Bon Buffett Voyage – Day Two: Sheer Entertainment

April 22, 2015:

I don’t know if you guys can handle this–a dolphin display, an aerial acrobatics show, and a ukulele concert.  Light the flame-throwers, blow the pyrotechnics, it’s time to get RAW!



Alright, there were no pyrotechnics, but everything else I mentioned is right here baby!  Day two of the Bon Buffett Voyage we woke to dolphin’s breath on the starboard stern.


They were swirling and stirring and (well, probably doing what we know dolphins love to do) for a good ten minutes while Phillip and I sipped our coffee in the cockpit.


It was a surprisingly cool morning in Ft. McRae with the cloud cover.  Nice for lounging, but we were hoping to see some more input into the solar panels.  We knew, though, that we would be putting some juice in during our motor that day, so a cool morning to read and write topside was welcome.  Our next stop on the trip?  Ingram’s Bayou:


We weighed anchor and threw up the sails pretty early so we could spend the majority of the day making the fun three-hour jaunt to the Bayou.  The wind filled in nicely and we ended up having a pretty sporty little sail over.


The last time we had dropped the hook in Ingram’s was during our Thanksgiving trip 2013 and she appeared to be just as we remembered her–pristine and serene.  We nestled in and Phillip set off to paddle our perimeter, check depths and poke around back in the bayou.

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What did I do?  Pretended to write until he left …

“You go right on ahead, babe.  I’ve got plenty of blogging to get to here.”


Apparently those are my hangover eyes!

But, the minute he was gone, I set up the camera so I could video myself practicing his birthday present.  Was it this?


No, that came later.  That’s just everyday Annie stuff hanging around all upside-down-like.  He’s used to that.  No, for the Captain, I had to go all out.  Do something he would know took time, effort and energy.  I spent the better part of the week before we left trying to learn a new song to play him on the uke!


He had been pretty keen on Riptide by Vance Joy, so I got all disciplined with it and made myself practice, practice, practice until I had it … well, had it at least recognizable.  At least I hoped.  I decided to film one version all the way through while he was gone in case I got all fumbly and bumbly while playing it for him and goobered the whole thing up (happens all the time).  And, don’t worry, I royally goobered this one pretty good, but I’ll share it anyway for your entertainment.  I have such a hard time singing at a different beat than I’m playing.  It’s like rubbing your stomach and patting your head.  I can only do it if I can find a match on the down beat-slash-rub.  Anyway, for what it’s worth — enjoy!

And, just for fun, here’s a gal actually doing this song justice on the uke.  She seems a little off when the video starts (I thought she was about to play while high on pain meds as some ice bucket dare or something) but then she nailed it.  This is what it was supposed to sound like:

[And, as an aside, if you’re in any way thinking about picking up the uke, I highly recommend it.  You can get one at pretty much any little music store for around $50, it’s small and travels well, and it’s really pretty easy to start learning basic songs during your first lesson yet still challenging enough to push yourself on harder ones.  Great, free entertainment and mental stimulation.  I mean, why not?]

So, when the captain made his way back to the boat, I set us up on the foredeck with two deck chairs, two glasses of champagne and proceeded with the live version.  I actually didn’t do half bad so the video wasn’t necessary.  I even inspired Captain himself to give it a little go.  (Minus the wailing pelican in the background … aka me!) his show wasn’t half bad either.

Needless to say, we had fun with it.  But, post-concert was the real treat.  The last time I had hung the silks on the sailboat for an aerials session was November of last year (far too long!).  The conditions were perfect that evening in Ingram’s Bayou–calm, cool and still–for a sunset session.  Captain helped me rig it up and I set to it.  It was even more fun now that I had learned so many new tricks!

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We totally need to install some pyrotechnics on the boat for this.  Get all New World Order with it.  BOOM!

In all, it was an incredibly fun day.  It makes me think back on all the times people have asked me — “Don’t you get bored just sitting around on the boat all day?”  Rather than enlighten them, it makes me want to say — “Yeah, it’s just awful.  I’d much rather be working.”  Best to keep the secret.  We don’t want these anchorages to get too crowded.  Ha!  We like the serenity.


