor Pro Dryboat 12) removes the moisture in an warm, damp exhaust to the outside (so we don’t need to have a water drain inside). A side effect is warm, dry air that can be used to warm the cabin, dry clothes etc.
Box in the motor. While not fully sealing the motor (it is air cooled so needs air flow) we will make sure that it isn’t directly open to the bilge and that the air into the motor compartment comes from drier parts of the boat (such as the aft cabin which is far from the entrance and from wet clothes lockers). The compartment will be fully sealed from the cockpit locker where wet ropes, fenders etc will be stored. Also fully sealed from the galley where we create steam.
Keep other water away from the motor compartment. So no plumbing at all. No water pump, no hot water tank etc.
We are also considering sustainability when it comes to other electronics such as used for navigation, general computing, entertainment etc.
Here our intention is to avoid integrated proprietary solutions in favour of low cost, open solutions. Also to use wireless communications where possible.
So our key platform will be Raspberry Pi single board computers. These do not require fans, can be installed in fully waterproof cases and run off 5Volt DC so are easy to power from our battery banks. They can be used for navigation (using OpenCPN), communication between sensors (such as wind speed, boat speed, AIS etc using SignalK as well as wired connections), entertainment (video etc), work (office software, video editing etc etc).
All the software is free and open source which is always far more sustainable than closed proprietary solutions that companies can stop supporting (or the companies can disappear). Even if you are not a programmer you still benefit from this.
Waterproof screens are now widely available and replacement screens can be bought anywhere (anything with an hdmi connection will work). That compares to replacement screen needing to be bought from B&G or Garmin or Apple.
As Raspberry Pi computers are cheap (the most powerful, more than we need is £74) and can be used for so many tasks, we can have several meaning we gain redundancy.
More and more sailors are switching from the very expensive dedicated units such as from B&G, Garmin, Raymarine and instead using the phone, iPad or tablet. However, these are generally not very waterproof and as they are all in one units they are expensive to replace.
Instead we can have a “dumb” but waterproof screen and keep the brains (the Raspberry Pi) separate, away from the elements. If there is a failure we haven’t lost the whole unit bit can easily replace just the broken part.
The open source element also allows a great deal of integration For example I can write code to access our Batteries Management systems over bluetooth from our Raspberry Pi (and make it available to the boat management system) without needing to wait for our unknown brand to be supported by the navigation system supplier. Others have connected sensors for temperature, humidity and much more.
There are a number of new sensors for sailing becoming available eg wind sensors from both OpenWind and Calypso that are solar powered and wireless. Both can be connected to Raspberry Pi systems. This should prove more reliable that systems requiring wires up the mast for power and data signals.
Whilst the (very expensive) integrated systems from B&G etc are very sophisticated they also tie you into an ecosystem that does not have sustainability at it’s core. To gain that you need to have more control yourself which is what the OpenSource approach gives.
Plus neither we nor the planet can afford to keep replacing Macbook laptop computers every year or two.
I’m going to generalise and say there are four main approaches to the interior of older yachts.
The Minimal: don’t change anything, don’t fix anything that isn’t a problem for you. Probably coupled with gradually reducing expectations of where you will go. This is where Vida had been for a number of years which included 2 years out of the water. Inside the layout and furnishings were essentially original with nearly all original equipment some of which didn’t work and some of which had become dangerous (eg gas installation, paraffin heater and especially it’s jerrycan). As is obvious from the speed we have taken stuff out this is clearly not something we are comfortable given our goal of preparing the boat for a live-aboard retirement.
The Restoration: There are lots of people who do this absolutely beautifully, spending hours and hours sanding and varnishing the interior woodwork, replacing like for like with beautiful care so you can’t see the joins. This is not us either, partly because we don’t really like that traditional look of so much dark wood, partly because we want to be sailing not sanding and varnishing, partly because we think things have moved on from what was a traditional yacht in the 1970’s.
