Friday, 20 May 2011

Solar Panel

Stargazy lives on a swinging mooring, and our power usage on-board is limited to instruments, lighting and radio. Recharging the battery currently is limited to using the alternator on the outboard, but the power output from this is very limited.

So we are essentially "off grid" and given that nuclear power is complex, and tricky to install on a 26ft boat :-) I decided to see what alternative energy sources we could utilise.

Jan and I met 21 years ago at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales. We experienced numerous weeks of off grid living; the power for the cabins we stayed in came from alternative energy sources (solar, hydro and wind). Now you'd have thought that being on a Welsh hillside, wind would be the best of these, however this was rarely the case!

For Stargazy, I decided to start with a solar panel charger for the battery, on the basis that they are now relatively cheap, simple and hard wearing. The likes of Maplin sell various solar panels, however their construction I didn't feel would last too long in a marine environment.

I happened to notice that Nasa Marine had expanded their product range, and now offered solar panels, so I've taken the plunge and ordered a 20watt panel which arrived this morning, along with a couple of free gifts!
I'll report back when its been fitted.

Electric Engines

Super Seals came with the choice of an inboard or outboard engines. Over the years, many owners have converted their outboard powered boats to diesel inboards, this being a relatively easy thing to do.Stargazy however still has an outboard in a well, and I feel their are certainly some advantages to this setup:

  • The engine can be removed from the boat for servicing, and can be taken home over the winter.
  • No Stern gland or seacocks for water to creep in through.
  • Replacing the engine is easy, carrying a spare is feasible (even a lower powered one for emergencies).
  • Clearing the prop is easy, and can be done from the cockpit.
  • No smells down below, many yachts smell of diesel downstairs, especially when under power. This is a sure fire way of feeling sea sick!
However their are obviously many disadvantages to this setup:
  • It's nosier in the cockpit, the engine is under the tiller.
  • Its easier to steal, although it is locked in place!
  • Manual starting (although newer engines are available with electric start).
  • Petrol is volatile, and storing large quantities of petrol has to be done carefully.
  • Fuel consumption is higher than with a diesel, an inboard would probably consume around 1 to 1.5 litres and hour. Our outboard probably consumes around 4.5 litres an hour.
  • Now that 2 stroke outboards are no longer available new, and equivalent 4 stroke models are bigger and heavier, there may not be a model that will fit in the well.
For the type of cruising we will do, I can live with most of these, she sails faster than she motors, so the engine is not my first choice, however sods law dictates that the wind always comes from where you want to go to!

We currently have an 8hp Mariner Sailpower outboard, about a 1998 vintage. While I can't see that in the near future we will need to change, its always good to have a plan in mind to cover any eventualities!

A 4 stroke outboard engine is certainly an attractive proposition, as noise and consumption are lower than 2 stroke. However due to the bigger size and weight of 4 stroke outboards, I doubt that I could find one to fit in the existing well, without serious modifications. I intend to take some measurements with me when we vist the Southampton boat show later in the year, and to trawl round the various manufacturers stands to see if there is a possible fit.

We could look to fit an inboard, however I feel it could be a whole pile of hassle, and is not reversible if we change our minds!

I'm also keeping my eye on the electric engine market. There has been some innovation in recent years, however I'm not sure this will this mean it may become a serious contender...

Torqueedo is a German company, they produce a range of electric outboards, ranging from trolling motors to some reasonably big beasts, such as this one:

(Cost approx. £2699.00 which is comparable with a new 4 Stroke Yamaha - £2015.00)
Now on the surface, it looks like a great idea, it has some clever power management technology that allows you to see what range you have left, using a built in GPS.

The Cruise 4.0 needs a 48volt supply. Torqueedo have been working on a this power pack:
Its a Lithium power pack, which weighs about 20kgs, and approx. 104A/hr, and you'd need at least 2 of these (at around £2k each). I'd recon a budget of £7-8k would give a setup that could be used, however that's a big outlay. And at 4.5knots, you would still only have a range of 13miles! Recharge time is quoted at 11hours per battery.

I love the idea of electric propulsion, however the equivalent 40kgs of combustible fuel (approx. 40litres of petrol) would give me a range of 30/40 miles and with £4000 I could motor for approximately 2800 miles!

Monday, 16 May 2011

First Night On-board

We went back down on the Saturday following the launch on Friday, but given all the rushing around the previous day, we left home around noon, figuring that the purpose of the day was to get the children afloat, and see how they took to the boat.

We launched the tender from Northney marina around 2pm, and pootled out to the mooring. We'd booked a berth in Northney for the night, as we had a load of bedding and other items still to take aboard.

Having got ourselves sorted, we motored off the mooring and headed down the channel, we had planned to get to East head, but time and wind direction got the better of us, so at 4pm we turned round and headed back to Northney for our first go at marina parking...

The first thing I realised, was that without a full trained crew, it was going to be a tricky. We found the berth, and moved off to put fenders and lines on the right side to enable us to come alongside.

Being an outboard powered boat has some advantages, not least of which her ability to go backwards! I reversed into the finger berth, and all went ok, we had a little problem with getting the right lines ashore, but plenty of fenders down, and no one got bumped or damaged. Lots of learning still to do!

We knew the forecast was for rain overnight, and lots of it. However we discovered we had a few more leaks than first thought, the Port settee was soaking, and it was getting late, what should we do, stay or go-home?

We opted for a trip to the local B&Q to find some silicone sealant, to plug up the gaps, which thankfully did the trick. Following a quick pasta tea, which daughter No1 pronounced as "the best homemade ever!" (it was from a jar) We all eventually got to bed around 10pm.

