Monday, September 6, 2010

Energy Independence Project Update

Our two overnight boats, Egret and Esprit, were upgraded last fall in their electrical systems with the goal of becoming less dependent on using the motor for recharging the batteries during a multiple day sailing trip. The project consisted of LED lighting changes for energy conservation--the anchor light was a big savings—and the addition of solar panels to keep the batteries topped off recharge a little. Our goal was to never have to plug in to shore power when we get home and to never have to run the engine during a trip for the sole purpose of charging the batteries. In the past, the engine needed to be run for about an hour per day while on a trip to keep the batteries charged to provide lighting, electronics and pressurized water for the sinks.

This summer, we sailed in and out of anchorages and even sailed in and out of some docks while out in the Apostle Islands on overnight trips. It never became necessary to use the engine to recharge the batteries. There are, of course, times to use the engine to propel the boat and for coming in and out of the harbor in Bayfield. The conservation measures and small solar panels worked together to cut down and nearly eliminate our need for charging. The lowest I saw the battery voltage was about 12.2 volts (about 2/3 discharged) and usually it was fully charged and barely moved down at all below 12.4 volts by morning. With any sunlight, the panels kept the voltage above 13 volts and fully recharged during the day. On one open water crossing on a sunny day, we were charging enough from just the solar panel to run all navigation electronics, radios and the auto-pilot!

This was a great project. At least half of the days are windy enough to not use the engine at all and in the past we would run it anyway, just to charge the batteries.

All in all it was a great success!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Out in the Apostle Islands

I finally took some picture from some of this year’s trips. The water is warm enough to swim now and the kids have been in much of the day on our youth group overnights.

The day trips are going great and lots of swimming has been done on our Island Landing Excursion, too. The Afternoon Sail has been a fantastic way to cool off this week!

Exploring the rock outcrops.

A beautiful Day in Early June

Chimney Rock near Stockton Island

We had so much rain in late June that it made this great waterfall on Stockton Island. The water looked like root beer pouring over the rocks because of all the tannin in it.

Exploring Basswood Island's shoreline during the Island Landing Excursion

Island Landing Excursion stop at Basswood Island

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Night Sky picture

One of our dogsledding guests who brought their family sailing for a three day trip sent me this link for a stunning nighttime picture of Outer Island Light. The link for a short video with a couple pictures and their story is here The night sky from the cockpit a sailboat anchored in the Apostle Islands is extraordinary. The Islands are so far from background light that the stars are much brighter even than on the mainland.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

More boats in!

We put Egret in a couple weeks ago and I got some pictures of it. A large crane picks up the boat and gently sets it in the water. It made me nervous the first couple times having all that boat swinging through the air, but now I am used to it and often help guide her into place.
The keel has 7500 lbs of lead in it and you can see it here hanging below the boat. The sole purpose of the weight--called ballast--is to keep you from tipping over when the wind blows hard. The further you lean the more the keel acts to keep you up!

Egret is such a beautiful boat, I couldn't help taking a picture at the dock. The name Egret comes from a friendly Great Egret that watches us in Florida on our yearly March trip to the Panhandle area. Emma and Greta, our daughters names, combined makes Egret!

4th Graders

Today we took my daugther's 4th Grade class out sailing. The energy from a group of 4th graders is more powerful than a hurricane. I had the girls, plus their wonderful teacher Ms. Kouba and Captain Andrew took the Boys, along with Mr. Lemmler. They fought over who could steer next, and whose turn it was to go up on deck. The water was measured today at 64 degrees, which is warmer than all of last summer! They took turns putting their feet in as we sailed along. They want to go faster, lean over more and be more daring. What a change since 3rd grade, when they all screamed when we heeled over a little! This small town has the greatest kids!

The North Coast Community Sailing program visited school today, so we piggy-backed with them. What a great organization. I hope some of the kids take advantage of their program this summer and learn how to sail.
Feels like summer in the Apostle Islands already!

Friday, May 21, 2010

1st Trip

We sailed this week for the first time. The water is normally in the 30s in May, but this year it is already up in the 50s! That means it is like summer out there. The trip went very well on Egret. We sailed out to Long Island, anchored, and two couples rowed to shore for an hour of this beautiful wild beach. The sail back required a little help as the wind was light, but we sailed most of the way.

We are getting a daily lake breeze. It is the same as a sea breeze. The air warms up over the land, rises and draws in the cool air over the Lake. It starts at about 10am and lasts until late afternoon. By early July, it is all over, but it makes for wind almost every day until then. Some days, there are even whitecaps. There are certain spots where the lake breeze is best, others where it is calm. The feel of the moist lake air on a sunny hot day is an unforgettable Great Lakes experience.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Teenagers at their best

Normally, sailors take down the sails and motor into a busy anchorage. With a dose of hollering and frustration, they drop the anchor, back the motor down to set it, and finally, shut off the noisy engine and settle in for the night. It is a bit like watching a couple back their motor home into a narrow spot at the campground. To improve their skills, the teenagers who sail on our group trips learn to do this all under sail, with grace and pride. This often draws applause from those who may be anchored already, and certainly admiration.
On our group overnights, each new group of six teenagers aboard get pretty good at running the boat after a couple days. A group from a couple years ago, I remember well. They arrived the first evening at the dock with very little skills but lots of enthusiasm. The next morning when we left Bayfield, they drilled and learned and practiced laughed and by the second day the girls were running the boat all by themselves. They had gone from knowing very little about sailing to mastering such advanced skills as anchoring under sail.

