01/01/2014

Maine’s 2013 Ice Storm

In 1998 we had an epic ice storm. Our house was without power for 3 days. The storm was reported around the world: we got calls from Australia asking if we were OK.  Some parts of the electrical grid were so badly damaged that other Mainers were in the dark for weeks. On December 23, 2013 it was deja vu. Unlike 1998, it stayed cold this time and more snow followed. I expected a calamity. This time however, our outage lasted 2-1/2 days and power crews were able to get the grid up and running for everyone else at about the same time.

The drop in temperature as soon as the trees and wires were encased in ice made it necessary to seek ways to keep the house warm. Like many in Maine, we have three sources of heat: an oil fueled boiler, a wood stove and a propane (faux wood) stove. Only the boiler relies on electricity. The propane stove uses a blower but it’s optional. The office has a “ups” or uninterrupted power supply. This is a small unit consisting of a 24 volt battery and inverter, a device which converts the 24 volts to standard house current. Normally these units only allow about 15 minutes of power because their internal battery is so small, but I installed exterior batteries (two marine deep cycle) which increase the reserve to 12 hours or more. To this power source we connect, besides the big work computer, the modem and router, so our internet connection never goes out (theoretically!). We can also connect a few lights to this. The new LED bulbs run on practically nothing.

This leaves two power-hungry servants out of the loop: the well and the refrigerator. We can do without both for a while, but sooner or later the ice will melt in the freezer and the other side will become a pathogen lab, so in a few hours we faced the dreaded gasoline generator. This thing, with its noise, smoke, stinky fuel and snaking power cords is not a favorite. Nothing much compares to a dark, midnight, sub-zero refueling session. If it’s still running you have to get the fuel into a shaking tank opening (not officially encouraged) or restart with several pulls using your tennis-elbow degraded arm. Then you get to re-enter the nearly dark house with clothes reeking of gasoline. Two and a half days of no power doesn’t sound like much, but since a fill only lasts an hour and change, this can work out to maybe 30 or so refueling/restarting session, and trips into town for more gas.

With the generator running we can hook up the boiler and have hot water for showers and dishwashing. The batteries can get charged up and the fridge stays safe. We can tell when the well kicks on, the generator sounds like it’s struggling for a bit. Still, a modicum of normalcy is restored. But at about 8 PM on the 23rd, the internet went out. Since our cable supplies not only internet but also our land line and TV, we were cut off except for cell phones; remarkably they still worked. Our one smart phone was able to access weather reports and email. That was a welcome change from the 1998 ice storm.

Meanwhile, Bangor Hydro was continually postponing the return to power and the “total customers affected” kept climbing. Finally, on Christmas night they seemed to throw in the towel with “customers should seek alternative housing” and showing a repair date of Friday the 27th. I felt sorry for the line workers having to forgo holiday fun, but I could feel the burden of the last few days’ struggle, and I was warm, clean and well fed.

When the sun comes out the ice turns downright magical.

Surprisingly, at about midnight on the 25th, the power came back on for good. We made plans to upgrade to a more substantial propane-fueled standby generator. This plan is on hold while the local supplier is still scrambling to serve existing customers. The new system will feature remote starting, no refueling, quiet operation, no extension cords and distant exhaust. With our luck, it will be another 15 years before we really need it.

 

 

 

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12/01/2013

Funny Maine Place Names

Here it is, just a few weeks before the darkest day of the year (and only six more months of winter) and not much is happening on the coast of Maine. I like to occupy my spare time with genealogical research when I can’t get outside for reasons of nasty weather.  I just discovered that one of my ancestral lines came from Butcombe, Somerset, UK and that had me in stitches for a while. There’s even a Butcombe brewery. No wonder people left England! Then I started thinking, are there places as funny in Maine?

from http://mainecrimewriters.com/kaitlyns-posts/you-pronounce-it-how

Most newcomers quickly catch onto the tendency of Maine towns to be named for someplace far away. Here’s a photo of one famous road sign. Missing from this photo are Calais (pronounced “callous”), Madrid (MAD-rid)  and Belfast. Does this tendency reflect Mainers’ need to escape to some exotic corner of the world, or is it a leftover from when Maine’s primary focus was shipbuilding and trade? Beats me!

