Choosing a wind generator: power projects aboard

Increasing energy produced from wind and sun are part of our ongoing power projects on Totem. Silentwind was a clear standout from the available options, with the two key benefits we wanted: more power, and QUIET. The cool blue blades? Bonus. But let me back up a little… there’s more to the story.

When we purchased Totem in 2007, there were 300 watts of solar panels installed on an arch at the transom. During our early cruising days In Pacific Mexico, we had fewer than five days of rain over nearly a year and a half—the perfect place for solar! After a year, we wanted to boost our available power (this, along with four-foot-itis, is a chronic disease among cruisers…). Panels were increasingly affordable, so naturally, after a year in Mexico, we added a wind turbine.

Huh?

Sure, there was a lot of sun, but there was also a lot of wind in the daily thermals. Anchored in Banderas Bay, they blew with clockwork like consistency. We often had breezes at night, too: hours you can’t harness the sun. Besides, we liked the idea of diversifying our power sources.

Dawn- Bahia de los Angeles
big winds hid behind the mountains in the Sea of Cortez


This wasn’t just about Mexico. Despite the glorious cruising photos of blue skies and stunning weather, lower latitudes ahead would also bring shorter days, an increase in cloudy days, and trade winds. With less sun and more wind, complementing our solar panels with wind power made a lot of sense. Solar panels may look cheaper for amp at the outset, but it’s no good at all unless you have sun.

Sure enough, as we’ve added up months and miles closer to the equator, that’s pretty much how it’s panned out. Sitting in an atoll with the trades blowing through, we’d listen to the turbine putting power in the bank all night.

Pepe the generator
This generator earned a name: Pepe. Baja, Mexico

I’ll emphasize: we’d listen to the turbine. The downside of our initial wind gen was the noise. For that first turbine we had chosen an Air Breeze for value, and the fact that it would begin supplying power at lower speeds. Unfortunately, it provided that power with the kind of noise that gives wind turbines a bad name. Noise was worst at lower wind ranges, which meant every time it would spin up or wind down as the breeze fluctuated we (and our neighbors) had to listen to the whining drone. We joked that it was a great alarm for changes in conditions at night, waking us up with any shift in the breeze… but really, there are better ways to do that. Our master cabin is aft, and the turbine was only about four meters overhead. It was also only 200 watts, which didn’t seem like a big deal at the time–but once in the tradewind zones, we jealously eyed the boats with 400 watt models.

Between Mexico and the Marquesas, we burned 36 gallons of diesel. There were hours in the doldrums to get through, but much of this was necessary for charging. Between our watermaker, refrigeration, and autopilot, we had a baseline of need that we didn’t quite meet with the 300 watt solar + 200 watt wind.

Back in 2009, Silentwind didn’t have a wind turbine for the marine market, or I’m sure we’d have given it a close look. They did manufacture turbine blades which could be fit to make other manufacturer’s models quieter, but we weren’t sure it was a necessary cost. Hindsight? Worthwhile. Hind-hindsight? Happier yet with the more powerful 420 watt turbine from Silentwind that’s on Totem right now.

Being able to live off the grid is a pretty great feeling. Solar and wind power working for us, no carbon cost to charge the battery bank for on-board power needs, and the very practical benefit of extending our cruising range. There are corners of the world where it’s hard to source fuel, and these are places we like to be. With the new turbine, we’re putting in more than ever now, we’re doing it without the sharing the whine of a dentist’s drill from our boat with the rest of the anchorage.

Up next: installing the new Silentwind generator.

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11 Responses to Choosing a wind generator: power projects aboard

  1. chris temp May 18, 2014 at 9:55 am #

    I have a Honda 2000 EU 20 i, back up that I use avgas fuel same as chopper fuel, but the Honda has a low speed switch that when there is no big load, it idles down and then when frig or freezer comes in it will pick it up nicely start the frig then goes back to just above idle, now I get 12 hours running on just 3,5 liters of fuel usage, and whats nice is the Honda can run 240 volt and 110 and it also has a nice little 12 or 24 volt charge plug @ 8 amps 12 volt, but I use and external Australian made Dialomatic 30 amp selectable marine charger, where you can dial, not only the amperage you want but also the voltage as many AGM and gel batteries actually have a full float charge of 14.7 volts, and given you only really have just one volt of usable power being from 12 to 13 volts you would be very pleased at the extra long lasting power, taking the bank to 14.7 float voltage will give you, and that also equalize across your whole bank to which is a good thing, I run my genni every month in good weather and every week in bad weather, and the day before I defrost frig and freezers and also plan any sanding or grinding drilling or such work when the genni is due for its run, and they are a very quiet genni very quiet for a 2000 watt capacity and light enough for one hand to carry and surprisingly small for storage,and No you cannot weld using one, but you can use your battery bank for emergency welding of a broken bracket etc etc or 316 stainless steel

    Hope you find my comments usefull

  2. chris temp May 18, 2014 at 10:38 am #

    Another good trick is a PL 30 an Australian made plasmatronics solar controller now these controllers are fully programmable adjustable, and all low voltage and or high voltage thresholds all adjustable to what you need and in among the programs there being some 8 said main windows each having a further 10 parameters within each, but it has a crystal clock and date for when you want things to happen that apart from alert if voltage goes out of your chosen limits, and it has the 14.7 volts float voltage facility where it will allow your solar panels to charge the batteries to that float voltage, and also test your bank for the float voltage attainment and at the same time manage your wind turbine as well, and if all else fails it also has a main engine start up including oil and temperature censers to mange the engine and when the bank comes back up to charge it will shut it all back down, it can also manage your main mast anchored light off on dusk dawn, it will tell you all the voltages obtained and all amps in and out from all sauces including average battery bank stored capacity at any time and records it all on a 30 day clock, it will also manage 3 different battery banks and different types flooded, gel,Agm so it will charge them differently and manage your main engine start battery separately, so even if your main bank is down you still have main engine start fully charged

