February 12, 2016 – Solar Magic

Batu's New Solar Array - 400w of Magic
Batu’s New Solar Array – 400w of Magic

This week we added “solar charging” to the list of things that are working. This is huge. It’s so cool that sometimes it just seems like magic. Before solar we had to run the engine or the Honda generator for several hours a day. With the old refrigeration system, it was simply necessary. But once we replaced the refrigeration with a small Technautics 12v system, running the engine to keep the batteries topped up became a major chore. On a typical day we’d wake up, get coffee going and listen to the morning VHF radio net. After that I’d head up on deck to fill the Honda generator with about a gallon of gas. Given the rolling, pitching nature of a boat at anchor, this would typically result in at least some spillage and the subsequent string of expletives. Once finished with this messy task, I’d fire up the generator and head below to try washing off the smell of gas. Karen & the kids would head to shore or do whatever was on the agenda for the day, but someone – usually me – would have to stay aboard during charging. While the little Honda is pretty quiet, after many hours and days of charging, the smell of exhaust and the sound of that “quiet” motor was enough to keep me very on edge. Some days it was all I could do to keep myself from hucking that thing off the deck for one damned moment of silence! To keep the batteries at an acceptable level the Honda would run for 4-6 hours a day, typically running out of gas to indicate we were finished, for now. Even with that we were barely hanging on, with voltages ending at 12.6 or 12.7, mostly charged.

In contrast, our days with solar power are quiet and effortless. On a typical day we wake up, get the coffee going and clean off the solar panels while waiting for the morning radio net. Even loaded with dew, the panels are already pulling in between 4 – 6 amps before I clean them. We listen to the morning net and eat breakfast in the cockpit, watching bait fish churn next to the boat pursued by the occasional dorado (mahi mahi), pelican, or booby. After breakfast we go about our day. I usually check the solar input a few times a day as it ramps from 3-4 amps in the early morning to about 20 – 22 amps by midday. We run the inverter (converts 12v to 120v power) for several hours to power sewing machines, charge computers, etc, but most importantly we are free to leave the boat unattended, all day if necessary. She takes care of herself now. By evening we gather back aboard to make dinner and check the battery voltage. Most days, we’re pulling in between 90 – 130 amp hours, enough to leave our 540 amp hour house bank and emergency start batteries topped up to 12.8v, which means they are very, very happy. No more stink, no more noise and no more ties binding us to an engine running fossil fuel! It’s hard to express how amazing this is; all of this power comes from the sun, and it’s free. I want to put solar panels on everything!

We have many boat friends who are curious about the technical details of our installation, so I’ll share them here. We started by considering where on the boat we could mount panels and how we might do it. Batu has a long boom with maybe 6″ of clearance between the back of the boom and the backstay. Without a large metal arch behind that location, our options were limited to the stern quarter side panels or the dodger & Bimini tops. We considered stern side panels, but to properly mount in this location would require some metal work. We would need to replace the lifelines with stainless tubes welded in place. We spoke with several cruisers with panels mounted in this location. Most said it was OK, but they worried about damage from wave strikes and other boats. One set of friends lost a panel and sustained damage to their stainless infrastructure from another boat docking carelessly. In the end, we decided mounting panels on top of the dodger and Bimini was our best option for inexpensive mounting and hassle-free operation. It was a difficult decision because it required a complete re-working our sun awning which keeps us cool & breezy when not underway. Our boom leaves very little clearance in this area, so we decided to look at flexible panels which are less than 1/4″ [5mm] thick. Several friends suggested flexible panels from Renogy, but these are not currently available. We ultimately purchased four 100w flexible mono-crystalline panels made by HQST, virtually the same panel as the Renogy. Since most solar panels output higher voltage than batteries require for charging, we bought a Blue Sky 3000i MPPT-type charge controller. MPPT controllers cost a bit more, but can increase the charging output by 20 – 30% by converting the extra voltage from solar panels into additional charging current. For maximum efficiency, we calculated wire sizes based on the length of runs for a maximum voltage drop of less than 3%. By careful estimation of our power usage we calculated that we needed to replace 75 – 100 amp hours per day. Our hope was that the solar installation would produce slightly more; maybe 100 – 120 amp hours per day. In practice, we’re doing just a bit better than we’d hoped. The extra capacity will help us stay charged on cloudy days or when sails shade the panels while underway. At this point we couldn’t be more thrilled about the conversion to solar; it is the boost we need to feel energy-independent while heading to the South Pacific and beyond. Heading south and west, we will not be able to plug into shore power for at least a year or more.

Solar Back-end - Wired for Minimal Voltage Drop
Solar Back-end – Wired for Minimal Voltage Drop

This entire process leads me to think about what’s going on with energy conservation and use of renewable resources on land. With due respect to all parties left and right, I have no political agenda other than finding a better understanding of the world. One of the reasons we pursued the voyaging life was to truly understand what it means to have full accountability for our energy usage. The best way to describe my previous, suburban attitude about energy use would be so say I was “disengaged.” Knowing we might save $50 a month by changing our home’s halogen lamps with energy efficient CF or LED replacements didn’t really affect me. I like the light from halogens, and damn it, I work hard; there are already plenty of things on my “to do” list! It is difficult to be engaged when the system itself (i.e. the cost of electricity) underestimates the real cost of energy. The vast majority of power in the U.S. is generated using coal, natural gas, nuclear and oil resources. None of these power sources are sustainable and each has significant environmental impacts which are not accounted for in the cost of electricity. What if even a small percentage of homeowners were to make a push for solar? What if 10% of suburban homes were to streamline their power usage, install LED bulbs and put 2000w of solar panels on the roof? What if all new home construction included a basic solar package? The ramifications are huge. When we return to our home in Oregon we will certainly discuss it. The value of energy finally means something to me, and all things considered, the cleanliness and simplicity of solar power has me fired up.

