February 4, 2018
As always, things have taken longer than we had originally anticipated. Once every task we undertake aboard Exit is approached by multiplying a time factor of five into the equation, we should start staying right on schedule.
Fortunately, we had Tom Chalkley at the helm for our latest project… installing a solar panel array, which was no simple task.
A number of design evolutions along the way, inevitable logistical challenges that cropped up, and certainly my propensity to want to hide all wiring involved (sorry Tom!), resulted in a much longer process than any of us had initially anticipated.
At times, it seemed that we had half the contents aboard Exit either stacked inside the cockpit or piled about belowdecks.
Nonetheless, Tom’s vast knowledge and experience, aluminum fabrication and electrical capabilities, as well as meticulous attention to detail, resulted in what we feel is a perfect integration of a rather immense system into the existing lines and structure of the boat. Plus, he’s just a really fucking cool guy!
All this, combined with the ambitious vision shared by the three of us, turned a potentially painful, frustrating and less than satisfying situation into a sincerely fun project that, in the end, far exceeded our expectations. Furthermore, despite the delays, Tom held fast and true to his original estimates, keeping the overall costs within the scope of a digestible budget for two vagabond gypsy cruisers.
By the end of the project, we had gained not only the ability to keep our battery banks fully charged using the sun instead of fossil fuel, but we felt we had truly gained a new friend.
With four stationary 180 watt solar panels fixed atop a solid aluminum frame mounted to the existing stern arch and a 100 watt panel attached to the aft rail on either side (which swing up horizontally when in use and can be dropped down flush against the vertical railing), we now have a total of 920 watts of solar capability. Conscientious awareness of our electrical consumption should provide us nearly, if not complete, independence from having to rely on the engine or generator to charge our batteries now.
In addition, five independent solar controller modules equipped with Bluetooth allow us to both monitor and compare individual panel performance as well as follow the daily power generated by the system.
As an added bonus, we had Tom fabricate an aluminum gutter that’s attached to the back of the solar panel frame which we can route to the fresh water tanks via a hose that can be easily attached and detached. This means the panels not only generate power but also serve as a rain catch. A filter canister to strain the water through and cheap digital water meter hooked up in-line (allowing us to monitor how much water is being collected) round out the system.
We already are convinced that adding solar capabilities to Exit has been the most cost effective and best investment we have undertaken since purchasing the sailboat. Exactly how much power can be generated remains to be seen, but we are ecstatic about the overall results.
Furthermore, we believe that the system will most likely pay for itself by the year’s end in reduced diesel consumption and wear and tear on the generator and batteries. Monitoring the performance of the solar array will be a pleasure as we have drinks in the cockpit using ice generated by the sun… nice work Tom!