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 hand 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 guyline 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.

Chainplate and Mast Tang feedback

Today I have had a couple of really helpful and thoughtful comments from Jacob. So much that I think it worth responding with a post.

In Dyneema Termination and Chainplate update Jacob wrote:

Having extras in the case of the DIY tangs, is a good idea. I do not mean to discourage your idea, but the tensile strength of UHMWPE will surely make the tang the weak link. On another note, if stainless steel sailmakers thimbles will work you, USStainless.com has a 12 mm (M12)

So things have moved on a little. Currently we are looking at using recycled HDPE (see Transforming waste with DIY Plastic recycling) so we should be able to make new tangs anywhere in the world from waste plastic. I think HDPE sounds better for this application than UHMWPE eg creep under load. They can be made by melting the plastic in a grill or oven or using a hob (use a pyrex bowl in a bath of oil to get the temperature high enough) and then a simple home made mould (eg a drainage tube with a clamp to provide pressure to a a plug sliding inside the tube).

My idea to make the tang out of plastic is intended to have a number of advantages over my first idea of stainless steel tube and washers( see last but one paragraph of Termination of Dyneema Shrouds. The most contentious issue?):

  • Cost (especially if we make them from recycled HDPE)
  • Reduced chafe of the Dyneema Eye splice due to smoother transition to ears which will stop the eye splice sliding sideways off the tang.
  • Increased strength of the eye splice due to the larger bend radius

I’m now thinking of a further refinement. We could put a 25mm Stainless Tube onto the bolt. Then a 25mm hole in the HDPE tang which fits onto the tube. This way the HDPE can’t be “sawn” through by the bolt thread and there is a much larger bearing surface for the HDPE. If the HDPE does wear through then the dyneema will still be around a smooth 25mm tube.

Then on Simpler Dyneema Chainplates Jacob wrote:

I really like your idea and have thought of doing a similar set-up on my boat, too, a Southern Cross 31. I was thinking of using 10 mm Dyneema with a stopper knot through the bulwark, with an aluminum bronze or G10 backing plate running the length of the bulwark that would have my shrouds holed through. This is for distributing the load a bit better. Then eye splicing the other end around a frictionless ring or sailmakers thimble. I am worried mostly about the load on this part of the boat that previous had a different/lesser load on it. Are you worried about this? That is the bulwark maybe not having the structural integrity to deal with the greatest loads your boat might need to withstand.

This is really helpful. I do think the application is going to need to be customised for every boat as there are such wide variations in the positioning of the chainplates and the structure of the hull/deck joint and bulwark, if there is one.

The chances of a stopper knot slipping worries me, also how much weaker a knot is than an eye splice. Yachting Monthly found the Dyneema strength reduce to 35% of the original by an overhand knot.

So if using a knot I’d put it through an eye splice to stop the slipping, as in this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jU_mmdbQeCQ

However, I think my solution is easier and stronger. A length of dyneema with an eye splice at each end. First eye over the low friction ring. Then out of the bulwark through one hole, back out through another and put the second eye over the low friction ring (I’ve thought I’d go around the low friction ring and out/in the bulwark one extra time). The ability to get a larger low friction ring that can take two eye splices is a key reason for me moving from a Stainless Steel thimble.

As for the bulwark backing plate, this is where construction varies such as lot as does the height of the bulwark and the position of the chainplates. I included a sketch of our thinking in my Dyneema Rigging Summary post.

My understanding is that bonding the plate with thickened epoxy is going to distribute loads much more evenly than bolts ever will (providing the material behind it is well bonded together). Also that having two holes for the lashing to spread the load is better. Also a horizontal spread shares load better than vertical, however, I would have thought that the load will reduce very quickly with distance from the hole, so a lot of the full length backing plate won’t be helping at all.

We have a “decorative” rubbing strip quite close to the hull/deck joint. This means a full length backing plate would be very thin and a bit high. So we will cut sections out of this for more triangular backing plates.

I’m pretty happy that due to the construction our bulwark is strong. However, between internal and external backing plates I think it will often be possible to get the strength you need. If in any doubt about the quality of bonding to the hull a bolt or three should make a very strong connection between inner and outer backing plates (but at a cost for inspection and potential waterproofing and corrosion issues.

If you are concerned about moving away from a chainplate bolted to a bulkhead transferring the load down to the hull then maybe look at internal G10 knees bonded to the hull and bulkhead.

As for the material of the backing plates. My preference after reading a Practical Sailor test of backing plates if for G10 epoxied into place (also easier to process to get a really smooth path for the dyneema).