But we were talking about funny place names, and for that we need a little help from Native Americans. Here are a few:

Passagassawakeag River
Piscataqua River
Meddybemps
Mattawamkeag
Seboomook
Passadumkeag
Presumpscot
Mooselookmeguntic
Chemquasabamticook Lake

Then there’s Garrison Keillor’s (A Prairie Home Companion) fictitious Maine town, Piscataquaddymoggin, not all that far from the realm of possibility. Mooselookmeguntic, in addition to being fun to say, has, at 17 letters, the distinction of being tied for first place with Kleinfeltersville, PA as the longest single-word, unhyphenated place name in the United States recognized by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. Piscataquaddymoggin would be even longer as is Chemquasabamticook. Someone should inform the Board.

Still, it would seem that Mainers were fairly sober when concocting place names. There was probably no attempt at humor even with Meddybemps, though we giggle about it today. There are many place names which show lack of imagination. Someone would name a town Liberty, the next community over would be Freedom, then came Union, Unity and Hope. Crossroads in between would grow into communities named East Union, South Hope and so on. Boring!

Only when naming islands would Mainers allow their funny side out. You need a chart of the Gulf of Maine to find more lighthearted names: Bartender, Birthday, Blubber, Bombazine, Brown Cow, Bumpkin, Burnt Porcupine, Cat-Sized, Chain Link, Crotch (7 of them!), Crumple, Cubby Hole, Dog’s Head, Double Shot (5 of those!), Dumplings, Featherbed, French House, Gallows, Gay’s, Georges Head, Grog, Hamloaf, Hardhead, Hell’s Half Acre, Hen Cackle, High Sheriff, Hungry, Hypocrites Ledges, Ile D’amour, Irony, Junk Of Pork, Kemps Folly, Lazy Gut, Mistake, Nightcap, No Man’s Land, Old Soaker, Pollypod, Pound Of Tea, Powder Hole, Scabby, Scotch, Screeching Gull, Shivers, Smuttynose, Sow and Pigs, Suicide, Tea Kettle, The Downfall, Thomas Little Toes, Toothacher, Tumbledown Dick and Virgin’s Breast. These are all among the 3166 Maine coastal islands, and I only wish the fishermen who named them had had a chance to name some towns. I wouldn’t want to live in one though, it would make for some awkward high school fight songs.

The UK still takes the cake for funny and rude place names. Butcombe is a mild example and doesn’t even make the list. Just try to get a pizza delivered to Crapstone, Devonshire. Read about it here.

Old Soaker can be seen from Sand Beach in Acadia National Park

 

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10/21/2013

A Trip to Celtic Colours

Where does someone who lives on the coast of Maine go on vacation? Sure, the tropics beckon in mid-winter and Boston offers a strong urban pull, but it’s hard to refuse the great big Atlantic playground to our north and east. I’m talking about the maritime provinces of Canada: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

A morning view from our place in Baddeck, Cape Breton Island, NS

Vasen, from Sweden

One long day’s drive away is beautiful Cape Breton Island at Nova Scotia’s eastern end, site of the annual Celtic Colours festival, now in its 17th year. The festival this year ran from October 11-19 and featured over 150 world class Celtic artists including Darol Anger, The Barra MacNeils, Liz Carroll, John Doyle, Tim Edey, Natalie Haas and Mary Jane Lamond. What makes this festival so unique is the variety of venues, from beautiful old churches to funky local community halls and sports arenas, all tucked away in not-so-far flung corners of the island. One memorable evening featured a 18th century experience at Fortress Louisbourg, where we were served dinner by re enactors in period dress and led around by lantern light to various music performances. If you visit, be sure to text your friends and tell them to go see you in the fort’s live webcam. This year was special because it was the 300th anniversary of the fort’s founding.