The Functional: Do what is needed, very often on a low budget, so that you can get sailing. Often something by younger people who take on a project boat. Whilst Vida is definitely a “project” boat we are not yet ready to go off live-aboard cruising (which is what we see for a few years time in retirement) so we have time to do things to a more comfortable standard befitting our advanced years 😉
The Radical: a complete refit including remodelling and modernising. Obviously we are doing this on the technical side (composting toilets, removing seacocks, fossil fuel free etc). Clearly this can be done to a wide variety of standards from exquisite to utilitarian. Our preferences are more to the pragmatic and functional end of the spectrum. We are not interested in a wow factor of beautiful joinery or a “luxury” presentation so much as everything working awesomely and being very low on maintenance.
Obviously, these are very simplistic generalisations and most people will combine the different options for different parts of the boat (a forecabin might get ignored for a long time unless it is where you sleep in which case it might be first priority.
We choose to put ourselves towards the more extreme end of “The Radical” approach for a number of reasons.
It makes the technical stuff easier and quicker if we are not trying to make restoration as easy as possible. We save ourselves a lot of effort if we can remove things to improve access without worrying about restoring them or keeping it functional while the work is happening (so for example it hasn’t been an issue for us to have 9 or more holes in the bottom for months and months)
by spending some money we can save a whole lot of time (eg by buying new sinks for a new worktop rather than trying to rescue the old ones), our present lives mean we are quite time poor at present.
We believe that expectations and products have changed a great deal in the last 40 years. Examples include
what we expect to cook and eat when sailing or living aboard. Making a cup of tea or instant coffee and adding water to dehydrated food is only expected by weight watching racers. We want real food and given that our diet is almost entirely meat free we want to be able to prepare meals from fresh ingredients wherever possible. Our budget and anchorage preferences means we want and expect to cook ourselves nearly all the time rather than eat at restaurants. This affects storage, food preparation areas and galley equipment.0
Navigation, communications and entertainment are a whole different world with significant impacts on every part of the interior (the Internet, mobile phones, batteries, electronic charts, LED’s, TV’s, video etc)
Our expectations of comfort (warmth, dryness, depth of mattress, materials, ventilation)
Where people expect to cruise to. Yes the world but also the North West Passage was impossible for a yacht and many places would not have occurred to ordinary people, they were for the amazing adventurers only. So now we can watch people going to Greenland or the Norwegian Arctic Circle and think we could do the same.
What we are still realising is that our approach means that when we think of refurbishing the interior we are actually looking at rather more radical re-workings of the space than we had expected or realised. That seems a good place to finish this post and leave you hanging on for part 3 🙂
Once we start cruising our plan is to spend the vast majority of time at anchor when we are not sailing.
Partly this is to save money 🙂 For example, the nearest marinas to us at Conwy currently cost about £35 a night or £215 a week. A visitors mooring is £18.50 per night. Paying those prices would soon add up to very large part of our budget.
However, more than just the money is the experience. We much prefer being at anchor in a quiet river or bay than being tied up in a marina (good examples we have visited before in Cornwall would include the River Yealm and the River Fal as well as bays such as Studland).
So a lot of what we are planning is to give us the maximum freedom to be at anchor as much as possible. By being fossil fuel free we won’t need to go to marinas or harbours for fuel or energy. By having a watermaker we won’t need to go there to fill up with water. By fitting a high quality 4G antenna (up high) we will improve the mobile signal to give good Internet access more of the time, without needing to go somewhere for WiFi. As public WiFi becomes more common we can also fit a long range antenna for that too.
So for shopping, getting rid of rubbish and leisure we don’t need to be in a marina or harbour, we can use the dinghy. Probably the main use of marinas will be when we want to leave the boat unattended for family visits or whatever.
Knowing that we want to be anchored a lot of the time is one thing. However, there are very different challenges for this depending on where you are in the world (and very different costs).
In the UK the key challenge with anchoring is that much of the coastline (particularly the South Coast) is very crowded with many rivers full of marinas or moorings. This reduces the availability of places left to anchor. So often you need to anchor in a more exposed anchorage where you might need to move depending on the weather (particularly wind direction) as there are few available places sheltered enough from all directions.
In other places (like the Bahamas) there are millions of places to anchor (although again you will need to move around due to wind or swell). Other places have fewer places to anchor and more marinas (eg some parts of the Mediterranean).
What we need, therefore, is a high reliability, easy to use anchoring setup that we can trust and which enables us to easily move between anchorages then anchoring becomes the default, obvious, no-brainer choice..
