Sunday, 25 January 2015

Goodbye Euro – Hello Drachma

Is the Drachma about to reappear?

Greece goes to the polls today and unless there’s an upset akin to yesterday’s FA Cup games then the Syriza party will romp home. They want an end to the austerity measures and a re-negotiation of the bailout terms. Angela Merkel says the terms are not negotiable. Yet again Greece looks set to ditch the Euro and resurrect the Drachma. Where Greece treads today Spain and Italy follow tomorrow. We live in interesting times. Pass the Ouzo, no VAT for cash.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Breeze goes nuclear.

Out in Greece it gets hot and we drink a lot of white wine. White wine has to be cold and than means either a fridge or never being more than a 100 yard dash from an off licence. The fridge wins. But fridges eat power, 24/7. So now you have choices. Option one: run the engine to keep the batteries charged for the fridge. Option two: run the generator to keep the batteries topped up. Option three: switch off the fridge and drink warm white wine. Clearly in a civilized society none of these three options is acceptable although I have lost count of the number of times I’ve consumed warm white wine at BBC receptions – but then I was not paying. No, there has to be a better solution.

The answer, everyone tells me, is nuclear power. Of course I’m not suggesting we install a nuclear power plant on Breeze although I dare say we’d nip along at a brisk and bracing twenty knots plus should the fuel rods get jammed. No the nuclear power plant I have in mind is a safe distance away and is free. Our Sun is a giant nuclear reactor, it’s going to out last me and showers us with free energy. Well, when I say showers us with free energy here in the UK it’s more of a drizzle but down in the Ionian the sun’s rays pour down out of the sky, a torrential deluge of high octane energy just there for the taking.  

You see we are thinking of putting some solar panels on the Breeze. Now if you think solar panels on a roof look hideous just take a peek at the ghastly things on a yacht. Naval architects spend months perfecting the elegant lines of a boat and then along come scaffolders and ruin the whole effect. It’s like pouring vinegar into your eyes and sprinkling salt in for good measure.  

Sun is guaranteed and free
However, if we are to have cold beer, cold wine, cheese without a furry overcoat and fresh milk for the morning cuppa then we need volts to feed the batteries. If you thought opinions vary as to the merits of different sorts of anchor then they are nothing compared to the ‘advice’ you’ll get about solar power. Flexible or solid, wired in series or parallel, tilting or fixed, PWM or MPPT controllers such discussion can keep armchair electricians amused for weeks.

The demand on the fridge can be substantial
What I have discovered, the light I have seen, is that many of these arguments are about tiny details… the second or third decimal points of the arguments not the integers.  

For instance, it’s generally regarded as good practice to have tilting solar panels so you can aim them at the sun. A panel square-on to the nuclear reactor in the sky will yield maximum output. But the sun moves every second of the day and, come to that, of the night as well but we don’t care about that as it’s then shining on someone else.  Now it’s simply not practical to have a solar panel tracking the sun as it sweeps across the sky. Yes I know you can buy kit to do just that but on a boat it would use far more power than the improved orientation would deliver. Also a boat at anchor swings, sometimes quite a bit. Set up your nicely tilting solar panel and before you’ve got back to the cockpit for a well earned G’nT the boat’s moved and up you go to reset it. This continues until the G’nT is warm, you’ve not had a drop to drink and the sun is now so below the yardarm any further adjustment is pointless.

Birthdays are an especially punishing time for the refrigeration plant
So what if you just used fixed panels which did not tilt? What power loss might you expect? Warning, stand well back now for an explosive heresy. A solar panel angle calculator (yes, it’s all there on the web*) reveals that the optimum summer angle for a solar panel in Preveza is 16° to the horizontal. The power output gained compared to a fixed, horizontally mounted, panel is the square root of diddly-squits.  Of course being sailors we love to have everything adjustable, to be able to fine tune everything from the sails to the back-stay tension and solar panels are not exception. But, in reality, playing with tilting solar panels does more for our maritime subconscious than it does for the battery’s health.

Solar panels are marching across our landscape and it seems only a matter of time before the whole of the UK is one giant solar farm with breaks only for the towers of the wind generators. Sadly the march of these wretched eyesores threatens to engulf the sea as well. Maybe there is a market for a small, compact, nuclear power plant after all.  In the meantime I’ve just saved €170 on tilting mounts for the solar panels and that, my friends, translates directly into 85 large bags of ice, 340 cans of tonic or a dozen bottles of gin. Having consumed that lot I won’t be able to see the ugly blighters that power the fridge.