Arwen's meanderings

Hi everyone and welcome to my dinghy cruising blog about my John Welsford designed 'navigator' named Arwen. Built over three years, Arwen was launched in August 2007. She is a standing lug yawl 14' 6" in length. This blog records our dinghy cruising voyages together around the coastal waters of SW England.
Arwen has an associated YouTube channel so visit to find our most recent cruises and click subscribe.
On this blog you will find posts about dinghy cruising locations, accounts of our voyages, maintenance tips and 'How to's' ranging from rigging standing lug sails and building galley boxes to using 'anchor buddies' and creating 'pilotage notes'. I hope you find something that inspires you to get out on the water in your boat. Drop us a comment and happy sailing.
Steve and Arwen

Monday, 17 June 2019

Wooden oar making and how not to do it

So, worrying about other things I sought respite in turning square loom oars into octagonal oar looms only to later discover at the end that I had actually shaved octagonal the area that had to remain square edged for the upper loom counterweights.

In addition, I had forgotten even after initially checking the plans twenty minutes earlier - that the loom taped from 46mm down to 38mm in diameter. Mine is now an octagonal 40mm diameter along the length!

I don't think people fully appreciate how much energy and effort goes into maintaining the high levels of incompetency and moronship that I achieve daily. In fact I have often felt people have just not sufficiently celebrated these particular talents of mine.

After all it takes a really unique ability to be really bloody stupid at everything!

I'm now going to find a quiet corner to cry in after which I guess I will go down the DIY store buy some strip pine and stick back on the edges I spent the afternoon taking off!

If only God had had the foresight to provide me with a brain..................................................................

Friday, 14 June 2019

First impressions of the Big Blue 5v 28W solar panel charger

Regular readers of this blog will know I am aiming to charge all electrical devices on Arwen in a sustainable manner using a combination of power banks and a portable solar panel charger. Previous posts on charging small electronic devices whilst dinghy cruising can be found by accessing the menu on the right - June 2019.

The charger I bought was the Big Blue 5V 28W solar charger – which came top in many online review sites. 

It helped that the price had fallen by £20 in a flash sale on Amazon as well – so I managed to get it for around £40. Right time, right place – it rarely happens for me.

I have tried the panel once so far and was impressed. In partially cloudy conditions it charged the phone up 15% in just under an hour – supplying an average v amperage throughout that time. I have nothing to compare this with but I felt it was fast and efficient. Accompanying literature suggests it has an amazing 21% to 23.5% solar efficiency.

POSTSCRIPT  update - today in fairly sunny conditions it charged the phone up 50% in just under an hour and three quarters. 

It comes with two USB out-ports but based on this initial test in partially cloudy conditions, I’m thinking it is probably best to use one port at a time rather than two simultaneously – so that you get maximum charging efficiency to a device. I know it contains a chip which assures a stable charge rate.

The Big Blue comes with an auto restart and charge interruption recovery function (so if a cloud passes over the sun, or if the sun angle changes to cause a temporary shadow on the panels - it starts recharging when the sun reappears) and a very cool integrated digital ammeter. Hence, I know what amperage was being produced.

The pack seems durable – a Cordura outer rucksack like material which should stand up to abrasion forces and it comes with four small carabineer hooks and a USB micro cable. You will need other cables for digital cameras and GoPros etc – but the panel will charge most of these devices. The carabineers hook to four eyelets so that it can be hung in various positions off rucksacks etc. There is a pocket for the device you are charging but in many reviews, it seems that your device could overheat in the pocket in the full sun and therefore the best option was to get a longer USB cable and keep the charging device in the shade in a bag.

The actual panels themselves are Sunpower panels and these seem to be generally regarded as the best.

Overall this seems to be a simple, uncomplicated charger and I’m already liking it just from initial tests. It will lie across my saddle bags, across one of Arwen’s thwarts or dangle from my 30 Lt day sack. It also comes with a two year warranty as well.

