Its strange but true… Sundowner is not equipped with a shore power outlet. In fact, there is no AC wiring onboard save one clunky little cigarette lighter fed inverter that we’ve never plugged in and haven’t ever needed to care about.

This seemingly perplexes many people. Conversations inevitably lead to questions about getting to a marina to “plug in”. It seems that the same folks that ask about these sorts of things continue to ask about them even after I’ve explained multiple times that we do not and have never “plugged in”. So vexing is this to the modern sailor, that it is apparently inconceivable and erased from their memories as soon as I utter the blasphemies.

The reality of it all is that we don’t plan to spend a lot of time “at the dock” and that even if we did, we can’t really afford it. So Sundowner must have her own power generation. To that end I spent many hours of research looking into how to generate power and how much power might be needed. I’m sure many of you remember the many tedious previous posts that detailed our conversions to lower power use DC only appliances and lights, etc.

As the final months ticked down to our impending departure, we had a lonely and ancient 55watt solar panel which provided for all of our needs. That was had to change though. More power would be needed for the fridge/freezer and to that end I decided to go solar. Solar because a lot of old timers told me they’d spend more money on solar and skip wind (those being the two viable options we had to produce power because we refuse to spend diesel or gas on it). I bought 5 x 100 watt semi flexible Renogy solar panels.

This is all well and good but the biggest problem was figuring out how to mount so many big panels on a little bitty boat without them getting in the way. But, as with so many other vexing problems, we figured it out, sort of:
All 3 panels up

I mounted three panels “permanently”. Two on the rails and one way up on the stern tower. The other two can be put up on the bimini if we feel the need to add more power gathering to the boat.

The panel on the rail to port was mounted on a piece of material usually used for the walls of green houses. It is a sort of reinforced clear plastic (polycarbonate twinwall 8mm). We raised it up with an aluminum dowel.

Port side panel

port side panel pole

I used MC4 connectors everywhere.

port side panel wiring

The down side to this polycarbonate plastic is that it goes right up to the rail meaning you cannot actually grip the rail where the panel is mounted. This disturbed me but everything on a boat is really a compromise. So on the other side I thought I would try something a little different.

I made an aluminum frame from angle to support the flexible panel and tied it up. The angle allows the rail to be free and the rope tie up was how the previous panel was kept up along the rail. In retrospect, I don’t really like the rope holding it up and will probably install another dowel to support this panel. I’ll leave the aluminum frame though to see if it or the plastic hold up better.

starboard panel

The panel on top of the stern tower was put up using the same plastic as a backing material. So far it seems to be holding up really well. Pretty self explanatory:
aft panel

aft panel wiring

This three panel arrangement sees one or two panels in full sun most of the day but never all three in full Winterish sun. The panels are connected to BlueSky MPPT controller wired in parallel. So far they’ve performed as epxected pushing about 5 amps/ hr @ 12v during full sun. So when two of them are in full sun, voila:
10 amps

Now, with this huge glut of power we were producing we got cocky and plugged in our Engel fridge and set it to “FREEZE”. I have spherical ice molds and I used these to produce a great ziggaraut of cannon ball shaped ice blocks. But the weather Gods caught wind of my hubris and have sent us about 10 days of fully overcast skies. Alas, we found that the batteries can only keep the freezer frozen for about four or five days before we need to do “something”, which in our case meant turning it off and letting my precious little cannon ball mountain melt away in the sink. Le sigh. At least even in overcast sky we have plenty of power for everything except freezing random blocks of water into ice.

If we really needed what had been in the freezer I could have run the motor to charge the batteries, but with temperatures such as they are right now, no one really wanted ice, it was just me taunting the cruising Gods. Maybe one day I’ll really need that ice. I’m reminded of the old and ever true advice, “Head south young man.”