Planning Your Solar Install

Choosing Solar Panels, Solar panes, solar charge contrller, MPPT

Sailing around the world on renewable energy. The concept is as old as sailing itself. Ever since the first sailors raised canvas, sailing around the world on renewable energy was a natural evolution.

It’s wasn’t until the first steamships appeared in the 1800’s that we actually moved away from renewable energy. So no, it isn’t a novel concept. But I’m not talking about the days of kerosine lamps and canvas sails. Fast forward a couple hundred years.

In our everyday lives we enjoy certain “luxuries” that help us feel like we are living a modern life in the 21 century. Running water, lights, phones, computers, tablets, fans, rice cookers, blenders, microwaves, these are all things that we have grown accustomed to in our everyday lives. Are we really willing to live without them just because we decided to go cruising? Camping is one thing, but let’s face it, most of us want creature comforts.

Sailing around the world on renewable energy is a little different in modern day. Cinderella is not bare bones, we have the luxuries aboard that most people have in their home (minus the microwave and flat screen tv), she is our home after all. And we power all of it with solar.

But where did we begin when sizing our solar system? This can be tricky. You might be tempted to break out the calculators and try to add up all of the energy draw aboard, use estimators to narrow down just how many hours of sunshine you expect to see, size you battery bank to make sure you don’t deplete it by more that 60% each day and so on.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t do that… I’m saying there is an easier way.

Tips on Selecting Solar Panels

Realize that there is no harm in having too much power.
When sizing Cinderella’s system I started backwards. How much space do we have aboard for solar panels?

Most modern sailboats (unless you have a very specialized raceboat) have lots of real estate behind the boom of the mainsail. That space is typically covered with a bimini of some sort to protect the people onboard from the sun. This is an excellent place to install solar panels!

On Cinderella, we measured the space from the end of the boom to her stern. We then measured the width of the boat in the same area. Once we had an idea of the available real estate, we went online to research what our options were.

It turns out there are three major options: rigid monocrystalline panels, rigid polycrystalline panels, and flexible panels.

Rigid monocrystalline panels are the oldest. They have been around for decades, and are getting better and better every year. Rigid monocrystalline panels produce the most power to area of any panel.

Rigid polycrystalline panels are newer than monocrystalline panels. They don’t produce quite as much power per area as monocrystalline panels, but they are far superior when it comes to shading. If the area you have available for panels has lot of shading, polycrystalline panels may be the way to go.

That leaves flexible panels. Flexible panels are the newcomers. They are light and flexible. They don’t produce anywhere near the power of rigid panels, but they can be mounted almost anywhere. Most marine brands also have the charge controllers built in, so you can wire them directly to your batteries. The biggest perk is that you can walk on them, so in theory you can open up quite a bit of real estate. Unfortunately thus far, I have not met very many cruisers that are happy with their flexible panels. They don’t seem to last as long as their rigid counterparts.

Knowing that we are not only running our home, but also charging our electric motor battery bank, I opted to go with the rigid monocrystalline option. The more power the better. Since we don’t have a wind generator, or a radar dome, there is nothing to shade our panels except for our thin backstay.

After measuring the available space (about 80″ x 90″) I started researching brands online. There are lots of threads on this subject. you will find brand diehards, you will find people talking about dollars to watts, you will find enough information to make your head spin.

I again offer a simpler solution: study at the spec sheets. All solar panels are made up of solar cells. These cells are wired together to make different voltages, but are roughly 6″ x 6″ regardless of their efficiency.

That translates to a standard width to all solar panels (with the exception of very small panels). Whether they are 190w or 360w, all of the panels are roughly 40″ wide.

Knowing that, we took that 80″ x 90″ area and decided to fill it with as much solar panel as we could. This came to roughly two 265w to 360w panels depending on brand and efficiency.

So, now that you have an idea of what you want based on your area to cover, where do you find them?

You may be tempted to go online and try to find the cheapest price, but you will quickly realize that shipping a 40″ x 80″ panel costs just as much as the panel! This may be ideal for covering a home roof, but not when you only need one or two.

Go to your local electrician’s supply! They exist in nearly every major city. In Seattle, it was Platt Electric.

I walked in to Platt with my tape measure and told the staff what I was doing. They led me into their warehouse and showed me the options. Since they basically buy full pallets of panels for resale, they were excited to cut me a deal on the leftover panels on each pallet. After looking through a few pallets, I found two 345w Solarworld panels that measured 40″ x 80″. the panels were $250 each, so I got 690w of solar for $500!

Not bad considering that has covered our “power bill” for over a year now and allowed us to be fully off the grid, fully sustainable with all of our “luxuries” plugged in.

Selecting your Battery Bank and Charge Controllers

Once you have your panels selected it’s time to have a look at your battery bank, and what controller you will put between the panels and your batteries.

Charge controllers come in two basic types PWM or “pulse width modulation” and MPPT “Multiple Power Point Tracking”.

Both of these use electronic circuitry to prevent the panels from destroying your batteries. The circuitry is how they differ.

Pulse Width Modulation is an older technology that works by breaking up the DC current heading to the batteries with a series of switches. These switches open and close so fast that the battery doesn’t even notice it. Using a set charge curve for the battery type, these charge controllers very the width of the energy pulse from the panels to meet the battery’s ideal charge voltage. This leads to an efficient charger that doesn’t boil your batteries.

Multiple Power Point Tracking is a newcomer. It is more efficient that PWM and it was designed for passive energy like solar. MPPT chargers work by a neat little trick discovered by Nicola Tesla, the transformer. The chargers invert DC power to AC power using electronic circuitry. All of that AC energy can then be transformed from very high voltage to the exact voltage the battery needs. The AC power is then converted back to DC power and fed to the batteries.

What does this mean? It means that you can feed very high voltage to an MPPT Charge controller and the controller can take the extra voltage and turn it into useable amperage that won’t boil batteries. Since higher voltages have less energy losses, we can send more useable power to the batteries! And use smaller diameter wires to do it.

Obviously, we went with the MPPT charge controller option.

