Thursday, May 30, 2013

Spicy Stir Fried Crawfish

     This is an Emeril Lagasse Classic.  Extra Virgin Olive Oil Fried Angel Hair Pasta covered with a mixture of Crawfish, Onions, Peppers, Garlic, Chives, Sesame Oil, Snow Peas, Celery, and Chicken Broth. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Boondocking Part 2: Power (The sky's the limit)

     Sometimes it is necessary, or even desirable to spend a night or two in a more developed, commercial RV park or campground for the amenities and to dump tanks or restock.  Our goal is to explore as much of the country camping away from more developed areas.  Such living off the grid requires the ability to gather energy and efficiently store it for as long as possible.  Additionally, portability was the primary factor as I designed this system. 
     We have converted all of the appliances and several amenities to an AC/DC setup including the TVs, DVD, and even added an Engel 43 quart fridge/freezer that draws remarkably little power.  We even switched from a 120v drip coffee maker to Coleman's on the stove propane powered drip maker.  We knew we would never be able to power our A/C or microwave oven off batteries as these would require incredible amounts of power/space.  For such requirements the Honda generator will come into play.  This is the most efficient generator on the market. 
     The RV Battery Bank is the "heart and soul" of every OTG unit.  It requires the most planning and cost.  This is no place to cut corners.  I researched this thoroughly on my own and talked with many other bloggers about their setups.  I knew I wanted to utilize a 6 volt series/parallel setup using deep cycle batteries.  This wiring design uses the more efficient 6 vdc battery in a configuration wired to represent 2 additional 12 volt batteries.  Series wiring for more power, parallel wiring for longer amp hours.  I went with Trojan T-105RE batteries, a new version of the traditional T-105s designed to be used in a renewable energy environment.  These batteries are a bit pricey, costing $700 for 4, but designed to last about 4000 cycles when discharges are kept to the 20% level.  I built a 4 battery setup utilizing 4 AWG interconnect cabling mounted in the back of the truck.  Cabling between the bank and the RV supply is 24 more feet of 4 AWG cabling.  This will provide us with nearly 585 amp hours of power.  At the 20% discharge level this amounts to nearly 24 hours of uninterrupted power without the solar panels. 
     I always knew we would begin with solar power.  There is a plethora of RV solar setups out there and the price ranges are wide as the Gulf of Mexico.  My best friend turned me on to a great starter kit from Harbor Freight This bank of three 15 watt amorphous panels mounts on a 45 degree portable frame and provides 45 watts of power at 4 amps.  This kit, complete with charge controller and cabling runs about $170 online.  Setup is about 30 minutes.  I have used these panels to power my RV battery for 3 years.  They do a good job keeping the single RV onboard Trojan 12vdc battery charged as long as discharge levels are kept to no more than 50%.  I built an additional 30 feet of cabling to enable placement of the panels further away if needed due to parking issues.
     With the advent of the larger battery bank this winter I added another set of portable panels.  This time I went with CEA Solar portable 130 watt polycrystalline panels.  This 2 panel setup comes in a high impact metal briefcase and sets up in about 5 minutes with adjustable fold out/tilt legs.  Again, I added another 25 feet of extension cabling.  The highly efficient total solar system now provides 175 watts of power at 7 amps, reducing my battery bank recharge time by 33%.  Total recharge time for a 20% discharge is about 11 hours daily. Price, of course, is higher;  I purchased these from the Quartzite RV Show on sale for $450.  The use of 2 setups allows for variable setup angles compensating for sun placement at different times of the day. 
     Any solar system depends totally on the availability and duration of clear sun power daily.  We all know this can be wishful thinking at times.  As such there will always be days where the battery bank will need man made help.  The Honda EU-3000 generator provides 3000 watts of power and will run up to 21 hours on a single 3 gallon tank of gas.  This will be used in tandem with the Deltran Battery Tender Plus System to top off the battery bank.  Some days the generator may be the only source of power, depending on weather.  OTG RV owners are always tinkering and experimenting one way or another and as such I may still add another 2 batteries to the bank and perhaps a portable Air-X Wind Turbine. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Boondocking Part 1: The Basic Package

    One of the most educational parts of planning for our retirement has been learning more and more about the ins and outs of boondocking.  I have utilized several of the designs seen on other blogs as I benefitted from others experience.  As such I plan on sharing some of the stuff I have learned and how we applied it to our own rig. 
     We have a 31 foot Keystone Cougar complete with 12 foot super slide.  Features I liked:  solid construction, aluminum framing, solid oak cabinetry, 2 doors, and plenty of room.  Features Barb liked:  comfortable living room, microwave/convection oven, and full size stand up shower.   It is a solid, but heavy trailer weighing just shy of 9000 pounds fully loaded.  It tows and backs easily. 

