Well Marina di Ragusa really is such a lovely place, although by day 5 we were feeling like this could be the Hotel California of marinas. It’s the longest time we have spent in once place since we left La Rochelle. It has a great reputation as a marina to leave your boat in winter, and people even stay aboard all winter before heading off cruising again in summer. Indeed many people come back year after year or use it as their home base. Having rarely used marinas and certainly not stayed in one for longer than 3 nights, this is our first experience of this kind of community and it really has been special to be included in the family for the relatively short time we have been here – a big thanks for the warm welcome. Coincidentally a former colleague of the chap who bought Too Up, our Sydney charter business, is wintering here so we were able to meet up for a few drinks. There are about 16 kids of varying ages living here this year, mostly being home schooled but a couple are going to local schools. Halloween was a stormy night, however boats with their anchor lights on could be relied upon to welcome trick or treaters! Social calendar is organised too with various happy hours, karaoke nights, BBQs and volley ball. Plus a daily community radio on VHF.
Marineros in dinghies, red shirts fit them well
I was thinking to myself this could be heaven or this could be hell…
So how did we find ourselves here? We are wintering in Hammamet, Tunisia after all, and they do good cheap stainless work, don’t they?! Well it’s a bit of a long story tied to the drama of our solar panels, which we ran out of time to get fitted in La Rochelle. Our thoughts were to get this done over winter, but getting solar panels shipped to Tunisia from France proved a little too challenging so we decided to try and get the work done in our last port of call in the EU. We budgeted a week here, thinking that would be plenty of time to get the work done and see a bit of Sicily by car, but the weather, Italian OHS, the Christian calendar and the Sicilian way had other ideas!
We had lined up the fabrication of the frame via email prior to arriving, sent measurements, a drawing, specifications and a deposit thinking that it is pretty straight forward. It surely would be made up and ready at the boatyard when we arrived. We would hit the dock, it would take a few hours to attach. Solar panels were ordered and arrived a few days before us and the wiring is already in, what could possibly go wrong??
We arrived on Saturday, a day early, having raced down the Southern Sicilian coast from Sardinia, to get into the shelter of the marina before some nasty looking weather. Monday morning and hi ho, hi ho, its off to the workshop we go to find that work on the frame would start today up in the main stainless steel workshop in town, about 20kms away - hmmm ok. Meanwhile the expected stormy weather had duly arrived and it was raining, blowing 30+ kts and with a big swell running, not much to do but chill out and do some indoor “boat jobs”. Next day same story, frame construction ongoing, once its finished, and when there is no rain, it could be transported down to the marina workshop. Hmmm ok… Wednesday the rain is still coming so although frame is apparently finished it cant be transported in the rain due to Italian OHS rules! Wow, that’s a new one! Starting to have some doubts here, particularly fuelled by the stories coming from the local community winterising here. Seems its ok to wander around a boatyard performing work with a fag hanging out of your mouth, but not to carry a metal frame in the rain. Interesting OHS focus! To be fair I guess there could have been lightening! Thursday is a public holiday (All Saints Day…) no further action on the frame. Friday morning, well its overcast but not raining. Where is this frame, is there really a frame? We expressed our doubts to the workshop manager in fairly blunt terms. Suddenly we have a photo of the frame, it exists! Thanks to a break in the weather it makes its way to the workshop late Friday afternoon. Crisis talks are held, our stay at the marina extended as installation work is guaranteed to start on Monday….
We are here for the weekend then, we extended the rental car to do some more exploring. More on our land based adventures in another post.
Monday morning we do indeed have some action. A small forklift crane is deployed to lift our beautiful frame on to the back of the boat, although it is light enough for two people to lift it.... OHS again! The frame is positioned and measurements are made for the feet which will be conveyed to the Ragusa workshop where they will be made up, delivered and fitted in the afternoon (after lunch…) More waiting. Feet arrive, positioned, measured, cut, spot welded, frame off again (this time by hand) final welding and polishing done. That’s it for the day! Meanwhile Keith lays down some squishy insulation rubbery stuff to avoid contact between stainless and aluminium (electrolysis!), but then we run out and the workshop doesn’t have any more.