Louisbourg

Just about all the venues were within an hour’s drive or so from central Baddeck, where we rented a house through homeaway.com. It’s hard to escape from the natural beauty of the area, since there is so much water; the North Atlantic on three sides, the Strait of Canso toward the mainland and many-lobed Bras d’Or (pronounced brah-dor) lake in the middle. Our place was on a part of the big lake and the views were stunning. Day trips offered the opportunity to see nearby Cape Breton Highlands National Park, but some of the museums we wanted to visit were closed for the season. With a typical attendance of 20,000 visitors for the festival, these places should have remained open. Fortunately, the Alexander Graham Bell Museum was open (he had a home near Baddeck) as was the Highland Heritage

Highland Heritage museum in Iona

Museum, a reconstructed early Scottish settlement. We missed visiting Glenora Distillery, which produces North America’s first single malt whiskey. These day trips are just distractions for die-hard music junkies, since there are workshops and informal performances happening at all hours around the island.

Gas is expensive, over $4/gallon. Food and beer are too, but we encountered zero trouble using US currency. Some of our credit cards without embedded chips didn’t work in gas pumps. Your US mobile phone probably won’t work, so be prepared. A cheap local phone wasn’t cheap at all, so we got along without. We had a big cooler and brought our own food and drink. You need to buy your festival tickets in advance, so you will know about that expense. The weather was phenomenal this year, but we’ve seen much worse in other years. The local climate is a little warmer than Downeast Maine this time of year even though it’s further north. While we didn’t eat out much we can recommend three great restaurants, Governor’s Pub and Eatery in Sydney, The Highwheeler Cafe in Baddeck and The Red Shoe Pub in Mabou. Be aware that Canadian Thanksgiving is on the second Monday in October, so expect stores to be closed.

The coast around Fortress Louisbourg

So consider a trip to Cape Breton Island next year, and use our SeaCat’s Rest as your launching point…if we’re not already on the way!

 

 

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10/01/2013

Donnell Pond

It’s nice to  have a big, mostly empty recreation area equal in distance to SeaCat’s Rest when compared to wildly popular Acadia National Park. I’m talking about Donnell Pond Public Reserve Land. This is an area of over 14,000 acres of isolated ponds, crystal clear lakes and mountains with panoramic views and the trails to get there. This compares with the 49,600 acres of Acadia, but it’s a guarantee that during the summer at least, the density of visitors there will be a tiny fraction of its big national brother. All this and a mere 22-1/2 miles north and east of here, about the same distance as Acadia NP in the other direction.

The big nature reserve came together with the help of The Nature Conservancy, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the Land for Maine’s Future Program (which helped to fund more than half the acreage acquired), the Frenchman Bay Conservancy, and private landowners deeply committed to conservation. In the early part of the last century Tunk Lake was a source for ice before refrigeration, and a large estate there belonged to famed Antarctic explore Admiral Richard E. Byrd. It was destroyed by fire in 1989. Now it all belongs to the people of Maine.

One thing which stands out when visitors take the obligatory trip to the top of Acadia’s Cadillac Mountain is a high mountain in the distance called Schoodic Mountain, visible over Bar Island, just to the left of Bar Harbor down below. Just to the right of it is a lesser peak called Black Mountain. Both these peaks are in the Donnell Pond Reserve and both have trails to the top, and as you might guess, both offer a view of Acadia. There are several campsites on Donnell Pond with fire spots, privies and picnic tables. These are available on a first-come-first-serve basis, and you can stay up to 14 days. Donnell Pond is also open to fishing and motor boats. Access to the main camping beach is by a 1/2 mile long foot trail, so if you have heavy items, you may want to use the boat launch site, out of the park’s boundaries.

Looking back at Acadia from Black Mt. A ten mile view.

If we zoom in we can see a cruise ship….