Hope this helps 🙂

Easier anchor recovery

I recently found this product: The AnchorRescue II which looks like an excellent option for being able to trip your anchor if needed without all the problems of using a traditional trip-line to a buoy (tangles, other people picking it up etc).

It is good that it is a 2nd generation product, there have been others using somewhat similar concepts but this seems to have lasted longer and been improved. I like the fact that once setup you can ignore it until needed. Also that in the latest version it has re-usable velco strips to hold the trip chain to the anchor rather than leaving plastic cable ties at the bottom of the sea.

Wheelhouse plans

I said I was going to write this in my post “In the works“, just taken a bit longer than I thought.

This is what our wheelhouse looks like at the moment. The blue cover is really designed for use when Vida is ashore, or left on a mooring. It doesn’t have any windows and is almost impossible to do up fully from the inside. It is also all one piece which means you have no way of accessing the mainsheet or jib sheets when sailing.

Yes, we know that it definitely cannot be described as pretty!! The slab sections rising up from the cabin clash with every other line on the boat and it is too angular and too high.

However, we have a few more urgent concerns (although if we can make it look better while working on these then all to the good).

Ventilation: Even with the boat ashore in North Wales it got very warm under the wheelhouse on a warm summer day. It would quickly get unbearable to be at the steering wheel in the tropics.

Structure: the windscreen windows have vertical aluminium tubes between them. The stainless steel window frames are screwed to these on their sides and to the GRP at the top and bottom. This has caused corrosion between the different metals. Plus so far as we can tell the aluminium poles are not fixed in place by anything other than the window frames. That seems inadequate if a person gets thrown against it by a wave or a big wave hits it. Fortunately the poles at the aft end are very securely fitted.

Visibility: from our reading we are concerned that there are times when it is important to be able to look out directly rather than through glass (we have never sailed with a windscreen before so haven’t yet experienced the problems of rain and fogging).

Steering wheel: this has been repaired/strengthened before, it still doesn’t feel very strong. We are looking at replacing it with a slightly larger one (we can fit a 600mm wheel without hitting the side or blocking the hatch) should be nicer to use.

Seat: The original plans show a removable seat for the person helming with a backrest. Fitting one s1hould make it much more comfortable to be on watch for several hours.

Our plans.

We are still developing these, so still subject to a lot of change.

First, remove the existing glass a bit at a time and fit new supports that take the weight of the roof on their own. Probably use square section tubes of either stainless steel or carbon fibre. Possibly take them to the coachroof rather than to the existing windscreen base (to provide a bit more slope for better looks). That might allow us to change those big grey slabs at the the front of the wheelhouse so that they are slightly curved to blend in better (attach shaped rigid foam and cover with a fibreglass, then layers of epoxy fairing before paint).

Second, refit the glass (or switch to acrylic to match the rest of the windows and hatches except not tinted) but only go high enough to see through it when seated. So it would look much more like the fixed windscreens of a a Najad (see below). The effect would be a but like a windscreen with solid bimini above it. The key advantage is that when you stand to steer, you look out above the windscreen with your 360 degree view unimpeded by anything. This is a bit like what the Amel’s have (see Delos videos) but the dimensions are more horizontally squashed as Vida is 38 feet and the Amels 50 feet long. One other difference is that we would like to fit the glass/acrylic so that it can be hinged open or easily removed for maximum ventilation (this is one reason for switching to Acrylic rather than cutting toughened glass and sourcing new frames).

The next job will be to create a connection between the windscreen and the “bimini” (existing wheelhouse roof) that can removed/opened for ventilation and closed in cold/wet weather. One option is to simply continue with the lines of the windscreen to the roof, attaching to the support struts. Another option is to cap the windscreen with a shelf that extends into the wheelhouse (we need to do careful measurements to see if this is possible without always banging your head on it when coming in or out of the cabin). We could then have small, nearly vertical opening windows to fill the gap to the wheelhouse roof. The front of the wheelhouse roof would then be an eyebrow giving rain protection to the upper windscreen making it easier to see out in the rain. We have seen a number of boats with a soft fabric “window” in this position (although generally the bimini is further back and these removable sections are quite gently sloping (we just don’t have the cockpit length to do that).

Then we will create “curtains” or side walls for the back and sides (we have toyed with the idea of some of the sides being rigid acrylic). Unlike the existing blue cover we will have multiple sections that can be zipped in and out independently. They will also be mostly transparent (with protective drop down covers on the outside). We will be able to remove them and have mosquito mesh when appropriate. When not tacking much we should be able to sail with the windward side and 1/3 of the back in place if needed for warmth or sun protection. This will allow us to easily zip open (or closed) “door” shapes from both inside and outside making access easier whether at sea, at anchor or ashore.

