Taking advantage of the sunshine

We didn’t take into account the full advantages of solar panels when we were designing Firecrest so we didn’t have them incorporated into the build. However Eric did foresee that we might retro fit them so we always had that option available. Last April, we stuck 4 flexible panels to the roof. Here’s what I wrote at the time

Being boaters, cruising took priority. Then a certain amount of fear and trepidation set in as Eric needed to drill holes in the roof in order to wire them in. Consequently that didn’t get done until we were laid up in Liverpool. We decided the best option to get the wires to the battery management system would be through ports drilled either side of the bathroom pancake vent.

Drilling holes in the roof for the solar panel wires

With the wiring channelled out of sight, behind the calorifior and through the dinette seating to the controller under the dinette.

It’s not a difficult job, but clearing up afterwards is.

Ironically as shorepower was included in our mooring fee we didn’t reap the benefit from solar until we started cruising in late June. Eric has promised me and those interested that one day he will share all the facts and figures. Photonic Universe has been incredibly helpful advising and supplying our panels so last month we opted to add a fifth panel.
As all continual cruisers know getting deliveries to a boat needs a little creative thinking and frequently involves helpful family. This time it was my mum’s turn in their camper van to kindly provide an address and onward transport. The huge packaging was manhandled onto the boat and all bode well for us to install a few days later while moored at Appley bridge.

Not sure where we will sleep tonight


The sun was shining, the towpath was wide and our enthusiasm at its peak. We unwrapped our parcel and to our dismay discovered the panel was cracked. And it was a Sunday, no way to contact the company for another 24 hours. This was so frustrating, not so much the delay in fitting a new panel, but knowing we were well over the deadline for reporting a damaged in transit parcel, and when and where we would could organise a replacement.

Only a small crack, but it would seriously undermine the efficiency and might cause delamination

As we have already said Photonics universe is a great company, and after a few photos and a bit of forward planning we realised the advantage of “the closed down canalside pub” … They still have good mooring, postcodes and car parks. Dover Lock Inn, is sadly one of those pubs, and Photonics pulled enough strings to organise both a pick up and drop off on the same day. This time the panel was inspected instantly and found to be in good working order

Big panels need big lorries

Although we had found a more convenient place to store this large panel, the weather was in our favour to stick it onto the roof the next day. We had opted to go for one larger panel rather than a further two more identical ones. The roof and edges of the panel had protective masking tape applied to help us stick it in place accurately.

Careful positioning and marking out.

Although the panel isn’t too heavy, it’s large and flexible so very vulnerable to being damaged. We practiced our manoeuvres several times before Eric was allowed anywhere near the glue. He uses CT1, which although it’s £10 a tube, (and we used 4) it’s waterproof, flexible and incredibly strong.

There’s no way this panel will unstick

Together, we finally lowered the new panel into place, but you’ll have to take my word for that cause I couldn’t take photos at the same time. We spent a lot of time carefully easing out any air gaps and weighting it down with our 20kg boat ballast weights

Phew. We got that bit right

All in all a very satisfying days work. Now I just have to find a CRT rubbish point where I can get rid of a colossal bag of card board. Cause right now it’s living in our shower.

Wonder where the next CRT rubbish bins are….and if they have space for this lot.

Did I say getting rid of the rubbish was all that was left to do. Come back in 12 months to see if this new panel is wired in cause right now it’s just looking pretty and not earning it’s keep.

• Some quick facts.
• Peak power: 350W
• Maximum power voltage: 39.1V
• Maximum power current: 8.7A
• Open circuit voltage: 47.7V
• Short circuit current: 9.0A
• Dimensions: 2024 x 99a1 x 2 mm
• Weight: 6.82 kg

Adding Solar Panels

(Technical data to be written by Eric later) We’ve long believed that solar panels are a good idea for narrowboats. But the complexity of adding them to an all electric boat the way that Eric wanted seemed a step too far for our builder. For the sake our our sanity we didn’t peruse it initially, but during our week at Beeston things fell into place for us to rectify this compromise.

Eric had been researching panels on and off for several months. And the panels that fitted our bill came from Photonic Universe, a company in Orpington, Kent. We had a family event to attend in Sussex, so hired a car large enough to take advantage of close proximity and transport 4 panels back to Firecrest.

You’d think it was Christmas morning when Eric unpacked the boxes on our bed.

Inspecting the goods

My concern was, “where the heck are we going to store these until they are fitted” but Eric’s enthusiasm was such, that it wasn’t much of an issue. We were hoping for cool overcast dry weather and that’s what we got the very next day, so it was out onto the bank to unpack properly

Unpacking on the bank

First we needed to check which way we were going to position the panels. Bearing in mind that retro fitting panels means working around pancake vents, centre ropes and dog boxes, we had a lot to consider. Our choices were horizontal across the width of Firecrest or lengthwise, so we played around also taking into consideration the need to wire them into the boats electrics.

Looking at different options

We opted for length ways down the boat, 2 in front and 2 behind the pancakes, rather than width ways across the boat.

Decision made, pairs of panels lengthwise

First job though, was to wash the roof thoroughly. We don’t call him Flash Gordon for nothing.

Washing the roof

Then Eric used masking tape to mark out the chosen positions, and to protect the roof from any excess glue squelching out. He used CT1 glue as its both waterproof and flexible as well as being virtually impossible to unstick.

Glue on the panels

We worked as a team lifting each panel into place.

The point of no return, lowering the panel into place

We smoothed the panels down and held them in place with our ballast weights whilst the glue cured.

Smoothing and weighting the panels in place

Stopping for a cuppa after each one, and then completing second pair the next day.

Three down one to go

After a week at Beeston we were itching to move on, so we cruised the 5 miles along the Beeston Cut onto the River Trent outside the County Hall. Here Eric was able to add a bead of glue to mastic the edges of the panels.

Applying mastic

All four panels are now safely in position, awaiting the far more complex stage of the project. Wiring in and connecting them to our existing system.

Looking towards Trent Bridge

And just before anyone comments on the ropes across the panels in our header photo, we know this will reduce our output, generally speaking we will only have one centre rope and it fits between the panels. We have a secondary extra long rope available for deep river locks.