“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


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Renogy Solar Panel Problems

We have written extensively about our solar panels.  We went through all the research we did in choosing them and installing them in previous posts.

We have loved these panels so far.  They get us up to 100% state of charge by near noon time each day.

Over the weekend one of the Facebook cruising groups started with stories of problems with the panels.  There was one reported incident of the panels starting a fire.  That post pointed to the Amazon and Renogy listings now calling the panels “light weight” as opposed to their old description of “semi-flexible”.  In addition, the descriptions now said not to bend the panels and to mount them with a 2-3 inch space between the panels and the surface below. This was a change from all of the previous literature.

Our panels are mounted onto our Sunbrella bimini with velcro.  This was an installation made popular by the Solbian panels.  The Renogy panels, as well as many other of the lesser cost brands, are a take off of the Solbian panels at about a quarter of the cost. One of the advantages of this type of install is that the panels have good air flow below them and that keeps them cool.  This should be an advantage in performance.

This morning I called Renogy and spoke with tech support.  The first tech I spoke with said he had heard of one issue but didn’t think there would be a problem with our install.  I pushed further, asking questions about why they change the literature and were they still recommended for the install like I had.  Eventually he spoke with his supervisor and they said that our panels should be exchanged for their new ones that have an aluminum backing.

Being a full-time cruiser this type of exchange isn’t easy.  The tech support guy said he would email a return label and then ship the new ones when they saw the old ones being return.  This obviously wouldn’t work for us.  I asked to talk to his supervisor.

When I got the supervisor on the phone I again pressed on the change of the description and the new “no bending” recommendation.  At first she said that we install our panels over the bimini supports.  This was an absolutely wrong recommendation and I knew it.  When you do this you create a hard point for the panels to flex over and crack the panel.  Since she told me the fire issue was related to the cells being damaged by bending and that’s what caused the fire. I then hit her with a whole bunch more questions.  Eventually she got their senior tech engineer.  They agreed that installing them over the bimini support was wrong.  They don’t see a problem with the aluminum backed panels being installed on a Sunbrella bimini as long as they don’t bend more than 20-30 degrees (they don’t).  They also don’t think that mounting on the Sunbrella is a problem.  It seems the issue is more mounting them to hard biminis and dodgers or right on the deck.

Once we got that settled, Renogy was very accommodating on setting up a return.  We are waiting out some offshore weather in Sandy Hook, NJ.  We had thought about going into a marina for a couple of days to shower, do some laundry and get provisions.  We had found a pretty reasonable one in Great Kills, NY on Staten Island.  So we gave Renogy the address of that marina and they are sending out our new panels 2-day air.  They are going to include the return label in the package.  We can swap them out quick in the marina.

I am putting this out there so anyone else with these panels knows to followup with Renogy.  They seem to be keeping a little quiet but when you press them they acknowledge the issue and setup the return.


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Let the Sewing Begin!

It was not until we shelled out $800 to have the dodger repaired, that I kicked myself and said – “get a sewing machine”!  We have a number of projects and it is not feasible to pay someone else to complete them all.  Obviously, I have a long way to go before I will be as good as a canvas shop or a seamstress – but practice makes perfect, right?

First up:  Buy a sewing machine and figure out how to use.  My mother (aka sewing guru) bought me a Singer Heavy-Duty sewing machine for Christmas. With her help as well as Sailrite, the Facebook group Sewing on Boats, and various You Tube videos, I am building up my knowledge.

Next:  Practice sewing on something that is already pretty wrecked. The weathered pirate flag was perfect for this, as it is normally flying high up the mast (far away from eyes to critique my awful sewing).  By the time I was onto my 7th seam, I had finally gotten one straight.

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Feeling more confident, I began my first big project:  the Bimini – (apparently, I am of the Go Big or Go Home mind set)

  1. Remove & replace ensign glass
  2. Repair the couple of small holes in the Sunbrella material (I used Tear-Aid – that stuff is awesome!)
  3. Solar Panel Project:  create a method to attach the solar panels to the bimini.

The ensign glass project took me almost four hours to remove all the stitches and the old glass from the dodger, measure and cut the new glass, and apply and sew on the Velcro to the new glass.

