Oh ya, just like everything else on our boat it couldn’t be a single use item so we mounted a wind generator to the top!
In all seriousness this was a project we waited a year before tackling. I had originally bought into the bullshit on a specific online forum that wind generators suck. There are hundreds of posts about how they are loud, unsightly and put out little if any power. I spent months holding fast to my decision not to install one even though I owned 2 brand new units that were in storage in Edmonton. I argued and shook my head when our cruising friends talked about how they loved their wind and would wake up every morning with full batteries (even running a fridge and freezer). Then winter came and I realized the error of my ways…. Damn, once winter set in we lost 2.5 hours of sun every day, and the sun we did get wasn’t as strong. My batteries were now taking a shit kicking every night and we were waking up at 12.2V. It even got to the point where I was running the generator 1/2 hour every night (or turning off the freezer). Sigh, I had to admit I was wrong and I NEEDED wind power.
So with the hard part out of the way (admitting I was wrong) I set about getting us some wind power. It started with me making puppy dog eyes and asking really nice if my family would bring my generators from Edmonton when they visited in Antigua. I was ecstatic that they agreed even in the face of a risk of a body cavity search. Thanks MOM and DAD, we really appreciate it.
Next I needed to put up a pole and fab some parts. Of course in Canada this would be a piece of cake.. Here in the Caribbean, not so much. I orginally asked around Antigua but it quickly became clear I wouldn’t be able to afford it there. So once we were in St. Martin it became my #1 priority to get the parts. It was a wirlwind of talking, finagling and dinghy driving (crossing back and forth between countries).
I first headed over to the recommended welding shop (French side in the entrance to the lagoon) and talked with the South African fellow. He listened, then shook his head and said “Go to Island Water World or Budget Marine. They offer a kit that will be cheaper” (Gasp I had seen the kit on the website and it was priced at $699USD for just the pole and supports.). I sighed and hopped in the dinghy to head over to the Island Water World and Budget Marine on the Dutch side (long ass ride from Marigot bay). I got there and was informed “No, mon, we don’t carry those anymore”, from both stores…. Shit shit… Defeated, I headed back to the boat (on the French side outside the lagoon). The next morning I headed back to the local welder to have him make one. This time he listened more intently, then shook his head and sent me back to another company (FKG) on the Dutch side as he didn’t have any of the raw materials in stock. I headed over to FKG where they put a quote together for parts (about $500USD) and informed me it would be about triple that to have them build it (holy hell). Oh wait, they didn’t have all the parts in stock and would need to wait a week! I sighed and hopped back in the dink and headed back to the boat (again French side outside the lagoon). On the way back I stopped at the little chandlery (Ile Marine) on the way out of the lagoon in hopes of finding the missing parts (bimini brackets). Sure enough I found them (choke double the price of FKG). The next morning, I headed back to FKG and purchased the remaining raw materials. Read below for a picture story of the build!
Bimini hardware and 1/4 X 3” 316 stainless angle iron for bottom brackets. Ready to choke…. Those pieces of angle cost me $38USD, 2 pieces 4” long (he smiled as he said “I won’t charge you for the cuts”). Since I had limited access to welding (I could have things welded but I had to bring it to him) I had to come up with a design that would accommodate that. Bimini hardware let me assemble things and then take it in for a final welding!
The polished stainless for the main pole and braces. The main pole is polished 316 stainless with a diameter of 2” and an 11 gauge wall (pretty much sched 40). That bad boy was $28.50/ft (plus $5 per cut)… I bought 10 feet.
I cut about 2cm off the bottom flange of the angle iron, then rounded and softened all the corners. Now to put this into perspective I’m doing this with a tiny Mastercraft angle grinder on a boat that is rolling and bucking without a vice or ANY other tools (except a piece of wood). That job might have taken 10 minutes in a shop.. Took me 2 hours! After this job, we pulled anchor the next day and waited for the French bridge to open so we could get into the lagoon. The water is flat as a pancake in the lagoon and I would only have to contend with the occasional boat wake (occasional = every 20 min of teeth rattling, bow smacking waves)!
Always a nail bitey moment on a boat. No one likes to drill holes in a perfectly good deck. If you look to the left you will see a bunch of stainless swarf from drilling the flanges.
Personally I would never drill holes and then rely on just sealant when the balsa core is exposed. I actually drilled the holes oversize, filled them with epoxy and then redrilled to the correct size. Now even if the sealant leaks it won’t saturate the balsa core on the boat.
THIS JOB SUCKED… Anyone who has had to drill quality stainless steel will know my pain. Even with good oil (notice the Aero Kroil) it was a drill bit destroyer. I’m not ashamed to say that eventually we just started sharpening the bits on my hand grinder. After sharpening we could drill half a hole and then sharpen again. A slow and painful process. Now to all you smart asses that say I should get some quality cobalt drill bits… Ya, I had some.. Cobalt bits turn to sticks of rust within months of living on the ocean, regardless of how much I oiled them!
Its erect…. I just posted this picture so I could type erect… It made me giggle!
Finessing the holes so I could attach the second support bracket. I’m pretty sure 1/2 that swarf is in the bottom of my feet. There is a reason you can’t have bare feet in a fab shop! (damn my hands look old)
Up and braced.. After this, the braces were removed and taken to the welder to have the end caps welded on. She is sturdy as a brick shithouse now!
As is our luck.. The wind completely died 3 hours before we completed the job.. Here I am trying to “will” the blades to turn. On the up side we got to raise it up without having to worry about the whirly blades of death trying to cut our faces off!
I’m sure I will get comments as to why I decided to put the generator on the scoop and didn’t just attach it to the existing bimini structure. I have had a year to think about this job and I made the decision by studying other boats. I have seen so many poor installs where the generators are too close to the solar panels and those boats are loosing almost as much to shading of their panels. So, priority #1 was to avoid shading. Putting it out on the port side scoop ensures that %90 of the shade will fall over the water and not on my panels. Priority #2 was getting “clean air” to the generator. I have sat for numerous nights watching generators on other boats spinning slowly or erratically (swiveling all over) due to “dirty air”. Things on your boat will provide a wind shadow and the goal was to get the generator away from structures, masts, booms or lines that could shadow the generator. Putting it out there means it has almost no obstructions in front of it. Plus on a starboard tack it will be right behind the leach of the main. Hopefully I can use the spent wind to make some AMPS. Priority #3 was reduced noise in the cabin. Anything spinamathinging on your boat is going to create vibrations and noise. The goal was to keep that vibration and noise as far away from sleeping parents as possible. Unfortunately the best solution for that would be to install the generator on the starboard scoop, however that would be stupid. Since the sun rises in the east and sets in the west and our stern faces west %75 of the time it would put the shade right on our panels (of course I’m assuming we won’t cross the Pacific). Like everything on a boat it’s a trade off. Being on the second step of the scoop puts the contact point furthest away from our heads in the cabin!
Now if the damn wind would just blow I could be happy with fully charged batteries in the morning.. Sigh, I guess I can’t really complain.. Rhonda’s use of the pole has made it more than worth it