Monday, May 11, 2015

Harnessing the Wind

Back in October we added four flexible solar panels to Mowzer with a total of 345 watts.  On a clear sunny day these panels can push up to 18 amps into our batteries and with a house battery bank of 500 amp hours, even with the fridge & freezer running we can get our batteries topped up by the afternoon.

However, on a cloudy day we just don't make it, and after about 4pm the solar panels can't keep up and we run to the negative overnight.  We've found that to avoid dropping too low, we turn off the freezer overnight (don't worry, it stays nice and cold - our ice is still in cubes in the morning) and have to resort to running our gas-powered generator for an hour each evening.

While this is a whole lot better than having to run our engines for three to four hours a day, we'd still like to be a bit more independent of the whole fossil fuel / noise thing.

Here enters the thoughts on wind generators.  Believe me we have pondered this one up and down, backwards and forwards, and listened to countless solicited (and unsolicited) opinions on this topic.  We've also cruised around every anchorage we've been in with our dinghy, checking out the various models and mounting options.

It quickly became apparent to us that along with efficiency, noise is a super important consideration.  We have sat next to some pretty noisy wind generators in various anchorages and can't imagine having that noise on the boat.  Isn't the whole purpose of being out here to try to gain some tranquility?  The noise of the wind in the rigging can be deafening some nights so we didn't want to add the angry whine of a turbine.

Our various forms of research landed us on the D400 - made in the U.K. by Eclectic Energy.    The unit runs almost silently, has good efficiency and great reviews both online and from those that we met that have it installed on their boats.

Once we'd chosen our wind gen, the next step was to figure out how we were going to mount the 17 kg (37 lb) beast.  We arrived in St. Martin with the goal of finding a stainless steel tubing fabricator who could build us a pole to hold the wind generator incorporated with a safer stern rail at the back of the boat; the current setup of three stanchions and some rather corroded steel wire needed an update.

After a bit of a hunt, we found Best Boat Yard at Bobby's Marina could do the work for us in the time we have on the island and so we arrived at the dock for the work to commence on Thursday.  By Friday afternoon, the old stanchions had been removed and the new rail and pole installed, with just an angled brace and some polishing to be finished on Monday morning.  Henry has assembled the wind generator and spent many hours in the engine room setting up the wiring which includes a regulator to control the voltage arriving at the batteries, and a diversion load which spills off any excess amperage in the form of heat (just what we need in the tropics.)

D400 (face down) assembled on the cockpit table - no outdoor dinner tonight!

Off with the old - Curtis cutting off the old stanchions so he could use the existing bases.

On with the new - drilling another hole in the boat for the wire to pass through the base of the pole and into the engine room where the battery bank resides.

All one unit with the pole in the foreground and the rail wrapping around the back of the boat to the other steps in the background.

The new rail at the side of the sugarscoop makes it much safer up and down the steps and also getting into the engine compartment.

The solid rail replaces the wire lifeline we had at the back of the boat.  Along with safety, we can now mount our BBQ a bit more out of the wind back here.
And there we have it!  The wind generator is installed and Henry's putting away our shore cord.

From now on we'll be checking to see if we're closer to breaking even with our power generation vs. power consumption in a 24 hour period.  The addition of the D400 should put us that much closer!

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