And so it rained, and rained and rained! (The best way of knowing how much it rained, is always to look in the tender! - a good few inches in the morning)! We found another couple of leaks, which we've hopefully plugged up, and started to make a list of fittings to be removed and resealed with Sikaflex in the winter.

The next morning, we had Bacon rolls, and got ourselves up and organised to take the boat back to the mooring, and then off home. as daughter No1 had a party to go to.

Overall not a bad start to the season! We spent a night aboard, everyone was reasonably happy, and lots of things to learn!

Friday, 13 May 2011


It all began in early April, we never intended on changing the boat, we'd brought a lovely drascombe Lugger last year, and the children had really taken to it, enjoying days out from Itchenor in Chichester Harbour, and also a camping weekend down in Poole. I was slowly getting the Lugger ready for the coming season, and had a list of changes I wanted to make to her.

We'd fallen in love with a Baycrusier 23 at the Southampton boat show back in September, but as they were only available new, and out of our immediate price range. The attraction of the Baycruiser was that she was stable, and trailable. This coupled with some of Matt Newlands excellent design features means it is a lovely package.

Having lived with the Lugger for a season, we had a couple of issues with the Luggers design. I know many see them as a "classic" however the design has not been evolved at all in the last 30 years. This I feel is its biggest downfall. The biggest concern we had was with the rudder; on a Drascombe, it’s a huge piece of metalwork, with a large swinging plate on a long metal pole which fits through the hull, and on the end is the tiller.

This design means it’s hard to come into shallow water, as the board swings up you cannot remove it from the slot in the rear deck. If you do choose to remove it, you end up with a very heavy arrangement to ship. I know many Drascombe lovers say that you can put a block of wood under it in the slot, and then tie the tiller up on the rear mast, but this is still a very clumsy arrangement. I did give some thought as to how you could modify this arrangement, but it would have needed serious surgery. Coupled with its less than sparkling sailing performance, it never made it the perfect boat for me.

I was having a cheeky look around at what other boats might be available, we'd nearly brought a Moody 29 last year, but it had the dreaded osmosis, so we left it. I spotted a Seal 22 on Boats and Outboards, and got thinking about how it might be the right sort of boat for us, good reputation, lifting keel etc. But if we wanted to sleep on it, it would only really be good for 4 people.

I'd looked at a Super Seal 26 on Yachtsnet, and it seemed ideal, slept 5, good performance, lifting keel. The Super Seal was built for about 3 years in the late 70's, and many examples are showing their age. I spotted our boat on Apollo duck, and we discussed the merits, and from the pictures it looked right, and most importantly cared for.

So off we went to Canvey Island to take a look. She was definitely "end of season" but only really suffering from lack of cleaning and paint and polish. Inside was really tidy, outside was in remarkable condition, especially for a thirty year old vessel. We discovered that she'd been brought originally by the owner of Tiptree Jam, and for most of her life was kept in the warehouse there, which explained her condition. I think I was beaming like a Cheshire cat, and Jan seemed to like it too. We spent the afternoon pondering an offer, and reading the last survey.

When we got home, we made an offer and it was accepted, rightly or wrongly we'd decided not to make it subject to survey, as having been over it was a toothcomb, we couldn't find anything too much wrong with it; The Super Seal is a very simple boat:- No keel bolts, inboard engine, hot water, or other complexities of modern yachts. The interior woodwork is all Teak; something you'd never see on a boat now!

So we spent the next few weeks running up and down to Essex, we completed the purchase on Maundy Thursday. We then spent Good Friday and Easter Sunday antifouling and cleaning.

We'd debated where to keep her, I first off thought it may be interesting to keep her on the east coast, certainly the cost of moorings and yards is tiny compared to the south coast, but the lack of access and small tidal windows was a real put off. So finally we decided to move her back to Chichester. One of the big advantages of a lifting keel is the mooring options it opens up to you, Keel up the Seal draws about 18inches, and keel down around 5.5 feet. Thanks to the Chichester Conservancy, affordable moorings are available around the harbour, even more so if you can take the ground.

The final piece of the jigsaw was to get her moved south. I did contemplate sailing her round, but time was going to be an issue, along with availability of suitable crew. So I decided to investigate road movements. I found a couple of adverts, and eventually chose Chris at boat towing in Southampton.

His service was excellent, he put up with all my emails, and daft questions, and even the agro from the Yard on Canvey Island. We'd naively presumed that it would be easy to book a slot to get the boat lifted in, but a few phone calls later and it was clear that we'd missed one important detail, that most people don't launch until the beginning of May, and therefore we should have booked this months ago. We racked our brains and called around a few yards we knew. We came up trumps with Emsworth Yacht harbour, they could slot us in, but only if we were there by 10:30 Phew!

So finally Friday morning came, it was a very stressful time from my perspective, was everything ready, I'd taken the mast down a week earlier, and now I was to put it back up for the first time. But Emsworth handled everything really well, I always think that these are stressful times for the yards, lifting and moving boats with owners present must be a nightmare!

Everything in place, we launched around 11:30, and the mast was up around lunchtime. We moved her to the other end of the marina and got ourselves organised for the trip out to the mooring, finally setting off around 3:30.

We motored out of Emsworth, and got the genoa out on the way, she happily did 5 knots under genoa, I was really pleased.

We picked up the mooring first time (hooray for team work!) I'd originally thought we'd go back to Emsworth in the tender, but the little engine was not happy, and with the sea breeze filling in, it would be a very wet 2 mile ride back. We'd chosen this mooring due to its proximity to Northney, so we pumped up the tender and made the short, but very soggy journey over to Northney. They kindly organised us a taxi, so we deflated the tender, tried to make ourselves look presentable and shoved the tender in its bag. All in all a very long but good day.