That means, as with many areas, we are making plans that are significantly different to where Vida is at the moment and different to many of the boats that you typically see when walking around a harbour or marina – there you often see yachts with anchors that are tiny and very rarely used.
Our requirements are quite different to what was the norm when Vida was built in the 1976/77. Then anchors were normally lifted on deck and stored in an anchor locker. That wasn’t too difficult as the size was limited by the capabilities of a manual windlass.
Over the years expectations, fashion and technology have all changed. Electric windlasses are now common (allowing heavier anchors and longer chain without a very fit and strong crew). There have also been really significant improvements in anchor design during the last 40 years. As a result most boats store their anchor permanently in the bow roller, ready for use and to save lifting it around.
But our bow roller was not designed to store an anchor when at sea, despite that the old CQR Anchor was clearly often stored there (and as a result has damaged the bow roller). Now our anchor locker isn’t big enough for a modern anchor (as they typically don’t pivot and lie flat). Because the windlass is in the anchor locker it requires an extra roller to change the angle of the incoming chain so that it is right for the windlass.
In the next picture you can see the bow roller and how the chain has damaged the route into the locker.
We obviously get a lot of water into the anchor locker. Despite the little drain holes it collects a puddle of rainwater and if a wave comes on deck that big slot will allow a lot into the locker. Both these have presumably contributed to the rust attack on the windlass.
When we bought Vida the chain was in very poor condition and hence wasn’t able to neatly pile into the chain locker which is under the v-berth in the forecabin.
We were looking for ways to replace the roller in the bow fitting (not only bits chipped off by the anchor but also suffering from UV degradation), but it is difficult as there is no side access to the pin.
Ok so that is the challenge. What are we planning?
This plan has evolved a few times 🙂
We start with the anchor hardware. After reading lots of tests and opinion pieces we have chosen a SPADE Anchor. It is one of the “New Generation” anchor designs (about 20 years old). I don’t think I’ve seen it outside the top 5 in any test (in one test they broke the test equipment with a SPADE Anchor).
It does disassemble into two pieces which can be convenient. The shaft is actually 3D (a hollow triangular cross section) which means it is incredibly resistant to sideways forces (such as when the boat swings round to pull in the opposite direction due to a tide change).
The pointed tip is actually hollow and filled with lead so that it is very nose heavy which helps it dig in reliably.
By just about every table of anchor sizes I have gone up one size. So this is a 30kg anchor which means that, at least in theory, it should be adequate for a full storm, if not a hurricane. It won’t be our only anchor but we are following the advice that a big anchor in your locker does nothing so make it your normal anchor.
If I wasn’t going to have a SPADE anchor then I’d probably go for the quite similar and very new Mantus M2 (which unlike their earlier anchor does not have a roll bar).
To go with this anchor I have what should be top quality Italian chain from Lofrans. 80 metres of 10mm, again oversized. I’ll add some line to the end of that should we visit the pacific where there can be some very deep anchorages. This chain alone should be good for pretty bad conditions in up to around 15m or 50 feet depth of water.
This anchor and chain is going to be far too heavy for us to recover by hand (except we would find a way to use the main sheet winches or a block and tackle in an emergency). So we have an Electric Windlass to fit.
This was really what set the limit for the anchor and chain. This was the most powerful windlass that was sensible in price and which used 12 volt. So that stopped me getting the next size anchor.
Now we come to the changes that we need to make.
The bow roller is not suitable for this anchor. It will not hold it securely when sailing. It also won’t be able to fully self launch (so if you let some chain out the anchor will just sit there until you tilt it a bit by hand). We have been thinking about a lot of options in terms of custom alterations to what we have. We might still go down that route for cost reasons. However, what we want to end up with is essentially a Mantus Bow Roller with their Anchor Mate. By removing the right hand roller and side of our existing bow roller we can fit the Mantus Bow Roller on top of the flat base of our existing bow roller.
Then the next set of connected changes are somewhat bigger (and won’t necessarily happen before we launch for our first sailing season). They are designed to address a number of problems:
New windlass isn’t going to fit in the existing locker using the same hole to drop the chain below.
We don’t really want a new electric windlass to be sitting in a pool of water and to have slat water sloshing in and taking a while to drain.
We want a more direct line route for the chain from the windlass to the stored anchor and bow roller.