Cutting the Sunbrella, adding velcro and sewing everything on for the solar panels took much, much longer.  In the end, it came out good and cost substantially less then it would have been to have a pro do it.

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Out with the Old and In with the New

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The Final Product

The Final Product

Dodger – The stitching and zippers on parts of the dodger were starting to come apart from the fabric (even though we shelled out $$ to have the entire dodger restitched two years ago!).  So, down came the dodger and I restitched almost all of the dodger with the good uv-resistant thread.  I also added some material around the dodger frame in order to mitigate the rubbing of the ensign glass.
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Fender covers – I had an old pair of blue sweat pants that were ready for retirement, so instead of tossing them out or donating them I made two fender covers.

IMG_2483Fender CoversCustom-fit Sheet:  I took a flat queen mattress sheet and added elastic all the way around so that we now have another custom-fit mattress sheet to for our odd-shaped mattress.

And then another bimini project…our friends Pam & Chris on Wind Chaser ordered a bimini for their Catalina 30 which required a slight alteration in order to be useable.  Of course the alteration was to split the bimini in 1/2 to add a zipper and, oh yeah, a “cone” to go around the backstay.  This was my first sewing project that was not my own personal item to potentially mess up.  It ended up being a very simple project and I was handsomely rewarded with a handle of Captain Morgan…oh and their happiness! 🙂

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Wind Chaser's New Bimini

Wind Chaser’s New Bimini

The big and scary project (I mean my ultimate sewing goal):  Chaps for the Smitty Ditty II, our Highfield Classic 290.


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The Hardest Part

In countless blogs and books we had read that getting off the dock is the hardest part. That now makes so much sense. Between the stress of saying good bye to friends and family, the stress of getting the boat ready ( well, as it will be) and the stress of the unknown it can all add up to conspire against actually leaving.

We worked to set us up to minimize this as much as possible.  This last summer was not the most fun boating season we have had.  Many days we watched our friends head out for a fun day on the water while we stayed tied to the dock working on projects.  Even the times we left, projects followed.  We rafted up with friends out at World’s End and we would alternate between working on projects and having some fun. We knew we were being ambitious with our Epic To-Do List.  An no, we didn’t finish everything on it.  But we pushed to get the safety items done first, followed by some comfort items.  We made this push early because we new the last month would be much harder to get things done.

We also knew that the boat would never be done.  If we waited for the boat to be perfect we would never leave.  Smitty is more than serviceable and we could probably take her all the way to the Vigin Islands without doing much more.  But we will do more.  There will be rainy days or bad sea days or days we just don’t feel like traveling where we can work to get other things done.  We have a list going of things that need to be fixed or projects to do.  I have a box of parts for various projects.  Eventually we will get through most but new things come up while you are cruising and new priorities are set.  Like Captain Ron says…

The last month was filled with friends and family.  We had cookouts, dinners out, lunches and drinks with colleagues and even a good bye boat trip to Gloucester with our friends from L Dock.  That even continued into the trip.  I am finishing up this post about 2 weeks after leaving and we are sitting in Milford, Connecticut to see my Bride’s family.  We will do a separate post on saying good bye, but as a preview our friends from L Dock gave us the board below.

Yup, that’s the eight from our Slip 8 post.  Our friends conspired to steal the “8” from the dock after we left for our annual trip to Gloucester.  While in Gloucester they gave us the board that they had all signed and put the “8” on.  It was a very touching gift and it had my Bride in tears (I might have been a little teary eyed too).

What we read was soooo true.  Cutting the lines and heading out for that first day was the hardest part.  There were lots of things pulling you back.  Trying to get you to delay the departure.  At times it was a struggle to keep the motivation going to work towards the departure.

The whole thing felt surreal.  A mix of feeling like you were just getting ready for vacation and “is this really my life now?”

On September 4th at 03:20 we departed Hingham Shipyard.  There was very little moonlight as we powered into the darkness.  The lack of moonlight was probably a good thing.  It kept us focused on spotting for lobster pots and other obstacles instead of thinking about what we had just done.  At around 05:30 we started getting the predawn sky with enough light to see any obstacles coming.