We cheersed the sunset and set to grilling up two killer salmon filets for dinner.

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Oh, and definitely give this a try – a super-easy, super-flavorful (and light) sauce for fish, veggies, white meat, etc.  Make it to taste, but it’s roughly 1/4 cup Greek yogurt, 1 tbsp dijon mustard, and dried dill weed.  Perhaps Day Two dinner deserves some pyrotechnics too.  BOOM!



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Stranded Naked in the Bahamas??

I will be!  Soon!  Big announcement folks (cue that ratta-tatta news room sound) — this Little Sailor-that-Could is going to the Bahamas!  Not on our boat, not with the Captain and apparently (at times) not with clothes.  Say what?!?  That’s right.  Times are a-changin’!

To make a long story short (I know, I know, I’m not so good at that, but I’m really going to try!), around November of last year, the Captain and I, having just finished our pretty-involved solar panel project and chased down our baffling alternator aftermath, were itching to get our boat out for an extended stay on the hook to really enjoy our new solar input and make sure we wouldn’t have any trouble this time with the starting battery.  Thanksgiving was coming up, so we decided to use the holiday time to do what we do best–enjoy a nice, serene anchorage on our beautiful boat.

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It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.  

As you know, I had been piddling around on the aerial silks for a few months by then and when I mentioned our upcoming trip to my instructor, the completely unattractive and untalented, Garrett (this one’s for you ladies):


he says, “Oh yeah, that reminds me, I’ve been meaning to tell you about Hanna.”

“Who?” I ask, wondering what’s so special about this Hanna chick.

“Hanna,” Garrett says.


This chick.  Little did I know this fiery little redhead was about to turn my world upside down (literally).



At the time, I had been playing around on the silks for a few months and always made my way to the gym any time I wanted to get a silks session in.  I mean, you need like 30 feet of height to rig up a pair.  Where am I going to hang a set of my own?  I hope your gears are starting to turn, because I have to admit, had I not seen it myself, I’m not sure I would have ever thought of it on my own.

Hanna doesn’t just DO silks.  She does it … ON A SAILBOAT.

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Just when I thought sailboats couldn’t get any cooler …   I couldn’t get to her fast enough.  I Facebook stalked her, texted her, tracked the poor girl down.  I had to know where she got her magic “sailboat silks” and how she rigged them up.  Thankfully Hanna was way cool, she forgave the stalking and clued me in.  Her husband’s parents own a 47′ Beneteau and they had rigged her silks up on the boat using the whisker pole for the spinnaker.  While I didn’t think that would work on our boat (we don’t have our whisker pole mounted on the mast) I started tinkering around on our boat and was pretty sure I had figured out a way.  I mean, there’s a 50 foot mast, dozens of lines, rods and standing rigging to utilize.  If the boat can hoist and fly sails, surely it could hoist and fly me?!?  At least that’s what I told myself when I clicked, clicked, clicked, confirmed and bought my very own set of silks in hopes of hanging and playing on them during our turkey day trip.


They arrived the day before our trip and were the first thing I packed on the boat.  I couldn’t believe I was going to be able to combine one of my favorite hobbies (the silks) with one of my favorite pastimes (lounging around on the boat).  Could life get any better?  Not in my book!  With the Captain’s blessing, I rigged my brand new set up for the very first time on our boat on Thanksgiving day and set to it!

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Now, did I get blown into the mast about five times?  You bet!  Did I care?  Not a bit!  Apparently, you need to have like ZERO wind to be able to do the silks on the boat, but it’s still very doable and easy gear to carry along and rig up.  I was happier than Richard Simmons at a fat camp.  It was one of my favorite days on the boat in all of 2014, even including our trip to the Keys.  It’s just such an incredible feeling to be virtually weightless, dangling, suspended over the anchorage.  Ahhhhh …  And, Ft. McRae is such a gorgeous place to “hang out” (ha ha).