We need more space for the chain and we want it further aft (back) as it is heavy.
We want to fit a removable inner forestay for our storm jib and need a strong-point to attach it to.
We love that many newer boat designs have a watertight bulkhead inside the bow so that if you hit something and get a crack or hole right in the front of the boat there is a chance that the leak will be contained behind the watertight bulkhead and you won’t sink.
So the plan (today) is to remove the lid of the anchor locker and cut out the forward section of it’s the floor. Then we will remove the interior woodwork of the v-berth to provide access.
We will then fit a crash bulkhead in several sections all the way from the deck to the bottom aft section of the anchor chain locker. This will be chunky plywood, coated in epoxy, attached on all edges to the hull and deck using thickened epoxy fillets and then glassfibre cloth with epoxy resin. It will have enough watertight inspection hatches in it, that all parts of the hull can be accessed in an emergency. The remaining part of the anchor locker floor will be joined to the new bulkhead for strength and watertightness.
I’m estimating that the gap between the watertight bulkhead and the V of the hull will be about 10cm, so not a large “crash box” but better than nothing.
The inside surface will have a sheet of slippery plastic (such as we have bought for our solar panel slider). So it will act as a shute for the anchor chain which will then slide neatly to the bottom of it;s locker which will be as far aft as possible.
Where the crash bulkhead attaches to the deck will be reinforced so that a chainplate can be fitted for the removable inner forestay.
The old anchor locker hatch will then be strengthened and permanently refitted as part of the solid deck. It will become the base for the new windlass which will sit on the deck (we will make a box/seat that will cover the windlass to give some weather/water protection when it isn’t being used).
We will fit a new chain pipe to go from the windlass down through the old anchor locker. From there the chain will simply slide down using the new bulkhead as a shute.
We will provide an opening door from the forecabin into what remains of the old anchor locker as useful storage.
Then we can reconfigure the forecabin. We don’t think we will have a fixed v-berth but instead 2 foldaway single berths with the option to use the cabin for stowage or with a bench for the sewing machine and a seat.
Finally, our normal anchoring style will be to use a bridle. If you just have the chain then in wind and waves as the bow lifts it can cause the boat to snatch at the anchor, as there is no stretch in the chain. This can jerk the anchor out of the sea bed and cause it to drag. There are examples of boats ending up on the rocks just due to the waves from passing ferries because this happened.
The bridle is made from a nylon, stretchy rope. It has two lengths joined as a V. The point of the V is attached to the chain and the two ends are cleated on the boat, one each side. The chain is loosened and now the springiness of the bridal protects the anchor and boat from snatching.
By using a bridle rather than a single line for anchoring and also for mooring balls we avoid any rubbing against the stored anchor (when on a mooring) or the chain (when anchored). The bridal also helps reduce the tendency for a boat to yaw from side to side when anchored.
That means we have a 2nd bow roller that will very rarely need to be used. So one day we hope to add a removable bowsprit to use for an asymmetric spinnaker or code zero sail to improve downwind and lightwind sailing speeds (and for the spinnaker to be easier to use).
While this might sound like a lot of work it isn’t too complicated and should make a huge difference to how convenient and easy anchoring is. It will make it much easier both to anchor and to raise the anchor, plus it will also improve the reliability of anchoring. Last but not least it will help considerably with safety not just around anchoring but also in strong winds (being able to have a storm jib) and if we ever hit anything. Now that we have the expensive parts (anchor, chain and windlass came to over £3,000) the rest is mostly wood, epoxy and time (only exception is sorting the bow roller).
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.
A Raspberry Pi 4 running OpenCPN on a Cello 12 volt TV. With a wireless keyboard/trackpad.
Obviously lots more to do as I haven’t loaded any charts yet. Nor have I connected a GPS, so it doesn’t know where we are yet. Also not yet got AIS (which automatically shows ships positions, courses and speeds as well as telling them yours so you don’t collide).
Going to be able to add a touchscreen that we can put in the cockpit. All for a tiny fraction of the cost of “proper” chart plotters. Plus it gives me essentially a full power desktop computer running on 12 volts as well as a TV.
With an electric motor instead of a diesel in your boat you can achieve the same/similar performance in power/speed. At the same time you can get better reliability and lower maintenance.
