We’ve finished our mini-refit! Hooray for new solar!

So in grand total, Sanitas ended up spending 9 weeks on the hard in Spice Island Marine boatyard this summer. If you’ve been following along, you’ve read about how our bottom job got a little bit out of control and how we tackled the huge project of rebuilding our hatches. I was feeling pretty down about things for a while there – especially when every project was moving backwards rather than making progress. Eventually, I decided to reframe the issue. We weren’t simply doing a bottom job on steroids – in reality, we had taken on a mini refit without even noticing! 😂 But as of Friday, November 13, we’re back in the water. Good thing I’m not superstitious!

Back in the water!

When I look at the list of tasks we accomplished while in the yard, I really do feel a sense of accomplishment:

  • Refinished the hull and keel from bare gel coat and lead.
  • Raised the waterline.
  • Changed the Diesel engine oil, filters and impeller. Changed the transmission oil. Changed the oil on the outboard motor and lubed the lower unit.
  • Rebuilt the hatches.
  • Upgraded the electrical system to better isolate the starting battery, route solar power to the house battery bank, included safety fuses, improve the efficiency of the inverter.
  • Waxed and polished the hull.
  • Cleaned and oiled interior teak. Removed corrosion from portlights.
  • Improved the insulation of the refrigerator.
  • Repaired some gel coat damage.
  • Replaced leaking hoses.
  • Upgraded the solar energy system from about 300 watts to 600 watts of solar.

That last project, the solar upgrade, is HUGE! Last spring, one of our two 100W flexible solar panels failed and the remaining one want in good shape either. Even with long summer days and good sun angles, our solar couldn’t keep up with our needs, and we had to run the Honda generator daily (with the noise, gas fumes, and messy cockpit and salon chaos that go along with it) Capt. Mike did a huge amount of research, consulted with other cruisers and Clarity Marine Services, and came up with a design that doubled our solar capacity.

We bounded the project by deciding not to build a new arch on the stern, and not to replace our canvas bimini with a hard top. That saved us a ton of money, but limited the physical size and space for the new solar panels. But we still found great options! Solar technology has improved a great deal since we bought Sanitas – smaller solar panels are much more efficient and less expensive than they used to be.

We replaced the large 140W 12V rigid panel on the arch with a brand new 310W 24V panel. We paid a welder to replace a portion of our lifelines at the stern with rigid stainless steel tubing and installed two 140W 24V “wings” one on each side. (That was my idea😃) We got a great deal on used panels for the wings from friends in Port Louis Marina who were upgrading their solar even more than we were. One sailor’s trash is another’s treasure! And just as important as the panels themselves, we bought new Victron MPPT solar controllers, battery monitor and temperature sensor, and had them shipped in our sea freight box.

See that Port solar panel wing?

What so great about these upgrades? Let’s see if I can explain it. It’s been a looong time since my last E Sci class. Well, going from 12 volt solar panels to 24 volt solar panels dramatically improves the efficiency of the system, especially on cloudy days. Now we are much more likely to achieve the 13-14 volts required to charge our house battery bank. The solar panels generate as much power as possible, based on the amount of unobscured sun, the sun angle above the horizon, and the angle the panel is tilted toward the sun. Then the Victron controller is able to quickly adjust the amount of current and voltage flowing to the house battery banks to charge the batteries as efficiently as possible. These new controllers are configurable and allow us to define the current and voltage parameters and thresholds for Bulk, Absorb, and Float charging profiles to values that keep our Lifeline AGM batteries healthy. Marine batteries are expensive, so we want them to last as long as possible. AND, the controllers have this nifty display on a smartphone that shows a graph of the load on the batteries and the charging profile, in real time and historically. Capt. Mike can sit and watch that thing for hours. (I hope he gets tired of it soon) For the first time in years, we actually know when our batteries are 100% charged, and we actually achieve it!

So what will we do with all this new solar? I’m now much more confident that we have the power to keep our fridge cold and our navigation systems running while on passage. We can run more of our small power tools on the inverter. We can charge our phones and iPads without rationing. And for the first time ever, we can run out desalination water maker using solar rather than running the boat Honda generator. Big win! Capt. Mike had started hinting about an ice maker. Hmmm… Where would we put it?