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So, how does this lead to the Bahamas, or better yet being stranded and naked there?  Well, having sailed on her husband’s folks’ boat often, Hanna herself has a love for sailing and (I think) a little hankering to Captain her own boat one day.  A woman after my own heart!


As such, she soon became a fan, follower and sponsor on the blog (thank you Hanna!), got a signed copy of my Salt of a Sailor book and passed word of it along to her inlaws hoping they, as sailors, would enjoy it as well.  (Thank you again, Hanna!)

Surprisingly, even after reading the book and knowing full well all of the incredibly stupid things I said, thought and did in it, Hanna’s inlaws still thought highly enough of my sail abilities, or my sea worthiness at least, to ask me to help crew their boat this July in the Abacos Regatta!


Ben and Sara needed a few extra hands on deck during the July 4th and July 6th races, and they generously offered both Phillip and I a bunk on the boat if we would fly out to the Bahamas to help them with these two legs.  Sadly, Phillip had a conflict and could not make it, but after some serious talk, we decided it was an opportunity I could not and should not pass up.  So, I’m going to the Bahamas folks!


I will fly into Marsh Harbour from Ft. Lauderdale, cab it up to Treasure Cay and then ferry over to Green Turtle Cay where Ben and Sarah are moored.  July 3rd is the famous Stranded Naked, Cheeseburger in Paradise party (although I’ve been advised we do wear clothes — bummer!).  I will help crew the July 4th Green Turtle race and the July 6th Treasure Cay to Guana Cay race then fly from Marsh Harbour back to Ft. Lauderdale.


Red = cab.     Green = ferry.     Blue = sailing.

Thankfully, the room and board will be free on Ben and Sara’s spacious Benetau, the s/v Cheval — French for horse.  Perfect for me.


With just a flight to cover for a multi-island sailing experience through the Bahamas with two incredibly traveled, generous sailors, it was an opportunity I simply could not turn down.  While Phillip and I plan to sail our boat there in the years to come, this will be a great way to get a flavor and feel of the Abacos and participate in their famous, party-style annual Regatta.  The decision was actually pretty easy.  Little did I know it would all develop from what I thought was simply a fun acrobatic hobby, which turned into a sailboat side-sport, but that’s the beauty of it all.  If you keep your mind and plans open to new places, pastimes and people, amazing opportunities can arise.  It’s okay if things get turned upside down.  If you just kind of go with it, you may find it was the best thing that ever happened to you.


Thank you again Hanna for setting all of this up!  And, Ben and Sara, for your generosity (and bravery!) for inviting this tenacious little sailor aboard your vessel.  I … Cant … Wait!  I’ve had an empty passport for too long.  It’s time to stamp this baby up!  Even if I have to go it alone.  Life doesn’t wait for you.  Live while you can.  Bahamas … here I come!



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Sundowners and Sultry Ladies in N’awlins

September, 2014:

Ahhh … Dani and Tate.  Perhaps I don’t have to introduce them to you all here.  You probably already know them.  They’ve earned a bit of a celebrity status in the sailing blog world and have certainly been an inspiration to Phillip and I.  We started following along on their SundownerSailsAgain blog during the last of the five-year refit of their Westsail 32 for its fourth, but their first, circumnavigation.  As Tate so aptly put it, when they stepped on the boat, they “felt its soul.”  It seemed, like our Niagara 35, the boat chose them.


Dani and Tate, well into the last leg of their refit when we met them through our mutual blogs in the fall of 2014, were planning to set sail in January, 2015 from their homeport of Metarie, LA to really do it — sail around the entire world.  Phillip and I, having planned a trip to NOLA months prior to celebrate the completion of our solar panels project, knew we had to try to meet up with them before they shoved off.  So, we set it up, a Sundowner-meets-HaveWind union in the frothy culture hub of the South – New Orleans.

