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Dream vs. Reality

Posted on Sep 26, 2014 | 2 comments

This boat was recently dismasted in an accident involving a drawbridge. I'm sure that's not exactly the dream that the captain imagined.

This boat was recently dismasted in an accident involving a drawbridge. I’m sure that’s not exactly the dream that the captain imagined.

Dan and I are not cut out to be live-aboards. And by that I mean living on a boat in a metro area while working full time. Over the last few months, both of us started to become increasingly disillusioned with our dream of cruising and even started discussing what we might do after cruising was over (something that is decidedly not on a set time-line).  We are living in a small tiny space with 2 and a half people and 2 dogs, fighting crazy traffic every time we try to go anywhere, Dan working worse hours than anytime in his career, 2,000 miles away from close friends and family, and our marina rent is the same price that we were paying for our mortgage, taxes, and insurance on our pre-downsized house! Conclusion: live-aboard city life is definitely not for us.

It’s easy to see why we might be slightly disappointed. However, when we recently purchased a cruising guide for the Bahamas and started planning the beginnings of our trip for this winter, suddenly a huge light bulb turned on. The reason why both of us had been feeling so discouraged was because we had subconsciously equated our current living arrangements with the dream we had been working and saving towards for the last three years, when the goal was still just around the corner! We want to get away from big cities and stressed out, high-speed life, so it makes perfect sense why we weren’t exactly feeling like we’d found ourselves in Paradise yet.

Now that we’ve realized what was causing some of our uncertainty about cruising, we’re able to move forward with our plans for this winter. The more that we read about and plan for actual cruising, the more energized we’re becoming again. A lot of our biggest projects stopping us from leaving are getting wrapped up and the official hurricane season will soon be over. Let’s just say that we’re getting to the point where the To-Do list is partially getting smaller due to completion and partially due to us making strategic decisions like “new cushions or leaving sooner…screw the cushions they’re fine.” Hopefully sometime soon we’ll be rounding that corner into the final stretch before heading out!

Power at Sea: Part 1

Posted on Sep 7, 2014 | 0 comments

Michele and I are very fortunate to have a plethora of electronic gadgets on our boat. We have a hydraulic autopilot, 4KW HD radar, two vhf radios, 7 inch touchscreen multifunction device (chartplotter), microwave, TV, water pumps, bilge pumps, etc… you get the point. All of these gadgets, both essential and superfluous, take up a surprising amount of electricity. We estimate that our electrical usage while at anchor will be approximately 110-125 amp hours a day. While at sea it will be higher due to the autopilot and radar being active for the majority of the time while sailing. While this is a lot of electrical demand, it is by no means insurmountable with today’s technology.

In this part of the series I will focus on the sizing and selection of our system. The first step in sizing the system was to ascertain what our actual daily usage will be both at anchor and at sea. There are several useful calculators online that give reasonably accurate estimates, but we wanted to go a bit further. We decided to install a digital battery monitor that tells us the percentage charged, amp hours used, amp hours available, current amps, voltage, and historical data so we can know precisely how much electricity remains in our batteries at any given time. The Victron Energy BMV-702 meets all of these needs in a very easy to install and professional looking package.

Most battery monitors utilize a high amperage shunt that is installed between the batteries and load/generation in an electrical system. The shunt is then wired to the battery monitor. With the BMV-702 it is as simple as running a computer network cable (included!) from the shunt to the battery monitor.

Battery Monitor Shunt

The 50mV shunt I installed for the battery monitor

The next step in the installation of the monitor is to decide where to mount the unit itself. We had a 1970’s era voltage meter that no longer worked taking up a large space in our electrical panel area. After removing the old Danforth meter we had a serious hole left in the bulkhead, however…


Modern battery monitor size vs 70’s era voltage meter

Thankfully my dad was able to fabricate a black lexan panel that matched our existing panels quite nicely.