     We towed this unit for 8 years with our 2003 Chevy Silverado 2500HD.  Towing was a breeze, the gas burner averaging from 5-10 mpg depending on terrain/conditions.  With retirement looming I wanted a new vehicle and decided to go with the same truck, but this time converting to diesel.  Diesel engines have gotten their fair share of pros/cons over the years, mostly cons in recent years.  Chevy has significantly improved their quality with the new Duramax engine and Allison transmission combination.  It features a 2 1/2 inch hitch receiver capable of 13,000 towing capacity.  There will be some changes as this engine uses 13 quarts of oil (I plan on using Mobil 1 synthetic), and a Diesel Exhaust Fluid system.  This system is located just forward of an improved catalytic converter system.  It injects a fine mix of 90% de-ionized water and 10% urea into the exhaust that causes a chemical reaction that results in nearly 90% water vapor for exhaust.  A very green vehicle.  Gas mileage figures for non-towing has been right around 22.7 mpg @ 65 mpg.  We are hoping for towing figures to average around 15 mpg, another significant improvement.

    It is a comfortable truck.  It includes integrated brake controller, diesel exhaust braking control, trailering control, and full digital instrumentation including tire pressure monitoring.  Full front with extended cab and suicide doors.  60/40 bench seat split in the front with a 80/20 bench seat split in the back......perfect for our critters.  The rear windows are electric, not pop out this time.  First vehicle we have owned with Sirius XM Satellite Radio......I love it!  We went with the full 8 foot bed this time and added our usual Leer Truck cap for storage topped with the Thule Rack System for our canoe.  We haven't towed our outfit, but within the next weekend or two it will become a reality! 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Retirement, RV Boondocking, and Technology

     This week I finalized my plans to retire with the district and state paperwork.  It has been a wonderful career and I can never replace the memories I have created with some of the finest people God ever put on this earth, children. 
     Retirement brings with it the long awaited dream of traveling when and where we want in our RV discovering as much of the country as possible.  First for us will be the journey to Alaska next spring which will be an adventure all it's own.  I have been planning the logistical and technical phase of this for many years now.  Barb and I love the RV lifestyle, but will never be RV park people.  We will spend most of our time (and less money) boondocking.  I have spent considerable time and money preparing our rig for these years. 
     I have added 2 sets of solar panels totaling 175 watts to power our battery bank consisting of 4 Trojan T-105REs that will supply us with nearly 600 AH of power.  Monitoring of this system uses a Delray Battery Tender Plus setup to monitor/charge as needed.  This will team with the super efficient Honda EU-3000 generator that runs nearly 21 hours on 3 gallons of gas.  We also have an extra 40 gallon water tank, a water purification system, exterior water collection system (for rain), air compressor, collapsable ladder, tools, fabrication supplies, Engel 43 qt. AC/DC efficient fridge freezer, and a pure sine wave inverter to power nearly everything off our battery bank except the microwave and the air conditioner when needed.    We juggled the technology process for a bit, but finally decided on a wide screen laptop with wireless technology.  We can utilize our own 'hotspot' or our IPhones to provide internet access for contact with the outside world (when desired), planning, and updating this blog.  We also decided on a compact Canon Wireless Printer for our most basic needs. We are debating an additional antenna for WiFi support later on if needed.  We converted our TV to a flat screen plasma AC/DC with built in DVD.  We have an armada of movies on disk and care very little for the news.   We do have some interior remodeling planned to remove the RV couch (was always usually used by our pooch only) and replace it with a small computer desk and move one of the Lazy Boy chairs into the 'slide out' space which will create room near the door for a boot tray and coat rack.  There is so much more to learn about this type of lifestyle and so many designs and improvements I am sure I will be discovering in the years to come. 
    I will spend this intital summer testing this system in order to determine power needs, requirements, and solar capabilities.   It's going to be a learning process, but a fun one.  Everything from here on is an adventure.  I do want to thank the many people I have conversed with planning this.  There are many off grid boondocking blogs and sites on line.   Most noteworthy is   I modeled several of my plans and systems from his experience.