New sails!

New sails from North finally arrive. A new 120% furling genoa and a powerful G2 asymmetric spinnaker with a snuffer that can be carried pretty deep up to 130 AWA.

I wanted a powerful easy to handle downwind sail for light airs up to 12 knots. Hoping the G2, which is the most powerful cruising gennaker from North will do the trick.

For the genoa I was debating between 135% and 120% but since my rig is fractional (ie the main does majority of the work) I decided to go with the 120%. It would be easy to handle and I won't give up that much drive. I still have my old 100% genoa which I can use in heavier upwind conditions.

Here is how I plan to use my sail wardrobe (which also includes a symmetrical spinnaker and a gale sail storm jib) for different wind conditions


Interestingly the sails were made in Sri Lanka and shipped over. Might have to sail them back there!


Installing a 80W Balmar high output alternator with smart regulator

Based on my energy usage projections I planned to generate 80-100 Ah/Day of energy without using the engine but when the engine was on for motoring I wanted to maximize the energy it could generate. The alternator would be a backup to solar and wind as well as a way to fully charge up the batteries once a month to recalibrate the Victron battery monitor I had installed.

The 20W original alternator

First Job was removing the old alternator

Wiring up the new Balmar alternator

I then started wiring up the high output alternator. I chose Balmar because it came highly rated in the cruising forums. Because of the engine horsepower I was limited to 80W max. With larger engines and AGM batteries (that can take almost any amount of charge) you can obviously put on much larger alternators.

The new Balmar fit perfectly

The Balmar fit perfectly into the space. I also upgraded the belt since the loads were going to be higher.

Installing the regulator

The Balmar also has a smart regulator which I installed above the echocharger (blue). Once I had everything installed and started the engine the alternator worked perfectly through all the stages of charge.

However I noticed one issue. The temperature alarm light on the engine panel did not come on when I switch the engine power on. This was obviously a major problem because I needed to know if and when the engine was overheating. This problem unfortunately took a month to solve going through numerous sources.

Wiring diagram for the relay

Finally I managed to get hold of someone at Balmar with knowledge of Volvo Penta engines and they recommended installing a relay in the alternator wiring to the engine which did the trick. I was sooooo glad to get this issue resolved.

The old alternator

Finally I sealed the old alternator in a waterproof bag and kept it as a spare for the pacific crossing I had planned.

Project Summary

Total cost: around $1,000 mainly for the Balmar alternator.

Total project time:  Took a weekend to get it installed and working but another month to figure out the engine temperature alarm issue and then install the relay.

Update in 2012 after 13,000 miles of sailing.

Everything worked great, no failures on any part of the system. Only used the engine to charge up the batteries a couple of times on the whole trip, but obviously it was very useful for charging up the batteries to full when motoring.

Installing an ICOM M802 SSB Radio with Pactor 3 Modem

A single side band radio with a modem for email and weather downloads was one of the top items to get done before setting on my big trip. I had a satellite phone as backup but didn’t want to it for downloads because of the minute costs. Also good to have a second system.

The goodies arrive!

The goodies arrived in the post:

ICOM M802 Marine HF SSB Radio
ICOM AT-140 Automatic Tuner
Pactor III Modem
KISS Grounding system

The first problem I had was where to put the main unit. I only had space for the controller and speaker next to the chart table and wanted the unit as far from the engine as possible (away from big metal objects which could cause interference. I decided to build an shelf in an existing cabinet to use the unused space at the top. However this cabinet was circular so had some fun with a jigsaw cutting the right shape 😉

The new shelf I built

The new shelf with the main unit mounting bracket bolted on.

With vents for air circulation

I also added a couple of holes with grills for ventilation because the unit can get very hot with it is transmitting at full power.

The main unit installed!

I then bolted the shelf in place and wired in the main unit. Boom!

Probably the most complicated part of the wiring was terminating the RG8 coax wire. Most connectors were soldered but this was a hit and miss process and soldering was brittle. It could break with all the movement on the boat. I came across connectors that only needed crimping and were therefore more flexible.

First used a stripping tool to cut the braid, dialectric and center conductor to the right size for the connector.

The right sizes!

I then slid the crimp ferrule over the cable jacket

Inserted the cable into body of connector. Inner ferrule needed to slide under the braid

Made sure the braid butt against back of body and then slid the ferrule over the braid

Crimp the ferrule

Good crimp!

And then crimped the center conducter

Another good crimp. Then cut the conductor to size. Easy as pie.

The next stop was to install the AT-140 antenna tuner at the stern of the boat. I attached the antenna wire to the backstay and use spaces to keep it off the non insulated section.

Grounding was the other complicated issue with the SSB installation. Many people install ground plates through the hull or copper plating etc, which was really involved. I decided to first try a simple solution to see if it worked: The KISS grounding system. I just connected it to the Tuner and then fixed it in a couple of places to the hull.

First test and it worked! Download a weather map from a sailmail station in hawaii.

Once everything was installed I wanted to see if it worked. Amazingly it worked really well right off the bat. I was able to connect to the sailmail station in hawaii some 4000 miles away and send an email I was also able to download weather charts (see picture above). I was relieved!

Protecting the special Pactor III modem.

The last part was building a little case to house the pactor modem near the chart table and computer. Job done!

Total cost: Around $4,000 mainly for the radio and modem.

Total project time: About 3 weeks after the items were delivered.

Update in 2012 after 13,000 miles of sailing.

