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Retirement to Bahamas
Mike and Judy have been sailing for some 25 years. We have dreamed for years about retiring and sailing to the Bahamas and Caribbean. We are living our dream!
Mike’s Ten Commandments of Energy Management
03/06/2012

I can hear you readers loudly sighing, "Oh no, not another long winded post about batteries, amp hours, energy deficiencies and other drivel" I can also hear you lamenting, "And after all of the mistakes he's made, now he considers himself an expert...."

Well, after three years of battling with keeping up on our daily electricity needs on the boat with a minimum of running the engine, I think we've finally found our solution. And, it was, of course relatively expensive. But I surely did learn a lot. So I thought I'd replay some of my learnings by proposing my Ten Commandments of Energy Management.

1. Get Intimate with Your Boat

Before you devise an energy solution for your boat, you should get a real good feel for what your energy needs are and under what circumstances you'll be cruising. The first thing I would do if I was starting over again would be to install a smart battery monitor. I finally did this year and what an education this has been. It will tell you what each of your appliances, electronics and other devices consume, and the effect this is having on your battery bank. Not only is it informative but is also serves as a certain discipline. No longer is the extra light left on anonymous, it shows its footprint on the monitor in terms of amps. A cruising friend of mine confessed that after he installed his monitor, he would get up in the middle of the night to sneak a look at what he's been using and what energy he has left. I have to admit that I'm prone to doing the same thing and it really provides an informed map of your boat's energy habits. I now have a list of every light, instrument, appliance, etc. and the amperage it consumes. Factor into your considerations, how often you will be in a marina and plugged into shore power, underway under motor etc. It's those long periods at anchor in lovely little bays and harbours which incessantly work away at your battery capacity.

2. Solar is Supreme

Solar panels, not long ago were very expensive and relatively inefficient. My first two panels which I purchased the year before we began cruising were about $8.00 per watt (my panel were 80 watts each and cost about $600.00 per panel) - this was just five years ago. Now in certain places (there's a great place in Miami) you can purchase comparable panels for just over $1.00 per watt! Yes they occupy a lot of real estate on the deck/dodger/bimini or davit, but once they're installed it's almost as if they just smile amps at you. There is no maintenance, no sound, no moving parts and if you're like most cruisers who are opting for warm, temperate (read sunny) climates, they're just the ticket. My advice is to buy as much wattage as you can feasibly install and you'll soak up those amps every day. I'm now in a position with mine that on nice sunny days, the solar panels replace my daily energy needs and you don't even notice they're there. Good old Sol, smiling benignly down on my boat supplies me with frozen food, cold beers, lights, entertainment and all of the daily electrical needs we have.

3. Wind is Wimpy

Many cruising boats, in particular sailboats have wind generators; I have one. In my opinion, they are expensive, noisy, somewhat unreliable, and parsimonious in their production of electrical energy unless you are in a gale. I have what is considered by many to be an efficient and relatively quiet model. Unless we are seeing 15 knots, the output is meagre. And when it does blow strong enough to make reasonable amps, it can sound like the Rolls-Royce engines of an Airbus A380 spooling up at the end of a runway in preparation for take off. Well not quite that bad but we sleep in our aft cabin and the wind generator is affixed to our davit arrangement and it certainly transmits a rumble into our cabin when it gets going. And usually if it doesn't bug you on our own boat, it probably irks you neighbour's boat. And they're costly. Mine cost about $1500 not installed (I did the installation myself).

And then there's reliability. Persistent readers of my blog will remember my travails last winter in the Bahamas when mine died and it took me more than a month to get the new circuit board. This may have been no fault of the manufacturer or supplier but I've heard lots of stories of failed wind generators

My advice: use the $1500 to buy 400 watts of solar panels ( shouldn't cost more than $500) and use the other $1000 to go towards the arch or whatever other device you use to mount the panels.


4. Do Not Covet thy Neighbour's Boat

Every boater's solution, to them, is the ideal one. It's just like which anchor works best.
Every cruiser has their favorite and with the stories of how well it performed in gales while other boats with lesser anchors dragged aimlessly through the anchorage. So don't be taken in by your dockmate's cruising boat with their "ideal" solution. Your consumption and lifestlyle factors may well be very different than theirs. Figure out your own solution.

5. Love Those LED's

It was that fluorescent lights were the way to go when LED (light emitting diodes) were in their infancy. They (fluorescents) were "cool" and energy efficient when compared to incandescent and halogen lights. LED's were the stuff of wrist watch backlights emitting a feeble greenish hue, good enough to figure the time in the middle of the night but not much good for lighting your vessel. Well, as they say, "You've come long way Baby". The new generation of LED's are powerful, inexpensive and best of all miserly in terms of energy consumption. If I count all of my reading lights, accent lights, navigation lights and house lights, I figure more than 26 lights on Sea Sharp. While it would be highly unlikely to have even half of these on at any point in time, they can be a big energy user. So curbing their consumption if important.

