Boat #7: 1997 Norseman 43

Wow.  This is an exquisite Catamaran.  A comfortable, durable coastal cruiser that looks like and feels like a five-star condo on the water.  Thank you Tom and Karen for Sunday Funday drinks and the hospitality.  Enjoy the tour!

Want to tour another Cat?  We’re crossing the Atlantic on one right now!  A French-Built 46′ Soubise Freydis.  Tour, footage and videos from repairs on the Soubise are up on Patreon now!

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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.


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.


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 …


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  …


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!


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.


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.


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.


I supervised.


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


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.




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!



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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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