Solar Sipping Stilts

All the way back during the construction of Aluna when I was still convinced that I could bypass the Dark Ages of Petroleum altogether by refitting decapitated outboard motors (it’s called the motor head, right!) with powerful permanent magnet motors that had been harvested from old floor sweepers, I ran into the issue of solar panel placement. I thought I had landed the deal of the century when I got a half dozen six by two feet laminated glass panels of pretty recent technology for a steal off craigslist. Not only were they heavy as hell, but when I poured over the Tiki 38 deck layout plan I scratched my head in vain to find a corner to install them in. They would have made a perfect sunroof over the entire central deck if it wouldn’t be for the fact that we had to be able to raise and lower sails. I had stood accused of worrying too much about auxiliary power and neglecting the sailing aspect many times before, so when after putting the eight giant lead acid batteries on board an seeing Aluna’s hulls sinking a good inch lower into the water I had to let this one go. All the carefully and painstakingly acquired components were luckily sold without too much of a loss. Two of the batteries found their way into each of the hulls and have been providing electricity for lighting and computer use on our journey. Two smaller sized solar panels to keep those batteries charged also resulted from the eternal pilfering on EBay, craigslist and the many annual yacht club swap meets around the San Francisco Bay Area. The problem where to put those two I was never brave enough to resolve until recently on a sunny day up in Vava’u. So they had been laying around loosely in the dent between the motor boxes and the hulls and every time we went sailing they had to be disconnected and stored below. None of the permanent installation possibilities were convincing enough to commit to execution. They would either be in the way or something would be between them and the sun for extended periods drastically reducing their efficiency.

They ended up in the place where I always thought I should never place them. The first thing that comes to mind looking at them at their present location is when are you going to knock them off at a dock or a pier? Well, the fact is we have been at a dock or pier twice during our two-year journey and do not plan to do it more often in the future. So I finally to heart in hand, collected some sturdy members of the feather-light Foa wood you find lying around on the beach. The locals use the bark for making mats and other woven trinkets. They are cut and then soaked in the sea for a couple weeks. Now the bark can be stripped off easily and the sticks are discarded. You can find plenty of them on any beach, where they are easily seen from afar because of their bright white appearance. In spite of being light and easy to work with, once the sticks are over an inch or so thick they are amazingly stiff and the epoxy treatment should keep them in shape for a long time. Now the panels are nicely out of the way and I’m not sure if you agree, but I think I managed to conserve Aluna’s decadent pseudo-ethnic look!

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