Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness

Rolls Batteries on board Celeste



(NB: After careful research, we approached Rolls for sponsorship.  We only work with companies whose products we would use regardless of sponsorship.)

We’re thrilled that Rolls Battery Engineering (Surrette Battery Co.) has agreed to sponsor our voyage!  Ever since we first learned of the company, we’ve been drawn to both their reputation for long-lasting marine batteries and their consciousness of the environment.  They’ve innovated a ‘closed loop’ recycling process whereby their old batteries become new ones: each Rolls battery is made of at least 60% recycled lead.  Equally good for the planet (and great for customers!) is that a Rolls battery takes longer to be completely spent: the designers have created a unique ‘resistitox’ plate to guarantee one of the longest life expectancies in the industry. But why are batteries so important?

Imagine living your normal life—turning on electric lights at night, keeping food cold in a fridge, listening to music, using your computer, taking showers—but without the power grid. A boat is her own little world, generating, storing, and using energy for her crew’s daily life. This makes Seth and me especially careful about how much energy we do use: our battery monitor (telling us how many amps we’re drawing or generating and how much we’ve discharged or charged the batteries) is prominently displayed over the chart table.

Communications and daily life: Lights, SSB radio, battery monitor, propane alarm, and music player over the chart table

Communications and daily life: Lights, SSB radio, battery monitor, propane alarm, and music player over the chart table

We have methods to reduce our power consumption: low-draw items such as LED bulbs, a magnetically driven fridge compressor (that uses only 48 watts, less than a household lightbulb, for the hour or so it runs each day), and an equally low-draw Katadyn desalinator.  While showering,  we turn off the water to shampoo and soap. We use a gas stove, not electric, and we avoid items such as freezers, hair dryers, microwaves, air conditioning, or washing machines that use a lot of electricity (and that, believe it or not, appear with some frequency on modern boats!).

Installing our low-draw fridge compressor

Installing our low-draw fridge compressor

To generate our power, we experimented with both wind and solar and have ultimately gone with hard polycrystalline solar panels: we’ll have almost 200 watts on Celeste when she’s ready to go. We had 100 (possibly 120, we weren’t sure if one of them worked) on Heretic, but we’ve upgraded Celeste with more technology than we had aboard Heretic. Almost all of the new items are safety precautions: the Katadyn desalinator, a chart plotter on which we can overlay radar images in fog and iceberg-strewn waters, and daily ice and weather reports through MVS’s satellite phone and OCENS’s weather and e-mail services.

Feathered friend hitches a ride on our polycrystalline solar panels!

Feathered friend hitches a ride on our polycrystalline solar panels!

The 200 watts of solar panels wouldn’t be enough in and of themselves, though. The energy needs to be stored somewhere, which is where Rolls comes in. We’re carrying two S12-230 AGM marine batteries, storing 460 amp hours. That sounds like a lot—and it is!—but we still have to make sure not to discharge our batteries by more than 25% or we’ll lose the advantage of their longevity. We’re very pleased to have Rolls batteries on board: with their reliability, ruggedness, and superior cycling, we’re convinced they’re the best we could have for the voyage ahead!

Rolls batteries

Learn more at http://www.rollsbattery.com!

UPDATE, November 2015: A complete article about our electrical system is out in Cruising World magazine’s December 2015 issue: Luxury on 120 Amp Hours.

18 thoughts on “Rolls Batteries on board Celeste

  1. Nice article! I thinks AGM batteries are indeed the best choice for using on a ship. They are leakage free and need less maintenance than traditional lead-acid batteries.

    • Thanks! Yes, we totally agree about AGM batteries–having a big bank (for our power draw) has been great too. We’ve never taken them down more than 12% of there rated capacity!

  2. Found your blog–one of the best I’ve seen–and all the details about preparation are so interesting. It’s nice to see postings by folks who really know what they’re talking about. You’ve clearly done a lot of research and a lot of work. And anyone who’s sailed around the world as you have knows the necessity of extensive preparation! You’re in for a great journey.

    Good luck and I look forward to reading more!

    • Thanks so much for all the positive feedback! We definitely try to do as much research and preparation as possible to ensure safe and fulfilling passages. So glad you’re enjoying the blog—it’s a great way to keep friends, virtual and otherwise, in the loop 🙂

  3. Ellen and Seth,
    The battery install looks terrific! Looks like your Rolls batteries are well-secured and will no doubt serve you well.

    It was so great to visit you both and see Celeste in person as you prepare for this voyage. Your preparations have been so well thought out and thorough — it is truly impressive and a reflection of the knowledge that has been hard won through your previous 3-year circumnavigation.

    We’re excited for your voyage into the Arctic. The midnight sun was one of our favorite aspect of sailing at high latitudes in Norway. What a wonderful adventure you’re about to embark upon. We look forward to following your progress and rooting for a successful transit of the NWP.

    Rachel and Karl
    s/v Sophia

  4. Electricity is beyond me but it looks like you have thought this through completely. Seems odd to me that you wouldn’t get maximum output from your solar panels as the sun is up for almost 24 hours in the high Arctic. But as I said, electricity is beyond me. Those batteries look fabulous.

