Off the Grid

August 27, 2020

We’re holed up in Sakannot Marina, Narragansett Bay, waiting out bad thunderstorms that actually caused tornadoes back home in Connecticut!  The picture is from Mystic Seaport, where I’ve been looking at the extremely shallow anchorage in the Mystic River just north of the museum for something like 35 years and finally have the right boat to visit without going aground.

I wanted to report on some electrical and plumbing changes that have really improved our ability to anchor out away from it all for long periods (4-5 days is about right).  When dodging the virus in Florida, I anchored out for the final four days and really enjoyed it.  But by the end of the cruise, my batteries were down to about 72% and I really couldn’t use the fridge much.

So I took the Group 27 battery that I used to run the windlass and bow thruster and replaced it with a small battery I use to blow up our inflatable 4th of July float!  Then I wired the big battery into the existing two Group 31 house batteries to make a three-battery bank.  All this is necessary because the teensy alternator on my outboard engine just doesn’t put out enough juice.  Running the instruments and , power steering and autopilot while cruising, I actually lose power, and I couldn’t run the fridge at all without a lot of solar.

The change makes a considerable difference, and stores enough amps that I can run the fridge pretty much all the time, as I found out on a cruise down to the Norwalk Islands to see friends by social-distancing our boats in a raft up at Norwalk Yacht Club.

But what really makes a difference is the addition of two 55 watt solar panels to the existing array.  On a sunny day they pump out 18 amps and really fill up the batteries.  As you can see from the picture, I still need to clean up the wiring some with some kind of cover, but the M4 connectors sit open on top of RV’s for thousands of miles, so I think I’m okay for now.

Eventually (when I have $1,000), I’m going two switch to three Group 31 AGMs, so I can really get a fast charging time and take advantage of every bit of sun.  And that means I can make the change Ton Schoenmaker’s has been suggesting all along — running the bow thruster and windlass from the house bank.  The system I use with a separate battery and panel just isn’t necessary.  The high loads are brief loads, and they just don’t suck up much electricity.  I’m right back to where I was on the tiny solar panel that charges them in 10 minutes or so.  This will enable me to take a lot of weight out of the front of the boat and gain some nice storage.

And with all these amps, I’ve gone really crazy and put in a 12-volt hot water heater.  Showers and dishwashing from while off the grid, from my own grid!  It is exactly the same size as my former 110-volt heater and I could use the same fittings, but I didn’t have space to use tools to reconnect the “push on” plumbing fittings.  John had to come down with his strong hands to make the final connections.

Yes, it sucks up a lot of juice,  I can’t run the fridge at the same time as making hot water, and the solar array has to be pumping out pretty high amps.  But since the water stays hot for about 12 hours, it has worked out well this cruise, but until now, it has been sunny.  It has a pretty fail safe system.  To make hot water you have to have the main switch on, the dc system switch on, a panel switch on, the circuit breaker on, and the unit switch on.  So there’s no way you can turn it on accidentally and drain the batteries.  But if you wake up in the middle of the night and see the little red “on” light glowing, START FLIPPING SWITCHES because your batteries are probably gone.

Someday, I will hook up the shower system in the head, but for now I just run the shower out to the cockpit.  It has been a real luxury on the long cruise East.

Third house battery and its box

It has a shiny lid

New solar array — next power outage I’m moving to the boat!

12 volt hot water heater

Two switches of the five-part fail-safe system

Shower starts in the head

Out the door

Comes through the cabin

And out to the cockpit with a really nice shower head

Social distancing at Norwalk Yacht Club

More social drinking — I mean distancing

2 comments on “Off the Grid

  1. Jim Favors
    August 27, 2020 at 9:59 pm #

    Great boat update reporting as expected. It’s been great for me to follow along on your boat making to cruising and projects over these last many years. Jim F


  2. memsahibsvoyage
    August 27, 2020 at 10:16 pm #

    Two well-known New England cruisers who write for Points East magazine came over to look at Tardis today and seemed fascinated by our travels up and down the East Coast by water and trailer. They asked how that came about. For the hundredth time, I said, “Well, when we were on the Loop we met these great people, Jim and Lisa Favors…”


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