What are the cons? Well it is a bit big and bulky – not massively so – just over the weight of an Ipad I guess. On the kitchen scales it is weighing in at 22 ounces. Of course, this is a trade off as the larger the panel the more efficient it is but the heavier it will be. It isn’t fully waterproof (to IPX4) but is splash proof which is fine.

Charging small electronic devices whilst dinghy cruising using portable power banks

Previous posts on charging small electronic devices whilst dinghy cruising can be found by accessing the menu on the right - June 2019.

My new iMuto Tarus X4 20,000 mAh power bank and separate Big Blue 28W solar panel charger duly arrived in the post this morning.  I am trying to develop a portable electronics device charging system that can be used across all my outdoor activities including dinghy cruising. Regular readers will know I am also trying to avoid installing a 12v system in Arwen. The issue of charging the VHF from a power bank may have been solved by a company called ‘MyVolts’ and I will share the outcome of the experiment in a future post.

In this blog I briefly summarize first impressions of the iMuto power bank. It is on the table alongside me and over the last forty minutes it has dropped 5% in its power storage but taken my android phone up from 63% charge up to 94% charge. Bottom line it seems fast and powerful!

Other initial impressions – compact and rugged construction. Aesthetically pleasing design with rounded corners, the pack is hand size and about an inch thick. However, I suspect some would say it is form over function and rather dull looking. It came with a bag and USB cable. The digital display showing what % of power is left is so much better that other power banks which indicate power level left through the number of flashing blue lights. You know precisely what power you have left. The accompanying data sheet says the iMuto will charge an iPad mini 2 times, or a galaxy S8 4 times and apparently a MacBook 1 time. My phone charge, if I use Navionics charts on it will last around 7 hrs. It is an old phone! So theoretically I should get several days sailing charges from this power bank.

One of the other reasons I bought it was the fact that it has a ‘smart’ protection system that will identify the charging requirements of the device it is plugged into and then intelligently adapt the level of current supplied to a safe and speedy level. So, no over-charging, over voltage or short circuiting!

The charging input is 5v/2.1A micro USB connection. It came with 85% charge and the booklet says it will take 10 hrs to charge and you can do it off a laptop or normal compatible wall phone charger.  The two out-ports are rated at 2.1A and 1A.

How durable it is only time will tell. It feels solid and well-constructed.

Negatives as such – well only one I can initially spot and that is it is a slightly heavier beastie that I expected – around 460 gms – so a tad bulky. It is certainly thick – around an inch. However, given I do little trekking nowadays where weight would be an issue – I’m OK with this. But don’t expect this to slip in the back pocket of your jeans.

Oh, and one more thing – it comes with a little inbuilt LED torch. Useful in a tent or under the tarp on Arwen.  I will update this post after a few months of testing it.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Making wooden oars for a dinghy - the saga continues

It continues. Oar one has been rough shaped and just needs some finishing with spoke shave. Oar two is being cut out of its blank. No machines have been used or harmed in the making of these oars. The Japanese pullsaw, spoke shave and Stanley block plane are holding up well.  I have been enjoying myself taking this slow approach to oar making.

I still have to track down leather for the loom protectors. I will be fibre glassing blade tips. The blades will be painted as will the counterweights at the inner ends. The looms will be varnished.

Following the plans......................

Tracing around the self made  patterns

hand cutting the blanks

saving the sawdust - I have no idea why though - some deep psychosis here 

Oar one almost complete 

Just needs some final spoke shave work 


Monday, 10 June 2019

The wonderful NHS - it is worth fighting for

With the furore over Trump and the USA 'buying' the NHS - I got to experience the best of it once again recently. Two days after an emergency Doctor's appointment I was in hospital getting exploratory tests done. Biopsy results will be back in under three weeks. It is a nervous wait.

On the day, my surgical team treated 40 patients that day. During all the time I was there what impressed me most was the dignity, compassion, kindness, interest and good natured banter shared with the patients. Nurses who barely had time to get a tea break themselves but who managed to rustle up a tea, coffee or hot chocolate with custard creams for each of their patients that day. Nurses who between doing med obs, cleaning beds and equipment, moving patients on beds between treatment and recovery bays - had time to sit with those who were nervous, those who were in pain and those who just wanted to talk.   A ward where banter and humour echoed off the walls despite the fact that they were overstretched and undermanned.