I've converted several to LED's this year and I am happy to report that generally their consumption is one tenth that of their incandescent predecessor!! And the light is at least as strong. I was paying about $10.00 per light.

So work away at replacing your old bulbs with these amp-sipping little brighties!

6 Shave with Occam's Razor

What has whiskers got to do with boating you wonder? Well, actually Occam's Razor has nothing to do with shaving but is actually a line of reasoning that purports that the simplest answer, the one with the least variables or assumptions, is generally the correct one (AKA KISS - Keep it Simple Stupid). So, don't get carried away with ultra high tech solutions with battery combiners, isolators, switches, monitors and the like. These things are vulnerable, particularly in a harsh salt water environment and the more stuff you have the more vulnerable you will be.

7. Bigger Ain't Necessarily Better

Don't you admire those cruising boats with their vast panoply of panels, veritable wind farms of wind generators, batteries filling their bilges and engine alternators with serpentine belts, intelligent monitors with their Medusa-like wiring harnesses..... Well, you probably should not provide for more energy needs than you're likely to encounter in the normal mode of your cruising. This stuff is all fragile and sometimes you simply don't need that much energy. So go easy..... Figure your requirements and design a system to meet those needs.

8. It's the Small Things That Count

When I first started semi-full time cruising four years back, I would let things run unnecessarily figuring that a little bit here or a little bit there really doesn't matter. One habit I had was leaving on my invertor and leaving the laptop charging all the time. My reasoning was that the invertor took little power (converting 12 volt DC to 110 volt AC) and that the laptop really couldn't consume much power. After all, it just had a battery only slightly larger than those cells use to power ordinary household flashlights. Well, little did I know that I was consuming about 5 amps and hour; way more energy than it took to power my fridge, the largest single energy consumer on board! And Judy's habit of turning on one light after another until the boat looked like the Cruise Ship Carnival Fantasy. Each of these lights consumed about an amp and I've counted six or seven on at a time.

So, while you shouldn't get obsessive about it, keep tabs on the small amounts of fringe energy which can be managed.

9. Cheaper Ain't Necessarily Better

When I was outfitting Sea Sharp with batteries after my first year cruising, I figured I'd buy Sam's Club energizer batteries which claimed 85 amp hours, cost about $75 per and came with a five year warranty. I figured I'd use them hard and when they died I'd just go buy some more. Well, this was a false economy. They simply would not perform under the harsh charge/discharge cycles demanded on a cruising boat. I've since bitten the bullet and purchased AGM batteries which are much more robust, can handle repeated charging and discharging, don't lose capacity as readily in a storage state and will charge much more quickly. Yeah, they're much more expensive to purchase but they do the job. The others simply would/could not.

10. Don't Follow this Advice

Strange finale you're thinking considering the breadth and depth of advice I've just penned? Well, the point is that this is not an exact science and you've got to figure out your needs, your budget, your boat and your own solution. These above-noted observations and admonishments are based on my circumstances and trial and error. I did rely on many persons' advice; some more heavily than others. In particular, Norman and Mike gave me sound advice but I also conferred with the general peanut gallery on www.sailboatowners.com and I got lots of good and not so good advice.

So my last piece of advice is to discount my advice and figure it out yourself!

On the Road Again
03/04/2012

After our quick but productive stop-over at Coconut Grove, we head across Biscayne Bay one more time to stage for our "outside" trip north. It's only six miles and we anchor in No Name Harbour where we spent a couple of nights earlier this year. From this location we are very close to the outlet to the ocean which is our only option to get north to Fort Lauderdale because of the infamous Julia Tuttle Bridge which is lower than our mast.

Next morning, we are up at the crack of dawn and head out with a flotilla of boats, most heading to the Bahamas. It is a clear day with light winds off our stern. I'm a bit concerned about line handling with my bum hand but Judy is quite prepared to pick up the slack. As we turn to head up the coast to Fort Lauderdale, it gets fairly sloppy with modest waves but very close together which made for a bit of an uncomfortable trip. We did have current and with us so made good time over the ground and Judy managed the sail (given the wind direction and my infirmity we only used the jib). About thirty miles later, around noon we enter Port Everglades/Fort Lauderdale which was going to be our destination. But given our early arrival we decide to keep going up the ICW and, indeed make it to Boca Raton, another twenty miles up the ICW. We've anchored here several times and always enjoy this anchorage amidst the ostentatious homes and condos. We had a good day and because of our extra distance we will have a short day to our intermediate destination of Lantana. WE stayed at the Loggerhead Marina here on the way down and it is a luxurious place with a wonderful pool and beautiful grounds. There is a vigorous front coming on Sunday so not only will we enjoy the amenities but it will provide a secure place to weather the front.