With that beautiful sky came time to think.  Time to reflect on what we just did.  We were 40 years old (my Bride was not technically 40 for another week and a few days). We had quit well paying jobs that we were unhappy doing.  We had packed up all of our shit onto our little 31 foot boat.  And we sailed away from our friends and family into an adventure of unknown duration or true destination.  And all of this financed by a relatively small cruising kitty.

It’s an unknown feeling. Extremely hard to describe. I’m still unsure about how I feel. For the first week or so it felt like being on vacation. Now its starting to change but I don’t know what it feels like. But that is part of the adventure: new feelings; new experiences; new adventures!


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989 Days

It’s taken us 989 days to get to today.  We had set a goal to be houseless, jobless, carless sailing bums.  Today we are.  It’s our last day of full-time employment.  The house is gone, the cars are gone, and along with them the stuff that kept us anchored to a life on the dirt.  Our boat and everything on it is all we own (except for a couple boxes of keepsakes at my Dad’s place).

December 19, 2012 is when we first put our plan in writing.  We had recently returned from a great vacation chartering a boat in the British Virgin Islands with our friends Pam and Chris.  On this trip is where the idea to go cruising now first became a real thing for us.  A few months prior to that trip Frank (my best friend and my Bride’s cousin) had a heart attack in his mid 30’s.  Thankfully Frank has recovered and will be joining us on multiple occasions during our travels. But these two events solidified our desire to live our lives now instead of waiting for retiring.

We are not entirely sure where we will go.  We have a rough plan to head south along the Inter Coastal Waterway, cross over into the Bahamas and then continue through the Caribbean.  We have some things we would like to do or see along the way.  But we don’t have a time table, schedule or any significant goals.  In fact goals are one of those things we are trying to leave behind as well.  Just take life as it comes and try not to plan it out in advance.

We are also not sure on how long we can go.  We have some money saved, no debt and some hopes of making some more money here and there.  I am sure my Bride will be writing extensively about our finances as we go. But we are far from independently wealthy and we know we don’t have enough money to keep this going more than a couple of years.  As Sterling Hayden wrote in Wanderer,  “to be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea… ‘cruising’ it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.”

To us the most practical approach was to adopt the philosophy of Lin and Larry Pardey: Go Small, Go Now! Our boat is not as simple as s/v Seraffyn. But keeping with a small boat with less systems is definitely a key to making this possible. We won’t mind being the smallest boat in the anchorage.

Today our source of steady income is gone, too.  But with that is the last line holding us to land.  Some time early next week we will head out and start voyaging.

 


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Slip 8

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Past Grape Island, past the commuter boats, and past the fancy part of Hingham Shipyard Marina, just before Stodders Neck and the Back River you will find Slip 8 on L Dock.  This spot has been our home for the past two summers and our summer retreat for at least eight summers before that.  A very far walk down the dock from the parking lock, the next to last double slip at the end of a neglected wooden dock formally known as Landfall Marina – now lovingly known as L Dock and is part of Hingham Shipyard Marina (which used to be Hewitt’s Cove). There are certainly fancier docks, the new concrete type, in other areas of the marina.  But those are far more expensive and come with more rules.

With 120 slips on this dock, many of the boaters have been here for mores years then we have, we’ve gotten to know our dock-mates very well and they have become our extended family.  They are great people who are always up for a good time. They will be missed!  Cheers to L Dock!

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Another great aspect of our slip is the sunsets.  I will miss these beauties but hope to replace them with some new views.

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Slip 8 you have been great to us.  I hope the new occupants have as great a time there as we have.


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The Dinghy Sling

We are always willing to think outside of the box. We don’t take the “old salt” logic at face value and we tend to do a lot of research to make our own opinions.  When it came to how we plan to manage our dinghy we were open to look at any and all options.

That being said, we purchased our Highfield inflatable due to its light weight, which we knew would give us many options for transporting as we cruise.  But once we had the dinghy there were so many other questions to consider:  how to transport the dinghy?  How to mitigate theft?  Are we going to keep it in the water at the dock and have to pull it out all the time to clean the bottom or is there another option?  Some of the answers seemed easy enough; but other questions/concerns – not so easy.

