“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain


Blizzard of 2015 as a Liveaboard

So the Northeast just got hit with a blizzard.  Not totally uncommon but we don’t get them every year.  All that a blizzard really means is a snow storm with winds greater than 30 knots for 3 hours or more with low visibility due to the snow.  Typically its a  nor’easter, like the one I previously wrote about.  The big one that still comes up whenever you try to compare blizzards is the Blizzard of ’78.  I was about 3 years old when it hit but still have stories of hanging out at my Grandparent’s house on Pearl Street in Brockton.  My Mother was 8+ months pregnant during the storm and the big concern was that my sister would be born during it. She was born just after all of the roads had been cleared.

Blizzard Prep

Blizzards will typically send people into a panic running out to get bread, milk, water, eggs and snow shovels.  Now mind you it snows all the time in the northeast, why don’t these people already have snow shovels?!

As a liveaboard our prep isn’t that different.  We need food and water, so we took a trip to the store over the weekend and picked up some stuff so we had enough food for a week plus.  The water is easier than being on land.  Dirt dwellers will stockpile bottled water and even fill up their bathtubs to have 20 or so gallons on reserve.  This is much easier on the boat.  We just fill our tanks. That gives us 55 gallons and we typically go a week once topped off.

Power outages are typical and can last several days.  On the boat we run almost everything on our 12volt system, that gives us a redundant system without doing anything.  We have a small inverter that will power laptops, we can charge phones, the iPad, Kindles etc.  We always have plenty of flashlights so that was a non-issue but the shelves at the stores were cleared out of batteries.  We also charged our handheld VHF radios.  The liveaboards monitor channel 72 throughout the storms as a local net for help and support when needed.

The biggest issue with power loss for us is that our primary heat source is two electric heaters.  But we have a propane heater as a backup so all we had to do was make sure we had all of our propane tanks topped off.  That gave us fuel for heating and cooking.

The rest of our blizzard prep is the same as any major storm.  Tend to dock lines.  Check fender placement. The canvas is either down or covered by the shrink wrap.

The Storm

Around 4 pm the snow started coming down.  The winds were light in the early evening, 20-25 knots.  Snow wasn’t really accumulating.  It was light and blowing so there wasn’t much accumulation.  I went to take Summer for a walk at 7:30 pm.


The snow started to fall a little heavier and the winds picked up.  We ate dinner and cleaned up.  I then went back out before we went to bed around 10 pm. Snow was still not accumulating very much but drifts were getting up to 10 inches in places.  But the wind continued to keep the snow from accumulating on the shrink wrap.


Throughout the night I got up several times to check on the snow accumulation on the shrink wrap.  I didn’t want to risk a collapse of the shrink wrap.  But we never had significant accumulation on the shrink wrap.  The wind had picked up to about 35 knots.

At around 4am we heard the VHF net come to life.  Someone on our dock was asking if the rest of the marina had power. Boaters from all of the docks checked in that they had no power.  Soon the answer came that the marina had cut the power due to the storm surge.  A quick peek out showed that we were getting very close to the top of the sea wall.  Seemed to be a prudent move to avoid some potential disaster.  We simply set up and turned on the propane heater and went back to bed.  The power came back on after the storm surge receded.  While we stayed warm we lacked the fun of baking cookies to keep from freezing during the blizzard ala Tom and Nancy on Sunshine.

In the morning we decided to venture out after a cup of coffee.  After all, Summer needed to get to shore.  Snow drifts were as deep as 4 feet in places but total snow fall appeared to be around 2 feet.  The winds were 25-30 knots at the boat.  But once we were beyond the protection of the surrounding  buildings and the seawall, winds of 45 knots were encountered.



Making Snow Angles


Patriots Nation Getting Ready for the Super Bowl


We made our way around to where the USS Constitution and the USS Leyte are docked.


We could hear the Navy officers barking orders at the crew of the USS Constitution as they cleaned the snow from her decks.

 One Thought on Dog Safety

When we went to take Summer up for a walk it was a little windy.  Not to mention the dock being slippery with snow and ice. So we thought it was best to have her life vest on and the leash attached to the vest.  If she slid off the dock we wouldn’t be choking her and we could get her out of the water quickly.



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Some Cool New Tech for Smitty

Thanks to my uncle I got in contact with the good people at Navionics.  We’ve been using their products to navigate Smitty for the last few years.