Next step: Sizing the charge controller

Charge controllers are essentially sized by the amount of heat they can dissipate. In the world of electricity, amperage is heat, so we can say that charge controllers are sized by the amps they can handle.

Since our panels can produce 690 watts, we can divide 690 watts by 12 volts and get almost 58 amps. Thats quite a bit! But that is also the theoretical best case scenario. I assumed that we would normally produce about half of our maximum, so I found a charge controller that could handle 30 amps.

I chose the Midnight Solar Kidd. The Kidd was reasonably priced at about $300 and was designed for the marine environment. They also have the option of paralleling, so if I decided I wanted to utilize the most from my panels, I could get a second Kidd and wire them together to handle the extra amps.

I purchased a second Kidd for our 48v electric motor battery bank. That way if anything happened to one, we have a backup onboard to get us to the next port.

The last piece of the puzzle: the battery bank!

 

 

The battery bank is where you store and draw power from when the sun isn’t shining. There have been huge improvements in battery technology over the past few years, and it seems like the prices of the new technology is always dropping. Since I purchased our house bank for Cinderella over a year ago, we have noticed that the prices have dropped by about 30% on LiFePO4 technology!

We again sized our battery bank based on the space aboard Cinderella. She had two tired old 110ah agm batteries when I bought her, so we replaced them with two new batteries.

At the time Lithium was out of my price range, and the Samsung phones were blowing up left and right. Not quite making a good case for LiFePO4 technology.

Fortunately, there was a new carbon foam battery technology in the market. A company called Ocean Planet Energy launched the Firefly Oasis Battery. They coated standard lead acid plates with some type of carbon foam that prevented sulfation, a lead acid battery’s arch nemesis. This resulted in a battery with lithium like characteristics, at much lower prices.

We purchased two of these carbon foam batteries from Fisheries Supply in Seattle, and have been happy with them every since. Unlike standard lead acid batteries, we could discharge them completely without damaging their lifespan. We essentially got four 110ah batteries in half the footprint.

There you go! I hope this helps you design your solar system from Mercury to Pluto.

Obviously, its best to have a plan before you purchase all of your pieces. If you are curious how we wired our system click here.

Sailing in Southern Mexico

Sailing Southern Mexico, Electric Sailboat, Puerto Angel, Zihuatanejo, Zipolite, Mazunte, San Augustinillo

Southern Mexico

We were told that boats don’t sail down here. That large fuel tanks were a cruisers best friend and that we should expect to motor the whole way. Well… that’s just not our style!

If you look at GRIBs, the southern Mexican coastline is void of breeze. It’s a wind deadzone that waits for hurricane season before it blows at all.

I’m here to tell you, its all wrong. You CAN sail here, and with a bit of patience, it can even be fun!

After leaving Zihuatenajo, we experienced one of the best passages we have had on the entire trip. No, we were not making record miles per day, but 100-120 isn’t bad for our pequeno barko. And we really wanted to see Oaxaca after everything we have heard about it.

It did not disappoint.

Almost all of the winds that we have experienced down here are diurnal. During the day you can expect the sea breeze to blow up to 15kts, though mostly in the 8-10 range, and at night the land breeze kicks in, but it’s a little calmer. The best part, flat seas. The cherry on top, sea turtles everywhere!

On the stretch from Ztown to Huatulco, those breezes are on the beam! The beam! Cindy sat at a nice easy 6kts for most of the day just cruising along. At night, the wind died for a couple hours between 9 and 11pm before the land breeze started to blow and we would jibe the kite.

The flat seas meant that cooking was easy and the experience aboard was really pleasant. We had an opportunity to tackle some of those projects that are on that never-ending list, and even work out! And they told me you couldn’t sail here!

We made two stops in Mexico after Zihuatanejo, Puerto Angel and Huatulco.

Puerto Angel was one of our favorite places in all of Mexico. We find that we get along well with the local fisherman everywhere we go, and this tiny, beautiful spot was well off the beaten cruiser path. If you stopped to take a look

We stopped along the way to try some local Mexcal

A short camineta (cheap public transit truck) away was a breathtaking coastline of a series of beaches. Zipolite, Mazunte, San Augustinillo.

…. We took advantage of the inexpensive transit and explored to our hearts content. Through a friend we met, we even got a tour of the local University! (more on that in another blog)

Huatulco was a sleepy tourist town, very dependent on cruise ships for income. There are several bays that you can anchor in, but it was HOT and we were antsy to see Costa Rica and Central America.

The biggest challenge we have experienced down south is the heat. Being PNWerners, we aren’t use to it.

Without shade and cold beverages it can be downright dangerous. Ava is struggling with it a bit more than I am, but I attribute that to all that time I spent in hay lofts stacking bales of hay in the miserable summer heat back in Indiana. At least here the dolphins keep us company and I am not inhaling all that hay dust and pollen that caused even the strongest of immune systems to have allergic reactions.

It took us a while to adopt our schedule and learn how to live down here, but after a few weeks of deliriously sweating we are starting to figure it out. We started to adopt rules to make life better.

#1 Hydrate Hydrate Hydrate. I am so glad we stocked up on gatorade and tea mixes before we left and installed our watermaker. Water is going through us like crazy. The sweet additives have the effect of making you crave drinking more, and otherwise I just couldn’t drink enough water. We always try to keep two bottles of something in the fridge.

#2 No cooking! No matter what, no cooking during the day. It is not wise to stoke the hell-fire, and any extra heat in the cabin could be what causes heat stroke to set in. We have become mediterranean in our cooking habits, we wait until the sun goes down and have late dinners. If we can, we make enough to have leftovers the following day for lunch and that gets us through the day. Thank you Poseidon for the fresh fish that allowed for fresh poke lunches.

#3 Shower and shower often. For us this means we break out trusty ol bucky (our rubbermaid bucket) and pour a few gallons over ourselves. We headed South for warmer waters, and it feels amazing to get a nice ocean-water shower. I wish Cindy had a swim step…

#4 Sleep when it’s cool. We have adjusted our watch schedules to allow each of us to get some sleep in the cooler hours. If not you will simply go mad. Waking up in a puddle of your own sweat and dehydrated is not the making for a pleasant watch.