I took the The Black Mountain Cliffs Loop (2.9 miles – allow 2 hours) from the Donnell Pond parking area on September 6 and took a few pictures. The trail is easy to follow but not easy. There are lots of twists and turns, wet stream beds, and an abrupt climb at the end, almost like a giant staircase. I was glad I brought water for the 900 foot climb, and comforted that I had my cell phone, since I encountered no one else. The trip back down was to the Donnell Pond’s (Schoodic) beach. Ironically, there was a busload of schoolkids making a constant racket there, which was a sound beacon guiding me back. I also had my car’s GPS with me which answered some direction questions when it seemed the trail markings were ambiguous. A compass would have worked just as well.

How to get there: Take US Rt. 1 east out of Ellsworth–follow the signs to Campobello Island. Drive about 10 miles to the bridge before Sullivan, then drive another 4-1/2 miles and take a left onto ME 183N. Drive for 4.3 miles and take a left on Schoodic Beach Road, bear left for another 2 miles and you will come to the parking lot.

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09/29/2013

Moose in Lamoine!

I borrowed this from http://mypage.direct.ca/s/selliot/moose.html. It resembles what I saw from my boat

On September 26 I had just finished pulling my lobster traps for the last time for 2013. They were stacked and tied down in Eleccentricity, my solar electric lobster boat. I was cruising back to my mooring when I saw a huge beast lumbering across the field next door to SeaCat’s Rest. I instantly recognized the shape, but I still couldn’t believe it. A moose. A BIG moose. I altered my course to get closer to land but it soon disappeared behind the trees. It was 8:30 AM.

Moose are not at all uncommon in Maine, but they tend to stay away from the coast, preferring the more wild interior and mountains. I have only seen coastal moose in the Rockport area, over an hour’s drive away. This was a first for Lamoine in the 18 years I’ve lived here. A moose is a big deal. Unlike shy deer, it goes where it wants and doesn’t care much what you think.

I dropped off the two lobsters I caught in my floating crate and rowed ashore. By now it was after 9 AM but I wanted to see if I could find the beast; after all, something that big is hard to hide. I cut through the woods and reached the field. No moose. I couldn’t even see any footprints. I was starting to think maybe it was a horse, or maybe I had imagined it all. But on Saturday, which is dump day around here, I asked our transfer station attendant Bill if he had heard anything about a moose in Lamoine. Bill knows everybody in town and takes gossip seriously. If anyone would know about a moose, he would.

Here’s another image I borrowed, from http://www.illaheecommunity.com/category/deer/

Yes, he reported, there is a moose in town and furthermore, it was last sighted “out your way near the piebald deer area”. Now you are wondering what the heck a piebald deer is. It’s a rare color scheme on a deer, resulting in a mostly white coloration. I saw this creature too, in another bout of sanity-doubting. You never know what will turn up in Lamoine.

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09/22/2013

Saying No to Facebook

I’m committing a marketing faux pas. I have this website to promote my oceanside apartment here in the Acadia region of Maine, but I can’t bring myself to set up an active facebook page. Why am I such a fuddy-duddy?  In a minute I’ll list the reasons. First, some history. When I first heard about facebook I set up a personal account. I had it up and running for a while, but people I knew started sending me requests for, I don’t know, virtual pets or some such nonsense. I ignored them and then felt bad, like I was letting them down. So I chose the easiest path and deleted the account, explaining to my friends via email that I didn’t have time for it. At that time, deleting was easy.

Later, my friend Captain Mike, who helped me set up this site 4 years ago, told me I had to have a facebook page for affordableacadia, so I could saturate cyberspace with links to this site. The goal was to get google to rank me higher on their search results, and that, apparently was the whole goal. He patiently explained that the content of this site was of secondary importance, and the more of certain keywords I used and links which led here were what I really needed.  The goal of the higher search engine ranking was to attract guests to SeaCat’s Rest, not to mention increasing the value of this site, making people want to advertise on it. (I’m afraid I did not follow this advice very well!). I reluctantly set up the facebook site and had to use my name too, so I was sort of back where I started. I completely ignored the page, but people I don’t know started trying to “friend” me. Also, facebook kept sending emails saying I had to do something to satisfy my social network obligations. I blocked them. I can’t remember what pushed me to delete my account the second time, perhaps a news story about privacy or how they own your content, but this accounts for gripe number one:

