As you may have read in previous stories this past spring, Alison and I enjoyed a mostly (mechanical) trouble free winter/spring cruising mainland Mexico and the Sea of Cortez. Red Rover performed nearly flawlessly during this time but the different region and cruising style than what we had experienced in the Pacific Northwest led us to desire a new list of upgrades. This is the first post of several that will detail some of the larger upgrades that we are working through this summer. I’ve included some technical details in some of the paragraphs below that may make some of our readers’ eyes glaze over… forgive me!
Updating the original Xantrex inverter/charger has been on the wish list for the last few years. We have never really had an issue with this piece of equipment since owning the boat but it is one of those things that would make cruising more difficult if it failed in in some remote part of the world (or even a stateside anchorage). After seeing how difficult (and expensive) it is to get parts while in Mexico, we decided that replacing the 15 year old inverter on our terms would be best. So it moved from the wish list to the To Do list for Summer 2020.
As we spent more time at anchor this past spring than any other chunk of time previously, we had a good opportunity to think about our generator use vs battery charging time. We used both our inverter/charger plus our Mastervolt Chargemaster 24/100 charger only to push about 180 amps per hr back in to our house battery bank (8 Lifeline 8D batteries, wired for 24v containing 1040 amp hours – but we can only use half of those amp hours). Our boat has a Subzero refrigerator plus chest freezer as well as our electronics and other typical house load items that draw down the batteries. Overnight, Red Rover uses about 300-325 amps. For those not familiar with 3 stage battery charging (I won’t get in the depths of it here!), the batteries will take a big amount of charge initially but the closer you get to 100% full, the less amps they will take. The initial 180 amps of charge is dropped to 100 amps (or so) after an hour of charging and continues to drop the more the batteries are charged. To fully charge the batteries from 350 amps down, we would need to run the generator about 4 hours. But after 2.5 hours, we are well over 90% charged. So most days we get to 90-95% charge and shut down the generator. (Some may remember we installed a smaller generator last winter which allows us to run the 20kw genset for the initial heavy charging, heating water and water making, and then switch to the 6kw genset when the charging load/house loads are lighter) This is a long winded explanation why we also decided to add a second Mastervolt Chargemaster to Red Rover this summer along with the upgraded inverter/charger. The second charger would push our initial charging amount to nearly 300 amps per hour and shorten the generator run times.
This plan was all fine and dandy except when Vince and Linda Cummings on N60 Last Arrow were around and started bragging about their solar panels. I must admit that I had dismissed solar as an option for Red Rover years ago. How could a couple flimsy plastic panels do anything for our power hungry Nordhavn? Well, I gave in to Vince’s bragging and asked him for more details on how the solar was helping to keep their batteries charged up. I was impressed. I scratched down his equipment list and did a little research… Bam! Solar bumped the second charger to get on the To Do list!
As there is a bunch of solar related equipment on the market, after doing some product research, we decided to just mimic Last Arrow’s setup. It was a known operating system on a similar boat – hard to argue with that. For the inverter/charger, we went with Victron as well. Not only did it have all of the required specs, it could go in the same place as the Xantrex without modifying the cables.
This is what we ended up with for our equipment list:
- Inverter/Charger, Victron 24/5000/120-100/100 120V
- Solar Panels, 3 each, LG375Q1C-V5
- Solar Charge Controllers 3 each, Victron MPPT 100/30
- Battery Monitor (includes new shunt), Victron BMV-712
- System Network Interface (the cool screen that shows you what’s going on!), Victron Color Control GX plus Victron CCGX WiFi Nano USB module
The first thing I wanted to tackle was changing out the inverter (plus it was the first thing that arrived!). The Xantrex inverter is set up in a landscape format and the new Victron is a portrait orientation. Victron allows the inverter to be installed at 90 degrees which would have made the install a bit easier. But who needs easy! To install it in it’s more visually attractive vertical format, I needed to move 3 electrical boxes to allow enough room. This also required moving a couple of the wire chases. Before pulling everything apart, I made Red Rover electrically (and literally) dark. Shorepower was disconnected and all the battery bank switches were turned off. The laz hatch was open for some daylight plus I had two large flashlights to shine light at the important places.
Once all the power was shut down (I did double check with my tester!), the inverter was stripped of all of the cables and electrical boxes where pulled and reattached in a lower location. Part of the install did require pulling a network cable down from the pilothouse to the inverter. This cable would allow the new inverter to talk to the upcoming Victron Color Control GX and thus all the other pieces of soon to be installed Victron equipment.
After the old backerboard was removed, the new inverter was fitted, attached to the bulkhead and cables attached. The batteries were turned back on, shorepower reconnected and Red Rover was happy! It was time to tidy up. Cables were organized back into the relocated cable chase and some new wire loom. Old screw holes still need to be filled in.
