Thursday, November 7, 2019

We've Got Solar!

As some of you may know, last year we tackled the task of installing a new battery bank of 315 amps on our small boat. With plans of anchoring a lot in the future, we needed a way to keep our batteries topped off, and solar panels seemed to be the logical choice.

Since our boat is only 30 feet, we don't have a lot of space for solar panels. We thought of adding rigid panels on either side of our cockpit, but this would require adding stainless tubing along the sides of our boat (where the lifelines are) and the hardware to attach the panels to the tubing. Being short on time & money, we decided to go with something simple .. semi-flexible panels on our Sunbrella bimini, Semi-flexible panels have improved, and have come down in price quite a bit.

  After a lot of research on semi-flexible panels, we decided to go with two Renogy 100-watt semi-flexible panels. Renogy* has a great reputation, they provide a 5 year material/workmanship warranty & 25 year power output warranty, and we're confident that the panels will serve us well. While researching panels, we called Renogy and they provided great customer service (but plan on holding on the phone a bit) and we thought it was pretty cool to learn that the company started as a school project by a young girl attending LSU. Our daughter graduated from there .. Geaux Tigers!

When placing our order for panels, we also ordered the Rover 30amp (in case we want to add more solar) MPPT controller, battery to charge controller tray cables 10 AWG, 20 ft of 10 AWG solar panel to charge controller adaptor kit, 2 - 5 ft of 10 AWG solar panel extension cable with MC4 connectors, and a pack of MC4 parallel branch connectors. This order would provide us with everything we needed to install our solar system, with the exception of the attachments to the bimini (see below) and two fuses, which we forgot to order from Renogy.

Our order arrived quickly and the panels and cables/connectors seem to be very well made .. we love how light the panels are! Here's a pic of the box to give an idea of the size of our panels. Yep, I was still in my pajamas and the pic is blurry .. too early for photos I guess!

The installation was pretty simple. The MPPT controller was added to the side of our navigation station for easy access to our batteries. By the way, we chose MPPT over PWM because it seems to be more efficient these days & gets as much power from the panels as possible.

Since I have an aversion to sewing, we needed to find a quick & inexpensive way to attach the solar panels to our bimini. After seeing an ad on Amazon for an attachment kit, we came up with our own kit from the local hardware store. Each panel has 6 small grommets, so for a total of 12 grommets we got 24 stainless steel fender washers (one for each side of canvas) and 12 each of a stainless bolt, nut & acorn nut. Instead of $60 for the Amazon kit .. we spent about $25 bucks! Before installing the panels, we placed them on the bimini and put a soldering iron through the grommet to make a hole through the canvas underneath .. easy! *Note: we called Renogy to ask if we had to cover the panels from the sun during installation .. it would be a real pain. We were told it wasn't necessary .. just be sure to plug in the controller to batteries first, and panels to controller last!

Here's a  couple photos of the bottom of the bimini ...

Once the panels were attached to the bimini, we ran them in parallel with the MC4 branch connectors and connected to the controller with the extension cables and the adaptor kit. 

Ken used a couple of tie wraps to keep things secure & neat ...

The cables were then run down our bimini frame and into a small hole in our cockpit leading to the navigation station and controller/batteries.

The tray cables were connected to one of our house batteries, and the temperature sensor that came with the MPPT controller (nice surprise) was placed next to the batteries. We were a little intimidated with the solar panel project, as the battery project was really stressful to us. However, we were very happy with the ease of the Renogy panel installation and our method chosen to attach the panels to our bimini. The complete installation took two partial days, but that's from start to finish .. not bad!

Once everything was hooked up (solar panels to controller last!), we needed to wait for the sun to come out. It was a very cloudy day, and rain was in the night's forecast. Since the installation, we haven't had a lot of sun to see the full potential of our Renogy panels, but we have had some pretty windy days to test our panel to bimini installation .. they've been holding up really well! 

Without many sunny days, we've still been able to charge our phones & run our 12v television, refrigerator & lights with no worries the past three days. After 3 days without being connected to our shore power charger, our AGM batteries were still somewhere between half & 2/3 full. We contemplated letting our batteries get a little lower in order to see how they'd charge (a pretty full bank won't draw as many amps from solar), but yesterday we turned the shore power charger on, as we're expecting rain & clouds today and next two days and we didn't want the batteries to get too low.  

Also (as expected), when we've had sun our boom seems to shade one panel or the other during the day. We're going to try moving the boom throughout the day soon to see what difference it makes. Anyway, we're told by Renogy that we should expect about 11 amps with sunny skies & no shade, which would be great! For those of you already with panels .. how many amps do you get from 200 watts of solar panels?  Let us know your thoughts ... we'd love to hear from you!

Overall, we're very happy with our solar set up and Renogy's products. The price and the quality of are hard to beat! We'll keep an eye of the panels' production, and look for a future post about our experience at anchor with our panels. Hopefully we won't have to run the engine much to charge our batteries! If you're going to order Renogy panels, please connect to them using our link below* (or on side of our web site's page) and save 5% (except on batteries) with the code: MidLifeCruising 

Oh, another thing we learned ... since we have the MPPT controller we don't have to worry about overcharging when we're connected to our shore power battery charger. The MPPT controller makes sure overcharging doesn't occur .. nice!