  1. It’s very hard to delete your facebook account. Go ahead, try. If you can, please tell me how. The only thing I was able to do was to change my name. Yup, now yours truly has a completely bogus, made up facebook identity. The name I chose was goofy, but believable. I hope this isn’t illegal.
  2. facebook owns your content. All those pictures you post on your wall. Think they’re yours? Think again. Did you hear about the Canadian teen who committed suicide last April? Her facebook photo ended up in an ad on a dating site after she died.
  3. facebook makes people act weird.  You already heard how I ignored people, but the fact is, people develop a sort of virtual chatterbox syndrome on facebook, inviting the ignoring.
  4. facebook uses your “likes” as advertising. Simple really, they keep track of which restaurants (or whatever) you like and sell that to advertisers who use it to tell your facebook friends. You become a spokesperson for your “likes”, like it or not. You can opt out if you don’t mind fine print.
  5. Your page is plastered with ads. Your face to the world is being used to advertise stuff you may not want associated with you. You’ll notice this site is no monument to corporate greed. If I ever accept advertising, it will be something I endorse.
  6. You are being watched. Your habits, words,  topics, buying habits are being sold to advertisers. We all know this is the model into which the internet has evolved. It keeps the internet (and your facebook page) “free” so you don’t have to fork over $5.99/month for a webpage with your grandkids’ pictures. Even your free email account does this. So why expose more of your private life than you have to?
  7. Facial recognition is coming. At least wear sunglasses! Before long facebook plans to incorporate member photos into a database so that it can find you in other users’ photos. No doubt there is a way to make money with this. Creepy.

A relative of mine told me how he hires people. He looks them up on facebook. If he can’t find them he assumes either 1) they’re too old or 2) they’re running from the law or have something to hide. Maybe if enough of us say no to facebook (or convert our identities into bogus ones) we can give Marc a third conclusion, that some of us are too smart.

Besides the highlighted links to other articles, material for this post comes from here.

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09/16/2013

The KKK in Maine

from http://www.mainehistory.org

Writing about Maine is fun. You never know what sorts of strange things you will find. Here’s a topic which is not spooky, exciting or glamorous, but downright embarrassing. Yes, bigotry and hatred made appearances in Maine as in other places, and it would be wrong not to acknowledge what happened or to sweep it under the rug. But isn’t it odd that the Klan would make an appearance in Maine since our African American population was and is so tiny? As it turns out, the growth of the Klan in Maine had little to do with skin color.

First of all, a little business. The main source for this story comes from the excellent website of the Maine Historical Society, the web address of which appears at the bottom of the Klan medallion. It’s a great one-stop for Maine history, so please visit.

Painting by John Hilling

So up here in Maine, since we lacked an easy-to-identify minority upon which to heap scorn whenever things were not going well, where did we turn? To the French, of course! In a past post I wrote about the history of the Acadians in Maine and how they still maintain their culture today. To the Anglo Mainer, the French minority, whether Acadian or Québecois, had two strikes against them. They spoke a foreign language, and they were Catholic.

Right here in Ellsworth, in 1851, Jesuit priest John Bapst was tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail by members of the aptly named Know-Nothing Party. Today there is a high school named in his honor. In 1854, the same group burned the Old South Church in Bath, Maine, a Catholic place of worship. This tradition of persecution continued and flourished whenever nativism, the hatred of immigrants, rose.  The anti-Catholic part of this philosophy posited that if these immigrants obtained political power, they would answer to the Pope, and our Protestant, republican values would be compromised. The temperance movement was also an undercover slam against the wine-drinking Catholics. Maine went dry in 1851.