Where professionalism underpinned everything they did that day, from the welcome and paper work to explaining to each patient what was going to happen and why; patiently answering questions, carefully listening, acting on patient's wishes and finally ensuring that each patient understood the findings and implications of their examinations and what the next steps should be. It didn't matter your background, wealth or ethnicity - you all got treated the same - fairly, with dignity, kindness and respect and all for free.

Which brings me back to the USA possibly wanting a slice of the NHS in any future BREXIT trade negotiations.

May hell freeze over before that happens. 

We should never, under any circumstances, expect to see a USA insurance based healthcare system here in the UK. None of the NHS services should be privatised if truth be known. If we want to fund the NHS, if we want it to grow, provide the most advanced medicine and treatemts and avoid the unfairness of a postcode lottery for treatment and drugs provision then we need to fund it. Maybe, we do need to add a penny or two to basic income tax to fund it - and yes, that may need means testing in some way so that it is fair to all earners; perhaps it should be a penny or two on national insurance for all - perhaps instead of empty promises, our prospective Prime Minster candidates should explain truthfully how they intend to protect, fund and improve the NHS so that such inequalities between postcodes do not exist.

Somethings are precious and worth fighting for - the NHS is one of those things. For that matter, so is social care provision!

charging your small electronic devices whilst dinghy cruising

Whilst waiting for the new 24W Big Blue solar panel to arrive, I am now turning attention to investigating whether I can establish a connection between my Powermonkey traveller and my ICOM M23.

The Big Blue 28W solar charger 

A 1.7mm x 4mm male barrel jack into the radio charge point

The 12v outport on the PowerMonkey Traveller uses a 1.7mm x 5.5mm male barrel jack. The power bank gives out 5v 700mA or DC 12v 0.8A. It is a 10,000 mAh capacity. It is quite old now and there are better integrated solar charger/power banks out there now. But, as always, I get sentimentally attached to pieces of equipment that have served me well and accompanied me on my travels. This power bank is one such piece.

The other power bank I use is an iMuto 20000mAh with two 5v/2.4A USB ports.

The VHF radio is charged by a 1.7mm x 4mm male barrel jack - the wall charger giving out 6v 0.6A. It has a 3.7v Li-ion battery 1500mAh.

I could just buy a spare radio battery - around £20 and charge both up before I leave home. Each battery will last around 10 hrs. So three days sailing possibly and then I could use my spare radio which takes AA batteries for the remainder of any trip - but that would chomp through batteries and I am trying to be sustainable here.

I am trying to avoid installing a 12v system in Arwen - instead spending money on items that will be used across a range of activities from climbing and camping trips to cycle  and canoe touring.  I have elaborated on these principles in previous recent posts.

I am no electrician but I am assuming that a USB cable with a male barrel jack on the end running from either power bank to the radio isn't going to charge it - power bank out put is 5v/2.4A and the radio input from its wall charger is 6v 0.6A.

So I need something to increase the 5v to 6v I am assuming.  I have been looking at something such as this

This item is a 5v USB to 6v 1.05A converter with centre positive polarity (what is that?)
I have contacted the seller 'MyVolts' who are based in Dublin - asking for their help and advice as to whether this connecting cable will link the power banks and radio correctly and I await their answer.

I know the simplest solution is to put in a 12v system in my spare galley box with appropriate usb and cigarette sockets and possibly an inverter/converter affair. However, it is one more thing in Arwen and something that I cannot then use across my other outdoor activities.

But I'm not powering a bilge pump or a GPS/chartplotter. All I need to recharge are GoPro and camera batteries, my mobile phone, a tablet and the VHF radio. All except the latter also go with me when trekking, canoeing, camping, cycle touring and climbing. The Big Blue 28w solar charger recharges tablet, phone, batteries and power banks. It won't power charge the VHF.

