“When traveling in remote places, you are forced to become a jack of all trades—an electrician, plumber, diesel mechanic, and handyman, all in one,” Mike says. “My best defense is to be prepared for anything. I’ve done my research, and I can handle most repairs that arise. So far, so good.”
Mindful of the elements, Mike took extra care when wiring both the wind- and solar-electric systems—twisting, taping, and heat-shrinking all connections. “The salt air can be brutal on mechanical systems of any kind,” he says. “So long as the wire connections are sealed properly, then you have very few problems and the systems are easy—virtually maintenance free.”
Well, almost…“There are a lot of seagulls, and we have to clean the droppings off the modules. If we’re lucky enough to have fresh water, then we just hose off the modules now and again,” he says. “But it’s not so bad. I’ll take bird droppings in the Caribbean over Vermont’s snow and ice any day.”
Thanks to their wind- and solar-electric systems, Mike and Joanne enjoy all the comforts and conveniences of home with cleaner, quieter power sources. “Solar does great in the daytime,” Mike says, “but at night, when energy needs are much higher, the wind takes over.” The sun is fairly consistent, but when there is not adequate wind, Mike and Joanne still must offset energy usage by running the engine to charge the batteries. On its own, the solar-electric system produces about 55 amp-hours (AH) per day on average—shy of their 70-AH usage. “One more PV module, and we’d be perfect,” Mike says. “I just need to make room for it.”
Currently, the 12-gallon hot water tank is fitted with a heat exchanger that uses waste heat from the diesel engine to heat water for domestic use. When Mike and Joanne need to replenish the hot water, they run the engine, usually every third day for about an hour. Though the engine only burns about a half gallon of fuel—about 45 cents’ worth—in that hour, that’s one hour and one half gallon too much for Mike. He has devised a plan to add a custom solar hot water system off the stern. Tapping into the existing plumbing will be fairly easy, he says, but coordinating the shipping of the unit to the islands will require some patience. “This,” he says, “is the last piece. Then we’ll be totally independent.”
For the past eight years, Mike and Joanne have spent every winter island-hopping around the Caribbean. By living simply and relying on renewable energy, they keep their expenses down. They anchor at out-of-the-way places and catch their dinner most nights. One yellowfin tuna feeds the couple for days, and they trade what they can’t store for other goods. Though the couple only saves an estimated $15 per week by offsetting their diesel fuel use, every dollar helps perpetuate their cruising lifestyle.
For the rest of the year, the couple returns to their home in Springfield, Vermont. “We have the best of both worlds right now,” Joanne says. “When this all started, he had to drag me down here kicking and screaming, but now I love this lifestyle—seeing all the different places, meeting the local people, and hanging out with fellow cruisers. Living by the wind and the sun—I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Derek Young is a freelance writer and musician who dabbles in renewable energy. He lives in a solar-powered camper in an undisclosed, off-grid location in Vermont.
East Penn Manufacturing Co. • www.eastpenn-deka.com • Deka batteries
Kiss Energy Systems •www.kissenergy.com • Wind turbine
Morningstar • www.morningstarcorp.com • Controllers
SolarWorld • www.solarworld-usa.com • PV modules
Xantrex • www.xantrex.com • Inverter/charger