We are now officially Boondock-ready! After installing new batteries, a battery monitor and a solar charge controller, it was time for the final steps — adding solar panels and an inverter. The solar panels proved to be the more involved installation. We had learned, from our experience with solar panels on a boat, that the panels are MUCH more efficient when angled directly toward the sun (as opposed to just lying flat). On the boat we had an articulating arch built that allowed the panels to tilt 45˚ in two directions. And, because we were close to the Equator and the tradewinds kept the boat pointing either East or West, it was easy to follow the sun during the day by tilting the panels. With the RV, we decided to build aluminum tilting brackets that allow that same 45˚ tilt. We’ll have to park the RV in a way that allows pointing the panels in the general direction of the sun but, once situated, the tilting mechanism should make the panels much more efficient.
Solar panels in flat position,
and in tilted position.
We now have 4 165-watt panels, giving us a total of 660 watts of power — enough to power all of our onboard electrical equipment when we’re not connected to shore power (which will be most of the time).
The final piece of the solar upgrade project was the addition of a 2000-watt pure sine inverter. An inverter is a device that converts 12 volt DC power into 110 volt AC power, thus allowing devices like microwave ovens and TVs to run off our battery system.
We ran some initial testing and everything seems to work well! We unplugged the RV from our 110 volt shore power, turned on the panels and the inverter and, voilà, we had power to the microwave, TV, lighting, computers and music recording equipment.
Can’t wait to get out there and start using this stuff!
The final (?) battery compartment wiring.
Well, we thought it would never happen. But after removing a tree, re-grading the driveway, adding new gravel and repairing The Dude, we finally ventured out on our first RV trip. A whopping 1 hour away to Fort Flagler State Park on Marrowstone Island (just a long stone’s throw from Port Townsend). It turns out that getting out of our driveway was no big deal and the drive to Fort Flagler was uneventful. We had booked a “pull-through” site (meaning that we didn’t have to back in) and were able to park and set up everything with no problems.
The campsites at Fort Flager are situated right above a long beach that, at low tide, presents the happy camper with wonderful opportunities for beach-walking. What we didn’t know was that from April 16 to May 16, kelp harvesting season was open! That meant that, by about 1 hour before low tide, HUNDREDS of people would arrive to gather their alloted 10lbs/person/day bounty of seaweed. It was quite fun watching the activities:
While Thursday’s weather was relatively, nice and Friday’s was absolutely BEAUTIFUL, Saturday and Sunday got pretty windy.
Did we mention that it was WINDY?
Afternoons were spent beach-walking and sitting by the campfire. Oh, and a bunch of reading and napping was also accomplished.
Hunting for beach glass.
We love us some campfire!
Saturday was Duwayne and Darla Jean’s 45th (!) wedding anniversary, so we drove into Port Hadlock for a tasty dinner at Scampi and Halibut. On Sunday, we drove home and, after spending about 30 minutes practicing backing the rig at a local gravel parking lot, we somehow managed to re-park Gumbo in the driveway without breaking the 5th-wheel, truck or HOUSE! All-in-all, a great first trip!
As we mentioned in an earlier post, Duwayne and Darla Jean don’t plan on spending much time in RV parks or campgrounds. Instead, they hope to park their rig on government land and other off-grid sites. This means that, for the most part, they won’t be plugged into 110 volt power. And THAT means that running the onboard furnace (which uses a TON of electric power to force the propane-generated heat throughout the rig) will not be an option. So, a separate Blue Flame ventless 20,000 btu propane heater has been added to the mix.
The new heater.
Of course, this meant MANY trips to the hardware store to get the correct fittings to enable the installation of a propane line T-ed into the exisitng stove/refrigerator line. After ordering far too many incorrect parts online we finally got this heater to plug into a quick-release adapter that’s located in a nice central location so that we can point the heater either toward the seating area or back toward the sleeping area.
Now if we could only figure out how to run air-conditioning off of solar panels!
As you may remember from an earlier post, Duwayne miscalculated when he measured the driveway before bringing Gumbo home from California. It seems that there was a mighty cedar tree preventing the proper backing of The Dude — meaning that the fifth wheel ended up being parked at an odd angle and, even more troubling, it was VERY difficult to hitch the truck to the trailer (due to the odd angles of the driveway surface).
