*Prologue: Sitting in the cockpit during this still morning in the Sea of Cortez, Tulum is once more at anchor in a quiet bay. This is the Sea of Cortez I remember from living on a boat as a kid….here…in this same bay more than 40 years ago. I think Tulum is happiest sitting at anchor just like this…allowing us to live on her like we’re supposed to. Nearly off the grid but just close enough for cell service…ideas form in my tiny mind that I want to share with those who might have this dream too. Doing the sailboat cruising thing isn’t that hard. But having the courage to cut the docklines the final time and realize you’re motoring into the unknown is harder than most think. This year another layer of uncertainty was added to everything cruisers worry about (COVID) on top of normal concerns…fuel stops, water, hurricane season and weather, navigation and normal safety measures. Reactions out here are mixed; some folks have just gone home (either bashed back or put their boat on the hard and left), some folks have decided to just hole up in port, others are out cruising as if nothing much has happened and still others like us are self-isolating the best we can while keeping local rules and regulations in mind. Michelle reminds me often that individual reactions to stressful situations are often very different and that’s ok. While sitting here appreciating the morning around me, I think through all the ways we prepped for sitting off the grid…simply because we wanted to be more energy efficient. This way of thinking has had a positive impact on our way of life today but there was a trade-off, as we needed to do all that spending for new equipment up front without knowing if we would love cruising. The capital outlay for the equipment was quite high buying it new, so I caution you to really think through your decisions before going out and buying everything you think you want on the boat. I gotta admit, when we bought some of the equipment I viewed some of it as nice to have,,,,but today we use the equipment all the time and most of it is must have.
Before we left San Diego in the fall of 2019, I really had no inkling that we would be forced to hide from COVID-19 in the Sea of Cortez for an entire spring and possibly summer season; during which resources would be much more constrained than usual. But before we left, I had some notion of living in remote areas off the grid for longer periods of time….thus voraciously read multiple blogs about tools, techniques and practices others used to extend their cruising resources and energy availability. Once retired in 2018, I started pushing us to buy gear and equipment that I thought would allow us to extend our available energy and resources as much as possible…while still being comfortable. So here’s some of the things we bought thenthat have paid mucho dividends for us now…allowing us to literally live off the grid for weeks at a time and NOT use any propane, generator or diesel engine for life support as we prep to head north.
–Composting Heads: In late 2018 we made the decision to adopt composting heads on Tulum in response to various challenges with conventional heads. We started with one composting head (Airhead) and we liked it, so we installed the second composting head approx 2 months later. I’m proud that our heads take NO energy to run, don’t need any water or plumbing and require little daily effort to maintain. Having composting heads on a sailboat has come with it’s own challenges, but they’re managed just like everything else on a sailboat. Here’s the story about their installation. Plus….taking out the holding tanks provided tons of available storage that has helped with deep provisioning. The picture in the featured image is the first head we took out of the boat.
–Solar Energy: In late 2018 we made the decision to upgrade our ability to generate solar energy. With some help, we added six new flexible panels to the top of our “doghouse”, bringing us to ten total panels on the boat (she already had four panels on the stern davits). Although pricy, the installation of the six new solar panels has been a game changer for this boat. Tulum has a portable generator, but we just don’t need it because the solar panels make the energy we need at anchor.
*The installation will be coming out as a separate post.
–Wind Generation: In spring 2019 we had some welding done on the stern arch of the boat to install our new super antennas and installed the wind generator at the same time. Since we were going to install the wind generator anyway, we installed a large inverter at the same time…with an eye for running the watermaker and other electronics without using the generator. Through the first few months of the trip, we weren’t too sure of the wind generator…cause it doesn’t put out consistent power without consistent wind. But after spending 5 days sitting out a northerly in Muertos with a few semi-cloudy days, I’m a believer. Yes, the wind generator works as advertised…cause it keeps going all night long when the solar panels crap out because of darkness. If it was my choice and we had the money, I’d definetely put on another one.
*Spending the money on the equipment and installation of the Magnum was worth it. It’s worked as advertised as we can and have run the watermaker just off the inverter and recharged with solar panels. This means we can run the boat without generator power.
*The wind generator and inverter installation process will also come out as a separate post.
–Water Maker: During one of our trips to the Pacific Sail and Power show, we had picked up the Rainman watermaker of my dreams…and we love it. I like having a watermaker that doesn’t use propriatery parts and is easy to take apart and set-up. We’ve now benchmarked that we can run the watermaker off the inverter; with our solar system able to renew our energy within the same day. This is my fancy way of saying….we ran the watermaker without having to run the generator and I’m stoked about it! Yes, Baja has a LOT of sun…so we’re gonna continue to use this clean and free resource as much as possible. And…no installation is needed.