As I write this, we are 4 days into a 760nm passage to Costa Rica from Huatulco, MX. It’s 7am and we are sailing hard on the wind at 5.5-6kts exactly on our rhumb line. Yesterday we freed ourselves of Mexico and the Gulf of Tehuantepec. By tonight, we should be sailing in El Salvadorian waters.

Our passage through the Gulf of Tehuantepec, or the “devils mouth” as some refer to it was one of the slowest we have experienced. Down here the winds are calm and it seems like the only bit of wind anyone wants to talk about. “How are you going to cross the Gulf?” “You mean you can’t just motor across?!” “Have you seen the lates Tpeck forecast?”

The Venturi Effect caused by the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is said to produce hurricane force winds, BUT if you stay near shore (which you can) that wind doesn’t have enough fetch to create the seas that make hurricanes so dangerous. You just get lots of wind, the GRIBs say 50kt gusts. These gusts are enough to blow tractor trailers over on the highway. Put it this way, you want to avoid it.

Although the racer/adventurer in me would have been excited about blasting across the Tpec testing myself and Cinderella, the conservative engineer in me realized this boat has to last us all the way around the world, and pushing her hard is how things (and people) break. We waited for a lull and crossed when the winds were light.

And boy were they light!! The lightest and most fickle we have yet experienced. Not only were they light, but the lagoons and estuaries that line the bay produce strange currents and counter currents that really put the brakes on.

On our third day out of Huatulco, we were sailing along close-hauled in about 10-12kts of breeze. Cindy was fully loaded up and somehow we were only going 4.5-5kts. In those conditions, we should expect to see 6.5-7kts, so I knew something was up. Sure enough a few hrs the fickle wind died and we were drifting right back down our rhumb line at 2kts, heading back into the Tpec’s danger zone. Damn!

We decided to motor straight to shore. One thing that is nice about this gulf is that it’s basically one giant beach. The beach has a gradual slope to shore, and about ½ mile offshore you find yourself in 30-50ft of water, and you can simply anchor anywhere. Being that we don’t trust the charts, and we like having sea room, were were sailing only a couple miles offshore. Close enough that we could tuck in if a Tpecker kicked up, but far enough away to give us some sea room.

Our plan was to throw the hook down until the breeze picked back up. That way we could avoid losing any ground. As we neared shore a very interesting thing happened, the current began to ease. We were both exhausted. The relentless heat was only quenched when we had a breeze, and there was none. The thought of anchoring and getting some sleep was the only thing that kept me going.

As we neared shore, we could hear that ominous sound of crashing waves grow louder and louder. According to the charts we should be in 30ft of water, but the sounder said 80 and wasn’t budging.

Something doesn’t seem right. The moonless sky was pitch black and all we could see was the blanket of stars above our running lights. Louder and louder that ominous breaking-wave sound grew.

We were about ½ mile from shore now and the depth was finally starting to drop, the current had oddly subsided and sure enough, we started to feel a light breeze. Just as the sounder started to read 50, we had 6kts or so of land breeze.

Once again we adjusted our plan, out came the sails and on we went, keeping just ½ mile from shore. That sleep would have to wait. 6 kts on the beam meant 3-4 kts of boat speed, and the less time spent in the Gulf of Tehuantepec the better.

As I sat in the cockpit looking up at scorpio bold as ever, I realized that we are sailing in that place everyone says you can’t. They say you can’t probably for the same reasons we struggled in the heat for weeks. It’s not what we are used to.

If Mexico has shown us anything, its that we need to be open to change. Don’t let ourselves get locked into the idea that all sailing should be trade winds sailing. Or that our typical way of doing things is the only way. Open your mind, be open to change, and you never know what you might find.

Actually Sailing the Sea of Cortez

Most blogs you read about sailing in Mexico describe the amazing things there are to see and why it’s worth spending a few seasons there.

This is about the sailing experience.

In the Sea of Cortez, the wind either doesn’t blow at all, or it blows like crazy from exactly where you want to go.  In the lulls you drift aimlessly in circles, listening to sails flog. When the Norte blows, you have 30+ kts on your nose and it’s a bashingly numbing ride. For about 4 hours a day, you have perfect sailing conditions. Just time it with the tides…

What I’m saying is, it’s a motor boater’s paradise.

The first major city heading north, La Paz, even closes their harbor when they see 15kts of breeze from the North. 15 kts!! No boats are allowed in or out. I don’t think the weekly regatta has been allowed out to sail once with a decent breeze. Quite a different vibe compared to the race boats in Santa Cruz that come screaming back into harbor under big powerful kites in all but treacherous conditions.

The Sea is amazingly beautiful, Jacques Cousteau fittingly described it as ‘The aquarium of the world,” and It’s absolutely worth every minute you spend there exploring. We swam with sea lions and floated over schools of vibrant tropical fish. We ate delicious fresh ceviche, fish tacos and sashimi all from a few hooks hanging over the stern. We love it here in Mexico.

Ask almost anyone who participated in the 2018 Baja Haha how many hours their motors were running when they were up in the Sea. That should give you an idea of what it’s like to sail here.

The sailing itself, sucks.

We attempted sailing North in both a Norte and without a Norte. Both are trying.

A Norte is a strong northerly wind that seems to occur once every week or so and last a few days during winter months. Sometimes they occur back to back and they last for nearly a week. If a Norte is blowing, expect square 6-8’ waves to build, as the fetch from the Northern Sea is nearly 400 miles. That mass of water moving south also tends to push a sizable current.

In the Norte, you are taking hundreds of gallons of water over the bow and watching your tacking angles  get worse and worse. But hey, there is wind! The trouble is trying to sleep when you are getting air  in your berth as the boat pounds away.

