August Blog by Rob & Megan from Venture Lives
Being able to harness the energy of what surrounds us, is a truly magical experience. Being able to efficiently travel around the world in your own self-sufficient vessel while harnessing the earth’s energy is a type of independence that will transform our lifetimes.
The 1 thing that attracted Rob and I to sailing was the fact that we could harness the wind to move our vessel through the water. This age old concept struck us with magic as our desire to travel and adventure suddenly lit a little fire inside of us. Being fresh out of college, we decided to move to Alaska and buy a 31 foot sailboat to live on; all the while having no prior sailing experience. Why knot? We would joke in amusement.
Our 1979 Cal 31 sailboat had no source of heat, an icebox for refrigeration, and 2 deep cell batteries. We knew nothing about sailing, nothing about electrical systems, nothing about diesel engines, and nothing about Alaska. We did have jobs, and we did have a willingness to learn. Although, I remember Rob announcing he was “never going to touch the electrical system”. That “never” quickly changed after the first summer of being in Alaska. We wanted to cruise and work from the boat, and we knew we wouldn’t be able to do that without upgrading our electrical systems.
Our first electrical upgrade involved installing a new electrical panel. We found the breakers were old and didn’t work properly. Thanks to all the free information on the internet, and two creative minds, we slowly figured out how to rewire our electrical panel. Essentially, it was the beginning to our self taught electrical upgrades.
9 months after we bought the sailboat, we installed a 400 watt wind generator. A few months after, we added 250 watts of solar, and 600 amp hours of lead acid batteries, which also added 400 pounds of weight. But we had it all figured out! Or did we?
Turns out, after being off-grid for about a month during that second summer in Alaska, our system proved to still be too reliant on our engine. Working from our computers still meant having to start the engine to charge the batteries. Not wanting to spend any more on electric upgrades, we enjoyed the next 2 summers in Alaska on our sailboat. During that 3rd summer, we sailed through Alaska’s inside passage and docked in Washington State.
I hated to say it, but I was dead beat sick of listening to our engine magnify our surroundings. Being tied to computers and editing film felt like a blessing and a curse. So we decided to jump ship and go on a road trip. A couple months into our road trip, we found a 2005 Sprinter Cargo Van. Rob asked if I wanted to do van life. I said, “Only if I can run a blender.” Yes, after 3 years, I was craving to have a life with a little more power.
During this build out, we learned more about electrical systems, but were still stuck with having to start up our van to charge our 400AH battery bank. The only thing left was to upgrade our lead acid batteries to a lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) battery. That day, and the following week, will never be forgotten. It felt like we had come out of the stone ages. Why there was still a debate over lead acid and lithium batteries, we will never know. SOLD! At this point, we were living and working out of a van in the rainy Pacific Northwest regions, without having to start our engine to charge our batteries. We used an isolator relay switch to hook the engine up to our batteries in order to establish an efficient, “just in case” system. Though we could work all week without starting our engine, it was nice to have the option to top of our batteries if needed.
Although our adventures with the van was fun, we sold it, and decided to head back to the sailboat and incorporate some of this newly gained knowledge. We now have 600 watts of solar, 400 watts of wind, and a 400AH LiFePO4 battery bank (which is only 150lbs vs the 400 we had before). Now the only time we start our engine is because of the lack of wind in our sails.
Solar, wind, battery, and hydro power has gotten significantly better, and our inexpensive build-out only touches the surface of what is possible. It has been a dream of mine to someday own a catamaran. That dream only intensifies when I think of one that is truly built to be a world cruiser, and utilizes energy sources to their maximum potential.
Hybrid yacht builders are focusing on quality in many ways that we have not seen before. Utilizing the sun, wind, water, and maximizing their potential in the most efficient ways; while only needing a generator for those “just in case” situations, is going to be a game changer. I believe people are going to see that self sufficiency and independence will be maximized through all of these methods of sustainable power. Many of which I haven’t even touched upon. In my opinion, everyone should be running towards this technology, because it’s going to be the most epic game changer in our lifetimes.
Rob & Megan