However, the biggest difference is that you have to manage availability.
With a diesel availability is taken for granted. We assume that if you have fuel the engine is available:
whenever you want it
however long you want it
at whatever speed you want it
these are not the same with an electric motor as everyone of them depends on your management, preparation and planning around availability of the battery bank.
Note that here I’m talking about electric motors that use battery banks that are charged primarily from renewable energy. If you have a generator (usually diesel in this case) that can generate the same power as the motor uses then you are in the same situation as with a diesel engine.
What affects availability?
There are three key variables that affect how much electric motor availability you have at any particular time. All these need to be managed and none of them can be changed instantly at the point of need.
Hence, using an electric motor requires a mindset, especially changes in how you manage the boat and the plans you make.
The three variables are:
Technical specifications (particularly of battery bank and renewable energy generation)
What you have been doing up to this point (ie what state is your battery bank in at this moment)
What you are planning to do (and what contingency plans you have made)
What makes things easier?
Spending more on the technical specification increases your capacity and reduces the amount of management and planning you need to do. For example a bigger battery bank or a larger solar panel array both mean you will have more capacity available and so less need to manage the capacity and the plans become easier to make.
Choosing a catamaran makes things easier as there is always going to be more space for solar panels.
Cruising less often or less intensively makes things easier as you have longer between passages to charge your batteries.
Cruising is warmer climates makes things easier as there will be more sun to get more power out of your solar panels (at the extreme, solar panels are going to be of zero use in a polar winter with 24 hours of darkness).
Longer passages (as long as there isn’t a tight schedule) makes things easier as you can sail for days while charging the battery bank ready for the next landfall.
Better sailing performance with special focus on light winds and going to windward (when people are most likely to motor or motor-sail)
What makes things more difficult
Tight and fixed deadlines.
Wanting hands off systems where you pay someone to do the maintenance and then have instant and complete availability 24/7.
Always available “luxury” (air conditioning, hot water, heating, large freezers and fridges, electric autopilot, electric winches)
Complicated coastal waters (tidal inlets, long and narrow harbour entrances, big marinas, headlands with big tidal streams, lots of traffic)
Diesel inboard engines have managed to create a reputation of always being available and for most weekend sailors this has been the reality. The engines get professionally serviced each year, they are not run many hours, people avoid bad weather and they keep their boats where high quality fuel, parts and expertise are all available. As you go further and for longer, especially to remote places, this changes a bit with care needed over fuel quality and parts availability being more challenging as well as having to be more self sufficient in maintenance skills. So management of availability with diesel engines is only an issue for more adventurous, intensive cruisers.
On the other hand Electric motors require a far more hands-on management process for all cruisers as the battery capacity is far less than a fuel tank and the rate of charge from renewable sources far slower. This means planning ahead and that has a much bigger impact on those who have not had to do this least with diesel engines.
If I motor-sail now to speed the passage, will I have enough battery left to motor into the harbour or up the river? That means thinking about tides/currents and the weather (how much solar power will I generate during the passage).
It means thinking about what might be needed in the next few days. Suppose the wind gets up from a different direction, do I have enough battery left to motor away from the anchorage if it becomes unprotected tomorrow.
It means being very aware of both consumption and generation. If I run the watermaker then when am I going to recharge the batteries, might it reduce the ability to get in or out of a harbour.
It will mean changing passage planning. Probably needing to be more flexible. If the wind drops you might not be able to motor fast enough for long enough to make a tidal gate.
Many sailors using harbours such as Chichester, have a working assumption of motoring from deep in the harbour to the open sea whatever the tide is doing. That might fully use your battery capacity with an electric motor.
If you are cruising outside the tropics in the winter your solar generation might only be 10% of what you would get in the Bahamas. The total power you can use over a period of time will be dramatically reduced so you will need to pay far more attention maximising the generation eg adjusting the angle of your panels (actively pointing them at the sun to increase their effectiveness), to keeping them clean and free of shade.
In some ways this is going back to ways of the past when yacht engines were unreliable and not powerful enough to push you against an unfavourable tide so that you didn’t factor motoring and consistent/predictable passage times into your plans.
What we are doing to handle this?
On the technical side
Efficiency is key everywhere. A brushless electric motor is better than one with brushes. Switch to low power everything eg LED, self contained solar powered wind sensors, wind vane self steering.