I cannot be, surely, the only dinghy cruiser who doesn't want to install a 12v system but does want a flexible, sustainable approach to charging small electronic devices?

I will let you know what MyVolts come back with and what solution I find in my next post. 

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Dinghy cruising a Welsford navigator episode 2 day sailing around Plymouth Sound

Episode 2 of day sailing around Plymouth Sound

My dinghy cruising channel can be found at 

charging your small electronic devices whilst dinghy cruising using portable solar panel

An update on small boat electronics

Although I did say the next blog post will be about the advice and tips I got on installing a 12v system on Arwen, I am delaying it for a week. Some people have given really interesting feedback whilst others have briefly shared their systems and it is worth writing it up and sharing it. 

All the blogs about charging electronics on a small boat are found at the end of this one.

Instead, in this blog post I want to briefly sum up my research about solar panels and charging external batteries with solar panels.

I am, if truth be known, still leaning towards not installing a 12v system in the boat and instead having a more portable range of power charging options – a couple of large capacity external power banks which could be topped up or recharged if necessary, by a separate solar panel system - a system that would cover all my varying outdoor pursuits. 

You can imagine my delight therefore, when I dug out the literature that accompanied my old PowerMonkey Traveller Extreme battery and solar panel (above). The power pack gives out 5v via a USB but also gives out 12v (at 0.8a) and I'd forgotten that - that is enough to charge my VHF radio. All I need to find is a cable to connect the two – a cable that has a 2.5mm jack plug at each end. So I will need to find an 'electrician' for that one. 

So, unbeknown to me, my one big issue has just been solved – charging the radio. 

Of course, getting the right combination of separate solar panels and external battery power bank will be critical. I’ve done quite a bit of reading on line and here is a brief summary of my findings regarding portable solar panels, just in case anyone else is thinking of going down this route.

The obvious

Firstly, look for reputable brands, read the reviews on buying and tech sites and check out in the reviews what customer service is like if the panels have had to be returned for some reason. As always high-quality descriptions of the panels with very few literary mistakes are a helpful reassurance.

 Most reviewer sites seem to agree that pocket sized panels won’t meet the needs of power-hungry tablets and phones. Where they are effective, they are then let down by poor charging times using direct sunlight to charge the device.  Larger capacity panels seem far more effective and faster charging but at the price of bulk and weight.  Generally, the higher the wattage, the faster devices will charge.

Basic electric terminology

It is really important to have an understanding of basic electric terminology and this was where I was initially struggling.  However, GearLab gave a good plumbing analogy which helped.
Voltage = water pressure
Current (amps) = flow rate
Ohms (resistance) = pipe size
Watts is a measure of electrical power (which is voltage x current)

Watts and Amps are commonly referred to in descriptions of the performance of various panels. Again, what seems clear to most reviewers is that a 4 or 5W panel is good enough to charge small phones or MP3 players but takes at least 4 – 6 hrs to charge a device.  7+W is needed to charge most modern smart phones.  If you are charging multiple devices or an Ipad – then 15+W’s is required and if you want to charge a laptop – go with a panel, battery and an inverter combination. Any AC devices will require 25+W’s panel, a battery and a DC to AC inverter.

Integrated battery and solar panel systems are becoming increasingly popular especially if you want enough power just to see you through a weekend.

Output power

Stress is clearly related to the amount of output power from your panel or battery apparently! Under-powered and charging times are frustratingly long!

Check carefully about the output from the panel or battery power bank you are thinking of buying. Manufacturers’ report total amperage output of both ports combined; they do it for max amperage of each USB port so meaning you have to add all the port amperages to get the total output. It’s a minefield so if you are comparing outputs of various panels or external batteries make sure you are comparing like with like! Some will report 2.1A max so two devices plugged in will share this. Others report 2.1A max where one port is this but the other port is only 1A. It drove me crazy trying to compare different products!

