Wiring the Solar Panels

18 01 2011 Posted by Daniel

Installing a cockpit arch and pair of solar panels onto an Allied Princess 36’ Ketch - How I saved over $5,000 and had a great time doing it myself.

This is the fifth post in a 5 part series on how I literally saved somewhere between $5,000 and $9,000 installing a cockpit arch and a pair of solar panels onto Aletheia, my Allied Princess ketch rigged sailboat. I’ll be posting this series over the next few weeks, so keep checking in for updates. Here is the previous post.

The electrical connection to the panel really took a lot of thinking before acting, though. Particularly how I was going to get the four heavily-insulated 10-gauge cables through the deck and down below to the Blue Sky MPPT solar charge controller. I decided to take a break and knock out of a few of the pet peeves that I had with the current cockpit arrangement.

As I was cursing the P.O’s choice of sealant on a particularly troublesome and leaky deck fitting, I had a flash of brilliance (this happens roughly 1x10-20 times a year) and decided to borrow PART of his idea - the part that didn’t involve silicone to seal anything, mind. I’ll give you the challenge and see what you come up with before I give you my version of the solution.

The challenge: To get 5 cables of approximately 4mm diameter each through the deck in a clean and orderly fashion, unbroken, but easily removed for maintenance or replacement as the case dictates. The method of traversing the deck itself must be watertight, inexpensive, and involve the least number and smallest size of holes in the deck to accommodate the cables. The cables are bare at one end, and so may be fed through the deck without the need to accommodate fittings as well, just the cable diameter. And while 4 of the cables are uniform in size, one of them is a flat 2-pair DC cable with a nearly oval cross section rather than round. Naturally, higher points are given for cleanliness of solution and least amount of redneck engineering (e.g. no utilizing deck vents or locker lids). Chafe must be eliminated at any possible points of contact. Got all that? Ready? Go!

<theme from Jeopardy plays>

Ding! Time’s up! What have you come up with? Sound off in the comments or drop me a note.

My solution was to drill a hole in the deck just large enough to fit a 1” threaded PVC pipe fitting, and to screw the two halves of the fitting together, sandwiching the deck in between. This left a nice 1” diameter, clean looking opening in the deck, sealed with 3M 4200. After slipping all of the cables through, I had enough space left to run 2-3 additional cables should I desire to do so. The opening is very small now, and when I wish to seal it further, a simple application of butyl rubber will keep the water out and allow me to remove the cables for maintenance in the future.

The cable routing was a problem that, after some pondering, worked itself out nicely. A single hole through the quarter-berth aft bulkhead lead the cable along the quarter-berth, forward to where I had mounted the Blue Sky. Another small hole below the controller lead to the battery compartment. Application of some clear water hose serves as chafe protection along the cable path, along with double layers of extra-thick heavy duty heatshrink and cable clamps. A 50A circuit breaker, easily accessible, provides protection for both the battery bank and serves as the controller’s power switch. The run to the battery compartment from there is less than 7 inches in length, within the ABYC standards, and well protected from chafe with heavy-wall water tubing. Forgive the excessive quantity of photos here, some of you asked for more detail on the cabling, so here it is:

Mounting the control module for the charge controller was very straightforward as well: I cut a new hole in my electronics panel, screwed the charge controller in place, and ran the digital cable to the SB3024. Another, twisted pair shielded cable ran from the shunt in the battery compartment (master negative cable) to the control module as well.

Overall, the circuit diagram is very simple:

And that pretty much concludes the solar installation. Thanks for reading through and I hope this was helpful information to anyone else trying to do it themselves.

Here is the finished electrical installation on the interior and control panel:


Control Panel

2010 in Review

13 01 2011 Posted by Daniel

While I’m not one to jump on the bandwagon of year-end reviews simply because its “the blog thing to do”, I do find a lot of value in taking time periodically to think about the previous year and reflect on the experiences its brought, the obstacles overcome, and the joys shared. To that end, I’d like to take a moment and recap the year with you, my loyal blog readers, family, and friends alike. Your support has been vital to accomplishing these goals, and I want you to know how far we’ve come together in the past 12 months.