From the Portsmouth Herald, January 17, 1923

When the challenges of the 1920s: the rise of communism, anarchy and post war economic troubles, threatened Mainers’ sense of security, many of our citizens joined the Ku Klux Klan.  Once again the target was mostly the francophone Catholic community. The Klan phenomenon was here in most of its usual parts. The wearing of white robes and pointy hoods, the secret meetings and the rallies and marches all took place in the 1920s throughout Maine. But the parts missing from the Invisible Empire in Maine was, for the most part, violence and terror. In fact, violence was direct against the Klan. The Franco-Mainers fought back! In 1924 Franco-Mainers attacked a Klan rally in Fairfield with rocks and clubs and tore down a burning cross.

The goal of the Klan in Maine was primarily political. They wanted to make sure their nativist ideals were preserved in government, that no Catholics were elected or appointed. But all evidence suggests their effects were mostly short-lived. By the late 1920s, newspapers railed against them, citizens challenged them and politicians spoke out against them. Governor Baxter condemned them and although the Klan claimed next governor, Ralph Owen Brewster, was elected with their help, the election split the Republican party in Maine. Perhaps their greatest political victory was in Portland in 1923, where they influenced a referendum reorganizing city government to exclude neighborhood representation. This removed aldermen from Irish, Jewish and French parts of the city in favor of at-large councilors.  But in 1926 Klan-backed candidates were losing elections, and the Klan headquarters in Portland was seized for back taxes. By 1930 the Klan in Maine was only a memory.

It is thought that because of the appearance of the Klan in Maine, that the Bangor branch of the N.A.A.C.P. was established in 1921. Maine continued to value its anti-bigotry reputation by the passage of the 1989 Maine Civil Rights Act and the 2012 voter approval of gay marriage. Our governor is a Franco Mainer, I don’t think French, Irish Italians or any other Catholic minorities have anything to fear in Maine.

Klan rally in Portland, 1926. From mainehistory.org.

 

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09/01/2013

The Allagash Abduction

from http://www.eaglelaketown.org/

The year was 1976. The place was Eagle Lake-not the Eagle Lake in Acadia National Park but another one in far north Aroostook county, Maine, about 30 miles northwest of Caribou. Art students Jack and Jim Weiner, Charlie Foltz and their guide Chuck Rak came for a fishing holiday and on August 20, the fish didn’t bite. They cooked up a plan. They’d continue fishing through the night and build a big bonfire as a beacon for their return. The night was moonless and pitch black, so the fire was built to last for hours. They took off in their canoe.

Soon the globe-shaped light appeared overhead, described later as the size of a small house. Charlie aimed his flashlight at it, as if he were calling it over. It came like a puppy. The guys suddenly had a change of heart and began paddling like mad for shore, but the globe shot down a beam of light onto them. Next thing they knew, they were watching the object fly away, but the big fire was reduced to embers, and they were either sitting or standing on the shore by their campsite, depending on which version you read. I guess no one had a watch, since the fire is the only way they concluded that time had passed. The next day they reported the events to a park ranger who told them what they saw were searchlights, and to be careful what they smoked.

from http://www.ufocasebook.com/Allagash.html

Here’s where the versions diverge again. Either they led normal lives for 12 years until Jim Weiner hit his head and started having nightmares about being examined by aliens on a metal table, or his twin brother Jack Weiner started having nightmares right away. Either way, somehow they decided to have high school English teacher Anthony Constantino hypnotize them. The four men had separate sessions and all revealed the same details, “regressed into their suppressed memories” similar to the standard alien abduction mythology. Fluids and skin samples taken, things inserted, standard stuff.

from http://www.theironskeptic.com/articles/allagash/allagash.htm

They became famous in the UFO world. They appeared on the Joan Rivers Show, had a book written about the incident and Unsolved Mysteries devoted an episode. You can even listen to a Snap Judgement sound file here (scroll down to “The Allagash Four”). Youtube has stuff too. By all accounts, the experience has been profitable for the four. Curiously, the tiny town of Eagle Lake, Maine does not mention the incident on its website’s history page. The only entry for 1976 is “Northern National Bank opened”.

