Sunday, January 2, 2011

Resolutions about energy usage in 2011

Happy Twenty-Eleven to everyone out there! What did you do to ring in the New Year? We heralded in 2011 by firing up our cabin heater and snuggling down as it is surprisingly cold here when the sun goes down. There have even been frost warnings (although a frost warning here is defined by temperatures below 50F)! We awoke thinking about what our New Years resolutions would be and as the morning wore on we decided that we have been living beyond our means, using more energy than our 55-watt solar panel Sunny alone can produce.

When we sailed out of San Francisco Bay in November of 2008 we didn't even have a solar panel, nor LED bulbs for most everything. After a month of headlamps and turning the engine on weekly to recharge our batteries, in our final stateside port, Newport Beach Harbor, we purchased and installed Sunny and also several LED bulbs for lighting around the boat and atop the mast. What luxury! For the next six months of sailing down the Outside and up into the Sea of Cortez our batteries were always topped off (unless we caught a fish and turned the refrigerator on for a couple of days) and our engine was run less than 50 hours total.

When Chris came back to single-hand for the 2010 season, things changed. Without so many hands it became more difficult to sail on and off anchor and the engine became more integral to movement. Plus Chris’ dad had lent us a small 350-watt generator to top off batteries. Chris’ energy needs were different than us as a couple; transmitting on the HAM radio was the same draw but he gained energy from not cooking much and using lights less. However, he used more power to listen to music, watch videos, and charge his cell phone in his down time and the largest energy draw change was his decision to try having our Norcold refrigerator on all the time. In the heat of summer it sure was nice to have a cold beverage and be able to keep butter, and with the engine running more often keeping the batteries charged (nearly 100 hours in only a couple months of use), Chris didn’t mind running the generator every so often to keep things topped off.

On a side note, but still related to energy, that spring, the head gasket blew on our Yanmar 2QM20. Although we did not have to (thankfully, but that’s another story…) or choose to rebuild, our view of engine maintenance changed drastically. It was likely several contributing factors that lead to the head gasket blowout ranging from many years of disuse tied to a dock, to our intermittent engine use during our first few years of ownership and cruising, topped with our lackadaisical care and maintenance schedule; all leading to salt water buildup blocking passageways between the head and block… (use it or lose it comes to mind). So, do we want to deep six the engine and be an engineless sailboat? Although we like to think of ourselves as “traditional” sailing everywhere and rarely using the engine, after discussion we realized that we were not willing to cruise without an engine for safety. With that settled, if we have an engine for safety purposes, it really needs to work when we need it, so our maintenance needed to change. And by maintenance we do not only mean changing the oil and zincs more regularly, but according to our diesel mechanic down here, by running it at least weekly and at higher speeds than we had been in the past.

When Shawn came back for the fall 2010 season we had to adjust to these quite significant changes in energy usage. Enjoying watching movies, listening to music, having cold beverages, butter, cheese, yogurt, and frequently using the HAM radio did improve our quality of life aboard. So we spent June and July living the “high life” and doing some very fun cruising in the Midriffs of the northern Sea of Cortez using more power than in the past and also using the engine more frequently. Although still mostly sailing, it did feel a bit different. Our nearly four month visit to the States gave us each time to mull over how we felt about the changes. We both agreed that since this is how we are currently spending our lives we should be as comfortable as is realistic, so we planned to come back to Mexico with a more efficient Engel refrigerator and an additional 80-watt solar panel to satisfy our increased energy needs. Unfortunately, with so many upgrade projects in the works, buying a new refrigerator was demoted to the bottom of the list and never happened.

Now that we’re back afloat, we have watched the week and a half of holiday power usage quickly drain our batteries. Unfortunately, we have found that although nice, small, and quiet, the generator is too small to charge our batteries if we are less than 90% full charge, and Shawn specifically is very troubled by having to rely on running an engine to power our usage. So as the 2011 New Year has rung in, we find ourselves reassessing our energy requirements. We both agree that our newest resolution is to live within our means which for now means returning to a state of no refrigeration. Our hope is that after giving up using our inefficient refrigerator and installing the new 80-watt solar panel, we will once again have full battery banks and will run the engine when we choose to, not because we have to supplement our energy needs.

If you have any thoughts about energy usage, we’d appreciate your input!

No comments:

Post a Comment