Looking at the highlights of last year month by month, here’s what we’ve accomplished:

January: Completely replaced the exhaust system and installed a new navigation instrument station.
February: Completed my first multi-day solo sail - roughly 550 miles!
March: Relocation to the current marina, and a major local contract that has helped fund this year’s boat work.
April: The beginning of the 2010 racing season, a season that would end in a championship.
May: A great month racing two to three times a week.
June/July: Major interior and exterior improvements: cushions, new mattresses, and shade awnings.
August: Sailing certification.
September: More racing, sailing Aletheia again, the ultimate demise of Mini Me, and my first time flying a big-boat spinnaker in a regatta. Our J/24 team won the championship!
October: Beginning the cockpit arch, Harvest Moon Regatta (coastal offshore racing!).
November: Sailing Instructor Qualifications
December: Completed the arch installation, solar panel installation, some electronics work, and several dock parties.

Summaries: This year we’ve taken Aletheia through some major improvements, on a significant sailing milestone, to a new home, with a new job. For my part, I’ve begun yacht racing, earned a local championship, and raced boats small and large. I’ve earned sailing instructor qualifications, designed and constructed my own cockpit arch and solar panel installation, and I’ve made a lot of new friends. There were very few weeks that did not have at least one day of sailing in them and most had at least two if not more.

As we close the first two weeks of 2011, join me in looking forward with high hopes. There is a LOT of hard work to be done to reach the goal of shoving off November 11, but I believe that with daily progress we can definitely get there.

This is the year for starting your own personal adventure, and I encourage you to look inside yourself and find a dream that you are willing to let out and make into reality. It may take hard work, but at the end of your life would you rather look back and say “I wish I’d…”, or “I’m glad I…” ?

What goal have you set for yourself in 2011? If you have twitter, hit me up: @oddaseablog with your big goal this year, or post it in the comments below.

Installing Solar Panels

13 01 2011 Posted by Daniel

Installing a cockpit arch and pair of solar panels onto an Allied Princess 36’ Ketch - How I saved over $5,000 and had a great time doing it myself.

This is the fourth post in a 5 part series on how I literally saved somewhere between $5,000 and $9,000 installing a cockpit arch and a pair of solar panels onto Aletheia, my Allied Princess ketch rigged sailboat. I’ll be posting this series over the next few weeks, so keep checking in for updates. Here is the previous post.

I find that there are 2 major kinds of people in the world: those willing to sweat the small details on a project, and those who’d rather just ‘get it done’ and slap a cover over the mess. The previous boat owner seems to be (in the electrical department, at least) one of the latter - though many other things on the boat are quite well done. I don’t know about you, but I’m generally one of the former, to a point.

However, I think there’s one thing most boat owners who have done a thing a time or two agree on, and that’s the simple rule that silicone sealant has no real place on a boat - at least as far as trusting it to seal anything! Naturally, I’ve found silicone in about every place imaginable on this vessel, 100% of them places it should never have been. Grumble, grumble… But I digress. Back to boring you to death with details of my solar installation.

I’ll spare you the drama, fitting the panels to the top of the newly installed arch was pretty straightforward, and involved simply drilling appropriately sized and spaced holes in the bottom of the panel frames, installing stainless u-bolts and backing plates, insulating the whole mess from the aluminum with tef-gel and plastic spacers, and cranking down on the u-bolts, the panels were firmly mechanically fixed in place.

To prevent nasty accidents, I riveted neoprene bumpers cut from sheets of 1/8” neoprene to the corners and fore and aft edges of the panels, as those areas were exactly where my head might smack the panel when entering the newly enclosed cockpit from the deck or companionway.

Honestly, this is not an optimum installation. The panels don’t currently adjust to the sun’s angle, and there’s not a lot of room for them to do so if I wanted, due to the low clearance between the panels and the mizzen boom - although the clearance is quite sufficient for the boom’s range of operation in even very heavy weather. It was a conscious trade-off I had to make between headroom in the cockpit (important given my height) and panel clearance to the mizzen boom. Compounding this, my slip’s orientation and the extreme southern declination of the sun at this time of year are completely at odds with each other and so I’m seeing about the worst of all conditions at present. But even given the non-optimal angle of the panels, they put out a quite decent couple amps into my system for several hours a day. I’m working on ways that - when I’m in dock, at least - I can tune their angle more appropriately. Until then, the panels are 100% flat to the sky and I’ll just suck it up.

One of the main options I’m considering will allow me to mount the panels off the side of the frame at steep angles. Another option is to give them a pivot on the outboard mounting edge, so that the inboard side can be lifted to angle the panels. That would put them in the way of the mizzen boom but would work quite well at anchor.

The next and final article to this series will summarize the electrical connections and wrap up the solar panel and arch installation. Thanks for sticking with me this far!