Solar panel considerations

Firstly, types of panel – CIG’s – very flexible, cheaper, lighter but not very durable – delaminate over time.  Mono-crystalline – best for small scale energy consumers – so found in most back-packing models for weekends away in the hills. They are rigid, durable and pretty efficient depending on size and wattage etc.  Poly-crystalline panels are less efficient than mono ones and seem to gain little favour from any reviewers I could find.

Think about your practical needs when deciding what panels to go for. When will you use them most, what kind of climate will you be operating in, will they need to be waterproof, how cloudy will it get on your trips, what weight are they, how long are they?

When looking at folding solar panel chargers, look carefully at the number of USB ports they have and what the amperage is of each port. If you are charging cameras which require a wall charger for example, make sure the panel has an adapter or that you can fit one. Anything requiring a 12v cigarette charging port will not work with most of the panels I looked at without some major modification and addition of regulators or inverters etc.

Built in chargers with solar panels seemed to fail to live up to reviewers’ expectations. The phrase ‘Jack of all trades – master of none’ was repeated on many tech review sites.  On the other hand, separate folding panel packs that could charge a portable power bank – seemed to be a very popular choice for extended trips. If you are looking at the integrated panel and battery system, go for ones with 2-amp ports. These devices do have an advantage in that you can leave them for hours and just periodically adjust them for best angle with sun. You plug in your device that needs charging at night. However, remember that many reviewers found them to be ‘master of none’ – the panels being too small to charge the battery in a reasonable amount of time. In some tests, some integrated units took over 40 hrs of sunlight to fully charge the battery pack.

Remember to think about ease of use. If buying a folding panel pack look for auto restart technology i.e. the panel doesn’t shut off or stop the charging of an attached device if a cloud passes overhead. Avoid anything which requires complicated set ups with excessive numbers of adapters and cables.  Think through your needs carefully and match the panel to your devices regarding watts, amperage etc.  Longer cables are an advantage as it means you can keep the device being charged in a dry bag or rucksack pocket. Waterproofness is a good thing!

Weight wise, as touched on above, the lighter the better so check the combined weight of panel and accessories, not just the panel itself. And remember weight is a compromise because lightness comes at the expense of durability in many instances.

Portability is an important consideration. Folding panel packs which have a stash pocket are good because the charging device is held securely and protected at the same time. Does it have hanging grommets? What is its total length – will it fit across your thwart, rucksack, saddle bags? Does the panel have a fold out stand so it can be propped up off the ground as well?

Finally, check what accessories you need to charge all your electronics and then check compatibility with your choice of folding solar panels.

The solar charger vs external battery dilemma

iMuto 20000mAh compact portable power bank

Most reviewers seemed to like this separate panel and external battery combination - charging the battery at home and then topping it up with the panel every so often. Most external batteries will charge a smart phone 4 or 5 times. Power banks store power, operate at any time, are less bulky, less expensive and lighter that integrated systems and are great for shorter trips away. Power hungry devices such as tablets and high-end smart phones require better quality power banks though. Reviewers teamed the power banks with a folding solar panel pack where they were going off grid for four or more days.

Value for money

One test site had a nice way of working out value for money by looking at price per watt. Divide the price of the chosen panels by their wattage. £10 – 15 per watt they considered good value. £20+ they regarded as expensive unless it came with lots of valuable accessories.

So with all this in mind - what am I looking at?

Well my requirements are fairly simple. I want to be able to charge on the go -  1 android phone, 12 GoPro batteries, 4 camera batteries, occasionally an android tablet, at various times 4 external power banks of varying capacities and of course, my VHF radio. I want a system that is multipurpose - so covers my cycling, camping, canoeing, off grid caravanning and trekking as well. The solar panel component is critical to the whole system - giving me the ability to plug phones and tablets in to it directly for charging or for it to charge up my external power banks. On short trips the panels and a small external battery pack will be the main items taken. I never take a laptop with me when I travel, just the tablet.  And that's it - simplicity, flexibility, portability and efficiency. 

So, I am investigating these three - the first two come up regularly in top ten reviews on gear and tech reviewing websites.