Now, being avid NOLA go’ers already, Phillip and I had already made several reservations at some of our favorite N’awlins eateries and had purchased tickets for a couple of different shows in advance of the trip.  What kind of shows you might ask?  Only the best — burlesque!  While the reason we ended up with tickets to two burlesque shows was through no fault of our own (after the Friday show was seemingly cancelled, we bought tickets to a Saturday show then Friday’s was re-instated — what are you gonna do?), we did hesitate for a moment when Tate asked us if we needed some guidance on finding things to do in the city.  Nope, Tate.  Unlike the ladies of burlesque, we’ve got it ALL covered!  But, knowing we would be meeting up with them on Saturday night, we invited them to Show No. 2 which was actually going to be a Clue-themed murder mystery.  I’ll never forget Dani’s response — “Awesome.  I’ve never been to one.  Can’t wait to solve the mystery!  ; )” Love those guys.  With everything booked and an exciting meeting in store, we were off.

(And, quick note to the viewers, all photos and videos of the burlesque gals in this post are completely PG 13.  I have edited to cover all pretty lady parts (the not-so-pretty ones?  Well, it’s just part of the show.  Burlesque babes come in all shapes and sizes.  Enjoy!)

If you haven’t been to New Orleans, or have only been during Mardi Gras when the city is a chaotic, drunken mess, you should definitely take the time to roam the less-populated streets in the daytime, admire the colorful history and appreciate the true age and culture of the city.

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The buildings are almost as colorful as the characters you will meet walking along the cobble streets.  The food is eclectic and superb.  Just plan to eat and try everything while you’re in the city (NO DIETS ALLOWED).  You can work it off when you get back.  Trust me, say no to nothing.  Our best meal of this trip?  The meat pie at Cochon:


Follow that with a worldly trek through W.I.N.O. (the Wine Institute of New Orleans), where you can sample hundreds of wines from regions all over the world,

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and you’re ready for a night on the NOLA town.


Street bands seem to emerge around every corner, always playing some jazzy, cajun upbeat number that will force you to put a little dance in your shuffle, smile unknowingly and inhale the energy of the city.

After all of that fun, it was time for Show No. 1 on our list — Cirque d’Licious at the Hi Ho Lounge.  Fantastic show.  Very talented ladies.  And, I do mean that.  While pulling your stockings off with your teeth is, yes, entertaining, one gal in particular really impressed me — LadyBeast.  (I’ve been called that a time or two).  And, you know what her specialty was?  Aerial acrobats!  But instead of silks, she uses chains!  A woman after my own heart!

I have to say, though, I drove Phillip absolutely mad watching her.  I was high on the wine and my own inner Cirque-ego came out.  I kept saying, “That’s such an easy trick.  Super basic.  I can totally do that!”  To which Phillip, in his infinite wisdom, responded, “Yeah, but you’re not.  You’re sitting in the audience.  Now hush!”   

Hmmmppfff.  But, it was really fun to watch LadyBeast do things I did know I could do.  I have to admit a little seed planted for my budding burlesque career–after I finish with the sailing perhaps.  The real highlight of the show, though, was this little number.


Why, you might ask?  Because of this and this …


What are they?  Great question!  We didn’t know until she hooked up the power cord and roared that thing to life.  It was a wire brush grinder.  Vrrreeeerrrrr!


Yep.  Just like that.  And, what do you think this dainty little gal did with it?  She fired it up and sparked the place out on her custom garter grind plate.  I have to tell you, I’ve seen a number of burlesque shows in my life, but THAT was a first.  She was phenomenal.  Fearless.  A total show-stopper.  Funniest part was, though, when I was telling Dani about it the next night.  Being the crafty, highly mechanically-inclined sailor she is, she thought immediately about the physical repercussions of use of such a tool near one’s … nether parts.

“My God, wouldn’t it get super hot?” Dani asked, to which my inner thoughts immediately responded, “Yeah, it was super hot.”  This literally was probably one of the first things Dani and I discussed when we met on Saturday night.  I mean, let’s get down to business, am I right?

The much-anticipated meeting with Dani & Tate from SundownerSailsAgain was incredibly inspiring.  Those two had been working so hard for years to fulfill a lifelong dream.