When the Norte doesn’t blow, all predictions are off. Sometimes the wind is blowing from the south, sometimes the west, sometimes the east, but never over 10 kts (on rare occasion you might see 15). Expect lots of lulls and lots of drifting.

While we were here, we did not find any wind prediction software to be accurate, nor the charts for that matter. We tried PredictWind, Sailflow, Windy, and NOAA’s GRIBs, but none of them were accurate when a Norte wasn’t blowing.

All of the tall volcanic islands and hills in the area seem to confuse the fickle winds and make prediction difficult.

Our trick was to wait until well after the Norte shut off and  use a honed skill of… looking out the window.

When the light wind starts to blow in the early afternoon, we would weigh anchor and ride the puffs North. Ideally we landed in any of the hundreds of majestical, calm anchorages before the wind shut off for the night.

If we timed it right, there wasn’t any swell, and we would be hunkered down in an amazing anchorage while the Norte kicked up for a few days. After things chill out, you can weigh anchor and keep going… slowly.

If you have a typical “cruising boat” that is heavy and doesn’t point high, expect to fill those diesel tanks often!

Fortunately for us, Cinderella is a great light wind performer, and though wet, she can pound her way to weather if need be.

Either way, actually sailing in the Sea of Cortez, as with anywhere patience is key, and schedules will make life painful.

Expect to develop monk-like patience here if you attempt to experience the Sea under sail as daily passages tend to be roughly one third to one quarter the mileage you experienced coming down the West coast. For instance, 20 miles may take you all day. But don’t worry, there are plenty of perfect beaches to help you find heart’s center.

Don’t let the sailing discourage you, it is trying, but the experience here more than makes up for it. We wish we had more time to stick around and spend a few seasons really exploring.

Cinderella in Latitude 38!

Around the world on renewable energy. So you have a generator right? No.

A few months ago, Ava and I set off from Seattle in pursuit of a dream. A dream that lingers in the back of the mind of almost every sailor. The dream to sail around the world. We untied from our dock at Fremont Boat Co. on September 3, 2017 at 2am to catch the morning ebb. As I write this, we are approaching Cabo San Lucas. We’ve logged nearly 2,600 nautical miles and we’ve sailed just about all of it.

It started with an “enlightened moment” that struck me while working remote from Stoneway Cafe in Fremont Seattle. Too many days spent droning away like this hunched over the old laptop. I made up my mind. I’m going to quit the 9-5, untie the lines, and aim for the BLT (big left turn) out of the Straights of Juan De Fuca. I figured I would work another two years, save up some money, and find a way to head out. 

Around that time, I met and fell in love with an amazing gal, Ava. On one of our first dates, I asked her what her 5 year plan was. I told her mine, it was to leave in two years to sail around the world for two years. 

Her thoughts?

Cute, this guy is a dreamer.

Cut to two years later, she was selling her car, Honda Spree scooter and her vinyl collection, found a new home for Jennifer the cat to move on board Cinderella. We spent 2017 rigorously preparing while both working full time jobs and picking up odd jobs to save money. We had a monster of a to-do list to get our boat ready for the voyage (of which some we are still checking off along the way).

Our boat Cinderella is a vintage Ericson 35-2 from 1971. A friend was interested in buying a boat so I went with him to Ballard to check it out. 

My first thought on this boat was “what a project” but was somehow was drawn to it. So naturally I put in a $6,000 offer which was rejected. Weeks later I was still thinking about that boat. It had some curious modifications for racing that were clearly not stock Ericson. Her “Spartan” interior looked almost gutted, with little else than bare fiberglass hull, a massive diesel engine in the center cabin and a couple of settees. A modest galley with the sink draining right to the cabin sole. I really tried to forget this project boat. Then about a month later, the sellers called me back and my offer was accepted. 

Am I crazy? 

I soon found out Cinderella had a racy past. She went to Hawaii twice in the Pac Cup and had numerous first place trophies from racing on Lake Washington. She was completely overhauled by one of the previous owners. I later learned, he watched the interior pan break free and sway back and forth independently of the hull while underway to San Fran from Mexico. Rarely do we get to know the people who hold the secrets to our boat’s past lives, I got lucky.

I spent nearly two years educating myself and refitting Cinderella for blue water cruising. Whenever Ava had to track me down, I was usually at my favorite place, Fisheries Supply. Or maybe buried somewhere deep in power tools and fiberglass.

It was a crash course on boatbuilding while working full time as a traveling engineer. You see Cinderella was a spartan racer, not a cruising boat. So I essentially built a tiny house with custom cabinetry, plumbing and a functioning head, a water system, berths and a solar power system. The big question marks were the rig and rudder. We pulled and inspected the rig and rudder last winter, the budget way, doing all the work ourselves through the night at Canal Boat Yard. We also added roller furling, re-habbed and installed an old Aries wind vane. 

Ava might think I’m a glutton for punishment but our budget means I re-build or custom build every damn thing. Though, I do draw the line on Diesel. My obvious solution to weasel my way out of engine maintenance and save money was to figure out a simple auxiliary drive that was fueled by renewable energy.

After engine failure #2, I promptly removed the “expensive anchor” and began researching an electric drive. I shuddered when I saw how the few kits on the market were incredibly expensive, as or more costly than diesel.

I discovered Sailing Uma on YouTube, an inventive DIY electric boat. They had helped me see that a conversion to electric drive was possible and feasible for Cinderella. I was inspired and dove into researching and piecing components together (I swear I was working this whole time).

Our electric motor drive is the motor half of a Briggs & Stratton 10hp generator… with some odd golf cart add-ons. Due to our budget battery bank, our range is limited but it has been one of the most trouble-free systems aboard. While it does get frustrating watching sails flog in windless conditions, I will take that any day over dealing with the breakdowns and maintenance required of it’s petroleum driven counterparts. Luckily Cinderella is a fantastic light wind boat.

Anyone who tells you battery tech isn’t there yet, or it’s not practical has not properly educated themselves. After overhauling the energy vampires, we have enough renewable energy to power our floating home comfortably. We are able charge all of our devices, pressurize our water, run our LED lights, rice cooker, and power tools. Not once starting a generator. We save our motoring for getting into harbor and for any “we need to move” moments while underway.