Solar Panels and Charge Controllers Install
It has been similar to Christmas around Red Rover. Everyday we go to the UPS store to gather up several boxes filled with goodies to support our list of upgrades. It is always fun to see what arrives next. The day the solar panels arrived was exciting! The staff at the UPS store is certainly thankful that we had the panels delivered to the dock.
The day the Victron solar charge controllers arrived, I unboxed them and headed down to the lazerette to decide where to mount them. They ended up fitting neatly right next to the main electrical “box.” Then came the fun part of pulling more cables/wires from the laz to the pilothouse as well as up the stack. I left enough cable stubbed up at the stack to connect to the panels once they were mounted.
The Victron battery monitor came with its own 500 amp shunt. As a very simple explanation, this piece of equipment is installed between (and connects) two negative bus bars together. Battery negative leads are connected to one neg bus bar. The negative leads of the electrical users plus battery chargers connect to the other bus bar. The shunt measures current that runs out of the battery (and reports an electrical draw from an electrical user) as well as current that runs to the batteries (from battery chargers, reporting a charge to the batteries). The Victron shunt has a “fancy” computer board with a network port. I decided to swap out the factory shunt and use the new Victron one. While in the electrical cabinet, a new fuse was installed for the soon to be arriving solar charging cable. Part of this phase included pulling another cable from the newly installed shunt up to the pilothouse (to the battery monitor). Battery temperature and voltage sense wires were also installed to the shunt as well as the new inverter.
Once I had received the solar panels, I was able to draw up the framework needed to hold the solar panels on to Red Rover’s flybridge top. Many of the N55s and (I think all) N60s have the fiberglass hardtop. The hardtop makes it very easy to attach solar panels to the boat. We have a very sturdy stainless steel structure with canvas on Red Rover. I needed to come up with a framework and attachment detail that would work for our situation. Tube mounts were found that we could attach to the top’s cross-members and the solar framework to those tube mounts. We did need to cut squares through our canvas for this to work. As the solar panel framework spans nearly the full width of our flybridge top, the holes are just 6 inches from either side.
With the drawing done, I reached out to a fellow Nordhavn owner for help with fabrication. He was more than happy to assist with making the solar frame! The Nordhavn community is just amazing! You know who you are – thank you again! The frame came out just as designed!
Our friend even delivered it! Fortunately we had margarita fixings ready as a thank you! Alison and I then got ready to get the frame up to the flybridge and attach it to the top. We rolled back the canvas to make the install easier.
After the panels were up, they were bolted to the frame. Then we pulled the canvas back into place. This was easier said than done but it did go back eventually! The next day I was able to start wiring up the panels to the ready-and-waiting solar charge controllers.
After the panels were hooked up, the multiple fuses were installed along the system and the solar charge controllers started up! The cool thing about these solar charge controllers is they have built in Bluetooth connectivity. Once powered up, I was able to connect to each one via the VictronConnect app. The app led me thru firmware updates for each one. The app also allows me to adjust settings as needed for battery type/charge details.
The Victron Color Control GX display and BMV-712 battery monitor are not quite installed into our helm panel (soon!). But these two items are networked together along with the inverter/charger plus the three solar charge controllers. The battery monitor also allows for Bluetooth connectivity – we are able to see data about the battery level, how much power is going out or being put back in to the batteries and a slew of other info. The Color Control GX (when you add the WiFi dongle) can be connected to the boat’s WiFi system. This allows for updating of software/firmware as needed but, even more cool, allows me to access it remotely with a second Victron app. I am able to monitor battery level, solar output, inverter status and a host of other items while we are away from the boat.
Even though its only been a few days – and we’ve been tied to a dock – we are super excited about this project! I have been doing a little testing by unplugging the boat in the morning. The first day of testing, I unplugged at 8am and we went about a normal power using day. Nothing dramatic – we did run the dishwasher. Other than some minimal dips during some bigger power times, the solar held the batteries at 100% thru 6pm (when I plugged back in). Another day this week, I drew down the batteries about 60 amps to try to mimic us being at anchor – where we would use the generator to get the boat up to about 94% charge. I then let the solar take over (I unplugged again). It not only kept up with our typical house load but it also added those 60 amps back to our house battery bank. That was exciting!
Obviously time and other weather/light conditions will tell how it performs in the long run. Shorter daylight hours/cloudy days will diminish effectiveness. I also need to be aware of where the lower radar array stops (so it doesn’t shadow the panels) as well as be on bird poop duty. But it does look like we will be able to reduce our generator use by at least half while at anchor. After summer projects are completed, we will be out anchoring again – and will do an update on performance!