Initially we were thinking that we would add traditional dinghy davits.  The primary issue for us is that we really like our walk-through transom and having davits would limit that aspect of the boat. Also, climbing from the dinghy with the davit lifting lines connected would become a problem with our ladder. But the biggest issue is that having an additional 100 – 175 pounds counter-levered off of the back of our 31 foot boat will seriously impact the performance of the boat.  So traditional davits have been ruled out for us.

For longer passages in open water, we can put the dinghy on the bow. Obviously this is not an easy process, as we have to empty out the dinghy entirely and remove the engine. In our opinion, this is really the safest way to carry the dinghy when heading offshore.

But on shorter trips, especially as we hop down the East Coast and go into a new harbor or secluded anchorage each night, what are our dinghy travel and security options really?  We have found that on very short trips, in more protected waters it is easy enough to tow the dinghy. We have a 20 foot painter that is setup with a bridle for towing. This works but has some draw backs. For instance, how do we secure the dinghy at night? In our current situation it’s not a major issue. But as we go further south, dinghy theft becomes an issue. We can lock the dinghy at the stern while at anchor but, ideally, the best way to protect the dinghy from theft and growth is to get it out of the water.

While doing a little internet research on the subject we came across the Dinghy Sling System by Harbormen Marine.  We were quite excited to find this – what a great easy option keep the dinghy out of the water at night and while traveling! We had to know more about this product.  The cool thing is that this company is located in Hingham, MA, less than two miles from our marina.  I met up with Dave, the owner, to talk about using the Dinghy Sling on our Catalina.

Dave is a great guy and is making the dinghy slings with his college-age son. He walked me through how he sources the materials, the improvements he has made to the sling along the way.  We spoke extensively about the strength of the system.  At first glance I was skeptical about the plastic clips used in the system.  But after Dave explained the research he did in sourcing materials and that the rated strength of the clips is 200 pounds, I became more confident in the sling. Dave lent me a sling to try on our Catalina.

To setup the system, you start by floating the sling behind your boat with one side attached to your stern.

You then pull the dingy over the sling and attach the dingy to the sling on the boat side with the straps provided.

Long straps are attached to the far side of the sling and you use those to pull the dinghy vertical.  The straps can be attached to cleats or other fixed points on your boat.

You deploy the dinghy by doing the same in reverse.  The cool thing is that once you drop the dinghy to the water it is still attached to the boat.  You can climb in, put on your engine and then release your dinghy and float away from the sling.

We tried the sling prior to our trip to Provincetown.  Our first attempt didn’t go so well.  To bring the dinghy vertical was tough.  I had read that this was an issue with Snap Davits and similar products.  I could get my side up but my Bride was struggling to hold the weight while we tried to secure it. So we stayed with the towing plan for that trip.

I was telling a friend at the dock about the Dinghy Sling and he was interested in it for his boat.  We tried it out on his boat.  The result this time was much better.  I think having an actual swim platform was a big difference.  It gave a good pivot point that allowed the dinghy to be lifted a little easier.  In fact, once we got the hang of it, one person could lift the boat easily.

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The dinghy sling system is great.  It secured the dinghy to the boat without having to make any permanent changes to the boat.  Best of all, with the dinghy vertical and not counter-levered over the stern it didn’t affect the performance of the boat as much as towing.

With the addition of some blocks and possibly some quick cleats, I think we can easily overcome the weight issue we were having on our first attempt on the sailboat. My only recommendation for a change for the Harbormen Marine is to offer additional straps for sale.  When connecting the dinghy to our friend’s boat we ended up using a couple of dock lines to get a more secure feel for lateral movement.  A couple of additional straps may have been helpful. (Note: after talking to Harbormen Marine they informed me that additional straps are available, as well as custom sized and colored slings.)

The dinghy sling seems to be a great alternative to installing davits of any kind permanently on your boat. You don’t have to drill or glue anything onto your boat or dinghy.  And at only $245 it’s a fraction of the cost of other systems. It can get the dinghy out of the water to help prevent growth and mitigate theft.  And when you aren’t using it, it stows in a small backpack out of the way.