The driveway before re-grading. The missing cedar used to be where the sand and bark is on the left.
So, TWO things happened. First, the cedar was taken down and the stump was ground down to about 10 inches below grade. Then, last week, we had the driveway re-graded and graveled.
Unloading the tractor on the street.
We hired Dennis Komer Excavating to do the work. Dennis is a VERY knowledgeable and helpful guy, who gave Duwayne some great pointers on how to back a fifth wheel.
First, he graded near where the cedar had been.
Then he had gravel delivered.
And finally, he spread out the new gravel.
And, voila!, our driveway is “relatively” level (at the top, where the RV resides). As Dennis says, we’re trying to do something that our lot is not really set up for. So, the big test will be next month, when we take Gumbo for her maiden voyage. We’ll either spend a few days up at Fort Flagler, near Port Townsend, or those SAME few days parked halfway in our driveway and halfway in the street. We’ll keep you posted.
Even though Darla Jean and Duwayne plan on spending most of their RV time “boondocking” (living off the grid on free public land), that doesn’t mean they don’t want to watch TV! A day without House Hunters, Love It or List It and Flip or Flop would be like a day without beer. And let’s not even talk about Chopped, Master Chef and Beat Bobby Flay!
So, an adequate TV system is a requirement. When we purchased Gumbo, it came with a big ol’ CRT television that not only weighed close to 75lbs, but appeared to have had its cabinet built specifically for that TV. Since newer (and much lighter) flat screen TVs have a different aspect ratio than the old ones, a new TV would not fit the desired cabinet location.
We ended up buying a 32″ flat screen that was a little wider than the cabinet but big enough to view nicely from across the room where our recliners are. This meant fabricating a mounting system that allowed us to store the TV (when traveling) in a way that didn’t obstruct our movement through the rig and keeping it securely stowed. Luckily, our friend Beau came up with the idea of a pivoting mount that allowed us to deploy the TV in a landscape position (for viewing) and a portrait position (for travelling).
And so, here it is:
This is how the TV looks when deployed for viewing.
We can then rotate it . . .
and stow it with Velcro straps when traveling.
Pretty damn cool! The next step is to purchase a satellite antenna and a DishTV account for remote viewing. Not ONE Seahawks game will be missed!
Duwayne and Darla Jean don’t like RV parks.
There: we said it! The idea of parking Gumbo amidst a crowd of other RVs and listening to what goes on amongst a crow of RVs is not what drove us to buy a 5th wheel. What appeals to us is traveling the back roads (and front roads) of the U.S., Canada and Mexico and parking our RV in out-of-the-way places. Places where we can enjoy the peace and quiet of nature and where Princess can poop wherever she damn well wants to!
But RV parks DO offer one convenience that we like: electricity. RVs need electricity to power their appliances and for charging their batteries. So, if you want to live off the grid, that means the addition of alternative energy systems – in our case: a large battery bank, solar panels, a solar charge controller and an inverter.
The first thing we did in our energy upgrade was to replace the small batteries that came with our rig with 4 6-volt deep cycle batteries.
The battery that came with Gumbo
The new big-uns.
The next thing we did was to add a digital battery monitor and a solar charge controller. This stuff allows us to know EXACTLY the state of our battery bank and to actively control how that battery bank will be charged with the solar panels.
Battery monitor (upper left), charge controller (right).
Next month its time to start installing the panels. Woohoo!!!
The Dude & Gumbo TRYING to fit in our driveway.
Duwayne THOUGHT he had it all figured out before purchasing the fifth wheel. He carefully measured the driveway and stepped off the proposed route for backing Gumbo into her new summer home. He figured he could pull all the way into the driveway, with the truck almost hitting the carport, and then back the fifth wheel into the side driveway.
Much to his surprise, when he and his buddy Beau, arrived with the fifth wheel, the proposed turn into the side driveway was prevented by the location of a rather large cedar tree. After a couple hours of jockeying the rig around, we were finally able to get Gumbo into the side driveway. But now we’re worried that we can’t get it OUT!
So, we had the big ol’ cedar taken down (which had the added benefit of giving us 2 cords of firewood!) and now we’re awaiting warmer/drier weather so that we can have our entire driveway re-graded and gravelled. Otherwise, our proposed winter travel may only be 50 feet from our front door!