Our iPad running the Navionics app is our primary chart plotter.  We love how you can customize the charts and add local knowledge to help out other boaters or get help.  We can also run the app on our iPhones and synchronize information so that we have access to all our previous tracks or planned routes.   I can plot out a weekend cruise at work on my phone and pull it up on the iPad as we head out.  And when they added SonarCharts we didn’t think it could get better.

We were wrong….

Our SonarPhone T-BOX arrived today.  I can’t wait to get this hooked up and try it out.

Thanks Navionics!


Isn’t It Cold?

This is the first question we always get asked when people find out we live on our boat in Boston Harbor.  So I thought I would give some specifics on the subject. Today we are in the middle of a cold snap.  It’s been in the teens the last couple of morning and hasn’t gotten over 30 degrees fahrenheit.  We are in wind chill warnings, its predicted to be -2 with the wind chill. weather graph 01072015   We are even starting to get some nice ice build ups in the marina. IMG_2788 IMG_2793 IMG_2794 IMG_2795   Today I even got texts from friends and family asking us if we wanted to stay with them.  Nice offers but it really isn’t bad on the boat. We left for work before 7 am and only left our radiant heater on medium.  I came back to the about at about 1 pm.  Here is what it was like. IMG_2791 The outdoor temp on the display is actually under our clear shrink wrap.  So that 45 is the result of some good greenhouse effect from the clear shrink wrap.  It was actually about 22 and less than 10 with the windchill. IMG_2792 Like most people we try to reduce our energy use and only have the boat at a minimum temperature when we aren’t on board.  I turn the heaters on high and within 30 minutes it was nice and comfy. IMG_2796 If we leave both heaters on high it will get into the 80s. There are some different things that we hadn’t thought about.  Like last night we were woken up by something banging into the hull.  After thinking about it we realized it was ice.  The ice forms on the inside of the marina, near land.  When the tide goes out, some of the ice goes with it and some of it was hitting against our hull.

One quick update.  I left the heaters on high for as long as I could stand it.  In about 3 hours it was over 80 degrees.  It was too warm for me to be comfortable and I had to end the experiment.



Planning Our Solar Array

A cold and rainy January morning was a perfect time to finish up my research on our solar system.  In a previous post, Trying to Make Sense of Solar, I laid out some of the options and design considerations.  But just to review and make a clear list of what I plan to add here is a quick summary:

  • Living on the hook I am estimating we will use between 50-125 amp hours per day;
  • We are willing to run our diesel engine up to 1.5 hours a day allowing are alternator to generate about 65 amp hours, plus producing hot water as a by-product;
  • That would mean that we would want to generate about 50 amp hours of solar power a day;
  • Given that we are going in a small boat, efficiency is important, so we would like get the increased 15-20% efficiency you get from an MPPT controller over a PWM controller.
  • We may decide to add a watermaker to our boat and would like the ability to expand our solar array to offset some of that power consumption.  So that would mean we would want to size certain aspects to allow for the easy upgrade in the future;
  • We like the aspect of the semi-flexible panels since they would allow us to disassemble and store the panels more easily in the event of a storm, and;
  • We are NOT independently wealthy and are trying to do this cruise in a very cost effective manner, so we can’t afford to splurge on the best available product for every component.

All that being said, here is what I have come up with for the our solar array:

  • Two (2) 100 watt semi-flexible solar panels mounted on our bimini;
  • A 30 amp MPPT controller with a remote panel, and;
  • An ability to expand the system by added two (2) 100 watt semi-flexible solar panels on the life lines or on deck.

Semi-Flex Solar Panels

My go-to source for electrical, Compass Marine aka Maine Sail, has a great write up on installing semi-flexible solar panels on a bimini.

Photo from Compass Marine

Photo from Compass Marine

The steps involved with this process would include reinforcing the bimini structure, adding velcro, zippers or snaps to connect the panels and probably adding some wear patches to the bimini.  You also have to be careful of the layout.  The panels can’t cross over the bows that hold up the bimini or else you will create a flex point that can crack the panels.  Below is a mockup of how I could layout panels on our bimini. We could actually fit two 100 watt and one 50 watt panels.


In the above mockup there are two additional panels on lifeline mounts.  These would be the expansion panels if we choose to add some additional solar.  I got this idea from a Solbian rep at a boat show.  You connect the panels to the lower lifeline with some snap hooks and then use some line to position them.  These could be angled to get a little more efficiency than laying flat if you are on the boat to make the adjustments.