Blue Sky 3000i MPPT Charge Controller
Blue Sky 3000i MPPT Charge Controller

Sarah:  Farley Mowat


On January 10, 2016 we got to see the Farley Mowat, an old coast guard boat, bought by an organization by the name of Sea Shepherd.  There was a very large gathering of people that were interested.When we finally got aboard the Farley Mowat  they took us up into the boat and showed us around. We got to see how things worked, and what type of supplies that they used.

The boat was repurposed and launched in 2015. The boat is a 110ft vessel currently used for the purpose of saving the Vaquita dolphin, a species that only has 100 of its kind left. The Farley Mowat also stops illegal whaling, and helps other types of Dolphins.

The Vaquita dolphin is a solitary animal, that doesn’t have a beak like many Dolphins and lives in the northern part of the Sea of Cortez. It is one of, if not the most endangered species in the world.



Operation Milagro II is an operation that helps the Vaquita Dolphins. But while they are doing operation Milagro II they also help other whales and dolphins. There is a protected reserve in the northern part of the Sea of Cortez where the Vaquita live. The Farley Mowat is headed there now. Recently the Mexican President came to give law enforcement small patrol boats to help the Sea Shepherd organization protect the reserve. Once they get to the reserve they find and pull up illegal nets that the Dolphins can get stuck in and suffocate. The nets are put there by pangas, smallish fishing vessels, that go up there to fish.


Sea Shepherd organization also travels to Japan to help prevent the Taiji Bay dolphin massacre, where the locals trap pods of dolphins in  a small cove,  pick the prettiest one to sell to Sea World, and kill the rest of the pod. The Farley Mowat lures the Dolphins away from  getting trapped by playing dolphin’s sonar recordings in the water to make sure that they get away safely.

Recently, the sailing vessel,belonging to the Sea Shepherd had a sighting of a Vaquita dolphin, which gives everyone proof that the Vaquita are still alive. The Sea Shepherd is a wonderful non-profit organization that inspires me, and I hope that it inspires you too.

February 6, 2016 – Sunrises & Sunsets

Saying goodbye - Peter & Mom
Saying goodbye – Peter & Mom

We are fortunate to be out in the world to savor perhaps more than our share of sunrises and sunsets. It’s one of my favorite aspects about our voyaging path. These reflected memories shimmer and grow even more meaningful when, far from the sunrise, sleep is elusive. Later today my family will gather in my hometown near Rochester, NY to remember and celebrate my Mom’s life. She died peacefully at age 86.

My Mom was a saint; she pretty much had to be to put up with my brothers and I when we were young. I’m afraid her unfailing kindness and compassion were sorely tested. I would say that she never raised a hand to us, but strictly speaking, that’s not quite accurate. She never raised more than a wooden spoon to us, specifically to my brother Mark, a point which would invoke peels of laughter for many years to come–despite being well deserved, the spoon broke on impact with his butt. A lesser person might have gotten out the kitchen knives, but Mom laughed too. I think she felt it was a sign for her to embrace her kindness rather than try to deny it. In truth, I’ve never met a more compassionate person. She was a vegetarian for over forty years; she valued life in all forms. I can clearly remember her using a glass to capture spiders or other creatures who found themselves inside our home. She would speak softly as she released the wayward bug on the back porch “off you go….”

Despite her overwhelming softness and kindness, Mom was fierce in a way. She was passionate about her convictions. She had a way of looking a person in the eye to say “this is how it’s going to be, got it bub?” She loved nature and was passionate about protecting the environment. Even in the 1960’s and ’70’s when recycling was almost unheard of, she did it religiously. If one of us kids put an apple core in the trash instead of the compost there would be hell to pay. I was raised on non-homogenized milk, fresh pressed carrot juice and bread baked from home-ground wheat. The mere suggestion of something pasty like Wonder bread, Fluff-a-nutter or Fruit Loops would be enough to bring out “the look.” Fierce.

Something else Mom was fierce about was living in the moment. Being present, fully awake, and plugged into the here-and-now is an experience that takes work. This was the way Mom cherished life. For as long as she could, she made it a point of discipline, her work: to savor each moment. This is how I remember my Mom. I celebrate her life with tears streaming down. Times like these are a bracing reminder that, like each day, life is finite. Each moment is a choice and an opportunity to cherish life. This is why we are voyaging, and Mom would understand.

At the end of the day, if we’re lucky, the sun bathes the world with the warmth of orange light, and the shadows grow long. At the end of a life, if we are fortunate, the shadows of memory grow long and reach out to draw up the night like a blanket as we lay ourselves to rest.  What I learned from Mom is: until that moment comes, be kind, be compassionate, and cherish fiercely each moment of your life.

Mom and Dad with Karen - 1992
Mom and Dad with Karen – 1992