Can't write this post without mentioning that we were planning on sailing South .. yesterday! However, this past weekend Ken was preparing to install our Mantus anchor when he realized that our teak bowsprit was rotten underneath! Folks say "Just Go", but this isn't something that can wait .. it's a matter of safety! So, Ken's currently working with a friend on making a new bowsprit. We're in a race with Winter, and as luck would have it we went from record heat to below normal temps .. it's always "interesting" in our world. Hopefully we'll be back on track soon and not freeze!

*Just wanted to disclose that after we reached out to Renogy, they were kind enough to allow us to share an affiliate link. We'll make a small amount of money to add to our cruising kitty if you click on the Renogy link and make a purchase. It won't cost you anything more and you'll be helping us out!

Hasta luego .. until then. Mid-Life Cruising!

Friday, October 11, 2019

Keeping Cool in Colorado!

A short path that took us to a waterfall in Grand Lake, Colorado

As I mentioned in my last post, we've been experiencing record-breaking heat in Louisiana. While sailing is a great way to keep cool, a trip to Colorado was just what we needed! Colorado provided us with gorgeous views and beautiful weather, but the best part ... our daughter, son-in-law and grandson now live there.

Since our "kids" moved away from us in July, this has been our second visit to see them. The first visit was in August, when we helped them load a U-Haul then followed them for two days in their vehicle to their new home in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Their place is located near downtown Ft. Collins, which has a really cool vibe and tons of boutiques, restaurants, and breweries.

The trip was quick and was more work than play. However, we did squeeze in a visit to a couple of cool areas during the evenings. We visited "The Exchange", which was a green space with corn hole games surrounded by restaurants. We enjoyed drinking a beer while watching our grandson run around! See the guy on the right with the orange backpack .. that's our son-in-law with our grandson. The guy to their right .. Ken.

We also visited one of the many breweries, "New Belgium". The brewery also had a nice green space with corn hole games, food trucks and of course ... great beer! Once again our grandson had a great time running around and putting the bean bags in the holes.

We spent one day exploring the mountains nearby .. so beautiful!

The second trip was just this past Friday morning, and we arrived back on Nirvana this past Tuesday afternoon. This trip was strictly for fun, and we flew from New Orleans to Denver with our son-in-law's parents. Since our kids have a small home, we rented a condo in Fraser where all seven of us could stay together. Fraser is located next to Winter Park and near the Rocky Mountain National Park, which allowed us to explore both areas.

When we stepped off of the airplane in Denver, we immediately noticed the change of weather. We left feel-like temps in the 100's and were now in the mid-70's with low humidity .. heaven! On the way from Denver to Fraser, we stopped in Golden for a tour of the Coors Brewery and some of the best pizza we've had in a long time. The brewery tour was fun, and we enjoyed the charming town.

On the way to Fraser, we enjoyed beautiful scenery, and even saw a moose and her baby!

The next morning we headed to Winter Park Resort, which isn't just for Winter! The resort was filled with mountain bikers, who took the gondola up the hills with their bikes then rode down on bike trails. Some of the trails were pretty steep, and we enjoyed watching the bikers ride down the hill. Next time we'd like to try one of the easier trails, or hike up the hill and ride the gondola down after drinks and a snack.

From Winter Park, we headed to Grand Lake, Colorado which was also gorgeous. There is indeed a lake, which is "grand" and is Colorado's largest natural body of water. The lake is surrounded by campgrounds, marinas and a quaint little town.

Our "kids" with their parents ...

After strolling through the town, we drove about a mile to a little trail with a waterfall at the end. The beginning of the trail was very welcoming. We loved all the beautiful fall foilage throughout our trip!

The trail was pretty easy, and our grandson insisted on walking the trail himself. There were a few challenges for him, and I'd say "Slow, Slow" as I held his hand. He was so cute, saying "Slow, Slow" every time he faced a challenge. At 20 months he's quite a trooper! The waterfall was really pretty, and the photo doesn't really capture it's beauty.


We hung out at the condo that night and soaked up our time with the kids. The next day, Sunday, we drove to another condo in Ft. Collins. On the way, we drove through the Rocky Mountain National Park, where we saw lots of elk and yes .. more beautiful views! From there we drove through Estes Park, another cool town, to Ft Collins. Here's a map that kinda shows our route from Denver to Golden (between Denver & Boulder), to Fraser (next to Winter Park), to Grand Lake. Another day through the Rocky Mountains then through Estes Park to Ft. Collins .. such a great road trip!

We arrived in Ft. Collins just in time for dinner, then spent our last day (Monday) strolling through the town, which "Main Street" in Disneyland was mirrored after. I wish I would have gotten some photos of downtown Ft. Collins, as it really is a great town .. full of boutiques, cafes, art galleries and breweries. It's really pretty with flowers everywhere along the streets, and everything is so clean! As much as we hated our kids moving away, I think they're gonna love their new home town. Their home is just a bicycle ride away from everything!

We hated to leave our kids and this lil guy on Tuesday ... can you blame us? We don't know when we'll get to see them again, which made it really hard to leave. Our lil man is growing so fast, and we already miss him and his parents so much. Hopefully they'll come visit us somewhere on Nirvana!

It's hard to believe, but the weather quickly changed in Ft. Collins after we left. Yesterday, it snowed! Here's a photo of our kids' backyard. I hope they can handle driving in the work in the snow. We're not used to such things in Louisiana!

We're now back on Nirvana and although the weather isn't as nice as Colorado's was, we're no longer in brutal heat. We escaped just long enough and now temps are in the 80's .. perfect for getting some projects finally done.

We've already started working on some things, and we're geared up for sailing further South soon!

Hasta luego .. until then. Mid-Life Cruising!
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