Unfortunately, our golf cart controller’s regen only works from about 5 – 5.7 kts underway. Since we are either sailing faster (with wind) or slower (hardly any wind) we don’t use it very much. One day if we can find funds, it might be nice to play with that and use the excess power to run a freezer for the fish we catch or hot water if we ever decide to go back to cold climates (not sure why just yet). It’s a system that I’d love to refine when I have the opportunity.

So far cruising is everything I imagined and more. After a bumpy ride down the Washington and Oregon coast, we were escorted into California by a pod of dolphins. We have seen so many whales we lost count. Believe me, watching the sunset from your “back deck”, cold beer in hand never gets old. 

As we write this, we are sailing south along Mexico’s Baja California en route to Cabo San Lucas. We have just spent a festive Thanksgiving in Bahia Santa Maria complete with a potluck and beach bonfire with some fellow gringos. In Bahia Tortuga, we were invited to go surfing with the locals at their favorite spot. How do you say, HECK YEAH in Espanol?

It’s not all glamour out here as you can imagine. We pitchpoled our sailing dingy in rough surf in the Channel Islands after a harrowing passage around Point Conception. We’ve also had a horrendous experience with corrupt harbor patrol in Marina Del Rey and discovered first hand the harassment of local boaters (that’s a whole other story). We’ve also been caught numerous times bobbing for hours in dead wind.

Needless to say, sailing an electric boat certainly requires a special brand of patience, foresight and tenacity at times. 

We’ve learned that the wind will always blow and hey, we are at home. The experiences and places we’ve discovered so far seem to erase those frustrating times. The payoffs are incredibly worth it and we wouldn’t trade anything for it.

Looking forward, we are studying weather patterns south to Costa Rica where we would like to spend some time with family and friends. This is where we want to make the big puddle jump with the Panama boats to the Marquesas and onward through the South Pacific to New Zealand… and onward around the world. Want to see where? Check out our proposed travel routes here and stay tuned for more blog posts. They are coming, we promise 🙂

We wrote this for Latitude 38 who published our article in the January 2018 issue. You can read it online here!

Winter Sailing Between Projects: Bainbridge + Rainbows Edition

Amidst all of the projects currently underway, Ava and I decided to take a little weekend sail. It sounded so good. The weather was beginning to warm, and I was one small…ish project away from a fun, stress free weekend of cruising.

We have a few weeks remaining before Swiftsure, and Cinderella has been undergoing a complete interior refit. Ava will be moving aboard in early June, and I need to get all of the interior rebuild completed while we still have an apartment to use as sanctuary.

Moving aboard a small boat is one thing, moving aboard an active project, god save our relationship.

But you aren’t reading this to hear about boat work!

It was Saturday, Ava was finishing up working at the Cafe and I was going to meet her in Ballard so we could head out the locks and off to magical places.

I was finishing the install of our new Dyno battery bank that morning and, the process moving and rewiring our motor controller. (more on our super awesome Dyno site tour coming soon!)

We agree on one thing though, it’s making our boat ready for comfy living but also spontaneous sailing, which is an art form we are slowly getting good at these days, we get lots of practice every Tuesday in the summertime for Duck Dodge.

We thought we’d go beyond Lake Union for a change and meet up with the old grey hairs for a raft up over at Manzanita Bay. What we discovered though is that we had the wrong location, no grey hairs to be found there. Turns out the rendezvous was elsewhere but we still had a solid adventure, classic moody Seattle skies made for some spontaneous rainbows and pretty dope sunsets.

 

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Pajo was intent on testing out the new rigging and kept his eyes glued to the mast and sail trim. His way of collecting data on the fine tuning of Cindy’s mast. We had great wind the whole way! We learned about our hangry and sleepy meters that night and Ava got to sharpen her sailing skills a bit. Hooray for wintery sailing in the Puget Sound… seems to be our favorite.
xoxo
Ava + Pajo

Sailing the Wild West! SEA to BC for the Holidays

Part of wrapping up 2015 and before I kick in the mega-GYST2016 full throttle, just had to do one last thing. Sail. There was no way I could fully know what I was in for, but I didn’t care. I was ready to hit the seas with trusted Skipper Pajo Gazibara. Our vessel: an Ericson 35-2 named Cinderella, equipped with a cozy sleeping cabin, gas oven that rocks with the boat, and a diesel powered furnace to keep us nice and toasty!!! I was somewhat convinced and just had a few important conditions that I relayed to Pajo:

First, I requested he teach me to sail. I wanted to be able to hold my own if anything were to happen and how to support the captain if needed. I was to be, by default, the first mate. And oddly enough, no one else was down to join this magical journey in December, over the holidays in the Northwest. I had no experience in the art and technique of sailing. I felt it was a big deal and I had to be on my game.

Second, there needed to be a Christmas tree on board. I anticipated that being away from my family and friends for the holidays was going to be a little emotional for me so keeping the boat festive was important!

Third, if we made it up to the Desolation Sound, we would stop at Whaletown, translates to: “I WANNA SEE SOME FREAKIN WHALES!”
Honorable mention, a functional head.

Pajo agreed these were attainable conditions and set out to make the trip a reality.

Below I recount the details of our trip, from Lake Union to Hat Island to Victoria, the Gulf Islands, Vancouver and everything in between.

Dec. 20-21 // Seattle preparations

Preparations including grocery shopping, meal planning, provision procurement, cozying the cabin, building out the framework/flooring for the head, and engine repairs. After all the running around, scooping up a few engine parts, we were feeling ready for the SAIL!

Dec. 22 // Seattle to Hat Island & Everett

After a few stubborn attempts, the motor starts and sounds strong! Spirits are high as we set sail out of Lake Union. We have a super streamlined passage through Ballard and my first time at the Locks.

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Had solid winds and everything was going well as we round into Everett, but then… I took the helm as Pajo went to take the sails down, I noticed some gnarly smoke billowing out from the motor. I alerted Pajo and we immediately cut the ignition.