They had saved, scrimped, sacrificed and given pretty much everything they had to do it.  They had their concerns and a refreshingly honest approach to what life would be like out there, but they were so energetic and enthusiastic about it, you couldn’t help but feel the excitement pulse out of them.  I felt like arcs of energy were going to zap and pop between us.  We shared such a common goal.  Phillip and I were very fortunate to get to meet the Sundowner crew before they left because we can now feel the personality behind their posts.  Dani also did a riveting recap of our NOLA union on her blog as well.

It is also with great joy (and a twinge of bitter jealousy), that I let you know Dani and Tate completed their exhaustive-yet-rewarding refit in the winter of 2014 and set sail January, 2015 to bravely make the first passage of their trip, their first overnight passage on the boat and their first Gulf crossing (all in one!) as they braved the winter winds from Rabbit Island down to the Keys.  They made it safely to the Keys in five days, subsequently made the jump south to Cuba then decided to go west to Mexico where they fell in the beautiful quagmire that is Isla Mujeres.  I encourage you to follow them on their wildly entertaining and inspirational journey.


But, let’s get back to the important stuff.  Yes, the burlesque gals.  As talented as LadyBeast and the d’Licious bunch were (it is admittedly hard to top metal grinders and chains), I have to say Show No. 2 took the cake.  Why?  I’ll give you a clue …


The CLUE-themed murder mystery was really such an awesome idea for a show (and a great way to get the audience involved and make more money to boot).  Before the show began, you could buy votes ($1 a piece) to take a random stab at WHO DONE IT?  (And, of course, in true CLUE fashion, in what room they did it and with what weapon — pictured above — the revolver and the wrench).  Then, as each lady took the stage, she was dressed as a certain CLUE character and dancing in a certain CLUE room.  At the very end of her dance, she would reveal a weapon, which meant you needed to scratch that suspect, venue and deadly piece off your list.  Here is the burlesque CLUE cast – you can likely make out a few key characters — Miss White, Professor Plum, Miss Scarlet, Colonel Mustard is actually the voluptuous vixen in the middle (well-played):


As the show went on (and you realized your previous guesses were obviously wrong) you could buy more votes to submit.  The winning votes were thrown in a hat at the end and one drawn out as the winner of an actual classic CLUE game and the privilege of crawling through a “spank tunnel” (yes, exactly what you would imagine) under the burlesque gals.  In all, it was total entertainment, an incredible night with the hilarious Dani & Tate duo and certainly an evening Phillip and I won’t soon forget.

Visiting with the Sundowner crew, who are now well on their way to world travel, only told us what we already knew–the time to go is now.  As Tate said recently in an email to us, “My God, it’s everything we expected.  You need to get out here.  You understand.”

Yes, Tate.  We do.  You kids have fun out there.  Fair winds.  We’ll see you soon.



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Solar Stick & New Silks Trick

June, 2014:

Grommets, snaps, witch stitchery …  Now that we had our solar panels and knew where we wanted to put them, we were debating all the different ways you can possibly attach them.  I kept trying to break out the old hot glue gun, and Phillip kept vetoing it (for good reason).  After some debate and research, we finally decided on Velcro.  I was thrilled with the decision.  I love velcrow.  Back in the day, it was all I wore!  Who wants to waste time tying laces when you can rock those Velcro flap shoes?


Nailed it!  (Me and the Bro always brought it at the annual Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta).

I considered myself a bit of a whiz with the Velcro.  I had used it often to rig up nifty little things on the boat.  You recall the Chair-Wow and my various Velcro/hot glue creations:

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Velcrow for the solar panels was going to work just fine.  So, we got up with our regular canvas guy — Tony with Coastal Canvas — and started laying out the panels and determining the attachment points.  Recall we did have the issue with the Eisenglass window pane over the helmsman’s head that we had to work around:


However, Tony said it would not be a problem at all.  He would simply reduce the size of the opening for the pane on top to accommodate the two square panels on either side.  I like that guy.  Seems for him, nothing’s a problem!  We provided Tony with the bimini and our panels and he set to work.