As for battery power banks - still looking! And no - I haven't ruled out just going for a 12v system on Arwen instead. Somewhat torn - there are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches!

Other posts about charging electronics on small boats are found here:

Monday, 3 June 2019

Charging electronics in small boats whilst dinghy cruising

Thoughts about solar power-banks and charging VHF radios

If you read the first blog post in this series on electronics in small boats,

you will know that I am going on some extended camp cruising trips this summer and so have been considering how to charge all my electronics whilst away. I’m also also giving thoughts to installing an electronic bilge pump as well.

One of the three options I have been considering is this one:

1.       A portable bilge pump box with small 12v Yuasa battery and then some solar powered portable power banks which I can then use for trekking, land-based camping and cycling as well. The advantages are portability and multi -use and I would have power-banks that could be recharged or topped up by solar energy each day.

I had started to look at combined solar panel/power-bank combinations. Expenditure is a major consideration now that I have retired. No income is coming in any more so spending on Arwen is now severely curtailed. Some quick research showed up this type of combined unit:

Knowing nothing about electronics whatsoever and being frank, rather a slow learner, I went to the various small boat FaceBook forums for help and advice. The issue isn’t that such a piece of equipment can’t power android tablet, phone and assorted camera batteries for GoPro and DSLR’s. It will with no problem. The fly in the ointment is charging my ICOM M23 handheld VHF which runs off a normal wall charger. It isn’t a USB charged radio although I have various kits that can assemble on the end of a USB cable to give me the correct fitting for the radio.

In all, thirty or so people took the time and effort to give the issue some consideration and I am grateful to them all. Thoughts were mixed.

Some people felt it could be done

“There are packs around with multiple outputs, you just need to match the numbers on the normal charger”.

“Yes, you can but you need to have a power bank that has the same amperage and voltage as your radio recharger”.

Someone suggested investigating ‘sunpower flexible solar panels’ and some people said:

“I looked up the specs of your radio for you and although the battery pack is 3.7 volts the charger is 6 volts. The solar power pack will only provide 5 volts per USB spec. I would suggest contacting ICOM and asking them if they have a USB charger cable arrangement which would work”.

(I did contact ICOM and they replied – more on that at the end)
Another intriguing comment worth investigating was this one:

“If you're not afraid of a little soldering, you can get USB -->12V step up converters that would then work with the lighter cable”.  

I like this idea but what I’m not sure about is whether such a thing would then work with the solar panel powerbank I mentioned.  
You can actually buy something like that:

One forum member said

“You need 12V to charge your radio. A USB charger is only 5V, so that one won't do it. You *can* buy an adapter that will convert USB to a 12v socket, and then another that will take the 12v to charge the radio, but I don't know if the USB-12v adapters put out enough wattage”.

So, if you are reading this and you understand the physics, please dear reader, help me out – would the above work with the solar power-bank I am thinking of getting – to recharge up my ICOM M23? My M23 wall charger plug charger says input 100-240v50/60 hz 0.16A  and output 6.0v  0.5A. if that helps!

Another train of thought was this one:

"Hmmm. The standard charger for this radio is 6v, 500ma. I give it a better than 50% chance that if you:
1: Cut off a USB plug from something.
2: Cut off the DC plug that fits the radio from the charger (or, far better, buy another one...)
3: Attach the above 2 bits together.
Then it's possible the radio wants the full 6v to charge but I doubt it; the USB port will kick out a bit over 5v (5.2 is common) at a few hundred ma which is probably enough for the job".

Finally, before moving on, one or two people suggested I just give it a go and charge it off a power-bank and see what happens. As long as the power bank was supplying 5v output, people felt that the charge controller in the radio would be probably pretty flexible and so would charge the 3.7v battery, only more slowly. General consensus was that the worst that would happen is that the radio just wouldn’t charge but it would be unlikely to have been damaged in anyway.

There were those who said no it wouldn’t work.

“No. That panel is specifically for cell phones and other devices that use a USB charger.  I am not familiar with the M23, but most handhelds need more than 5 volts”.

