Friday, June 14, 2013

Outfitting the Rig

One might think that dropping the better part of a huge hunk of change on a RV would be enough.  But then one would be content to be part of the typical RV crowd traveling from gravel lot to gravel lot in search of a relatively flat spot to plug in and sleep horizontally.  And we definitely did not want to be those who head into the backwoods with their cruiser, crank the generator and watch Sunday football on their 42" TV.

No.  First and formost we are sailors.  Cruisers.  True, we're land cruisers, but cruisers nonetheless.  At the very least we had to have solar.  And that's where it all started.

My sailing books bought in the heyday of the worldwide trip provided some insight, but Bill Moeller's Boondock RVing condensed it perfectly.  And he was a sailor originally.  I needed solar, a solar controller, batteries, inverter, generator, shore power connection.  My eyes glazed as a looked at the schematics.  I'm so annoyed I didn't take at least one electrical engineering class in college.

But after re-reading a few relevant chapters 5-10 times, supplementing with numerous websites and the realization that each component costs from $500-$2k, I started to get it.

PV solar panels are relatively straightforward.  They take in sun and create direct current (DC) which can be used to charge batteries.  One has a solar controller connecting them to a) prevent the reverse at night (batteries draining to dimly light the panels?) and b) efficiently charge the batteries.  This rig is big, so we put on 3 150w panels.  I'm already wondering if I should have put on 4 while I was at it.  When one drops sums like the complete system, an extra 5% for one more panel is looking to have been a cheap price...  Anywho.

Solar fills batteries, not your laptop's battery, the rig's batteries.  And we've been to the dry camping battery rodeo before (where we're all crowded under one bulb and it dims out to the smell of sulfuric acid rising from the battery well).  We needed more batteries.  Lots more.  6 will hopefully do it.  They certainly have weighed down the rig by close to 400lbs.  But now we have 600 amp hours (6 @ 220ah x 6v golf cart batteries wired in series/parallel yadda yadda), which is enough to run everything but the air conditioning from anywhere from 20 minutes (oven) to all night (nightlight).  I might even get to watch the Stanley Cup without the sound and smell of a diesel engine.

But first I need something to convert all of that wonderful DC power into alternating current (AC).  That item is called an inverter.  You may have had one in your car to charge your laptop or something like that.  We needed something bigger.  Something that would power an oven or hair dryer for more than 20 seconds before melting.  A "whole house" inverter.  I stretched the heck out of my RV repair guy's understanding, but sorted out a good solution which does exactly what I want.  When it's on, I can turn on any electrical appliance and it just works.  And I now understand the schematic drawings.

Throw in a few details like a charge controller monitor, alternator/charger monitor and so on and we're all set.  My electrical system is ready to rock.  As long as we stay in North America and/or want to boondock all the time.

Unfortunately, we're going to Europe.  They're on 220v AC (usually) rather than 110v AC of North America.  After still more research I tracked down a step-down/step-up converter.  With this, I can plug shore power into a 220v circuit and it should work.  At least that's what they tell me.  We'll be sure when we're in the UK and we plug it in for the first time.

The other system which our RV research lead us to think about was the drain system.  The massive 4" mummenshanz hoses standard to the US would not work.  We needed a macerator.  BOAT (break out another thou').  Now we can run a hose into anything we can reach with our hose.  I have to use it later today for the first time.  I'm frantically writing this because I fully expect that a post about my Sani-con experience is forthcoming.

And how about propane?  That standard is different (and more convenient) in Europe as well.  Instead of the screw on ACME connector that North Americans have, Europeans have 2-3 quick release methods for the Autogas system.  Fortunately, one can buy adapters.  So, I have two of those.  Hopefully it will work.  Other, older websites, suggested rather hacky solutions that I did not like the looks of.  Especially when it comes to pressurized delivery of flammables.

Diesel and water are the same as far as I know.  Still have to order a USA round sticker (to show country of origin).

Most other of the RV systems are fine with Europe.  We did the usual tuneup stuff, replaced two tires which were fine for 5k miles, but probably not another 10-15k.  Changed the oil.  Resealed the roof.  Replaced the panel which was torn open when I ran over a post on our first trip.  The usual drill.

And today we are on day 3 of our shakedown cruise to the Tetons.  The adventure has begun.


  1. Wow. Just wow!

    Dude... Blog needs a new cover picture. :-)

  2. I know. I have to upload some pictures too... This vacation/shakedown cruise is too busy!