    Now look I think you could teach it to cook bacon and eggs, but it wont scrub decks, there about 350 bucks Australian, mine is still busy after 25 years of totally trouble free reliable service

    Again hope you find the info to make life on-board easier, did you know, many small dingy outboards have a battery charging plug hidden under the bonnet even on pull start models

  3. chris temp May 18, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

    As to the electric loom in a pull star dingy size out board this is more common than you would think and opens the use of the dingy up to all sorts of possibilities

    With the addition of a small sealed 12 volt motor bike battery fitted, and the addition of some other accessories the dingy can be a very formidable resource, and traveling on the ocean you want to take advantage of every extra resource that you can have, working for your benefit “Right”

    Now with power available in your tender you could fit in a water prof box, an invert-er that can recharge all equipment, using your normal carry round gear like phone,camera, laptop,and there normal chargers, not only, you could also request under the bonnet even on a pull start an old disused mobile phone or new that when the motor is running the phone will call up and give you its position GPS position , very handy when dingy mysteriously go missing, a common problem in some places, then a cdma phone doesn’t need a network to ring a visible phone, with the addition of small antenna on engine cowl communications ship to shore is very possible or use a CB radio even, you could also fit a pin camera in the cowl to see whose in the dingy via the quested phone,

    And I also mention the importance of the boats earthing especially ali masts, if these are not properly earthed and lights and com cables, then electrolysis can eat your mast bound cables from the inside, and sitting in marinas is the worst place for this to occur, and a small portable zinc block on a good cable earthed to the boat dropped over the side while moored (tied up) can stop a lot of electrolysis, especially if your taking on shore power on board

    • Behan Gifford May 23, 2014 at 5:37 pm #

      hi Chris, wow, a great roundup of tips to make life on-board easier! We actually have that same Honda generator: a necessary purchase last year when our old batteries were end-of-life, and before we had improved our ability to generate from sun and wind. Jamie is familiar with charging from a dinghy outboard, although I think we’d need some parts for the setup? It’s a good one to keep in mind. Thanks for taking the time to share so many details!

  4. Greg Davids May 20, 2014 at 10:07 am #

    I am very interested in your choice of wind generator. Had you given any consideration to the D400? That one seems to have a lot of good reviews. What made you choose the Silentwind?

    Greg Davids
    Pura Vida, Hylas 47

    • Behan Gifford May 23, 2014 at 6:21 pm #

      Hi Greg- They have comparable power curves, they’re both quiet. After that, the differences crop up. We liked the charge controller that’s included in the package with Silentwind: we can use it for our solar panels, too. It’s much lighter- the D400 is oddly heavy, which isn’t not safe or necessary. It also has a weird method of shunting extra current that seems inelegant at best, and we puzzled over it on a friend’s boat here. Basically, it goes to a metal plate that takes the heat, so you need a big cage around it to prevent accidental contact- huh? I’ll write more about how Silentwind is working for us soon, but suffice to say we’re very happy with our choice.

  5. sharktank2003 May 21, 2014 at 2:46 am #

    Thanks for the info on the latest and quietest wind turbines available! We are in touch with the Silentwind company and started investigating it for our sailboat! Sounds like a wonderful addition for windy Sea of Cortez when the nightly, non-solar Cormuel winds and elefantes blow thru! Linda and Bill

    • Behan Gifford May 23, 2014 at 6:22 pm #

      That’s great Linda! You’ll have to send us a photo of it up on Tanque de Tiburon when it’s up!

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  7. Olivier Rocher September 6, 2014 at 12:09 am #

    Hi Behan, Jamie,

    I am right now in the process of choosing my wind generator. In regard to the performance and noise, the D400 is surely a leader. However, it is expensive, heavy and I agree that I don’t really like the method for dissipating extra current (especially because on my boat, it will be very difficult to keep the regulator in a well ventilated area). Now that you have some experience with the Silentwind, are you satisfied with the performance: What is the min. wind speed to get it started ? Do you have any measure of out amps at, let’s say, 10 knots,
    15 knots, 20 knots of apparent wind ? Last, but not least question: What about the noise ? Is it really as quiet as the brand name suggests ? Thanks a lot again !!
    Olivier

    • Behan September 6, 2014 at 8:28 am #

      Hi Olivier- we are very happy with Silentwind’s performance! I’ll recommend you to the manufacturer’s spec sheet for performance data- what we see mirrors it closely. And yes, it really is amazing how quiet it is! As for comparison to a D400, we travel in company with a boat that has a D400. We’ve had boats with a D400 right next to us in marinas this year, too. I really don’t think there’s a meaningful difference in the (very, very minimal) level of sound that each produces. I think the biggest differentiator is the charge controller. Silentwind comes with one. D400 doesn’t (there’s an option for one, which is actually an inferior device- it impairs output)- they suggest another one, a much better unit, but it doesn’t come with the turbine. I think you get a great turbine at a better value with Silentwind.

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