Lithium batteries. At the moment Lithium-ion phosphate (LiFePo4) technology has the edge with higher capacity, faster discharge and charge rates, able to be more fully discharged without damage.
Simple and basic. We are starting with no fridge or freezer in the UK. No electric winches, no electric toilets.
Improve the sailing performance as much as possible. So we are replacing a back of mast furling system with slab reefing on a longer boom with a larger sail area supported by battens. We are looking to changing from a single point mainsheet to a track. We are cutting lots of weight from the interior and systems.
Adjustable solar panels that allow extra capacity be deployed at anchor and in calm conditions.
We are keeping separate banks of batteries for house and motor while having the ability to transfer energy from either bank to the other
We have invested in a significantly oversized anchor to reduce the chances of having to evacuate anchorages.
We are using Victron monitoring tools (battery bank monitor, mppt controllers) that give us the most data possible on past and present energy generation and consumption.
We are following a revised version of the tradition that the engine starter battery should be kept separate from the house bank. This requires larger battery capacity overall and some extra components, however, we believe that this complexity does give us the reassurance of being able to protect our motor availability. At the same time, when in a protected anchorage we can choose to charge the house bank from the motor bank if you have a few cloudy days and are using a lot of power (maybe for clothes washing, cooking, or hot water). On the other hand when leaving an anchorage we can charge the motor bank (albeit not very fast) from the house bank although with the understanding that might mean we need tot turn off the house items such as electric autopilot, or fridge & freezer or no induction cooking. So our version has has some separation but also allows us to run DC to DC chargers at anytime to be able to “steal” power from one battery bank to charge the other.
More than anything else having an electric motor with a fossil fuel free goal means having realistic expectations. We expect to
sail on passages, using the electric motor for marinas, rivers and tight harbours
have more variable passage times as we won’t be using the motor to keep consistent average speeds
work more closely with the tides rather than be able to motor against them
work hard at maximising solar generation by using additional panels that have to be moved around, by tilting panels to their most efficient angles
work hard at minimising consumption of all appliances
by motoring more slowly to significantly increase range
I’d started this several times as a post about the disadvantages of electric motors, but I’d struggled with it. That is because, unless you have an unlimited budget, the issues are all about attitudes and expectations.
If you believe in reducing fossil fuel use then the differences are entirely manageable.
If you are not concerned about fossil fuels and the climate emergency then the inconvenience of managing availability is going to appear a deal breaker.
The technology is changing fast and modern boat design trends (such wider beam carried aft, fewer ketch rigs) make it simpler to fit larger solar capacity. It is likely that over the next few years there will be further gains in battery capacity. Monitoring and Management will be more sophisticated and automatic. So gradually the need to manage availability will diminish, especially for weekend sailors as a battery bank that is fully charged at your home marina will cope with a weekend of sailing and motoring.
Now that we are confident that our multi-cooker is going to be part of our galley it opens some extra options.
So in December we joined a group making bulk purchases from a co-operative, vegetarian wholesaler. Our best bargain was a 10kg (paper) bag of dried chickpeas.
We’ve been using these in quite a few dishes in the multi-cooker. Very tasty and allows a shorter soak time and fully reasonable cooking time.
Jane has now started the next step which is making houmous (a staple favourite of ours) from these chickpeas. Latest batch is much tastier than a lot of supermarket packets and will be easy to make on board.
We have a whole load of other pulses (although sadly sold in smaller quantities that come in plastic bags).
Not forgetting grains
We want to start experimenting with sprouting some of these as a way of getting fresh stuff wherever we happen to be.
We really love the variety and taste of these pulses etc that are cheap, last for ages and with a pressure cooker are so easy to cook. They are so well suited to living on a boat as they are so adaptable (providing you can keep them dry). We think it is well worth making sure you can renewably generate and store enough electricity to be able to use an electric pressure cooker. These are so much easier to use than ones that you put on a gas stove. Plus a really big advantage is that you can put the cooker in the cockpit to avoid putting steam or heat into the cabin (steam particularly a problem in cold climates and heat in hot climates).
We find it quite amusing that one of of our favourite YouTube channels were concerned that they would have to live on lentils, we don’t see it as a negative 😉