No real issues at all, it worked great the whole way, apart from a couple of days when I use the satphone as backup. Not only did the SSB allow me to download weather and email for “free”, I also able to get onto the cruiser nets in the south pacific and keep in touch with our buddy boats. Not possible with the sat phone. All in an all, I an invaluable and reliable piece of kit. The KISS grounding proved itself as well, not need for elaborate and expensive thruhulls or copper plating.

Designing and building a 170W solar energy platform with MPPT controller

Based on my energy usage projections I needed to generate some 80-100 Ah/Day of energy without using the engine. I was looking for Solar to generate about 40Ah, but the problem was where to put the solar panels.

Choosing the best solar panel and location

I knew that even a tiny bit of shade was really bad for solar panel performance, but I read that new CIGS solar panels could perform better with shade. I wanted to test this out in real life, so I conducted an experiment with two different panels at different locations

Testing the CIGS thinfilm 70W panel

First was a new CIGS thinfilm Sunforce 70 Watt panel under the boom where I had plenty of space but had a lot of shade with the boom and rig.

Testing the Kyocera 85W panel

Second was a more standard Kyocera KC85T 85W Solar Panel situated between the transom and the windvane. When the sun was directly above there weren’t any shadows.


I wired them up to a Blue Sky MPPT Solar Boost 2000E Charge Controller to test the output especially around midday when the sun was overhead. The MPPT charge controllers are more expensive but deliver more power because they convert all the energy above 12V into more amps. I found that the Kyocera 85W panel at the stern location delivered nearly 3 times as much as the CIGS panel, nearly 7 amps at times. If I could generate 10Amps with 2 panels over a 4 period I could hit my target of 40 AH a day from solar! So I decided to go with the Kyocera panels at the stern.

Building a platform to hold the solar panels.

Now that I decided the stern was the best location for the solar panels I needed a way to mount them that also gave me access to the windvane when I needed to remove the vane or check for chafe. So I started designing a mount that kept the panel as high as possible out of shadows but also didn’t obstruct the vane and allowed me open one of the panels to get access. I designed hinges between the two panels to allow one to fold on to the other.

My design sketch (top view)

View of the top facing down with the two panels mounted on two 316 stainless steel tubes with another tube going across.

My design sketch (side view)

The tubes were bent 90 degrees with bracket tubes welded for additional support. The tubes were attached both to the transom hull and the stainless steel lifelines with davit style horizontal to vertical rail clamps. All of this had to be 316 stainless steel to prevent corrosion.

Svendsens Metal works in Alameda agreed to build the tubes according to my drawings. This is the parts list I sent off to them.

A) Main supporting tubes (see side view sketch)
– Two 65″ long 1″ diameter stainless steel tubes with a 90 degree bend (ideally less than 3 inches bend radius from outer edges)
– Bend at 35″ (Top end is 35″ and side end is 30″)
– Supporting tubes welded from top end 18″ from bend corner to side end 14″ from bend corner (see sketch)

B)  Horizontal supporting tube
– One 79.5″ long 1″ diameter stainless steel tube

C) Solar panel mounting plates
– Two 24 3/4″ long by 4″ wide aluminum plates to mount plastic rail clamps

D) Attachments for the 2 main supporting tubes to horizontal supporting tube
– Four 90 degree 3 way tees for 1″ tubing

E) Brackets to mount rail clamps to solar panel at edges
– Four 4 Aluminum L shaped brackets to mount plastic rail mounts (Length 4″, width 2″, height 3/4″) (see top view sketch)

F)  Two eye ends to attach supporting “1 tubes to side deck mount

G) Two side deck mounts to attach supporting tubes eyes ends to deck

H) Six plastic rail clamps to attach solar panels to brackets/plates

I) Two davit style horizontal rail to vertical rail clamps (if you don’t have these I can order them from a davit manufacturer)

J) One 50″ long 1” diameter stainless steel tube – for additional supports if necessary

K) Four “1 stainless steel tube end caps

A few weeks later I picked up the welded tubes.

The welded tubes finally arrived

I then had to put everything together.

Drilling through stainless steel to bolt on the end fittings

I started by attaching the end fittings to the tubes. This required drilling through the 316 stainless steel using cobalt drill bits and cutting oil. Not a job for the fainthearted 🙂

Installed the tubes on the boat

I then mounted the tubes on the boat using the davit fasteners.

Installed the clamps to the solar panel frames

I then mounted clamps on to the solar panels by making aluminium seats that bolted onto the panel frames.

Installed the first panel

The first panel installed.

Testing I could get to the windvane

I then checked that I could access the windvane and install/remove the vane. It worked well.

Both panels connected to each other with the hinges

I then installed the second panel to the first using hinges.

Installed the MPPT controller

Next job was the wiring. I installed the blue MPPT controller inside the boat next to the main battery switch and ran the wiring outside through a watertight seal.

The final result! The solar panels generating electricity on the stern of the boat.

Total cost: Total cost was around $1500 for the panels, controller and stainless steel work.

Total project time: It took around six weeks. The long pole item was getting the stainless steel tubes bent and welded. Once I had that I was cooking on gas 🙂

Update in 2012 after 13,000 miles of sailing.

The solar panel and mount worked amazingly well, generating around 30-50Ah a day, and with the wind generator I only had to use the engine for charging one or twice on the whole trip (16 months).

I couldn’t believe the solar platform held up that well after 13,000 miles and all the rough weather.  After a few thousand miles I got lazy with fastening down the second panel. Once day on the passage from Bora Bora to Suwarrow Atoll, the weather got pretty rough (40+ knots and 6 meter seas). A big gust of wind lifted the second panel and closed it on the first panel violently. Luckily nothing broke, but from that day onward I always bolted down the second panel using the clamps on any major passage.