In the meantime, I kept at it with the silks,

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and eventually learned my first drop trick!  (We call this the reach-and-grab … for obvious reasons.)

Phillip, however, seemed to think my new acrobatics could be put to better use on the boat.

“You like to climb, huh?  Well, up you go!”


The Man runs a tight ship!  Remember that steaming light we crushed during our trip to the Keys when we attempted our first (and hopefully our last) mid-sea mast climb to retrieve the main halyard??  Well, while we were waiting to get our bimini back from Tony, we picked up a new one and Phillip sent this little Cirque de Soul up the mast to fix it.


Maybe some silks skills do come in handy on the boat.


At 50 feet up, it’s hard to say which “sport” is more fun!

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A few new tricks and projects later and it wasn’t long before we had our bimini back outfitted perfectly for our panels.


Tony reduced the size of our Eisenglass pane to open easily between the two square panels on the back.


And, his craftsmanship proved to be a vast improvement from my hot glue jobs.


With the Velcro outlines in place, we were ready to slap some panels on the bimini!


While the decision to stitch the Velcro onto the bimini was an easy one (it’s canvas, that’s a no-brainer), how, exactly, to attach the Velcro to the panels was another story.  Although the panels we bought (the Renogy monocrystalline) are technically “flexible,” that really only means up to 30 degrees.  The “flexible” panels could actually be considered pretty rigid when you start trying to stick a needle through one.


For an equivalent, I would say they feel about like a thin sheet of PVC.  While there is a little white lip around the edge that we could have had Tony try to stitch through, there was no guarantee the needle could punch through or that, if it did, it wouldn’t crack the panel and ruin the monocrystalline cells.  This time, Tony had a problem.  He was understandably hesitant to crank up his heavy-duty industrial sewing machine and run one of our brand new expensive panels through.  Can’t say that I blame him.  Tony suggested we simply apply adhesive-backed Velcro to the backs of the panels to stick them on the bimini and even supplied us with a roll of industrial strength adhesive Velcro to use.

It was probably the right call.  Having used that type of adhesive Velcro before, we knew it was pretty strong and risking the panels in a sewing machine catastrophe was not worth the added comfort of having the Velcro stitched onto the panels.  Plus, the panels came pre-made with grommet holes at each corner if we wanted to do some hand-stitching to the bimini later for added security.   We applied a thin strip of Velcro on each edge of the panels to match up with the Velcro outlines on the bimini.

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We set them in place on the bimini and were pleased to find the Velcro gave a good, solid hold.


Absent gale gusts or a hurricane, we didn’t feel like the panels were going anywhere.  But, now they were only attached.  That was the easy part.  They were not yet wired in.

Each panel has a positive and negative output — positive to pass the solar energy through, negative to ground the panel.  We had three panels, a large 100 watt panel in the front and two 50 watt panels in the back.  We were planning to wire the back two square panels together to basically have two panel outputs coming in (the 100 watt and the combined 50s).  As I mentioned previously, we also had to install two MPPT Charge Controllers to regulate the flow of each solar “panel” into our house battery bank.

Example diagram of the combined 50 watts:


You having fun yet?  While we like to research and troubleshoot and try to figure things like this out for ourselves (because no one’s going to be there to help us when these systems break in the middle of the dadgum ocean), when we’re faced with something completely new and do have the collective knowledge of our fellow boat buddies to pool from, we like to invite them over to the boat at times like these to “have a few beers.”  That’s boat code for “I want your help with something.”  We’ve been lucky to fall into a great group of boat friends in Pensacola, and they’re always eager to lend a hand or an opinion.  Bottom-Job Brandon and our Broker-turned-Buddy Kevin came over and we all started scooching panels around, running wires and scratching our heads.

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(Don’t they look smart?)  What can I say, there were beers involved.