Tuesday, they are doing a good job, very detailed focussed and precise so we don’t want to rush them. The panels are dropped into the frame which is drilled to accommodate the nuts and bolts required, but we are held up by the lack of insulation rubber and don’t have the right size dome nuts! Also we realise we don’t have the right plugs and connectors to wire the panels in parallel and the workshop doesn’t have any in stock! No problemo though, after lunch Biago will drive to the suppliers and pick them all up. Its all arranged… (Did I mention lunch break from 1-2pm every day? And that shops are often closed for a few hours in the early afternoon to re-open at 3 or even later… Thus followed an interesting drive up to Ragusa with the lovely Biago, who speaks little English and drives like Fangio. Ooops the nuts and bolts guy is closed until 3:30, lets go to the electrical place first, if we can find it… After a lovely tour of the industrial zone we found it, what an interesting place, Keith would have loved it. All manner of electrical and plumbing hardware, Bunnings on steroids, but without the sausage sizzle. After being passed from pillar to post we finally found our man, (just returning from lunch). His office reminded me of Dad’s workshop back in the ‘70s. On the wall was a long forgotten display of the “latest” electronic products, but in various states of disintegration. There was much discussion and hand waving in Italian, consulting of well thumbed paper catalogues plucked confidently from the shelves and a couple of phone calls (possibly completely unrelated). I decided to show them my wiring diagram and was delighted to hear the words “Aaaah parallelo!” And something about MP Quarttro – now we are getting somewhere. At last a list of parts was printed out and Biago and I are back to the shopfront to claim our items. We finally got Giovanni’s attention and he disappeared into the vast rows of shelves, returning with a box of goodies including the MP4 connectors. Well that only took 40 mins, at least the nuts and bolts shop would be open now. Biago ran in and brought back our quarry, as well as some more insulation rubber! We high tailed it back to Ragusa in record time, slowing only for the very obviously positioned speed police. The panels were now secured to the frame, which was lifted on board (by hand) and attached to the boat as the sun set slowly in the west. Wiring would have to wait to tomorrow, but at least we would have some progress to report to the skeptical locals at Tuesday happy hour tonight.
Wednesday morning, Pepe will be around in 10 mins/30 mins/1 hour etc to do the wiring. 11:30 now, discussions in Italian, including the obligatory hand waving and cigarette smoking, inspection of the booty from our trip to Ragusa, review of the wiring diagram. Cut to the chase man! Pepe will go back make up the required 3-to-1 connectors to wire the 3 panels in parallelo. He’ll be back after lunch…
Helia, the Sun Goddess, is complete!
On the 12th day, Pepe said Let there be light - NO hang on – Power! SunPower! As the MP4 plugs were joined, the moment of truth arrived and our SunPower X22s were connected. Umm whats happening? It took a few anxious moments for the charge controller to get fired up but it soon appeared on the bluetooth app, and promptly commenced a software update!! I did catch a glimpse of our first 1Watt before the sun went behind the workshop building. We are in business, better go and pay the bill before the office closes as we are off to Hammamet tomorrow morning!
Over the next few days we watched our panels output expectantly via our VictronConnect BT app. They never made it over 1 watt! We were making so many excuses for them: They were connected at sunset so no output, we were motoring all day so the battery was full, its overcast, its raining, they are shaded, they are covered in Saharan dust... Finally admitted something was wrong. Big thanks to Mike Turner, our man on the ground in Hammamet (MT Marine Services). Mike does see problems, only challenges. He ran the multi-meter over all of the connections and was puzzled by the location of the fuse connecting the controller to the batteries - where is it?? It was at that moment Keith remembered a small fuse given to him in La Rochelle and twigged that this was for the solar wiring, that had been done by Uchimata. He quickly located it and handed it to Mike - yes this is the missing link. Only problem is the panels are still producing electricity so not possible to insert it right now. We need to wait until dark, and the task will be Keith's. At the appointed time, fearing a hair sizzling moment, I sent him to the engine room with aforementioned fuse and a wooden spatula to push it in with. In the end he needed to unscrew a couple of connectors to insert the fuse. Pleased to say no humans were harmed in this manoeuvre but we had to wait until the next morning to see if that had done the trick - sure enough as the sun came up so did the amp hours! Now we are really cooking! Our solar panels really have been a tale of 3 countries, 4 if you count Australia where they were planned and conceived. Finally we have "free" power from the sun and we get to stress about our battery charge state like everyone else.