At the moment we don’t think there is any point in replacing the wheelhouse roof for something a little shorter that might look better with some of the windscreen options. We certainly don’t want to “downgrade” from a solid roof to a fabric bimini that won’t last very long by comparison. If you want to sit fully exposed to the elements then by all means use the aft seat of the cockpit or sit on the cabin roof.

While this is quite a bit of work, the costs should be relatively low. Certainly it is far more sustainable to work with a 44 year old boat rather than buy something new. Improving the looks is the hardest challenge due to the space constraints (and the need for standing headroom). However, if we can improve strength, ventilation, visibility and access with much the same look then that will be a significant improvement for us.

Simpler Dyneema Chainplates

[Update] I have written a lot about Dyneema standing rigging so I now have a guide to it all in: Dyneema / Synthetic Rigging Summary[End Update]

When I was coming up with the design of through deck dyneema chainstays and the update I had referred to this video from Free Range Sailing.

The key bits are are at 1m30s and 16m30s.

Since then I have had another idea, this should work for any boat that has strong bulwarks

I had ruled out exactly copying Free Range Sailing Sailing solution as it relied on being able to drill holes that went through the transom without going inside the boat. Therefore they didn’t need to worry about a waterproof solution. However, I have already adapted their solution for a drogue attachment. Now I am bringing the two ideas together.

I had another smaller concern, they have lashed the Low Friction Ring on with 4mm Dyneema and used knots to secure the lashing. Knots are not a good option for Dyneema, they are weak and can slip.

So I have a new design. Rather then keep the existing chainstay positions I am going to move them all slightly outboard to the bulwark. In this photo you can see a couple of shrouds attached to chainplates (circled in red).

Note that the bulwark here does not have the toerail cap fitted (and it still isn’t fitted). The bulwark is part of the joint between the deck and the hull. It is built really strongly and part of the problem we have at present is that the loads from the shrouds are not transferred into the hull but instead can lift the deck which is what has caused cracks (only in one place). Here is the a snippet from an original drawing showing the chainplates but we don’t have a drawing for the ketch rig and the mizzen chainplates are further inward away from the hull. Note that only the main mast cap shrouds (one per side to the top of the main mast) have the stainless steel strip bolted to a bulkhead for much greater strength.

So my new idea is to:

Preparation:

  • Drill 2 holes through the bulwark for each chainstay. They will slope down as they go from the inside and they will not go through to the inside of the boat. I’m thinking 25mm diameter at the moment.
  • On the outside of the hull for each chainstay I will fit a 10mm G10 (outside so no need to use the more expensive for fire-resistant FR4 version) backing plate. This will be attached to the hull with thickened epoxy.
  • Smaller holes will be drilled in the backing plate in line with the centre of the larger holes through the bulwark (large enough for 3 strands of 5mm Dyneema line).
  • I’ll plug the holes in the G10 and fill the holes in the bulwark with thickened epoxy.
  • Then I’ll drill the smaller holes from the outside through the middle of the thickened epoxy.
  • Next I fit a G10 backing plate to the inside of the bulwark with thickened epoxy (this is so the shrouds will clear the edge of the toe rail cap).
  • The holes are drilled from the outside through the inner sheet of G10.
  • The holes are very carefully smoothed, especially the entry/exit points which will be very rounded off (in the direction the load will pull the line)

The Chainplate

To avoid knots and to make for a quicker installation I will have a length of 5mm Dyneema with a locked eye splice at each end (4mm plenty for the Mizzen). Also one generously sized Low Friction Ring (suitable for a 5mm line to go 3x around the ring).

  • On the inside of the deck one eye splice is looped over the low friction ring (a reasonably tight fit but not very critical).
  • The other loop is passed through a hole to the outside, along the backing plate and back in through the other hole.
  • It goes around the ring and back out through the bulkhead then back through the second hole
  • The other eye splice is now looped over the low friction ring which is now held in place by more 3x the strength of an eye spliced 5mm Dyneema Line. That is approximately the same strength as a 12mm Dyneema line (but as our Dyneema Shrouds are sized for stretch rather than strength this is plenty to spare).
  • This Low Friction Ring is now lashed to the bottom of the appropriate shroud to hold the mast up.

If we feel that we can’t get the G10 and thickened epoxy smooth enough to avoid chafe on the lashing we could either line the holes with HDPE as Free Range Sailing did, or fit chafe sleeves to the Dyneema.

Conclusion.