Shit.

We diverted over to Hat Island to anchor since navigating a narrow channel to port would have been a risky and tack-y process in the dark… next to a Naval station. Pajo thinks it’s best to anchor there to avoid that and assess the motor in the morning. We hunkered down around 7pm and got our shit totally rocked all night, rowdy waters and crazy winds felt like a storm. The chaos outside the boat was magnified inside the v-birth and made me super anxious and without sleep.

Pajo, sensing my uneasiness hugged me tightly and whispered “don’t worry, babe.” This helped, along with some extra curricular wave-like activities… As I lay there, tyring to tune out the forceful waves and wind, I kept visualizing the boat bobbing out of control and capsizing… or even uprooting the anchor and us drifting out to the channel. I said a little prayer to my grandma to look out for us. Super unlike me to ever pray but I felt like whatever was out there was way bigger than us.

We heard the jib flopping around on top of the boat and I convinced Pajo that we should go up and tie it down. It was dark and windy as all heck. My adrenaline levels running high as we wrastled the sail down and tidied the deck, bikes, kayak, ropes and sails. I felt better knowing that it wasn’t as gnarly as it seemed and was able to fall asleep in Pajo’s arms.

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Dec. 23rd // Everett

We wake up to calmer conditions and a hopeful glimpse at Everett across the way. An awesome egg scramble for breakfast and dropped the crab pots in hopes of a crabby breakfast. I get to chat with my sister in Brooklyn while Pajo calls for a tow from Boat US.

 

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The friendly Hat Island Ferry Captain Kurt came to our rescue in the vessel assist boat and we were towed safely back to Everett. Pajo paddled over to Ryan and Kathy’s boat to tow over a second kayak but, alas, our reason for coming to Everett was a bust. Turns out, it’s a great place to have your motor die.

Now to investigate the motor troubles. Pajo noticed the day before that water was leaking out of the elbow, pressure was building where it shouldn’t have. Pajo took the elbow off, we loaded the bike bag and went to have a little chat with the Harbor Marine guys.

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But first, a Porter and coconut prawn snack at Scuttlebutt Brewing Co.! We also picked up a 6-pack of the KEXP Transister IPA.
The Harbor Marine dudes were pretty great and helpful to our troubleshooting. We were even escorted back to their engine specialist in the back offices. Pajo had a lengthy back and forth with the stark fella, and they deduced that the motor was likely shot. Pajo stayed positive, as he does, and thought there were a few different things we ought to try. He purchased a new elbow and additional parts for the Yanmar. I absorb all the mechanical jargon, read their faces, then I start to feel reality setting in: maybe we won’t be heading to Canada afterall.

We certainly had some things to discuss… Pajo provides plan B options.
Like, go back and get the other boat in Leschi. That motor is strong, but that’s far and the trip would need to be more local…
Or, find a Yanmar tractor dealer in the neighborhood to build a franken-motor (apparently they are the same thing?!).

Either way, I was relieved that he considered my comfort level and asked for my input on moving the trip forward.

In the midst of all this, I asked if we can just sail on anyway, and we laughed, “this is a sailboat afterall!” Pajo’s concern was that he’s only sailed Cindy three times and wasn’t practiced on maneuvering motor-less docking.

Captain Kurt thought we were handling all of this pretty well considering. He also thought we were nuts.

“There are bold captains and there are old captains. Not a whole lotta both.” – Captain Kurt, Hat Island ferry

He offered us a tow the next day if we needed it and advised on the tide schedules.

Pajo discussed more with the Marine boys, one elder strongly urged us, “do not leave tonight, please! Just get a good night’s rest and leave in the morning.”

I sleep soundly thankful for my talkative, curious, thoughtful and knowledgeable sailing mate. That night I dreamt of the voyage to come and pushing for a Canadian Christmas!

Dec. 24 // Everett to Victoria, BC

Wake-up call 4am. Pajo raises the American flag and whips up a dank breakfast burrito. I’m totally crushing on this man as he unveils his experimental cooking side in our humble kitchen.
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We set out with the tide and watched the sunrise, spirits are high and bellies full. We learn that food and Dad-rock helps morale. We have to back track a bit down to Edmonds since without a motor, Deception Pass would be effing treacherous. Wind starts to fizzle as we sail through the Juan de Fuca strait and we contemplate heading down to Port Townsend or Port Angeles. Pajo had the spinnaker up for the first time so we could scoop up any and all gusts.

As we approached our turn off, we felt the wind shift up to around 7-8 knots. Pajo was blown away at the speed the boat could go. The wind would like us to carry on to Victoria. I made a Thai concoction with chicken and coconut rice with the oven that rocks with the boat, what a fun way to cook, bobbing around the cabin!
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We were making good speed as we rounded into the Victoria harbor, both sails up. Some re-con and Google maps led us to our customs doc to check into Canada. It was 11pm and we were a little exhausted and I was a bit irritable after our first super long day.

After tidying the boat and calling customs, we relaxed and realized, hey! It’s Christmas… in Canada! We held each other and snuggled down for an amazing sleep.

Dec. 25 // Christmas Day in Victoria, BC

The Customs dock was pretty weird, but since we got the okay to “Move freely about Canada, eh?” we decided that’s what we’ll do! After breakfast, Pajo made a call to the hotel that seemed to share the neighboring dock to find out we can post up there and whilst enjoying their lovely spa-like amenities: jacuzzi, sauna, pool, showers, plumbing. HECK YEAH SPA DAY!

Pajo kayaked to our post for the evening (about 60 feet from our dock) and we towed Cindy over to her parking spot. After a little dip in the rejuvenation chamber (sauna), I was feeling great! We set out to bike the city in search of sites and libations. Victoria has awesome capitol buildings and the architecture makes you feel like you’re in a European city. Everyone is friendly and there is a healthy transient community there of Brits and Kiwis.