The wind was blowing hard the evening of Day 2 as we approached Raspberry, one of my favorite Apostle Islands. The waves were several feet high and we came tearing across them toward the point that protects the anchorage from the open Lake. Beyond the point, the water was flat glass calm and contained several other boats resting at anchor. As we came to find out, one of the boats was another group of teenagers--boys, with their captain, who had motored in and dropped anchor a little while before (picture the RV couple at the campground). They were jumping off the boat and swimming, trying to show off to each other and anyone else around, as teenagers do. We were aimed right for them as we roared past the the point and into the calm, crew ready to douse the sails and drop the anchor. Now, when someone is sailing in hard right at you, it appears like you might be rammed and sunk, but at just the right moment, the young lady at the helm turned hard to port spinning the boat into the wind. The others furled the jib (the main they had taken down a minute before) and we quickly came to a stop in the perfect resting place. The anchor was deployed. After practicing this manoever five times over the past two days, no one was even excited and they acted like they had done it all of their lives. The girls cleated off the anchor rode and returned to their discussion about Twilight, or whatever book they were reading. They paid no attention to the neighboring boat but there was a subtle pride when the boys applauded. "What's their problem?" Giggle.

Energy Independence Project

We started installing our components this week to make two of our boats more energy independent. While they still have engines that we use to get in and out of the harbor and drive the boat when there is no wind, we won't have to run them at all just to charge the batteries on a several day trip. If there is decent wind, we can often sail in and out of anchorages and sometimes even docks.

Now, I could go into an endless discussion about costs and benefits of what we are doing, but I'll just sum it up instead. We tried electric motors several years ago, but they are still too expensive and batteries are still not good enough for a long offshore trip. Rather than try to save the 20 gallons of diesel we use per boat every year,

Five years ago, we installed auxiliary electric motors on Dreamcatcher, which lasted only a couple months before they died. They were not designed for staying underwater

Since the wind is our main energy source, we only use about 20 gallons of diesel per year on each boat. I can save more fuel by riding my bike to work for a week, than to try to change the auxiliary power on the boats to electric. We tried an experiment five years ago and although it worked well, we decided to make the boats sail better and that would be more effective. Electric drives, powered by wind, solar and just turning the prop backwards when you sail, are available but still too expensive. Our objectives with this project are only to eliminate the need to run the engine for an hour every day to charge the batteries for our electric needs.

When you do the math, conservation is a lot cheaper than solar or wind generation and has a long term benefit. We use electricity for lights, VHF radio, radar, GPS, music system, fresh water pump and for charging electronics and cell phones. Air conditioning is only a matter of opening a hatch; heat, stove and oven are propane; there is no microwave and refrigeration is much more efficient by using ice from our ice maker in Bayfield. Radar is only used in fog, so it doesn't drain much most of the time. All the electronics are pretty efficient. That leaves lights and they are easy to replace with LEDs. Our new loads will be about 1/5 of what we used last year. That means the solar panels can be 1/5 the size.

We found some roll-up solar panels that can be attached on top of some of the canvas on the boat that protects us from the sun and spray. If the weather is bad, we can take them in. They will provide plenty of power for a several day trip without using the engine.

Most sailors motor in and out of the quiet anchorages so they can charge their batteries while making their maneuvering easier. I can only remember a couple people sailing in and only a couple sailing out of the anchorage, so when we do it, everyone watches with wonder. Running a diesel for short periods is not good for them, is noisy, and stinks, so we are looking forward to not having to do this. It is also great skills training for everyone and often draws applause from other boaters...

That reminds me of a story, which is much more fun than watts and amp-hours.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

put the plug in

Optimism: Thinking that somehow 3 boats that average 35 years of age would be almost ready to go in the water in the spring without much work.

Reality: Oh yeah, we have to do that this year, and that, and that, oh, and don't forget about that!

Lucky it is so warm today I don't have to wear long underwear. These days could last forever!

Then it went from flat calm and about 75 degrees to whitecaps everywhere and 45 degrees in about 15 minutes. That Lake breeze must have been bottled up all day, because it looked like a swarm of bees on top of the calm water racing toward us. I was just about to go up the mast when we saw the dark blue of wind. Within two minutes, everything we had lying about was blowing away and the wind was lifting the sand into the air. The Lake was just a froth.

The power of this Lake is fantastic.

There was one funny site today. We are on the outer breakwall, working on the boats, which are sitting high and dry. Our vantage point is perfect to see the public boat landing and watch the Lake, out toward Madeline and Long Islands. We see people going out in small boats--picture a 14' Lund with a tiller outboard--all the time. This time of year they return bundled up heavily. Today one returned very shortly at full throttle all the way into the marina, creating a big wake for the boats in their slips. Several of us got up to holler that they were going too fast, but when they didn't slow down until they were beached on the boat ramp, we figured there was something wrong. The driver frantically leaned over the stern and got wet up to his shoulders, scrambling to put the plug in! It was worth a laugh and he was forgiven for making a wake.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Covers off Boats!