My interest in this kind of stuff is more along the lines of human psychology, both individual and mass. I really doubt there are visiting aliens, or that men in black are working to cover their tracks. I stick with Carl Sagan’s rule, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.  The hypnosis testimony of four art students does not constitute extraordinary evidence. But somehow the telling of these stories fills a need in human consciousness. I certainly enjoy them. Stephen King has made a living from the paranormal. Eagle Lake could promote itself as the next Roswell. Let’s call it another Maine industry.

Sources: http://www.ufocasebook.com/Allagash.html,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allagash_Abductions,

http://www.theironskeptic.com/articles/allagash/allagash.htm,

http://www.eaglelaketown.org/history.htm

 

 

 

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08/26/2013

Electric Boat Range Revisited

The panels arrive from China

About a year ago I laid out the range situation for my electric lobster boat Eleccentricity. I speculated about what the range would be if I added solar panels, and in other posts I wondered what speed I could attain under sunlight alone. Now I have added 480 watts of panels and can now update the speculation with hard data. I made this test today, the 25th of August, 2013. Not exactly the height of mid-summer solar radiation, but good for averaging over the boating season. First, the sunlight-only question. This was funny because I noticed that I could get an extra 36 watts or so by orienting my boat’s roof toward the sparkling water (i.e., the sun), where the headwind was unfortunately, strongest. With the motor off I could see 10.2 amps coming from the panels. Since the system voltage at the time was about 38 volts this works out to 388 watts. Not too near the rated 480 watts, but what I didn’t know at the time was that there were two blobs of gull poop on the panels, and rated wattage is just an ideal anyway. Now the speed test. I plugged in my car’s GPS and waited while it found satellites. Then I headed into the sun and wind to measure the speed while adjusting the throttle so that my amps were zero (inflow equaled outflow). I tried this in several directions and ended up with an average of 3.5 MPH.  Imagine, moving a 1000 pound boat through the water at a slow jogging speed on sunlight alone! I expect I could hit 4 MPH at the summer solstice at midday, with calm wind but I’m pretty happy with this. I increased the speed to 4 MPH and checked the ammeter: 2.2 amps, or 83 watts from the battery. So I could travel at 4 MPH for 7200 (my batteries’ capacity in watt hours)/83=86.75 hours for a range of 347 miles! Now, the clever reader will note that the sun will be not only weakening but also going down, so that 86.75 hours would be a fantasy, but it’s fun to do the math.

With the panels’ contribution I throttled up to 5 MPH using 16-20 amps or 608-760 watts, giving a range of 60-47 miles. At 6 MPH I was using 52-70 amps or 1872-2520 watts yielding 23 to 17 miles. All of these computations are of course subject to reductions due to wind, waves and clouds.

I would not want to drain my batteries down to zero. In fact, going down to 50% is about the lowest I would ever go because deeply draining batteries shortens their lives, so the above range numbers should be cut in half. However, the nice thing about going somewhere is that when you get there, you let the boat sit in the sun until you go back. There are no trees or buildings blocking the sun on the water! If you voyage two hours at 5 MPH and use 1300 watt hours, the charge percentage would be 1300/7200 = 18% , 100%-18%=82% in reserve. Let’s say you do something on shore for 2 hours. During that time you get 380 solar watts, so that’s 380*2=760 watt hours. 760/7200=10.5%. So when you shove off your state of charge is now 82% + 10.5%= 92.5%.  So you get home from your 20 mile round trip with 92.5%-18%=74.5%. Real numbers would be lower due to reduction in solar radiation over the six hour time, but this is the kind of planning a solar boat owner has to go through. This virtual trip brings up an important point, that a trip should be planned around the strongest sunlight (midday) for the greatest range. So that six hour trip left us with 74.5% at the end. If we wanted to be left with 50% instead, we could use an extra 24% (1728 watt hours, or 2.2 hours at 5 MPH with no solar help because the sun is weaker) This would add 2.2*5 MPH or 11 miles to our 20 mile trip, for a total of 31 miles.