We found an industrial part of town across the bridge on Government street with a few micro-breweries sprinkled in. All closed. I saw someone inside the Hoyne Brewing building and thought I’d try and catch ‘em. I knocked on the window and Mr. Hoyne himself came out to greet us. As he explained, in Canada, you need a separate permit to also serve at your brewery, this one did not have a tasting room. Hoyne was a helluva dude and gave us 3 bottles of beer as a Christmas gift!

We continued on, delighted with Victoria so far and thirsty for a beer. We got a hot tip that Swan’s was open so we rolled in for egg-nog and great convo with our chummy bar-tender from Manchester, UK / New Zealand. He was wearing the most festive shirt and hated Christmas. The pub was bustling and realized why he was in high spirits. We made a candy-cane garnish recommendation and continued on to Beacon Hill Park.

On the way, we passed through residential neighborhoods lined with cute houses, odd corner stores, families and dogs out walking in their oversized wool sweaters. There was a super cute little boat racing pond called Harrison Yacht Pond for R/C and model boats. Adorbs. We found a path to the water, peds only, walked our bikes to the edge and watched as the sun went down, we saw where we sailed in and reflected on our journey. We biked on in search of rumored pulled-pork poutine but everything else was closed. ALong the way we found a Polar bear and a First Nation Spirit Fountain in Centennial Square, part of Old Towne.
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We found another bar called The Sticky Wicket and adjacent bizzaro-world Big Bad John’s which was full of elders who were all drinking in silence. We had another egg-nog, this one extra boozy and tried to liven the place up a bit with the lovely bartender. Alas, that place was pretty dismal and so we tracked our next moves though and went home to have dinner and bake a Christmas cake to the tune of awesome Christmas songs. There certainly was lots of Christmas love in the air, we got very close that night as discussions went deep. Pajo made a Velveeta mac-n-cheese and brats creation as the Ghiradelli-covered rice flour cake baked. As we hunkered down to sleep, I whispered “ I will always remember this Christmas” and we drifted to sleep.
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Dec. 26 // Victoria to Fulford Harbor, Salt Spring Island, BC

Waves and winds at full force, we watched a yacht race rounding Discovery Island. These were easily the biggest waves we had ever seen aboard nearly ten feet! When we were in the trough we could no longer see the yachts racing. Unused to the waves, Pajo forgot to lash down the spinnaker and whisker pole. Poseidon’s treasures now. Good thing Cinderella came with 4 spinnakers…

We also saw the fastest speed we ever saw aboard Cinderella, we hit 12 kts briefly surfing down the waves with a poled out headsail.

Dec. 27 // Fulford Harbor to Ganges Harbor, Salt Spring Island, BC
Technology day! We took some time at a little cafe to connect with our world. I made sure my mom knew I was still alive out there and Pajo instgrams all of the photos.

Cafe snacks inclue an amazing almond chocolate bar, a sausage roll, cinnamon bun and all the coffee.

We quickly explore Fulford. What a cute little crunchy salty town. We do a little shopping for trinkets and FOOD. The best provisions yet: locally caught/smoked lox, creamy cream cheese, bread and Habenero mango jam that Pajo will talk about for years to come. Pajo chatted it up with the woman at the market (nothing new) and we set off for Ganges around 3pm.

It was a long trek around the island to it’s other port, the more industrious Ganges. A pathetic waft you might call a breeze turned a two mile sail into four wet, cold hours. We arrived in port around 7, super exhausted. Nap time. Although we had high aspirations for food and beers with locals, snuggling up under warm blankets took priority, let’s just nap for a couple hours… We overslept! Unfortunately, we missed any food service, but hey, we sure felt great in the morning.

Dec. 28 // Ganges Harbor

Well rested, we had a chance to explore the shops and sites in Ganges. The hardware store for bunjees and batteries, the bookstore for a sweet chart of the gulf islands and San Juans, and the grocery for yet more delicious snacks.
We even found a cute treehouse cafe with bomb bison chili and spicy boom boom shrimp. We love Canada.
Nothing puts a smile on Ava’s face quite like a Thrift store find, and boy did we score. Ava found a super cute dress for NYE in Vancouver and browsing the shops led us to meet some pretty rad older artist ladies (of course). Pajo snags some amazing shoes and two books “Just Cruising” and “Still Cruising…” about a family that circum-navs the world in a sailboat. Impeccable timing (and aptly named)  the start of Pajo’s year long campaign trail, but that’s another story…

Dec. 29 // …en route to Vancouver (a poem.)

crazy day.
no wind.
Seal island.
Isle o’ poo.
Land!
Kayak around the island and flirt with seals, bald eagles swoop and swirl.
Pajo naps.
Ava naps.

It was a wild last day of sailing from Salt Spring Island up through Porlier Pass. En route to the pass we sailed along several beautiful uninhabited islands. The wind became finicky and the current began to build against us. We were forced to row to an anchorage in a small, pristine bay. Seals were playing and barking around us, and Ava took the opportunity to kayak around the island, stopping ashore to use the… facilitrees.  Under sail the narrow gap between Valdez and Galliano Islands was a nail-biter. The wind remained fickle, it was very important that we entered the pass just as the current flipped. Too soon and we would be flushed out, too late and the current could put us on the rocks. Careful planning had us safely transitioning into the Salish Sea. Victory! Although we saw tons of wildlife at Seal Island in the December sun, the orcas were all hiding, but we could feel they were sneaking around.

The wind steadily grew as we crossed the Straight of Georgia, before long Cinderella was cruising along at 5-6 kts. As we barrelled through, we took shifts steering, cooking or heating up any warm liquids we could. We had keen eyes on rogue logs, a true sign we were sailing in the northwest!
Pajo took the opportunity to cook up a delicious pasta dinner, complete with appetizers. Ava was very pleased.

As the night drew on, we were crossing the Harrow Straight, and freighters kept us on edge. Rule of tonnage applies here, and we were over cautious. Pajo taught Ava how to heave-to, a skill she picked up all too well.

