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Green Cruising with a Mix of Alternative Energy Sources

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Mocka Jumbies and Rum...

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Whenever we stay in busy anchorages we are amazed how many cruisers still rely on diesel or gasoline generators. Especially on gray days generators start roaring on one neighboring boat after the other. With the variety of alternative energy sources that are available for reasonable prices nowadays it seems antiquated to burn long-dead dinosaurs and add to pollution.

We planned right from the start to go for an environmentally-friendly cruiser life-style and equipped the boat accordingly without a diesel or gasoline generator.

Our 12-Volt watermaker runs directly on battery power and for AC power tools, household devices and chargers we have an inverter. We find that cruisers who have one AC appliance (e.g. a big watermaker) which they planned to run once a week in theory, tend to add more AC gadgets (washing machine, dish washer, espresso machine, etc.) because the ‘generator is running anyway’ without realizing that each machine adds to their fuel consumption. Others motor a lot as ‘they need to charge the batteries anyway.’ It’s all a matter of habit of course, but we don’t feel that our low-carbon-footprint philosophy makes our lives harder or less pleasant in any way. On the contrary: tacking across a lagoon is more fun than motoring into the wind and somehow, water made by sun rays seems to taste better than water made by diesel.

Wind vs Solar – An Easy Choice: What does our Experience Show

solar panel mounting on the rail using both alternative energy sources of wind and sun
Pitufa’s a monohull with a slim stern, so we installed two large panels on the radar arch and two more on the railing using aluminum profiles as mountings

Assessing energy requirements

We underestimated our need for energy gravely when starting out with a wind generator and only 100 Watts of solar power, so we kept adding panels as souvenirs along the way. Purchasing in remote places is usually more expensive and ordering is a time-consuming and often nerve-wrecking process. It is therefore a good idea to tabulate energy requirements and equip the boat accordingly before setting out. 

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Solar panels

Solar panels form the basis of a green energy supply. Catamarans have plenty of space for panels, monohulls need more creativity. Pitufa’s a monohull with a slim stern, so we installed two large panels on the radar arch and two more on the railing using aluminum profiles as mountings (see picture). We experimented with flexible panels on the bimini, but it seems they cannot cope with flexing fabric—both died within a year. Flexible panels that are installed rigidly on deck or on hard spray hoods or biminis yield better results. By now we carry 600 W of solar power—more than enough for our needs (watermaker, fridge, inverter, laptops, navigation instruments, etc.). We refrained from installing a freezers because of their greed for energy during the night—if you have one you’ll need more solar panels, a larger battery bank (or lithium batteries that handle deep cycles much better), and/or a wind generator.

Cruising — Living in Touch with Nature and Marine Life

Rutland wind generator. Also check out the solar panel as a combined alternative energy sources
Our new Rutland wind generator

Wind generators

Wind generators keep the batteries full on gray days and during the night. Many brands lure customers in with amazing power-output graphs, but be careful: you don’t want to buy a wind generator without listening to that model in action first! Many of the big ones sound like a helicopter taking off with a banshee as a pilot—annoying when it’s installed on the neighboring boat, but imagine having it howling on your own radar arch day after day… Proprietors of such monsters either sleep with ear plugs or turn them off during the night, thus nullifying their main advantage of charging the batteries while the solar panels slumber during the dark hours. We are the happy owners of a small Rutland 914i, a model that is very reasonably priced and only announces its presence with a gentle hum, a friendly sound like a purring cat. It is not fantastically strong, but constantly adds some Amps and after a night with 15 knots of wind, the batteries are full in the morning.

Tow generators

During passages instruments and autopilot run all day, so consumption is higher, but often sails shade off solar panels, so production is lower. With the wind before or on the beam, the wind generator works nicely, but on downwind courses the apparent wind is less anyway and when the boat is rolling in high seas the generator starts spinning confusedly. In such conditions a tow generator helps keeping the energy budget on the positive side. Many of those models double as wind generators, but fixing them temporarily in the rigging is somewhat cumbersome, so many owners refrain from that effort. On Pitufa our wind vane steers the boat untiringly without the need for electricity, so we are fine without an additional towing generator.

No matter if you’re active sailors or enjoy hanging out in bays, if you follow the sunny trade-wind routes or brave rougher areas—with the right mix of alternative energy sources you can save fuel costs, keep your carbon footprint low, neighbors happy and mother earth a tiny bit healthier!

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  1. I think another great option, if viable for you, depending on your cruising plans is to have a good setup of alternative power options like mentioned in the article, and then swap out the main engine for a electric motor, one which will work just like the tow generator except that it will work all the time. At anchor if there’s a current running, while sailing it will help to add a bit of power to the batteries as the propeller is spinning the motor which is now working as a generator

  2. While I am of the same attitude as you, I wouldn’t complain about it. You really don’t have the info on people to know their power needs. I’m guessing most run the gennies for a/c. Panels are cheap now, and I rarely see a sail oat without them. I could say the same as you about people with internal combustion engines. I went electric 3 years ago. I could say that more people should sail more and go all electric, but it’s just none of my business. If you don’t like it, change your anchorage.

  3. On my Pacific Seacraft 40 there is 2 solar panels of 150 w each and 2 of the same on the upper life li es that are now SS tubing replaced the cable lifes surrounding the boat. Also a wind generator and a Sea and Watt tow generator. Then I I stalled a hydrogen generator by Efov it does not operate often and it was expensive. Also replaced the batteries with lithium Battle Born and now have 1000 ah. The boat came with a diesel generator which I have left in place. Do not have many 110 v utilities but a electric compressor for scuba tanks. When several other divers near I charge their tanks no charge. Do not wish to go electric motor ad I do follow the climate chang garbage but wish all the activist would focus on the middle east and Asian countries for pollution and not charging the U.S. millions of $$$. There so much plastic floating in the oceans and so many container ship loosing containers lost that not seen until hit. Most sailors are not throwing plastic over board. I wo der sbout the cruise ships and cargo ships.


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Birgit Hackl
Birgit Hacklhttp://www.pitufa.at
Birgit Hackl, Christian Feldbauer and ship’s cat Leeloo have been exploring the world on their yacht Pitufa since 2011. Visit their blog: www.pitufa.at

So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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