When we bought the boat it already came with 2 Kyocera 135W solar panels mounted on a tilting frame over the dinghy davits. I had wanted to move them over the bimini for the following reasons…
- less weight outboard
- less stress on the davit arms
- with quick release couplings and MC4 connectors for the power supply cables, we would be able to remove and stow the panels more easily if we were caught out in a blow
- would allow us to pivot the soon to be purchased DuoGen3 from air mode to water mode
The image above shows how far aft the panels sat, admittedly in a shade free area of the boat, just an impractical location. The existing bimini frame was made from 1″ stainless tubing and was supported in 4 locations and so was pretty rigid. I didn’t think that the extra weight of the panels (58lb) and supporting tubing would compromise its strength.
My plan was to make a framework that stretched across the width of the boat, sitting just above the bimini and attaching just below the canvas. It would consist of 2 tubes to support the panels and one tube running fore and aft to hold the supporting tubes together. I didn’t have a pipe bender and therefore wanted to get something already shaped correctly if possible. I managed to source a second hand bimini frame set which was 2 sets of 2 bows, in 1″ tubing, from a boaters resale store for under $200. This came with all the stainless fittings attached and so represented a great deal. It was for a boat that was wider than ours and so I would have to cut out some length in the middle of the arches and rejoin the tubing somehow. The same resale shop had a small length of 7/8″ tubing which had an OD which was perfect for the ID of the tubing I was using.
After dissembling the old frame I took one single bow and held it in place where one leg was where I wanted it on the side of the existing bimini frame. I then measured how much extra there was in the bow length to have the far leg in the correct location at the other side of the boat. With this measurement in hand, I then found the middle of the bow span, and cut that much out of the length equidistant from the middle point. I went back to the boat to ensure that the two pieces were the correct length overall. I then slid a stainless tee onto one of the pieces. This would be used to attach the section that ran fore and aft to hold the supports together. I cut a 6″ section of the 7/8″ tubing and inserted it into one of the 2 sections. For inserted read… “liberal use of a hammer and propane torch to expand the 1″ tubing” 🙂
I slid the tee over the join to hide it and then cut the legs so that the bow would be at the right height over the bimini canvas. One of the tricky things to do was to get the jaw slide that would support the end of the bow in place on the existing frame. I didn’t want to make any adjustments to the bimini frame as the bimini canvas had been cut to fit and so any changes would either cause wrinkles or worse. I therefore detached the bottom of the existing frame from the stern rail and slipped on a jaw slide. After reattaching the frame, I disconnected the first jaw slide moved it up 3 inched and replaced it with the one I just slipped on. I then moved onto the next slide up the support and repeated the process until all were done. A picture is worth a thousand words so the red boxes show what had to be swapped out
With that done on both sides, I attached a top cap on the legs of the bow and fixed it in place. This whole process was repeated for the second bow. The only difference was that I could not find a second hand tee for the second bow to hide the join in the bow and fix both bows together. I had to settle for a 4 way tee (more on that later). I then cut a straight length from the third bow and used it to span the distance between both bows i.e. from tee to shining tee. Below is a couple of shots showing the structure.
Once that was done I tested the new section of frame for strength. It was OK, but not great, as the only points that the new section of frame was attached at were 4 end caps that had a little play. I wanted to attach the new section to another place on the old section of frame to add rigidity. The only other place that the frame was visible was where the bimini was zippered to allow it to be fitted around the backstays. These 2 zippers went directly aft from the backstays and at their ends was a small clear area of the old frame. I bought 2 new tees and 2 split jaw ends. I disassembled the rear bow and split it at the join to allow me to slide on the 2 tees. The split jaw slides were then fitted over the old frame bow at the point where the zippers ended. The tees and slides were joined by 2 small sections of tubing.
Once everything was tightened back up the difference in stability was considerable.
I had to rework the bimini canvas in that area a little to make room for the fittings. 1 hour with a hot knife, scissors and our Sailrite sewing machine and it was all done.
I bought 8 lighting fixtures to act as the quick release for the panels and fitted the MC4 connectors to wire them all together. A word to the wise, buy high quality MC4 connectors as they are not all created equal. I got mine here
The final picture above shows the 4 way tee that I had fitted for the aft bow. As I had lots of stainless tubing left over from the 2 bows that I had not used, I made a flag pole for the fourth hole of the tee. I drilled through from top to bottom so that I could insert a fastpin to hold the pole in place when mounted. I used a section of the bow that was at the corner so that the pole curves upwards by about 20 degrees at the start and then fitted a top cap and jaw slide to hold the ends of the hoist on the flag.
Now we have solar power back and one more project Post-it moved off the table!