Choosing a wind generator: power projects aboard

17 May

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.


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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This article was syndicated from S/V Totem - a family sailing the world


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