“We use this model for iPads and iPhones and it works very well.  Won't charge our radio as it has no usb slot”.

Much mention was made of alternative strategies

·        the new ICOM M25 which charges by USB  - a nod to the fact that it can be done but perhaps not specifically with the M23.

·        building my own adapter using the M23 cradle – which seems a good idea but I have no knowledge of how and I’m still not sure about whether it would work anyway as I feel that the issue here is tied up with watts, amps, output and voltages. My M23 wall charger plug charger says input 100-240v50/60 hz 0.16A  and output 6.0v  0.5A. So, I guess that is what I am looking for on any portable power-bank? I have no idea, really, it’s so sad. Physics at school bypassed me somehow!

·        One suggested alternative was by far the easiest and cheapest. If I am going for no more than a week maximum – buy three spare radio batteries (BP-266) and charge them all up before the trip. Replace the batteries as and when. The M23 doesn’t have an accessory tray for taking AA batteries, sadly. This option would cost around £50. A linked suggestion was to backtrack the 3.7v BP-266 battery type and see if anyone manufactured a USB charger cradle for it. (Great idea, been looking, so far no luck).

The most popular reply – get yourself a 12v system

The most popular reply essentially was – ‘get yourself a 12v system on the boat and use solar panels to top up the battery’. I will do a more detailed blog post on this next week but in essence – here were some of the points made.

“If you have room for it, your best bet is a few large batteries setup as a power cell, use a solar panel to charge those and then power your devices from the battery cell”.

Which is helpful but leaves me with questions – like ‘HOW DO YOU DO THIS?  HOW DO YOU ACTUALLY SET THIS UP?’  I am a visual learner – I need to see it!!

So, I can get an appropriate cable to charge the radio and then using cigarette lighter sockets and chargers, do it that way. This would be all contained in a plywood box arrangement. But then, sadly that puts pay to one of my aims which was to try and make things work across the range of my interests – portable power for climbing, cycling, off grid caravanning, canoeing and camping.

“I use a solar panel on a 12V battery and then use an inverter to use the regular charger that comes with the handheld.  It works perfectly”.

“That’s my system too. A small, 85 ah deep cycle battery powering a 300watt inverter plus a few other bits and pieces. I've two 10 watt panels plus charge it before leaving home and have never managed to run it flat so far” 

OK – but how big is all this, how do you set it up, what does it look like, what are the rough costs? I’m not being lazy and will investigate it all thoroughly – I just don’t understand the basics of electronics – nothing – nada – no idea!

“You could probably eliminate the 12V battery if you used a "car charger" for the ICOM and a controller on a simple "12V" solar panel. In fact, I have a 60W folding panel that has a 12VDC socket - that would probably work fine – this one below -
Now this is a lovely bit of kit and meets my multi use and portability criteria but sadly is beyond my budget plans – pity!

And finally, what did ICOM have to say on the matter?
“Hi Steve,
I'm afraid the IC-M23 does not support USB charging, you would need a CIGAR.003 cigar lead plugged into a 12v supply to charge the IC-M23.
The USB charger blocks you list would work with the IC-M25 as this model does support USB charging”.


How confused am I feeling?

My grateful thanks to everyone for their thoughts. Greatly appreciated and sorry I am such a ‘electronics numpty’. I will try and process what you have said and investigate the portability power banks a little more before abandoning the idea in favour of a 12v system on the boat. However, if any of you have cracked the charging radio conundrum using solar power-banks, please, please do let me know what you have done……in words of one syllable if you can – so I can understand something 😊

Sunday, 2 June 2019

charging electronic devices on small boats when dinghy cruising

Electronics on board Arwen

With the prospect of doing more coastal voyaging this season I have been giving consideration to bilge pumps and to electronics to keep devices fully charged on extended trips aboard Arwen.