Dec. 30 // 3am arrival in Vancouver

Nearing our destination the winds continued to build. Although Cinderella does not have a functional anemometer, our guesstimate on wind-speed was 35+.  The sail was beginning to be a test of wills. First a reef, then a second, then we dropped the headsail, still Cinderella would not slow. The wind sounded like a freight train, the railing was well below the waterline, and all of the shrouds were whistling as we were bashing to windward under a double reefed main at a steady 7 kts. It was dark, and we were half-terrified half-exhilarated.

As quickly as the winds built, they ceased. It was as if someone flicked a light switch. As soon as we entered Vancouver Bay, no wind.

It was 1 in the morning, and all we wanted after that 12 hour roller coaster was sleep. No such luck. We still had to cross the bay that was scattered with giant oil tankers that blocked the little wind that there was. Two miles is a long way at 0 kts. Out again came the trusty kayak paddle. Ava wondered if she was absolutely insane for sailing with this guy after dating him for three months, in December. With no engine. She took out her stress on rowing the boat into port. Alas, a couple hours later we were exhausted, and safely at anchor.

Dec. 31 // NYE in Vancouver

After breakfast we realized that the sail the previous day had drained both of our batteries. We used what little battery we had left to call a Boat US for a tow into Vancouver. Again the wind was light, so rather than spend all day crossing a two mile bay, we decided to call for a tow. Are we glad we did! Rhys Davis of the Blue Flasher was a riot. Rhys was probably in his upper 60s and going strong. That man could tell a story. He had his boat, the Blue Flasher, built custom to his specs nearly 30 years prior. Even after being delivered safely to our dock, Rhys stuck around for another hour or so and we were rolling. The humor and stories of the boating community is something spectacular.

We were now safely in Vancouver, the madness was over… At least for Ava, I still had to sail back to Seattle! Fortunately I would take on fresh crew to handle the windless drift home.


“This trip has been amazing!!! Pajo and I worked really well as a team, I was confident in his abilities and gut feelings about making calls and keeping us safe. I learned a lot and definitely felt the immense power of the water and wind, what a FORCE. What we lacked in an engine and a proper toilet we made up for in a helluva fun trip and memories to last a lifetime.” – Ava

 

Combating the Moisture

As I have said before, the moisture here in the PNW is rough on liveaboards. As much as I love all of the snow we get in the mountains and the incredible skiing that is a direct result, the condensation that forms on bare fiberglass is a bit much to handle. Insulation was at the top of my list.

First we must ask, why does condensation form? To answer this, lets think of a glass of ice water on a warm day. It has everything to due with relative humidity and a thermal gradient (temperature difference). When water in the glass is cold, and the air around it it hot and full of water, the glass will actually draw the heat out of the air surround it, after all thermodynamics tells us everything want to hit equilibrium. The glass pulls the heat from the warm air surrounding it, and with it comes the moisture. When the air is humid enough (contains enough water) the water in the air undergoes a state change, it becomes a liquid! Water vapor in the air condenses and it condenses at the point where it contacts the thermal gradient (the glass). That same principle is working against you in a boat. There are three means to combat moisture, and only one is passive i.e only one will work without and work being added to the system. That one is to add insulation, think adding a coozie to the glass. The thermal gradient is reduced due to the insulation properties in the foam coozie, thus preventing insulation. That is what I will do to my boat. For the record the other means to combat condensation are airflow and dry heat.

If you remember from the original post, Cinderella was taken down to bare fiberglass hull she was raced to Hawaii in the Pacific Cup.

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I had my work cut out for me. What kind of insulation should I use? Where do I find it? How much do I need?

I quickly resorted to what I know best, google, to the forums I went! It turns out that boats intended to be used in cold weather usually have a layer of foam sandwiched between the fiberglass of the hull, but how do I emulate that?

I found another blog outlining one mans attempt, it seemed to work well for him, so I thought I would give it a whirl. The plan, glue 1×1 stringers to the hull, cut foam in insert between the stringers, cover with “ceiling.” For some reason boat walls are covered in ceiling and the “roof” of the boat is usually covered with a headliner.

For this project I went to my local Loews and picked up Reflectix and Polystyrene home insulation. Reflectix is basically bubble wrap with foil which is very easy to work with and makes almost no mess, however the main insulation property of Reflectix is radiant heat, I wanted to also combat conductive heat. To combat the conduction heat, I decided to use polystyrene, polystyrene is “closed cell” so it is impervious to moisture and therefore mold. I chose to sandwich 1/2″ polystyrene foam between 2 layers of Reflectix. Polystyrene is messy to work with, pieces of foam go everywhere and stick to everything when you cut it.

The end result made such a difference! No more damp boat!

I started by gluing in the 1×1 stringers which the ceiling would be affixed.

boat insulation, sailboat, insulation

I tried several types of glue during this process, regular silicone, liquid nails, and gorilla glue construction adhesive among others. Considering I once glued a propeller back together in a pinch using gorilla glue and it held up, its no wonder it turned out to be the best candidate here. For the stringers I used pressure treated 1×1, these are commonly used for porch railings, so I would skip the “marine grade” and save some $$.

Pro tip – the shorter you cut the stringers the better, especially if your hull has a very sharp curvature.

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The foam was then glued to the hull in between the stringers. Again I can’t speak highly enough about construction adhesive! To glue the foam layers together I used 3M spray on adhesive, it was a quicker way to cover lots of area, and worked very well.

Once the stringers are glued in and the foam is inserted, its time to add the ceiling. Classically, sailboats used wooden slats that interlocked with each other and are stained to prevent moisture intrusion and add to the aesthetic. I, however don’t have the time to wait for stain, and I don’t want to bother with cutting so many boards, I want to stop the moisture now!

That was when it hit me, flooring! Flooring is meant to take abuse, and is usually highly water resistant, and you can buy it ready to lock together, stained and ready to go, perfect! Thanks Bob Villa.

Boat ceiling, insulation, Cinderella, sailboat insulation

Again I put my trusty Ryobi kit to work and before long, Cinderella had a whole new look!

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Of course I had to place the wine box into the photo to highlight my progress.