BMV-702 installed with new panel

BMV-702 installed with new panel

With the new monitor installed and running, we were able to accurately determine our actual electrical usage averages 90 Ah a day. Granted we are at dock right now so our usage is different than it will be while at anchor, but we now have a very good estimate to size our system with. We decided to add a buffer of 33% to account for increased inverter usage and other possibilities.

To meet all of this electrical demand, many people choose to install and utilize a diesel generator to meet their electrical demands while cruising. This is an acceptable choice for day sailing, hopping between marinas, etc that can quickly become expensive if used as the main source of power for a vessel. The maintenance and fuel for a generator can quickly meet or exceed the maintenance costs of the main engine on a cruising sailboat.

We decided to go with a hybrid setup that utilizes both solar and wind power sources simultaneously. This has the benefit of high power generation while also diversifying the source of power… on rainy days we will generate less solar power, but most likely more wind power. We also will have as a last resort backup our engine alternator that can charge the batteries to nearly full in a few hours. The next part of this series will showcase our solar panel, charge controller, and custom solar panel mount installation.


Downsizing for the Boat: Part 2

Posted on Aug 27, 2014 | 0 comments

Some games come in more travel friendly shapes and sizes. This is our Battleship game.

Some games come in more travel friendly shapes and sizes. This is our Battleship game.

In Downsizing for the Boat: Part 1, I talked about how we downsized our big ticket items. Today, I’ll show you something even more critical to living on a boat…entertainment! Board games, DVDs, CDs, and books all have the challenge of taking up a lot of space. I know some people with personal libraries at home that almost require half of their house in shelving (or have to be stored away in boxes)! How do you bring along plenty of entertainment for long days on the water without overwhelming your space requirements?

Most of the books we decided to bring were reference guides of some type.

Most of the books we decided to bring were reference guides of some type.

First, let’s talk about books. I am a total book lover, bordering at times on serious addiction. Someone on an online forum recently asked the question, “Could someone recommend a good short book that can be read in about 2 days?” I couldn’t help but laugh, as I had just devoured an entire series in the past two days. The problem with that habit is buying books is expensive and they take up a lot of space. Luckily, with the advent of the ebook (and libraries renting them) my appetite can be sated without breaking the bank or sinking the boat. Most libraries now have the ability to rent a large collection of ebooks at no charge to members, just make sure you have your account set up before leaving and your library card is not going to expire soon.

Before moving aboard, we went through each book in our physical library and asked the tough question, “Are we going to use this while cruising, or not?” If the answer was no, we attempted to sell it on Amazon and eBay. Most got bought up within a month or so and the rest we donated to our local library. (With the exception of our Harry Potter series. Too big for the boat, but no way we could get rid of a collection we grew up on…it’s now taking up precious space in our 2 trunks left behind.) We have 2-Nexus 7 tablets on board as well as a ink-reader Kindle for reading in bright sun. Ebooks are definitely the way to go whether you pay for them or not, as buying and storing books just doesn’t make sense even on a large boat.

Fitting all of our movies into one case...Inconceivable!

Fitting all of our movies into one case…Inconceivable!

Movies and CDs are a lot easier to downsize, as the main goal is to eliminate the overly large plastic jewel cases and consolidate the discs to a case. Another option is to eliminate the disks all together by transferring all of the movies and songs onto portable hard-drives that you can plug into a computer. We chose to just store our discs in a case since it really didn’t lose a lot of space overall to keep them, plus updating our music collection on our phones (default mp3 player!). One large case and a full recycling bin later and we’ve downsized without actually getting rid of anything. Once again, we couldn’t quite get rid of our collector’s edition Avatar case, because well…its Avatar. So yea.

From all of those boxes into the bags. Saving space has never been easier!

From all of those boxes into the bags. Saving space has never been easier!

Finally, we wanted to bring some board games along, but knew that we didn’t want to store huge game boxes. Luckily, most board games take up very little space once taken out of their original packaging. A few Ziploc bags of varying sizes changed a huge stack of game boxes into one tote bag of fun! Now we have all of our favorite games, i.e. Settlers of Catan, easily available with using up precious space on the boat. All part of the art of downsizing without dumping!