Solar Finale – THE BIG REVEAL

July, 2014:

This is it.  The drums beat — Bum-bum.  Bum-bum.  Brdrdrdrd, bum-bum.  (Then the trumpets come in) Duh, duh-nuh-nuh!  Okay, that is supposed to mimic the dramatic 20th Century Fox movie intro.

If you heard me sing it (yes, I sing both drum and trumpet), you would recognize it immediately.  But, don’t worry, you’ll get the privilege.  It’s all waiting for you, in the big REVEAL!

Throughout the solar panel project, we’d spent many an irksome evening at the boat, running wires to check length, holding gizmos in place to make sure they fit and were actually the best place for mounting, etc.  We had even invited some boat buddies over to run things through with us before we actually started drilling holes and, you know, making things permanent (oooohhhh … scary).  Being the great boat friends they are (and loving any excuse to get to mess around on a boat), Kevin and Brandon gladly pitched in and helped us double-check everything and make sure we didn’t burn the boat down during this whole solar install business.

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As I mentioned, we had to install two MPPT charge controllers (which I now understood to be the devices that control the amount of “juice” coming in from the solar panels to make sure they don’t overload the house batteries–kind of like a flow regulator if you will).  After pondering several potential locations, we finally decided to mount our MPPT controllers (two – one for the large 100 watt panel and another for the two 50-watt panels combined) in a locker under the aft berth, right by the nav station.

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This way, they remained down below, protected from the elements, but were fairly easy to access to check the wires, make sure juice was coming in, etc.  Well, fairly easy once mounted …

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Those circus skills were still coming in handy.  But, we did eventually get them mounted and wired side-by-side in the aft berth locker:

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Then, all we had to do was run wires from the panels below deck to these controllers, and then from these controllers to the house battery bank in the bilge.  Simple, right?  You might be starting to sense a pattern here.  Generally, when I say something is going to be “simple,” or “easy,” it turns out to be anything but.  I’m sitting here trying to think what would be the opposite of a ‘piece of cake.’  A bowl of barley perhaps?   Much harder to process and not near as much fun to do.

We decided to run the wires from the panels flush down a pole on the bimini frame, cut one hole through the deck on the outside of the cockpit coaming for entry, then lead them through the engine room, into the aft berth locker to the charge controllers, then under the floorboards to the house batteries.

Solar Panel Layout

You see?  Barley.  Not cake.

And, everywhere the wires went, Annie was sure to go!

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Once we got the panels connected to the charge controllers and the charge controllers connected to the batteries, it was time to see if we had some juice coming in.

And the survey says  …

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DING!   That second little green light on the left tells us everything we need to know.  Power is coming in baby!  Feels like a shot of B12.  BOOM!

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Yes, it is that exciting.  When you spend weeks on a project, pore over reviews, online forums and product descriptions, cramp yourself in dirty, oily places running wires and fumble with the tiniest of screws in the hardest to reach places, that little green light that comes on and tells you it’s working–all of your hard work is working … you feel about like that.  Like you could bust up a hard-core gangster in a fight.  Take that!

Once we knew everything was working correctly, it was time to do it for real, i.e., actually cut the wires to length, run and affix them where they would actually go (which meant cutting a hole in the deck) and seal everything into place.  You know, really make it final.   * Gulp *

We ziptied all of the wires around the panels as neatly as we could and ran them down through the hole in the bimini canvas where the backstay protrudes.

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While our boat buddies (being a bit more confident in our rig-it-up skills than we) encouraged us to go at it alone, when it came time to actually drill a hole in the deck, we enlisted our buddy Bottom-Job Brandon to help us make sure it was placed, cut and sealed correctly.  Having lived and worked on boats nearly all of his adult life, Brandon through his company, Perdido Sailor, Inc., has the solid reputation of always “over-doing” a job, meaning doing it the right way not the easy way.  When you’ve got a friend like that, it just makes sense to have him look over your shoulder on projects like this to make sure you don’t make stupid, can’t-be-undone mistakes.

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Brandon made sure the hole was placed in a part of the deck that wouldn’t cause additional crazing or cracking and that the fitting was the right size to ensure a watertight seal to prevent water intrusion.

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I supervised.

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I had to shut my eyes, though, when Brandon actually fired the drill up.  I mean, he was about to put a hole in our boat.  Intentionally!   Close ’em …    Squeeze ’em tight …  Whrrreeerrrrr

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Thankfully, Brandon was quick and merciful.  A few seconds, and then it was done.

Brandon also had the good idea to run the four wires (a positive and negative from each of our “two” panels) through a large heat-shrink wrap to protect them from the elements and make one nice, clean black “wire” to run down the bimini frame and through the hole in the deck.

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Voila!

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Now, the panels were secure, the wires were run, everything was officially (and permanently) in place, hooked up, mounted and operating.  It was actually impressive to see how sleek and slim our installation job turned out to be.  The panels and wires were almost unnoticeable.

Looking at the before-and-after, you kind of have to squint and cock your head to the left to actually notice the panels:

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Didn’t see them?  You have to cock to the left.  It doesn’t work when you do it to the right.

In all, we were incredibly pleased with the job.  The panels were streamline, virtually unnoticeable, mounted, wired and (most importantly) working!  And, not counting our own labor, research and toil (which as the owners is expected but, thankfully, free!), we were in the whole thing for about a grand and a six-pack of well-earned brewskies for our boat buddies for helping us out with it.  Not too shabby considering this will give us, likely, another 2 to 2.5 half days on the hook and prolong the life of our hard-working diesel engine.  Easily worth it in our book.

So, having slapped ourselves on the back and considered the job well done, it was time to finally peel back the plastic from the panels and film for your viewing pleasure a cheesy yet hard-earned SOLAR PANEL REVEAL!

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Cue the intro again.  The drums beat — Bum-bum.  Bum-bum.  Brdrdrdrd, bum-bum.  (Then the trumpets come in) Duh, duh-nuh-nuh!  

And, it just so happened, around the same time, I finished choreographing my first aerial silks routine for performance and had filmed it for review.  Do know my super-talented silks instructor, Garrett, just jumped in for fun to perform it with me and was just following me along (yes, he makes it look that good just “winging it”).  So, to wrap up this silks-and-solar bonanza, I give you – MY FIRST SILKS ROUTINE.  Enjoy!

Next up, we take this show on the road!  A raucous trip to NOLA involving more aerial acrobatics, chains, whips and an unlikely encounter with another blogging couple you may know well …  I can’t give it all away!  Stay tuned!

 

Pat4

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6 Responses to Solar Finale – THE BIG REVEAL

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  4. Don Wogaman says:

    We are considering flexible panels on our bimini also, but have some concern about the life of the panels. Our existing glass framed panels have a 20 year warranty, and are still going strong after 10 years. To cut to the chase, how are your flexible panels holding up after 4 years? Thanks, D & Don on SV Southern Cross.

    • anniedike says:

      Hey there. Thanks for writing! It’s been a mixed bag. Our big panel (the 100 watt forward on the bimini) we’ve had to replace twice. We think it’s just a fluke manufacturing thing. And while the manufacturer did warranty it (and so offered replacement) they were not making that particular panel at the time, so they could only offer some other goods from their website, none of which we needed at the time. But, the back two 50 watts have been running strong and pumping juice for four years so we’re very pleased with those. Let me know if you have any other questions. Good luck!

    • anniedike says:

      Phillip also asked me to send you this. This is the guy he researched and found came highly recommended when we bought our latest 100 watt replacement flexible panel. His name is Tom and he’s great to work with and really stands behind his products. Good luck — https://www.custommarineproducts.com

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