No watts today!

Now the down side: Rain and clouds. It’s a day later and the sky is as dark as predawn. These panels use monocrystalline silicon cells and they’re supposedly the best, converting 18% of the sun’s energy to electricity. Will there be any watts flowing into my batteries at 8:30 AM on a very cloudy day?

No! What was I thinking? Still, I came back with six lobsters, so the trip was not wasted. The battery level started at 100%, so the sun did its job yesterday.

I think owning an electric boat will not require complex projections every time I want to make a trip. Eventually I will develop rules of thumb regarding the range question like, if it’s sunny I can make a 20 mile round trip at 5 MPH, no problem. It won’t be more complicated than figuring out where the next gas station is, and a lot cheaper. And the nice thing about a solar electric boat is that I can slow down or stop in the sun to extend my range, and best of all, it’s a zero-carbon trip.

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08/24/2013

Lobster Fishing Goes Solar in Maine

My new photovoltaic panels on Eleccentricity’s roof, with Cadillac Mountain in the distance.

It’s been a few years since I hatched the wild idea of building an electric boat I could use for lobster fishing. Phase one was in 2011 and consisted of planning, building and powering up. Except for an initial problem of backward steering things went pretty well. That fall I was already preparing for phase 2, the roof. That would allow me to build in a boom for hauling lobster traps and the roof would serve as a platform for eventual photovoltaic panels. I was unsure if the boat would take kindly to the added weight aloft, but all went well. By summer of 2012 I was hauling traps and enjoying the shade and shelter of a roof. I also added reverse.

Controller and junction box. Cables poking through hole in roof.

Now it’s August of 2013 and I finally decided to bite the bullet and try to come up with a way to use the sun’s energy to allow me (more or less) unlimited range. I rejected conventional panels, which use heavy frames and glass, in favor of new ultra-thin plastic panels. These have only been available for a few years, and the marine version is incredibly expensive (of course!). If you want a panel made in Germany or Italy marketed to sailors it will cost you $900 for 70 watts, or nearly $13/ watt! This at a time when rooftop panels are closing in on $1/watt. Fortunately, the Chinese are making them too, and I was able to buy six 80 watt panels for $1.60/watt plus shipping from Hong Kong. I don’t know if these lightweight panels are going to last more than a few years, but I don’t have a lot of choices.

When you work with solar, you need to cover the panels to avoid shocking yourself!

I had a heckuva time arranging the right sized panels to my roof area and power requirements. I wanted 400 watts. I also needed a charge controller to safely get the solar power into the batteries. All these things made me give up several times. I’d find panels that worked but couldn’t match the voltage. I’d find a 36 volt controller but it wouldn’t do 15 amps. And on and on.  I learned a lot too, like you can’t mix different sized panels, and you need a panel output (VOC) of around 20 volts to charge a 12 volt battery. Finally it all fell together with help from Jason Huang at Sacred Solar, John Drake at solarseller.com and the folks at Solar Converters, Inc. The whole price tag was just under $1400, about $400 more than my limit, but I ended up with 480 watts. And now it’s done. After part of two days in tossing seas I completed the installation, and today I found out what it was like to cruise on sunlight alone.  The controller is taking the output from the panels, boosting up the voltage to a maximum of 44 volts and keeping my batteries happy and well fed. I left the boat with the battery bank at 92% and returned two hours later with it at 98%. That’s about 432 watt hours from a partly cloudy day, or 4 miles at 4 MPH. Now all I need to do is to figure out a way to keep the gulls from pooping on my panels.

I have no illusions that local commercial fishermen will see my set-up and immediately convert their roaring diesel lobster boats to solar, but it’s a start. I only have 5 traps and would not try to fish 150 traps with this solar boat. Still, the lobster boat of the future may indeed have a few features of Eleccentricity. Besides, I’m having fun. Oh, and when I reported earlier that I could check my traps for 2¢ worth of electricity, well now that’s 0¢, unless you factor in the $1400.

Quietly charging…..

 

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