Sun Worship

Hello! Ryan here. 

I wrote the following post a couple days ago in Oriental, NC but didn’t get a chance to post it.

Since then, we ended up staying an extra day in Oriental due to extremely icky weather. Yesterday, we set out from Oriental and decided to bypass Beaufort in favor of putting in some extra miles. We anchored out on Spooner’s Creek, which was strange (read: HUGE mansions right up on the water all around the anchorage). This morning, we left at 7AM, timed the tide/current perfectly, and quickly made 20 miles to Swansboro. I am currently posted up at a place called Bake Bottle Brew drinking a Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout poaching Wifi. 

Anyways, the following post is what I wrote in Oriental and is entitled “Sun Worship:”

When Chris and I decided to turn our little Firefly into a home, I immediately knew I wanted to take care of our power needs with solar energy. I worked for a biofuel company for a while a few years back (and learned a ton about green energy options), but didn’t truly become obsessed with solar until Chris and I watched the new version of Cosmos when it came out on Netflix (If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it). Neil Degrasse Tyson managed to make it abundantly clear to me: The sun throws energy at us constantly, and for free. It’s not going anywhere (or if it does, we’ll go with it). Solar energy is truly our greatest, cleanest, most abundant energy-related resource.

People who are way smarter than I am have recently managed to create cost-effective methods of harnessing the sun’s energy, which for us meant it was extremely accessible.

I was leaning towards implementing a truly portable solar system for Firefly- Goal Zero has some pretty cool stuff I was drooling over. Chris, however, wanted living on Firefly to be a little less like camping and more like living in a home. And I’m really glad he won me over. At the recommendation of a fellow Regent Point Marina slipholder (Thanks Mike!), we checked out a company called Renogy. They sell extremely affordable solar systems that are DIY installable, which are more permanent than the Goal Zero products.

We sat down to calculate our energy needs (we tried to over-estimate), which were fairly minimal. We knew we’d want to power our iPhones, a laptop, a VHF radio, a handheld GPS, a few lights, and maybe some small, personal fans. We decided we’d need about a 100 Amp-hour battery, and then that we would need 100-watts from a solar panel or panels. We bought two 50-watt panels and a controller (which controls how much energy flows from the panels into the battery how fast) from Renogy for less than $300.

Chris figured out a way to mount the panels on the stern rail of Firefly (and he built the mounting system himself!). The panels have two positions: engaged, or not. We simply tied a stopper knot into some thin line and pull on it and cleat it off to pull the panel into the “engaged” position. Simple systems= less that can go wrong. So, Firefly now has wings (how appropriate!).

The biggest problem we ran into was that the wiring that came with the panels wasn’t nearly long enough to reach down to where the battery was going to live. So Chris had to actually learn to splice wires. We bought the correct guage wire, heat shrink terminals, and he basically added line to the system. He also figured out where fuses needed to go and in what order all the components needed to go (panels into controller, controller into fuse, fuse into battery, battery to outlet, etc).

Another decision Chris made was to keep everything in 12v DC power instead of putting in an inverter and switching everything to AC. For those of you who don’t know a lot about electric (which we didn’t before this project), DC power is what you have in your car when you use a “cigarette lighter” style car charger. AC power is what you have in your house. This allows us to use a lot less energy. It’s my understanding that we use AC power in our homes, etc because it travels over longer distances much better than DC power. Not an issue for us here on Firefly.

After Chris made that (very good) decision, I set out looking for 12v everything. I found a 12v charger for AA and AAA NiMh rechargeable batteries, which has been super useful. I found a 12v charger for my laptop. I bought a 12v USB adapter, which we use to charge our phones, the Kindle, and to plug in these cool USB LED lights.

As I write (from Oriental, NC… we stayed an extra day because the weather decided not to cooperate), Chris is working on wiring in an overhead dome light and another 12v socket.

Sunny, wonderful day in Oriental.

Even though we’ve really only had 3 sunny days so far on this trip (today is day 13), we’ve had more than enough power to keep everything running.  We definitely over-estimated on solar panel size/battery need.

And when the sun is shining, that’s when we charge the things that take up the most energy. When it’s not, we don’t.

Another thing that’s happened on this trip is that the rhythm of our lives has started coinciding more with the rhythm of the sun, which, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense. We’ve gone to bed around 8PM and gotten up around 5AM lots of times. It just seems so natural to go to bed after it’s been dark for a while. And, we want to be under way while we have the light, and either at anchor or docked by the time it gets dark.

We have also been using a “solar shower” when we’re at anchor. You fill the shower with water and leave it in the sun to get warm. Then you hang it up (in our case from the boom) and wallah! You have a warm shower.

I’ve never been more grateful for a sunny day at any other time in my life, and I think that’s a good thing.

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2 thoughts on “Sun Worship

  1. this is fantastic, truly inspiring! My friend Pat is the editor of the Solar Cooker journal– and I will send it to her. We had a wonderful solar battery charger when we walked the Camino– which lay on top of the backpack as we walked, and my son Andy and I were the only Caministas who had power— everyone else was looking for a plug, when we got to the hostels, and usually there was only one place to plug in– and the hoteliers were not happy to have us use their energy source. We were able to post from WIFI cafes but having the solar battery was great. THANKS for addressing how to make “wings” to your boat! I am excited for you to be making this trip, and send warm wishes for the upcoming holidays! love, martina (Vienna buddy of Tim’s)

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