Day 12: Rain???

19 Oct

Yep, I woke up to rain. On the ocean there's usually a wind change that occurs right before the rain, so if you're sailing, rain will wake you up. Especially, if you have Raymarine. 🙂

Free boat wash for 1 is always good, but I'm a little concerned about the lack of sun out here on the ocean. Having lived in Seattle, I've already gotten a lifetimes' worth of rain, but more importantly my solar panels need sun. They're my only renewable energy resource. They're also pretty awesome (when they have sun).

My energy equations is the following. My boat has a fridge and freezer, each taking about 50 amp hours (ah) each day. That's 100 ah. I need them on, otherwise my food would go bad and I would starve. Then I have navigation. Autopilot, Radar, AIS, VHF, GPS and chart plotter. I need these to navigate and steer. I'm not spending much time behind the helm, Auto takes care of that and is quite an essential component to single handling across an ocean. Not sure exactly how much energy each individual component is using, and there's also the occasional light and toilet flush, but my total consumption is around 250-300ah per day.

Let's assume it's 300. This is a lot. Any sailor will tell you it's too much. However, this is the bare minimum. My only unnecessary consumption of power is to charge my iPhone (music and blogging) and my iPad (so I can watch a movie or TV show or read a book). Neither one of these use large amounts of power. 1 ah to fully charge an iPhone and maybe 3 ah for the iPad.

My solar panel is second generation. In other words, I just ripped off my perfectly working panels before this trip, so I could get slightly bigger ones. I had 420 Watts, now I have 650 Watts. My wish would be to have 1000 Watt, but we can't always have what we want.

I didn't get to test out my panels before I left. There simply wasn't enough sunny days for a proper test, but in theory my panels could produce 210 ah in a single day. This based on the performance of my old panels (not taking 650 Watts multiplying by 24h).

So, I use 300 and my panels could give me 210. Obviously I have a problem, and lack of sun isn't helping. So, waking up to rain does not make me happy. Luckily, the rain didn't last very long and today turned out to be the third sunniest. This, of course, based in tracking amp hours my panels have made on a daily basis. Today was 146, best is only 161. I'll likely never get the perfect solar day sailing, as sail angle and sails themselves sometimes shadow the panels.

I make up the about 150 ah deficit by running my main main engine in neutral (unless I need a push). My 80 ah alternator gives me about 50 ah charge (don't you just hate it, when nothing ever outputs their theoretical max). So, I run my engine for about 3 hours every day, while I watch a move and rant about energy consumption.

So solar panels are a great source of energy. It's clean, quiet, renewable and requires almost no maintenance. However, you need a lot of panels and they won't do you much good unless it's sunny outside side.

One last thing. My panels are only 18% efficient. Just image a future, where solar is about 80% efficient. I could take half off, give it to you and we would both be able to survive an ocean passage.

The wind is just a tad lighter today and right now my ride is pretty smooth, so I'm hoping for a good night's sleep. As of this writing I have 675 nautical miles to go.

Captain Petter on S/V Bella Marina