For the lifeline mount I would want to reinforce the panel by mounting it on something light weight.  For that I would go with something like this thin-walled polycarbonate sheet that I heard about from a fellow cruiser (thanks Dani and Tate).

For panels, as much as I would love the Solbians, I can’t justify the added expense.  Instead I have been looking at the less expensive semi-flexible panels.  Based on reviews from others, like Dani and Tate on Sundowner,  I have decided to go with Renogy 100-watt panels.  These panels go for about $220 each on Amazon.  But they have gone on sale for under $200, missed the Black Friday sale at that price.  So I am hoping to get them on sale.  And they are Amazon Prime eligible.  According to the data from Dani and Tate, it appears that 5 amps per panel per hour is a realistic expectation for full sun.

One down side to the cheaper panels seems to be consistency.  From reading reviews and recommendations, mainly from Maine Sail, on the sailing forums it appears that the best practice is to do some side by side testing as soon as you get them in.  To do this I will make a 2×4 A frame that I can temporarily mount the panels on.  I will then hook up the each panel separately to the charge controller and a battery.  I will let each panel run for an hour and record the performance to make sure they are in the same ball park.  I plan to record the starting, mid charge and ending volts and amps at the battery and the charge controller.  If the results from each panel are not within the expected range I will send them back until I get a set I am comfortable with.  This is another good reason to go with the Renogy because they are Amazon Prime eligible and that will help if I need to send them back.

Charge Controller

As I stated above, I want to go with an oversized MPPT charge controller.  I looked at the Rogue MPT-3048, MidNite KID, TriStar 30, TriStar 40 and Blue Sky SB3024iL.  This list primarily came from an article on the Compass Marine site about adding a small panel plus some recommendations I got from cruisers.  I briefly considered some lesser brands such as the Renogy but decided that this piece was important enough to not mess around with off-brands.

Some of my key concerns were that I wanted flexibility to change the charge profile, the ability to equalize, a temp sensor and a remote panel.  I plan to mount the controller in the stern compartment near the shore power charger and holding tank.  I am concerned about the heat aspect. I don’t want to mount this unit in the cabin and have it dissipate heat into the cabin while we are in the tropics.  I would also like some secondary ability to know what is going into the batteries besides the our Victron Battery Monitor.

In the end I found that the Rogue MPT-3048 had the best balance of options for the cost.  It comes standard with a temp sensor and voltage sensors.  The cost for adding the remote panel wasn’t bad.  It didn’t hurt that it was among the cheapest.  Still talking over $400 when all is said and done.

Installation & Cost Estimate

Here is my proposed wiring diagram.  Getting a little busy and I might need to find a way to clean it up a little.  I am attaching a PDF as well in case anyone wants to add comments on my wiring.



I plan to mount the charge controller on a piece of starboard next to the shore power charger.

Charger Controller Location

The positive and negative solar busses will be mounted here as well.  This will mean I will have about a 12-foot run from the controller to the batteries.  Not ideal but I think have the heat go into this area will be preferable.  Remembering that you count both the positive and the negative to determine the length of the run so that would mean I need coverage for 24 feet.  According the Blue Sea Systems Sizing Chart (large PDF warning),  4 gauge wire would be sufficient for up to a 30-foot run.  Using the same sizing chart, 4 gauge wire should be protected with a 100-amp ANL fuse when bundled.  As shown on the wire diagram, I plan to use the same 50 amp fuse that protects the ACR in my current setup.

The bimini frame will be reinforced with cross bars on the edges and cross bars replacing the stern straps.  With this configuration we won’t technically need the forward straps but I will probably just keep everything there.

I plan to wire the two panels on the bimini in parallel.  From what I have read, you want to wire solar panels on a boat in parallel as that handles partial shading on a portion of one panel the best.  If they are in series shading would degrees the output of the panels more.  I am going to use the MC4 connectors for the panel wiring.  This seems to give a good connection that can be disconnected easily when needed, yet another good Compass Marine article on this subject.  I also plan to use the Renogy MC4 branch connectors to make the parallel connection at the bimini.  I like how you can choose which side to make the male and which to make the female so you can make it dummy proof so you can’t connect them in reverse polarity.  The Renogy panels come pre-wired this way.

Photo from Amazon

Photo from Amazon

As I said above I plan to only install the two panels at this time.  But I did include the possible expansion panels in my plan so that it will be easier to add these should the time come.  Here is the cost estimate for the installation.

Solar Cost Estimate Solar Cost Estimate

So let us know what you think!