Filed under: Boating.
I’ve been intending to write a post on my boat, the Rock ‘N Row, for some time now. I’m sure a lot of readers wonder what makes me so devoted to DIY solar that I’d want to write a blog about it. Well, the reason is my boat.
The Rock ‘N Row is a 1977 Cruise-a-Home with twin Chevy 350 inboard engines. My wife and I bought her in March of 2011 and have been restoring her ever since. Her engines hadn’t run in 5 years when we bought her and she had dry rot in her stringers, transom, and six bulkheads.
To date I’ve got both engines running and tuned up, two of the six bulkheads replaced, and I’ve currently got the boat out of the water and doing some serious repair work on the transom.
The Master Plan
My wife and I plan to move aboard our boat in September to begin living on it full time. Not only will it allow us to live closer to nature, it will significantly reduce our cost of living. Within a couple years, we’ll be debt free and will be able to live frugally and spend our lives cruising the Inside Passage and Puget Sound from Olympia, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska.
Cruising On a Dime
So far I’ve got both engines tuned up and running great and I’ve almost completed the essential structural repair work that the boat badly needed. In a couple months I’ll be able to turn my attention to the boats electrical system.
The plan is to install two Torqueedo Cruise 4.0 electric outboards to the transom. Each outboard has the equivalent thrust of a 10 HP engine. With the two of them, this should generate approximately 440 lbs of thrust, enough for this big 14,000 lb boat to putt along in decent weather. In this way, the boat will have its big, gas engines for docking and nasty weather, but we’ll be able to cruise in calm water between 3 and 6 miles per hour on the electric drives.
At first, we’ll be reliant on charging our battery bank from shore. However, over the next couple years I plan to install a combination of solar panels, wind turbines, and gasifier generator to allow the boat to be as self-powering as possible. Ideally, I would like to get the boat to a point where it can charge its drive batteries with 48 hours at anchor between the solar panels and wind turbines. If the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, I can always fire up the generator, which will run on either gasoline or carefully prepared fire wood.
The other part of the cruising plan is to pick our tides carefully. Because of the narrow channels created by the hundreds of islands throughout the Puget Sound and Inside Passage, the ocean tides generate very significant currents. Many a new sailor has been caught by surprise by these currents. It is not uncommon to see currents as fast as 5 to 10 miles per hour – more than enough to send a good sailboat moving backwards despite full sail and full engine power.
However, for those who know about them, tides are easy to predict and plan for and can save you a lot of gas if you can learn to use this natural ‘subway’ system. Over the last couple years I’ve gotten pretty good at it – to the point where I can get my boat into position, shut off my engines, and let nature whisk me away to my destination while I sip a morning coffee.
Independence and the Future
The other reason for doing this is independence. Like many in my generation, I feel disillusioned by my governments lack of ability to deal with our economic, environmental, and human population problems. My personal belief is that our government will not be able to fix these problems. Furthermore, I personally believe that the American economy has peaked and will continue to decline in power (relative to other countries) for the rest of my life.
In addition to this, I studied climate data in college and have been keeping my eye on it ever since. Based on the data I’ve looked at, I don’t believe that the governments of the world will be able to make any significant improvements to the degradation of the environment and that the forecasted famines, droughts, and extreme weather will ravish our world between now and 2050 with little to nothing that we (as a society or on an individual level) can do about it.
That’s a bleak outlook, but I don’t feel hopeless. My solution is my boat.
If the best of all possible worlds occur – i.e. the governments overcome the present financial crisis, the world is able to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees C, and the forecasted doubling of the worlds population is somehow managed responsibly – then my wife and I will be able to cruise on a dime and enjoy the rest of our lives with a great boat. If not, then we’ll be all the more prepared to deal with it. Either way we’re prepared, because we’re independent.
Solar Power is Independence
Independence on the individual level – independence from your local economy and government – is the only way I know of to feel confidence in weathering the storms of the future.
That’s why I think DIY solar is such an important concept. The raw parts are readily available, but most people don’t have the technical skills to make use of them. Solar may never be inexpensive, but the costs and risks can be heavily mitigated with careful research, planning, and education. That’s why I write my blog.