Decisions were made, though, as to where to mount the MPPT controllers, how to run the wires from the panels on top of the bimini, down the bimini frame and through the deck of the boat and how to connect the charge controllers to the main house battery bank.  Up next, the real work of the solar project begins!

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These circus skills really do translate.  Perhaps I need to take up contortionism next …  Stay tuned!


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Time to Do Some SOL-ar Searching

June, 2014:

Everyone likes power, right?  Edison knew it.  Torches, lanterns and candles are great, but bulbs are just way cooler (and much safer on a boat).  We love the silence of the sea, the serenity of being at anchor and are pretty frugal with our amp hours.  But, our trip to the Keys in 2014 told us there are a few electric gizmos we consider a must, and that we must find a better way to power them.  Some of our more Edison-esque priorities are …



Laptops and phones:


The radio and, most definitely, the fridge!


Ice just puts the “happy” in our hour(s) if you know what I mean.


But, if you want to enjoy all of these fun electric things, you must find an efficient way to POWER them.  On the Niagara, our house battery bank consists of four (4) 6 volt Trojan T-125 wet-cell batteries, wired in series and in parallel, which charge on either shore power or the engine via the alternator (much like a car battery).  We did replace the batteries in the fall of 2013, so they’re solid.


And, we do have a handy eMeter, which helps us monitor our usage and the remaining “juice” that we have left to enjoy our power-driven amenities.


But, with the engine as the only option to charge the batteries when we are away from shore, this meant we often had to crank the engine while on the hook and let it run idle to give the batteries some juice.

Now, there are a LOT of things we like to do while at anchor:

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(Total gratuitous shot of Phillip, I know.  It’s my blog.  I don’t care.)

Sitting around watching the engine run so we can charge the batteries, however?  Doesn’t really rank very high in our “fun” category:


Not to mention, it’s just hard on the engine.  Diesels do not like to run idle without a load.


So, one of our primary projects after returning from the Keys was to install some solar panels on the boat that would allow us to use power from the sun to charge the house batteries while at anchor.  Sounds simple, right?  Well, it wasn’t.  Thankfully, Phillip bore the brunt of the research end of this project.  (Because let’s face it, he is definitely the brains of this outfit.  I’m the brawn.  We’ve got a great thing going.)  There were so many different types of panels, manufacturers, installation techniques and set-ups to consider.  We were debating between rigid panels versus flexible panels:

Rigid  flex

The high-end Italian-made panels versus the much less expensive Chinese “knockoffs.”


Think real Gucci versus what the guy is selling out of the back of his trunk around the corner.  But, who’s going to know, right?  Maybe there really are three “c”s in Gucci.

Without venturing too far outside of my meager solar knowledge (I’m sure Phillip is cringing at what I might be about to say right now and how far it might be from reality), one of the primary concerns for solar panels is their efficiency–that is, how much of the sun’s energy do they convert to solar power.  While the fancy Italian models (Solbian) were boasting 22%, the knockoffs (Renogy and Aurinco) were still clocking a good 18% for a third of the cost (roughly, for purposes of our project, about $900 versus $300).  We checked out a lot of cruiser’s forums discussing the Renogy flexible panels (mostly with good reports) and debated to no end about the pros and cons of each:

“You mean there are eight different products I have to choose between and everyone’s got a different opinion about each of them?  Who ARE these boat people with all of their complicated decisions?”

The great solar debate quickly became exhausting.  I felt like we needed one of those Don Draper decision trees (if you have not seen this – don’t rush it – it may help you make every important decision in your life going forward):


Finding the magic problem-solving power of the drink to be futile in the face of our dilemma, I decided in the meantime to take up another vice/hobby to help relieve some solar stress — the AERIAL SILKS!


A good friend of mine had been encouraging me to take it up for quite some time and I promised to give it a go when we got back from the Keys.  The minute I started, I knew …

I should have done this years ago!

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It was way too much fun to even remotely be called “work,” and I was trained by the best.  My silks instructor, Garret, is (sorry, but there’s really no other way to put this) a total silks badass:


It was also the perfect outlet for my inner circus!


