The saga of the solar panels and other electrical issues

Back in March 2020, Jo was supposed to come out to Greece to oversee the removal of the old and the installation of the new solar panels. We thought that it would be a few days work at best. That visit got postponed for obvious Covid related reasons like not being stuck in a country without being able to get home. The new solar panels had been delivered to the yard in Autumn 2019 and had been left on the boat. The new ones are smaller in size but still provide around 200W of power. The old ones had pretty much stopped working, which meant that we could only rely on our wind turbine to generate power when we were at anchor (and you all know how much we love to anchor!). The new ones had been found at the Düsseldorf Boat Show in Jan 2019 as we wanted ones that had the wires underneath thereby not been a trip hazard as they are mounted on the stern deck. We found a manufacturer, Sunbeam, who did just that and were made of tough material so that they could be walked on etc without being damaged. Our old ones, to be fair, had been installed in 2012 and had given us really good service the entire time we have been away from the U.K.

The old panels being removed

We realised that the old ones needed removing and the deck that they covered making good. We had had the decks painted back in 2016 in Malta so at the very least we would need some non-slip paint. However, once the old ones were taken off it was clear that there had been some water ingress into the GRP so that it would need repairing before it could be painted. So, instead of taking a day or so to prepare for the installation, it took four.

Nearly ready for painting
First couple of coats on

Whilst they were doing all of this, we couldn’t do a lot ourselves on Nimmie as there was so much dust from the prep and sanding as well as us getting in the way so on Tuesday afternoon we took ourselves off to a nearby beach for some R&R. It was lovely just to soak up the sun and chill for a bit. When we got back to the boat on the Weds they were still painting so we went back to the beach!!

Hard life at Pounta Zeza beach

By Thursday afternoon, they had pretty much finished the painting and had done a really good job in matching the original, faded off white. We did wonder whether they would get it finished by Thursday as high winds and some rain (yes, rain) was forecast but not only did they finish the work but they then washed the boat down! We had that on our list to do but thought it wasn’t worthwhile doing it until all the work had been completed.

Earlier this summer we asked the yard to check the batteries as they had had very little charging since we left the boat in August 2019. We should have thought about it earlier as batteries tend to self discharge around 2-3% per month so over 22 months that could mean between 44-66% discharge. Not good for the batteries at all. The yard inspected them and found that the domestic batteries were ok but needed charging and the engine starter battery needed replacing. This was duly ordered and installed in July. They then turned the engine over to check she hadn’t seized (as had happened to friends of ours) so we thought all was well. We checked the batteries today (Thursday) and found that two of the domestic ones had blown and tried to start the engine but to no avail. Even though the boat is out of the water, you can usually start them and then shut them down within 20 or 30 seconds without any damage. A conversation will be had with the yard as it means that once the solar panels are installed, there could be a fire risk if the blown batteries had any charge through them.

You can see the middle on each of these two batteries is split

We popped back in the evening to see how the navigation and anchor lights were. It seems that the nav lights at the top of the mast and the steaming light (bright white light you have on when you are motoring at night) aren’t working but the anchor light is so, hopefully, it’s just a question of changing the bulbs. Turned out after two trips up the mast that the steaming light was working but just didn’t have enough current going through with the batteries not getting charged. As soon as the solar panels started to charge the batteries, all was well. Don’t think that’s the issue with the nav lights as they are LED. Anyway, back to the solar panels. There was more painting being done on the Friday morning so we went off to the Pelion region for the weekend (see separate post Mammia Mia).

Newly painted deck and new solar panels

By the Monday morning, things were looking good on deck and they started to fit the new solar panels. The wiring was going to be a bit more complicated as they suggested having having an additional Victron MPPT Controllers rather than just the one we had. This meant that the two 38W panels could run separately from the larger 100W panel. By Tuesday evening, the wiring was complete although they had made a mess of the aft cabin headlining but at least Liz was on hand to sort (headlining being her speciality and the heads/toilets mine). They popped back on the Wednesday to reconnect a couple of ceiling lights that had taken down – Lord knows why. This gave us a few hours before our flight back to the U.K. to clear up the boat. Or so we thought.

Jo decided to check the instruments were still working given how long it had been. The chart plotter and radio seemed ok but an error message came up on the other instruments – it needed a code but wouldn’t accept the code we had. The old instruments we had, had an inbuilt theft protection that meant you had to enter a code if one of them was stolen. Anyway, after multiple tries, Jo rang Raymarine in the U.K. and it seems that the instruments have been corrupted. Not sure whether the battery failure was the culprit or just old age. They’d been installed from day one so 1998! Now we need to decide whether to just get secondhand replacements of a slightly newer model that doesn’t have a built in code or splash out on a whole new system.

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