Compared to the previous design this solution has a number of advantages:

  • No holes in the deck
  • No waterproofing challenge
  • Even easier to inspect and replace
  • Moves the shroud mounting points slightly outboard which
    • reduces loads as a more favourable angle
    • makes walking past on the side deck easier
    • moves them further from the sails reducing the potential for chafe
  • Less work to fabricate
  • Stronger and no need for any knees to connect the side deck chainstays to the hull.
  • With G10 backing plates epoxied to the hull on the inside and outside (so connected to both hull and deck) with the loads spread widely, the chainstays should be massively stronger.

Plus for anyone needing to re-rig the boat without taking the mast down then the new chainstays can be fully prepared and fitted with the original shrouds in situ.

This is one of the plans I said I was working on the other day.

Learning from anchor testing

When we chose our Spade anchor we read up on all the testing and advice we could find. Some of that was videos by Steve on his SV Panope YouTube channel. Since then he has continued to add many more tests. These are by far the most useful tests I’ve found.

He has tested many different anchors with underwater footage of them in different seabed as well as tests of 180degree resets and more recently a 180degree veering test. The Spade has come out really well in everything apart from rock cobbles and very soft/thin mud. An article on Attainable Adventure Cruising (see below) suggests that a slower setting process might improve the soft mud holding.

All this and a variety of articles on Attainable Adventure Cruising (who are great advocates for the Spade anchor) convince me that we made a good choice with our primary anchor (Spade 30kg).

It seems that there is widespread agreement that Fortress anchors are excellent kedge anchors (great holding, light and folding). So we will get the largest Fortress anchor that we feel we can easily lift into the dinghy as our kedge anchor. The weaknesses in resetting and coping with veering are less significant in the typical uses of a kedge where it is laid from a dinghy to provide a pull at a specific angle (eg to pull you off a beach or as part of a multi anchor hurricane setup).

While it is tempting to think you could/should always go bigger with anchors the costs of upsizing to the next size of Spade would have been significant (bigger windlass that would not have been 12volt, weight on the bow, difficulty in manually moving the anchor). These costs and the inconvenience in general use mean that, in a few years time when we have more experience, we would consider getting a 3rd “Storm” anchor that is a couple of sizes bigger. We are confident that our 30kg is sized so that we should be good in most “unexpected” squalls, gusts or weather changes. If we were to need a larger anchor it would be because we were expecting a hurricane. At that point we would expect some warning and would have moved to a “hurricane hole” and fully prepared the boat. That would include switching over to the “Storm” anchor. It would probably also be a Spade as being able to dismantle it for storage would be critical, Although it could also be a Mantus (potentially better in very soft mud).

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.

Using a dyneema pendant as a simple solution

I’m a great fan of simplifying things, even if I’m not always good at it 🙂

So I love this Dyneema Pendant, which you can buy from Mantus (they call it a Snubber Pendant).

Except, that it is so simple that we will make several of our own. We will probably use a home made soft shackle rather than a shackle to attach it to the snubber line (cheaper, tool free and not going to damage the boat).

Three main uses:

  • A tool and metal free attachment of a snubber line to the anchor chain (the snubber line provides some elasticity which stops the boat pulling the anchor out of the seabed when the bow rises on a wave). One that is easy to undo even after it has been used with heavy loads. Using this means that if you need to put out more chain (for example with a dragging anchor or higher than calculated tide) you don’t first have to pull in some chain (making the situation worse) to untie the snubber, just let the snubber drop in the water, use another pendant and snubber line and recover the original later.
  • As demonstrated in the Mantus video to help recover if a sheet gets angled on a sheet winch.
  • Using a similar technique, use it to recover your Jordan Series Drogue. Tie to a bridle line, connect snubber line and lead that to a winch. When you run out of snubber line at the winch then attach another pendant and snubber line to the bridle line as far out as you can reach, then pull that one in. Repeat until you can put the actual Jordan Series Drogue line on the winch.

There are multiple aspects to the simplicity that I love:

  • Untying it after a significant load is so easy. Essential when recovering a Jordan Series Drogue where the loads can be huge. A traditional rolling hitch will probably need to be doubled and even then very hard to untie.
  • Attaching it to the chain with a cow hitch is so easy, much easier than a rolling hitch and no metal chain hook damaging your deck. This is so important as the critical use with an anchor chain will be when it is rough and the bow is plunging up and down.
  • So easy to create and inspect for damage. So providing you have a stock of Dyneema line you can very easily make a replacement at anytime you need it.

As I say I’d probably attach it to the snubber with a soft shackle which avoids needing a tool to attach, and of course no issues with corrosion or electrolysis. My favourite soft shackle technique is this one (much easier to tie than many others and I think stronger than any which do not bury the ends from the knot):

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.