As I write this post, the ARC fleets are on their way to St Lucia along with a much smaller fleet going to St Vincent. It seems like only yesterday we were doing it, so much has happened in the 12 months since. The ARC+ fleet had pretty bad conditions heading south to Mindelo in the Cape Verdes with a gust of 52 kts reported by some friends, plenty of sea sickness and big seas. The Atlantic has now calmed down and the fleets are struggling with very light winds as they head west.
So, my brother Steve arrived in Grenada on the 15th October after his longest ever flight via Barbados. We went straight into the bar at Spice Island Marine in Prickly bay where he noticed he’d lost his glasses en route… not a great start!
After a few days showing him around the bays and witnessing first hand the island bus drivers, along with the blaring “crap rap” music they all seem to play & introducing him to food shopping 🙂 it was time to see if he had a stomach for sailing. A brief 2 night stop in St Georges anchorage to see Christoph and Angela on Ithaka was followed by his first sail up to Carriacou. I told him about the exclusion zone around “Kick em Jenny” underwater volcano and that we should be about 1.5km from it. In the end we passed about 1km from it and it was amazing how much more agitated the sea state was!!! My concern of Steve being sea sick was unnecessary, I let him helm pretty much all the way watching him struggling to keep the boat in a straight line… very funny!
Over the next 5 weeks I took him to Carriacou, Union Island, Mayreau, Tobago cays, Canouan (overnight anchor only), Bequia, St Lucia & Martinique during which he saw dolphins, whales, barracuda, lots of turtles and the clearest deep blue water he’d ever seen. I will always be grateful to him for coming out to spend time with me, as being alone for 4 months wasn’t in the plan when we left the UK. Steve’s flight back was eventful too in that after a 3 hours delay due to issues with the aircraft the take off was aborted halfway down the runway at full speed. It took 4 hours to get the passengers offloaded as the airport closed as soon as the aircraft left the apron and they had to get staff back at 3am plus find taxis and hotels for over 300 people. Quite the logistical nightmare but I did get an extra day with him in the bar!
I am now at anchor in Rodney Bay waiting for the ARC office to open on 1st December. I have agreed to be a finish line boat this year along with 4 other previous ARC yachts, welcoming the yachts over the line giving assistance and directions if required via the radio. The first boats should be in around 2nd through till 20th but I can only stay until around the 15th as we need to start moving up to Antigua which is where we are due to spend Christmas and the new year with friends.
When we looked at where we wanted to go, initially we said we would go into the Mediterranean for a year or so then look at crossing to the Caribbean. That plan changed and we went straight to the Caribbean instead. Being here meant spending at least 3 years looking around this wonderful area including sailing up the east coast of America to New York, before making any more decisions like going through Panama Canal etc.
Life and circumstance will always dictate what happens and this is no different for us. Due to certain events we have decided to cut short our stay on this side of the Atlantic and in May/June next year will sail back across the Atlantic via the Azores to Portugal then into the Mediterranean with the first winter around Cartegana in Spain. For the foreseeable future we need to be nearer the UK and split our time between there and Silhouette. The Med is huge with so much to see, other cruisers did say if we had gone to the Med first we probably wouldn’t have gone across the Atlantic. The winds over here are always coming from the east, it will be quite strange to be in an area where the winds come at you from all ways !
Caroline & Charlotte will remain in the UK for the Atlantic crossing, I have 2 crew flying in to bring Silhouette across with me, my cousin Lee who has been sailing since he was a boy… biggest problem with him is trying to get him off the helm and always wanting to put the spinnaker up, and Chris a very experienced sailor with previous Atlantic crossings, Fastnets and Whitbreads under his belt.
At then end of January Silhouette will be placed ashore in Antigua for 2 months giving me the opportunity to fly back to the UK to spend time with family and friends before returning to prepare for the crossing. I remember saying the next time I returned to the UK I would visit my old karate club to train, since saying that I’ve occasionally taken the mickey out of the senior UK instructor on social media…. GULP !!! Be nice to me Sensei Neil. 😦
This brings the blog up to date, the next section is a bit techie & really only for sailors considering wind generators as an aid to power generation. It probably won’t interest any non sailors reading our blog but if you like frustration…
RUTLAND 1200 MPPT
We fitted the all new Rutland 1200 system over a year before we left knowing we wanted a reliable powerful model which also controlled solar panels. It is vitally important to test new gear well before embarking on long distance cruising to iron out any problems. The first control box failed and I was blamed for connecting the black and red cables the wrong way round (hmmm I don’t think so) but Marlec repaired the unit free of charge. The system never produced anywhere near the advertised power and eventually Marlec replaced the control box (mppt) again free of charge. Once we left the UK we just felt like we were expecting too much from the unit which never produced any big numbers unless it was blowing a gale, but our friends on Allegrini who had bought 2 of the same systems were reporting exactly the same low power issues. Added to this, everytime we saw a yacht with a Rutland 1200 fitted I asked them their thoughts on its performance and all were less than complimentary. Once we got to the Canary islands, Steve (Allegrini), myself and the Marlec team had a conference call to give them all the feedback necessary to reprogram new mppt boxes for us to our specification. The standard parameters of the system is to condition the batteries i.e to allow the batteries to charge then discharge down to around 12.4v before recharging at supposed full power. Our argument was when cruising full time long distance we needed the system to provide full available power all the time up to “float phase”. Although their engineer wasn’t happy being told his programming wasn’t up to scratch, Marlec supplied 3 new mppt boxes to our design again free of charge. It is important to highlight that at no time did Marlec charge for any of this over the last 3 years and most of the staff were at all times helpful in trying to understand & get over the problems. We fitted the new units before heading across the Atlantic but to be honest even then there wasn’t much improvement leading us to believe we were never going to get this working as we’d hoped.
Fast forward now to 2 weeks ago, having fitted lithium batteries on board, I’d noticed the mppt was now constantly showing 13.3v or above (as it should with lithiums) and the wind turbines in stall mode providing no voltage to the batteries. I sent an email to Marlec to be told they had reprogrammed the units to our spec meaning the mppt would generate full power up to 14.4v but tapering would begin below that. I have on board the data cable and software to access the mppt and reprogram as done by Marlec and plugged it in. To my surprise I found the unit had not been programmed to 14.4v but to 13.8v. This means tapering will commence at a much lower voltage which is why the unit has been poor initially and useless with lithium. I have now reprogrammed the mppt to 14.4v and …… yes you’ve guessed it, the system is working flawlessly providing everything I expected it should do.
In conclusion, I feel I should say that the Rutland 1200 system is as good as I’d hoped it to be, BUT it is vital the programming is carried out correctly by Marlec and it shouldn’t have taken this long to get it right.
My advice to anyone considering this product is not to just buy it off the shelf in a chandlers, but to actively speak to Marlec, tell them exactly what you want & expect the unit to do for you and ask for them to supply the data cable/software in the box to make sure the parameters you asked for are correct. This will cost them pennies to supply as part of the sale, & I believe should be there without asking.
In the tropics (& presumably the Med) solar power is definitely the way to go but a wind generator can provide power overnight too as long as there’s wind, which is why we fitted it in the first place. Both Caroline & Charlotte will now be so pleased that I will shut up about this !!!