It all started innocently enough. I installed two 55 watt solar panels. No moving parts, no fancy stainless steel brackets; a very successful installation if I do say so myself. For a year they unobtrusively provided amps for Cetus' lights, radio, refrigerator and other systems. But something just wasn't right, something was missing. Something deep in the dark corner of my brain was yelling: "Go forth and tinker!" So, after a bit of drilling, some welding and more than a few perplexing looks from our liveaboard neighbors, the add on was complete! I was now able to adjust the solar collectors fore and aft and port and starboard! And that's exactly what I do... constantly. Now I can't sit at anchor without adjusting the panels so they can catch that ½ amp of sunlight that they may have been missing. For every move that Cetus makes, I make about 10 adjustments to insure I get the very last bit of ions or protons or whatever makes those things work.
"What do ya think, Hon?" I asked proudly.
"You're obsessed!" she thoughtfully replied.
A wind turbine seemed the next logical step. It generates some serious amps in the right conditions and once it's up, no further adjustment is necessary. A simple 12 foot pole mounted on deck, some easy wiring and bingo! Bob's your uncle.
Skepticism was etched across my wife's face as I unloaded the components on deck.
"This little beauty will cut way down on having to use the engine to charge the batteries," I said with a bit too much enthusiasm.
"I thought the adjustable solar panels did that," she said.
I pretended not to hear.
Well, it turned out that mounting the pole on deck right above our aft cabin berth was a slight miscalculation. When the generator starts to generate, the sound it makes is transmitted down the pole through the deck, directly into my pillow and rattles my fillings! I guess that's why they call it a turbine: it's kind of reminiscent of sitting in a 747 in that row of seats behind the wings. When our generator is pumping out power there is a distinct feeling that we are heading down a runway at takeoff or a hurricane has descended upon us.
So, in order to keep peace on Cetus, I switch the turbine off at night, but I do take full advantage of its capabilities when we leave the boat at anchor and go to shore. The only trouble is I can't stay on shore long before the solar panels need adjusting...
The wind turbine installation gave rise to another "can't miss!" idea. Since the wind generator made the wind sound stronger than it actually was, I wanted to be able to check the wind speed without leaving my bunk. I could wet my finger and stick it out the hatch above my head, or I could take a more complicated approach, which, of course, I did. I chose to install a "repeater" that would display my wind speed (and other data) from my outside instruments. I placed this device at the foot of our bunk. Before Heidi could object (she was away at the time), the holes were drilled, the wires run and the new remote was installed! I felt this little addition was quite a success, but Heidi, on the other hand, says it has the feel of an expensive night light with its soft red glow. There has been more than one request to turn the thing off at night, but I find myself mesmerized watching the digital numbers replacing the zero. Plus, I need to know when to shut off the wind turbine and adjust the solar panels. "You want to do what?" Heidi asked with a trace of exasperation in her voice.
"I want to mount a small video transmitter above the hatch so I can keep an eye on the cockpit while at sea," I said enthusiastically as she rolled her eyes.
"I can't imagine why there would ever be a need for a gizmo like that," she responded.
My reason was simple. When we travel offshore and are in the midst of our four hour on, four hour off watch schedule, I find that much of my time off is spent wondering about the noises I hear coming from outside. If I could stay in my bunk and see that everything is OK, I would rest easier. Well, that was my pitch.
I'd found a system that would be reasonably priced – and a very easy installation. It involved a very small wireless camera and an equally small LCD receiver with a 1 ½ x 2 inch screen. It was 12 volt and rechargeable: perfect! It was designed to help people hook up trailers to the car or truck. Mounted on the back of the vehicle, there would be no more guessing where the trailer tongue was and for me there would be no more guessing where Heidi was or what was happening out there when I was down below! The sweet little unit sold for about $150 online.
When the new safety item (read toy) arrived, I immediately set to work. I placed the small video camera above the sliding hatch and faced the camera aft. Its wide angle lens was able to view most of Cetus' cockpit, including Heidi who was seated in her favorite corner reading a book. So, I laid back in our berth, and after taking a glance at the wind speed indicator, I glued my eyes to the small grainy image on the video screen. Wanting to test it out further, I shouted through the hatch, "Now pretend like you're steering the boat."
On the screen I followed her reluctant move from her comfortable position to her "offshore station" behind the wheel.
"Move the camera a little to the right," I called out, attempting to get the field of vision just right.
"Ok, now down a little... too much. Now up just a bit," I instructed. Even on the small screen I could pick up the weariness on her face as I saw her lips ask, "Are we about done with this?"
"Almost," I replied and added, "Now pretend you've just started reading a book."
"I was reading a book you idiot," her voice came through load and clear and I didn't need to read her lips this time.
So there I sat in my aft berth watching the screen, confident that the new addition will prove to be a roaring success.
"Hey Hon, one more favor," I yelled and when she looked up at the camera I continued, "could you adjust the solar panels just a smidgen?"
Even on the little screen, it wasn't hard to read her lips...
...back to 48° North title page.