    • I expect we’ll do pretty well with the panels. Wattage, however, rates the output at a given point in time and depends on a lot of things, the angle of the sun in particular. Since at high latitude the angle will be low we’ll get less than the rated wattage, but we’ll still get it over a longer period of time due to the long days (assuming we’re not in the fog). In the Australia we actually got more than the rated output from our panels on account of the intensity of the radiation there (no ozone!), but that’s unusual. We’re super happy with the new batteries, too!

    • Even though there will be “daylight” during the Arctic Summer, the sun remains low on the horizon and not high in the sky – so its important to have a perpendicular angle to strike the solar cells head-on for maximum energy, i.e. overhead on the equator is optimum. It you want a trickle charger then it will do that otherwise just run the diesel main engine to turn the alternator for more amps of charging each hour.

      • If you primary battery charging method is running your main engine then that alternator becomes a major point of failure… for only $100 you can carry a spare alternator. Remember you are going to the Arctic – if you need a part it will likely have to come from ‘Outside’ via airfreight delivery and cost five times more than you could of paid in Port Angeles WA USA.
        What spare parts and equipment have you bought for your NWP?
        Smooth seas,

        • Thanks for your thoughts. We’ve got tons of spares from Yanmar–pretty much everything they recommended. We like to keep a veritable hardware store/mechanic shop/sail loft on board 🙂

      • Thanks for your insights—we’re agreed on sun angle.

  5. Did you get the main engine overhauled and a barrier coat on the hull as you previously mentioned? How about the alternator upgraded? A spare alternator in the kit? How many gallons of diesel will you be carrying in your fuel tank and in jugs on deck? Why do you estimate your “motoring” speed and range to be? Sorry for all of the technical questions but I believe it will help others make a better decision when considering their NWP.

    • Hi Doug, we did indeed complete all the projects we’d previously mentioned – I won’t go into it in too much detail here since Ellen is working on an article on the subject for Ocean Navigator (for both print and on-line). In brief, yes, we in fact got a new Yanmar 3YM 30 from Auxiliary Engine here in Seattle. We opted for a smaller engine than previously to increase fuel efficiency – not sure about the range yet since we don’t know how much fuel she’ll use per hour, but we figure cruising at about 5 knots our 100 gallons (50 in the tank and 50 in jugs – we’ll be getting more jugs in Nome as well) should get us around 1,500 miles in smooth water (obviously a lot less with chop/headwind). We also did the barrier coat/sheathing in glass/Kevlar (the boat is cold molded wood) as a precaution against ice. No spare alternator – perhaps that’s rash but the whole kit is new and we had to draw the line somewhere (plenty of belts/other engine parts though). Looking forward to getting out there. Best -Seth

      • New diesel is fantastic. Does the model 3YM 30 mean 30hp? I’m looking forward to a fuel consumption vs tach hours report when you reach Nome. I recommend you take the fuel cans with you – Nome will be full with dredgers – but the diesel will be available for $6.20/gallon. Fill up at King Cove and save!
        When is departure?
        Smooth seas,

  6. Thanks for getting back to comment on your blog – I bet you and Seth are working 16 hours a day right now getting ready to depart… if you have the time to copy and archive the below content then read later underway or waiting out weather – here are the best details in one place regarding batteries, alternators and maintenance of them… Enjoy! (While I don’t agree 100% all of the time (who does?) I do think if you follow John’s advice you will be well served and have a near perfect boat system)





    Smooth seas,


    Blog: http://northwestpassage2014.blogspot.com/?view=sidebar

  7. Wow… you are almost ready to depart… boats from the East are underway heading for Greenland.
    I’ve read you have added many extras like a 200 watt solar panel but remember it is only going to generate maybe 25% of its power rating or just 50 watts peak in the high latitude Arctic so figure only 6 amps output at solar peak going into the new 460 amp battery bank which means the batteries will likely never be properly charged let alone be able to be equalized monthly from solar alone. Motoring will be require every day with a 50 amp output alternator to top-up the small 25% discharge you are hoping to achieve. I’d advise adding another 460Ahr of battery and consider adding either a high output alternator or a second backup alternator with a smart 3-stage charge external regulator like the Balmar. Since you are going to be motoring most of the time like sailboats report who have gone before you on the NWP – your diesel motor will become the most effective way to keep your battery bank charged and in good health – be sure to carry a spare alternator and V-belts at the minimum.
    Best wishes for a great passage!

    • Hi Doug,
      Thanks for your thoughts on power. We agree that we’ll never get the rated wattage out of our solar panels. In reality the most important feature of our electrical system is not using much power in the first place – all our lights are LED, our watermaker draws only 4 amps as does our fridge (not that it’ll probably be that necessary!), and we’ll only be using electronics when necessary (we have a basic GPS that draws less than an amp which we typically use instead of the chart plotter). Of course, one can’t have too big a battery bank and another 400 amp hours certainly wouldn’t hurt. The trouble there for us is where to put all the batteries! On our previous boat we never used more than 35 amp hours a day so we’re hoping not to be too much over that this time either, which is well under 25% of our Rolls batteries rated capacity even if we don’t charge for a day or two.
      Thanks for the well wishes for the passage! We’re definitely excited!
      Seth & Ellen