–Solar Oven: In summer of 2019 I bought a Solavare Solar Oven after spending too many hours discussing Solar cooking with my friend Red Beard Chad (RBC). I vacillated between the Solavore and the GOSUN brands of Solar Ovens, eventually choosing the Solavare because they gave me free high quality pots and I could cook more food in the Solavare. But, that project was quickly put aside when the whole oven was unceremoniously dumped in the tub for further use later as we wrestled with not having an engine. It’s use and worth would be revealed to us as COVID hit and we didn’t have a working oven on the boat (ours crapped out and I have yet to fix it). For those wanting to get off the grid and stay out longer, it’s nice to have the ability to bake bread or cook entire meals and the Solovare does that really well. We’ve started using it and we’re really glad we have it on board now.
*The story of our trials and tribulations with our first use of the Solavare will come out in a different post,,,soon.
In order to use these resources, we do rely on fossil fuels but we’d love to be off the grid entirely if possible (electric stove?)….still figuring that one out.
–Big Green Egg: Right up front….this is an expensive nice-to-have and we do need charcoal to operate the Big Green Egg, but we’re glad its on the boat. The Big Green Egg is a barbeque that’s designed for cooking low and slow or very hot and fast…giving us an incredible amount of flexibility in what and how we cook on the Egg. Like it’s designed to do, we’ve barbequed, baked, slow-cooked and roasted on the Egg.
–Pressure Cooker: Yep, the simple old-fashioned pressure cooker is a great way to save time and propane on a sailboat. We use it for a myriad of cooking opportunities and it’s a MUST for canning.
–Canning: Nope, never thought I’d be down in the galley canning…except for COVID. If there had been no COVID, I don’t think we’d have started using our Pressure Cooker or canned an ounce of meat; but we’re concerned about what fall might look like so we’re determined to do some deep provisioning now. Canning meat also takes the pressure off to have meat frozen or stored in the freezer (our freezer doesn’t always freeze meat). As we look forward to heading up to Bay of LA, we know there are fewer resources as we go north and summer heat will take a toll on our freezer and freezing ability, so canning provides a steady and safe way to store meat for months at a time. When we left the US in November, we had no thoughts of canning or bringing any canning supplies with us at all; but we should have thought further ahead. If you’re planning on crossing an ocean or staying off the grid for long periods of time, I highly recommend you consider learning to can (NOT HARD) and make sure you have the resources needed to do it. Thankfully, Amazon Mexico was able to get us the supplies needed quickly and we’ve already started to can pork, chicken and meatballs.
*I’ll be working up a post about my canning experience and what you can do better…shortly.
–New Sails: Just before we left in fall of 2019 we ripped out main sail and made the decision to buy Tulum a new set of sails vice trying a half-ass repair on the ripped main. This was a good decision. New sails and clean bottom have enabled us to sail or motorsail Tulum using much less fuel than we ever needed in the US with our original older sails. Not everyone needs a new set of sails, but if you do…they will have a positive impact. We bought our sails through the Cruising Sailmaker, Mr. Jamie Gifford of www.SailingTotem.com. We highly recommend his services for new sails and we’re actively working on buying another new sail from him right now.
The equipment I’ve highlighted has a positive impact on Tulum but I still think about energy in other situations…like extended crossings or time in tropical ports with more cloud cover. I like the fact that our wind generator helps with power where the solar panels won’t, but we will still have a negative power equation during crossings or with extended amounts of clouds. For us, the on deck generator will be a challenge to run under way (especially sailing) and I’ve considered looking into a water turbine (Watt & Sea). In ports without extended sunlight….we may just have to run the generator as needed, but a second wind generator would be nice to have on board. I’ll consider it in the future but for now we’re sitting pretty using the resources on hand; thankful that we did purchase and install these powerful tools prior to cruising.
Resources: I’ll be writing separate posts for some of the ideas above, but if you want to do some research on your own…here’s resources and information I’ve used:
-Solar: Blue Sky Energy (Mr. Ryan Gurin/Blue Sky Energy in CA)
-Wind: Silent Wind
-Big Green Egg: Big Green Egg
Yes, we would love to get another wind generator and a large downwind sail for Tulum to complete the equipment we think needs to continue our trip down the coast of Central America, through the Panama Canal and into the Caribbean (when COVID dries up and countries open up). We will be purchasing our downwind sail through Jamie Gifford (the Cruising Sailmaker) and we would pick up another wind generator in the US and have it installed here in Mexico (there’s good welders and electricians).
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