Saving Diesel and Dollars
For those on a budget, installing a wind generator can help strike the balance between green technology and greenbacks. "Hands-On Sailor" from our November 2010 issue
With both diesel and propane bills reduced by 50 percent, the wind generator paid for itself in a year. However, in the windiest conditions, the wind generator proved itself to be useless. During gales, we found ourselves once again saddled with dark nights and day-old bread. The instruction manual does warn that this is likely: “In high winds, the Windcharger’s built-in thermostat may operate to prevent the generator from overheating. In this mode, the output will cease, and the turbine will temporarily speed up until such time as the lower-level temperature is reached.”
“Speed up” is an inadequate way to describe a noise that begins with a long, drawn-out, high-pitched whheeeee! followed by a deeper, booming vrruumm! as the unit turns downwind. The first time it happened, in the pitch dark, of course, I nearly had a heart attack. I thought that a vital component had come undone, and with visions of the blades turning into a deadly Frisbee, I cowered below. The manual goes on to say that “this cutting out may be seen to cycle in prolonged high winds, particularly in high ambient temperatures.” For this, read: “You’ll experience heart palpitations in winds above 30 knots and in all temperatures.” However, we can get used to anything, in time, and pretty soon we were laying wagers with each other as to when our wailing banshee would arrive.
This section of the manual concludes with some sage advice: “If safely accessible, you may prefer to temporarily secure the turbine.” Yeah, right! As per the manual again: “The wind generator should be mounted in a safe position, a minimum of 2.3 meters (7 feet 6 inches) above the deck.” Climbing the stern pulpit and lassoing this whirling dervish in 30 knots of breeze and an ocean swell wouldn’t be something for which I’d volunteer.
When we arrived in Australia, our wind generator, we discovered, had one last unexpected benefit to bestow on us. At the weekly barbie organized by the community of liveaboard cruisers, Peter found himself the star attraction: All the sailors kept asking him to do his spirited imitation of our Windcharger, complete with every whheeeee! and booming vrruumm! and a blur of waving-arm spinning blades.
The reality is this: While wind generators can indeed be entertaining, they’re also economical and environmentally friendly, and no serious cruiser should be without one.
After 18 years and 180,000 miles of ocean cruising, Geraldine Foley and Peter Maxwell sold Mithril. Now they’re back on the water aboard a 32-foot fiberglass river cruiser, and this year they explored 800 miles (with 750 manually operated locks) of the English canal system.