We nail the many bridges the next morning and after leaving around 8:30, we arrive at Lantana shortly after 11:00 am. On our way we encounter three separate sailboats who we have known from previous trips. Whiskey Mac Too are friends from Saint John NB who we travelled with a bit on our initial trip south in 2008. Blessed Spirit we met a number of times last year and enjoyed their company and Serenity with folks from Maine who we met in Grand Lake several years ago. It is wonderful to know so many people, in a place so far from home!

We are assigned a slip at this top flight marina and settle down for a couple of days of spoiling ourselves. Judy is particularly pleased to be here as she is content to spend the day lounging around the pool. Chopin is happy because we are on a dock and can take him for long walks a couple of times a day.

So, as predicted, the cold front came through this morning and with the strong winds and heavy rain, came a drastic temperature drop - almost a 30 degree Fahrenheit drop in just a few minutes! We're glad we're in a marina as the winds are well into the mid 30 knot range! Not that we have not experienced this on anchor many times in the last four seasons.

We expect to head out tomorrow to get to Stuart where we'll go to another Loggerhead Marina and get the boat ready to store. We have very mixed emotions; we had a great winter on Sea Sharp but our families beckon!

Shark Attack; the Sequel
02/28/2012


I find it hard to avoid using my left (injured) living on a small boat. Every now and then I forget that I have sustained this injury and grab something. Either I get a surging pain or Judy yells at me. In any event, life goes on.

We have Bill from My Whim, a sistership to Sea Sharp over for dinner last night and it is a wonderful diversion. Bill is engaging and interesting and we have a great evening.

Today (Tuesday) I'm supposed to go back to the hospital to have the wound checked and, as well, have a consult with the specialist who was contacted by Mercy due to the potential severity of my wound. The hospital is int eh Coconut Grove area so rather than take an expensive cab ride over, we opt to take the boat over to this very large and complex marina/mooring area. Up early, we head over to the fuel dock at Crandon Park Marina by 7:30 to top up fuel and water and head across Biscayne Bay to Coconut Grove. It's a scant five miles and we're on our newly assigned mooring by 9:00. We are to be at the hospital at 10:00 then to the specialist (who understanding our circumstances agreed to see me today) at 11;00. I get a call at 9:30 from the specialist asking if I can get there asap because he will not be in the office at he appointed time. So, we hustle to shore and take a can he two miles to his office. Not long after, we are brought into his waiting room and he meets with us. Despite what is likely an extremely busy schedule, he takes the time to talk to us about my injury and the ramifications. He is very reassuring and while acknowledges that it is a somewhat severe cut, it should heal fine. There may be some nerve damage which may regenerate but if it does not, I can have it looked at within the next several months. Also, he was not too worried about me resuming my live aboard life other than keeping it clean and being reasonably careful not to reopen the wound. He indicated that I did not have to return to the hospital. So buoyed by this positive prognosis we can back to Sea Sharp, and recalibrate our plans to continue our journey north.

Our former yacht clubmates Brian and Maxine are in the same mooring field and we invite them for happy hour. It is always great to be in the company of folks we've known for a long time and we have a very pleasant evening exchanging cruising stories.

It is of great relief that my injury is not debilitating and we can continue our journey.

02/29/2012 | Hughena & Dave
So glad there are no long term consequences -- physically at least. Racing school would be safer.
02/29/2012 | Jerry B.
your story kept me in stitches, oops, sorry it kept you in stitches.
02/29/2012 | The Leafs
Glad it was not any worse and you can continue on. See you soon!
03/03/2012 | Jerry B.
Michael, glad to see your recovering and will just have a sailing war scar for your troubles. Lord knows I have had my share of scars over the years. Looking forward to seeing the Captain and first mate very shortly.
Sharp Blade? I Guess
02/26/2012

So this is the sheath of the knife with the stern and obvious warning!

02/27/2012 | Fred Harriman
Geeze Mike, you usually read the instructions first! Oh I guess you should heed them as well.... Must have scared the bejesus out of Judy. Stay safe. Fred & Dianne.
02/28/2012 | Bob
Tattoo-check, gold earring-check, cutlass scar on hand - check, trade Chopin for parrot-priceless
Where's the Fire
02/26/2012

Not long after the police arrived, a great big fire truck with four very friendly and competant folks arrive to look after me.

Police to the Rescue
02/26/2012

Here are two of the six policemen in three cars which came to our rescue. They were great guys.

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Preparing for Retirement Trip
Who: Mike, Judy and Chopin (the boat cat)
Port: Douglas Harbour, NB, Canada
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