Sunday, August 16, 2009

In the Venezuelan Islands.

In the Antilles the distances between each island could be crossed in few hours during the day but the path that we are now travelling implies much longer distances that requires night crossings to ensure we arrive at destination during daylight. So far our night passages always consisted in a miserable battle against the wind and the waves in the dark and, most of the time, motoring since Chocobo cannot sail upwind efficiently. Now that we sail west this is a whole different story though. With the wind and the wave from behind this makes the sailing extremely pleasant and, as if it wasn’t enough, the weather is just perfect with 15 to 20 knots winds and a clear sky offering us flamboyant red sunsets. But for this the credit goes entirely to Danielle, our chef navigator, who for the past two weeks monitors the evolution of the weather systems three times a day and chose our crossing window with a surgical precision. Having nice weather during our crossings had nothing to do with chance but was in fact the result of Danielle’s zeal who spent hours analyzing the weather data from at least three different sources and then planned our crossings carefully.

Until now we visited three groups of islands, Los Testigos, La Blanquia and Los Roques. We stopped in the first group only to spend the night before moving on. The place was pretty but we wanted to keep going. At La Blanquia we stopped only for the day and left the same night toward Los Roques. Over there it is the real vacations. Its almost white sand beaches and its inhabited islands make of Los Roques a vacation place that the Venezuelans and other tourists take advantage plenty and we are no exceptions. Yesterday we stopped at an Island where only one other boat was anchored. In front of us laid a long sand beach and on our side, at about 300fts, was a large coral reef. We decided to take the day to relax while finishing the last shade cover that we are making to keep the cockpit cool. We first started in the morning by installing the rails on which the shade attaches and then we put on our masks and fins and swam to the beach about 450fts from the boat. Danielle thought that we do not exercise enough so she left at good speed and swam all the way to the beach with me dragging behind. Swimming 450fts even with fins is not obvious when we spend most of our time on a 40ft boat! I really miss my Tae Kwon Do classes! After taking some sand on the beach for our collection we swam to the coral reef and spent about an hour in the middle of multicolor fishes, which for the most part don’t seem to be bothered by our presence. Danielle would like to be able to touch the small silver fishes swimming in a school of a few thousands but they are not really the affectionate type and are very good at avoiding her hand in a synchronized dance. Once back on the boat we ate and then resume our work on the shade until we were again too hot and jumped in the water again. We returned to the different kind of parrot fishes, the school of purple fishes that I forgot the name and all the other ones as colorful as the next one. Those snorkeling sessions are really fun. A coral reef can easily host 20 to 50 different species of fish and shellfish not to mention the coral itself. It is easy to spend one or two hours swimming in the middle of this natural fish tank without getting bored. Finally we finished the shade just after a flamboyant red sunset and finished the day with a good bottle of wine.

I finally completed the installation of the two remaining solar panels, which completes this long awaited project and gives us close to three times more electricity than before. A big thank you to Richard on “Marie Galante II” who gave me a good help to install the two center panels and to run all the wires in the boat. The reason I am talking so often about those panels is because the impact on our quality of life is major. Since we installed the new panels we have almost no restrictions anymore on the electricity usage. Those of you who live on a boat I am certain know what I am talking about. Practically, this means we can now produce between 25 and 40 gallons of water per day, use our computers as often as we want and power our refrigerator, which now works overtime under the heat of the tropics. The water we make allows us to take two showers each per day, to rinse with fresh water after our multiple swims and is still enough for washing the dishes and the laundry. As I write these lines on my 90W computer Danielle plays on the Playstation II with the 100W television and the 50W speakers. With all this there is still enough current to charge the batteries! To get the same amount of daily electricity without the panels we would have to run the engines for at least two hours per day, which is not only costly but extremely noisy and damageable for the engines.
If you like the technical stuff here’s a detailed description of the project in question. Before, we had four Siemens 75W solar panels for a total power of 300W and a conventional charge controller Trace-40C. We added 2 new 130W Kyocera solar panels and two 65W panels for a total additional power of 390W, which gives us a total nominal power of 690W. Our existing controller had a problem and I preferred to change it. Also I couldn’t connect the old panels in parallel with the new ones on the same unit so I needed two units in parallel, one for each group of panels. I chose the controller “Solar Boost 50” from Blue Sky, which is more expensive but also boosts the current by 20% by lowering the 17V voltage of the panels down to about 14V to the batteries. With the 20% boost this gives us the equivalent of 830W of solar panel with a conventional controller! I also changed the wires for the old panels in order to reduce the power dissipation in the old undersized wires. Even by bringing the controllers as close as possible to the batteries the run between the solar panels and the batteries is still over 60fts hence a total distance of 120fts since the current must go back through the negative wire. For this I used AWG-6 gauge, 7 strands zinc platted copper wire guarantying less than 3% of power loss. Practically, we get between 35A and 40A of charging current for most of the day. I haven’t measured the total charge we get but based on my estimate I’d say it is between 200 and 250 Amp-hour per day.