We took the covers off all three boats today! I am not sure what is better, taking them off or putting them back on in the fall. Each one is great, although a different excitement. I can't imagine why I was so ready last fall to cover them, only that I was. Now I can't wait to get them in the water.

That first smell of the boats when you go down in the cabin, a mixture of old wood, maybe a little motor oil, a hint of bilge and some mildew! Not a bad smell, but a unique one. It brings back all the fun that we have had in the boat over the years. It reminds me of exploring boats as a kid. The smell is always the same and the memories perfect.

This year, the water has been open for a month already, so it has warmed to the usual level of about June 1st! That means by June, it may be swim-able this year. It takes a long time to get to 40 degrees, which it is already, but then goes up fast with all the sun and warmer weather. We are aiming for May 15th for having at least 1 boat ready, and probably earlier with a little luck. Early June may be prime water temps already for nice comfortable sailing!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

spring excitement in Bayfield

How life changes while you are gone! There is a buzz in town about all the new things going on this season. New shops, coffee shop expanding, babies on the way, fresh faces in town, new controversies. It seems like when we left three weeks ago, a season was at its end. Now a new one has began.

And our thoughts turn to boats. We have been talking a lot lately about how kayaking has taken off in popularity, which is really cool. We just spent a fair amount of time on the kayak in Florida and while it it great, I kept thinking I would rather be on a sailboat! In a future blog, I want to get into why sailing is not increasing in popularity as fast as it should. Maybe readers can share their opionions.

Usually boating is all I think about this time of year. This year, we have a new shop to finish and move into. This will be our fourth season of having an office in Bayfield. Last year, we were on Rittenhouse Ave (the main street), but the building sold. This year, we are creating a new space just around the corner on First Street, across the street from the Bayfield Inn. It is going to be our sailing/dogsledding office as well as a retail outlet for the Wolfsong Wear that we make here in Bayfield. Last season was our first year as a retail store and we sold a ton of Wolfsong Wear. This year we are talking about what other products might compliment our business if we wanted to increase our retail sales.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Coming Home

As we drove north through Wisconsin on the way back from our yearly end of the dog sled season break, we remembered why we choose to live here. The texture of the woods became ours again, with familiar plants as we got further north. When we got up on the overlook on US 2 between Hurley and Ashland, Lake Superior appeared, showing Oak Island, Bayfield, Stockton, Madeline and Outer Island sticking above the blue water. The air is so clear that they look to be just across a valley. That blue water radiates this time of year, lit from within and contrasting with the leafless islands. Another half hour and we come into our hometown, Bayfield. Of all the small towns that we have driving through recently on our way back from two weeks in Florida, this is the most charming. All that beautiful Gulf coastline with birds, sea and beach, is hazy in our memory as the strong pull from Lake Superior has recoiled us back again for another season. When we left, there was mostly ice and the feeling of a long winter. Now the channels are clear and the water is calling to us to come out and explore. I wish we had a boat in so we could get right out there.

Easter was the next day and it is almost as warm as Flroida here. Memorial Park is almost empty, the harbor has just the working fishing boats that have been parked there all winter--all of the summer pleasure boats are still on the hard--and the entire Lake that we can see between Bayfield and Madeline and Basswood Islands is glass calm. It seems like we stole a day and have it all to ourselves.

Coming home is the best part of a good vacation. All the dogs are healthy and bark an enthusiastic greeting, the one hen has lain a couple eggs, and the cats are even happy to see us. Winter is gone and the bugs are not out yet. The driveway is dry and clear, the mud and ice are all gone, and there are even buds on the red maples. It is going to be an early spring, and it feels like a gift.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ferry Running, ice on the Lake

All the news of the Ferry starting up gets us thinking about our season. Last week, the ice on Lake Superior, between Bayfield and Madeline Island looked like it was going to sink! There was water on top of it, it was a very dark color and it appeared to be sinking. This week, it has floated up again and looks like it may be there for a while still. This happens every year. It now appears slightly white and the snowmobile tracks from earlier in the winter have reappeared on top.

The boats sit under their canvas covers on the edge of the harbor. The snow has melted from around them. In a couple weeks, we will take the covers off and let the sun in. My memory of the work to be done this spring is softened by the winter. In October, when it was starting to snow and the Lake was angry, I couldn't wait to get them out and put away, before another storm beat them up. I probably had twenty things to do this spring on my mind, but I can't recall them. In October, boat projects make me tired and depressed just thinking about them. These old boats seem really old. Now it just seems like we polish and varnish and clean, then start sailing. What a change! My memories of last season are reduced to only the good ones and I can't wait for it to start again.

The boats sit patiently all winter. In the summer, we care for them every day and are a part of them in some way. We read their moods, diagnose their problems, share their joy. Most of the winter they are barely in our thoughts...until spring.