Originally we had planned to have a stainless steel arch made to hold solar panels but due to the delay in getting here and the season being cut short we decided to take matters into our own hands, and install two flexible panels on top of the Bimini.
Step 1 – Making the fabric frame to hold it in place. This was supposed to be the easy part but nothing is easy to do on a boat with limited space and constantly moving around. At least it was only 32.9 degrees inside the boat.
After a few alterations we eventually had a frame that fitted. The first attempt was too small, the second was too big, the third version was just right (this is starting to sound like a story about Goldilocks!!) The next challenge was to drill holes in the panel to attach clips which fix it to the frame….of course we didn’t have the right size drill bit!!
Step 2 – Installing onto the Bimini. Once the frames were made and fittings installed, we needed to attach them onto the Bimini. This was all measured out ready for sewing.
Once it was all marked up we removed the Bimini to sew the frame onto it. We have a heavy duty Sailrite sewing machine on board, it has an engine almost as big and heavy as the boat engine but as we were anchored we didn’t have electric to run it, so had to hand crank it. After a while I had to call in extra muscle to help, Paul threw his full weight into the job while I just sat and carried out the highly skilled task of guiding the needle. (It was just like having an electric motor, not sure that Paul would agree!)
Step 3 – Wiring it all up. The plan was to run the cables down the Bimini frame, remove the old cigarette lighter socket in the cockpit and run the cables through in place of it, then keeping the wires concealed behind the cabin mouldings, through to the side cabin, down to the engine room, under the floorboards to the back cabin and into the battery bank which is under the bed! This appeared to be the simplest and shortest route! Not quite as simple as we hoped, trying to get two cables through a space that was hardly big enough for one, with bends that were impossible to reach. We became expert contortionists, however with a length of string and a bit of brute force, the cables were finally through.
With all the wiring in place, we are now ready to start the next big job which is to replace the existing batteries with new lithium batteries and install the charging controller to connect the panels to.