With regard to the solar project, though, we found my new hobby quite emPOWERing and inspiring.  After a few weeks of silks training and further solar debate, we decided the Renogy flexible panels were the right choice for us.


The reviews were encouraging, the price was better, and the flex (up to 30 degrees) would allow us to mount them on top of our curved overhead canvas without having to add the stainless racks that would be necessary for rigid panels.  The flex decision, however, did not end our debate.  (We referred back to the Don Draper chart, but sadly found a drink and a nap didn’t solve this problem either.)  We now had to decide how many panels to buy and whether to mount them on the dodger or the bimini or both.

The dodger:


The bimini:


Unfortunately, if a solar panel is shadowed, even if only partially, it greatly hinders the solar power output for the entire panel.  While the dodger offers a wide canvas area for mounting, it’s sun exposure would be partially blocked by the boom, which meant output from panels on the dodger would be limited.  We were also unsure where we would feed wires in from panels on the dodger down below deck to the charge controllers.  (Solar panels require separate MPPT controllers which regulate the amount of solar power coming in to ensure it does not overload the batteries and/or burn the boat down, in that order.  Don’t worry, we’ll get there.  That’s a-whole-nother solar dilemma.  It will require two Don Draper drinks and repeated insults to fellow crew members).

The bimini, while offering a large canvas area for mounting, unfortunately had the “window” to contend with.  Our bimini has an Eisenglass cutout in the center, right above the helm, to allow the helmsman to view the sails and the windvane, which is mounted at the top of the mast, from behind the wheel.  We certainly didn’t want to block this, but it’s large rectangular shape made fitting two panels on either side of it very difficult.


Needless to say, the decision had our heads spinning …    I reverted to more silks therapy,

and Phillip took a nap.  Both seemed to help.

Eventually, we decided to mount the panels sol-ely (no solar pun intended!) on the bimini.  This would allow maximum direct sun exposure.  It was also the largest canvas area available and the most protected, being above our heads and out of range of lines, sheets, gaffs, boat hooks, falling tools or other objects that could potentially damage panels mounted on top of the dodger.  Our plan was to reduce the size of the Eisenglass window to accommodate two square panels on either side.

We measured the available space on the bimini, allowing a sufficient opening for the “window” above the helm to see the sails and wind vane, and decided to buy one large 100 watt panel (approximately 42″ x 22″) to mount on the front of the bimini:

100 watt

and two (2) 50 watt panels (approximately 22″ x 21″) to mount on the back on either side of the Eisenglass window:

50 watt

Like so!


The larger 100 watt panel promised an approximate 5 amps/hour input in direct sunlight and the two 50 watt panels combined promised another approximate 4 or so, for a (hopeful) total of 9 amps/hour going in.  To be conservative, we estimated 8 amps/hr input.  For anyone interested, here’s where you can earn your shooting PBS star for the day.  As a general rule of thumb, we use approximately 4.5 amps/hour on the Plaintiff’s Rest while at anchor.  With a 480-hour capacity battery bank (which we do not like to drain past 50%, or 240 hours), we could generally make it about one and a half days (~ 180 amps used) before we had to crank to recharge the batteries.  With an estimated input of 8 amps/hour during ten (10) peak sunlight hours from the solar panels, this would offset our amp hour usage by about 80 amps per day, allowing us to go an approximate 4, if not 5 days, without having to crank the engine to recharge the batteries.


Four and a half days without having to run the engine would qualify as a pretty significant improvement to our lives on the hook.  And, wasn’t the learning fun?

So, we finally had our panels and, presumably, we could make them fit around our Eisenglass window.  Now came the simple task of mounting them.  How do you go about doing that?  Like everything else in the boat industry, it seemed there were eight different ways to do it and everyone had eight different opinions about it.  We knew we were going to get those darn things on there somehow, but it would require more research, more therapy and another debate — snaps versus grommets, velcrow versus stitching.  On and on.  The possibilities had us tied up in knots.



Many thanks to the folks who make these posts a little more possible with PATREON.