My current bilge pump set up, for want of a better description is:
·        A manual kayak style bailer pump
·        One large stout bucket
·        A small hand bailer for dregs on the floor

Thus far this set up has served me well. However, I have never had to shift water out of the cockpit after a capsize in an emergency using these items. When it rains, I have to regularly heave to so I can pump out the water runoff from the sails which gathers in the cockpit.  Very frustrating if sailing long distances or in confined estuaries and river channels. I have considered mounting the manual pump in some fashion so that it is rigidly held in place, pumps out into the centreboard case opening and can be used whilst still sailing. However, it is fairly tall and gets in the way and the only really good place to mount it is next to the centreboard case in front of the front thwart bulkhead, where it will stop me placing galley boxes in the future – so that seems a non-starter really.
I am, however, going to butcher a plastic petrol jerry can to make  larger handled bailer. 

Electronic wise, I have the following - some of which need regularly charging on camping voyages:
·        VHF handheld radio – x 2 – one is batteries (AA) and one needs charging
·        One handheld battery based etrex gps unit
·        One mobile phone with Navionics charts – needs regular charging especially if using Navionics charts and GPS – almost need to have it permanently attached to a battery charger
·        Three GoPros  - and around 14 batteries between them
·        Two cameras – with six batteries between them
·        One anchor light that runs off D cell batteries

For charging batteries, at the moment I carry
·        One 10,000 mAh portable power bank – non waterproof
·        One Power-Monkey extreme solar power bank – 20,000mAh - waterproof
·        Spare AA and D cell batteries

I can normally get by with these on a three-day trip and between them I can get around three charges of my mobile phone and a complete charge or two on the camera batteries before the portable banks need recharging. I can even charge my VHF with a push but it is slow going.

So, what is my problem? What would I like to set up on Arwen?
I think there are three possible options here.
1.       A portable bilge pump box and then some solar powered battery banks which I can then use for trekking, land-based camping and cycling as well – the advantages are portability and multi -use; the disadvantage are they would require solar charging which takes 25 – 35 hrs per pack.

2.       Install separate bilge whale pumps and then have portable solar banks as described above – cost is an issue I guess on this one

3.       Have a 12v battery system which powers an electric pump and then charges everything I need whilst sailing and overnight – not multi-use friendly that’s for sure but probably same cost as other options above.

Bilge pump – well if I go electric - I think I need an electric bilge pump that can work after a capsize and be switched on and off or left on permanently when the boat is on the drive – using a float switch to trigger it to pump out rainwater that gets through the boat cover and gathers in front of the round hatches on the vertical front thwart bulkhead. The number of times the water has built up and then slowly leaked through the hatches into the lockers! Even replacing tarpaulins, placing them on frames etc has not prevented water ingress. Arwen lives on a steeply sloping drive and winter bilge water is a fact of life. A battery powered pump with float switch seems sensible for storage on the drive and for pumping out rainwater on a trip or after a capsize. I quite like the idea of a sealed portable box with the pump connected to it which can be placed in different parts of the boat as well. I have seen some kayaks use such approaches.

I could install a proper manual whale pump but location is an issue. Some people have installed one either side of their boat in easy reach when sat sailing. Sadly, that is not an option in Arwen as they would have to be mounted where the galley boxes currently go and cost is also a consideration.

With longer sailing trips on the horizon, some sort of larger capacity battery, stored in a waterproof, easily removable box - with a simple portable solar panel for topping off the charge – capable of charging all my electronics, an anchor light and the bilge pump seems to be another possible sensible way forward. I suppose future proofing it as well is an important consideration – I may at some stage take the plunge and buy a chart plotter and echo sounder in one and therefore need to fit a transducer as well. My rudimentary, initial thinking about this option is that I would keep everything in a plywood box with tight fitting neoprene gaskets and lid. I have a spare food provisions galley box that would do it. Things could charge in it during the day and overnight and a solar panel would then top up the battery during the day. But that is my initial idea knowing nothing whatsoever about how this would all work.

Which brings me neatly to my problem. I know nothing about electronics whatsoever. So even this simple set up is going to tax my levels of comprehension. In a follow up blog next week, I will dive a little deeper into each of the three options. If anyone has any ideas, thoughts about the three options in the meantime – I am really open to and would welcome further help and support.