Monday, January 15, 2018

Summer Camp Application Time!

Well, it's that time of the cadet training year!  Our cadet sons have made their decisions and started the application process for their summer training courses.  If the process works as they hope and they get their preferred selections they each could be visiting a different province this summer!

Although summer camps are often called "camp", they are in fact training courses.  Cadets submit applications in the winter and go through a selection process.  Some courses are selected regionally, and some nationally.  The national courses are much harder to get into and have a more intensive application process.

Matthew, who became a member of 605 Tarry Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron last fall, will hopefully be selected for General Training.  As a new entry into air cadets, and a Level 1 cadet, this is the only summer training course he is eligible for.  Air cadet General Training takes place at Cold Lake Cadet Summer Training Centre and is two weeks long.  There are three intakes throughout July and August so Matthew could be away any time during that period.  General Training covers a little bit of all subjects that air cadets learn - aviation, survival, music, drill, etc.  They also tour museums, go on familiarization flights in light aircraft and tour some parts of CFB Cold Lake.  Another cool advantage is watching CF-18s and other CF aircraft flying around the base!  It's a great introduction to the program for new air cadets!

Michael joined 259 Drylander Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corp this past fall.  Having spent three years in Navy League and then joining Sea Cadets, he became eligible to join Sea Cadets at the Phase 2 level, (something that Matthew was not able to do joining Air Cadets, but that was his own personal choice that he was good with).  This means that he's able to choose more advanced summer training courses.  Michael's first choice is Basic Sail, which would take place at HMCS Ontario Cadet Summer Training Centre at Kingston, Ontario.  This course teaches the cadets how to sail small sail boats.  It is a three-week course.  He has also applied for Basic Seamanship as his second choice.  This course teaches general seamanship skills and takes place at HMCS Quadra on Vancouver Island, BC.  As Michael's summer experience so far is the one-week Navy League summer camp, this is a big step for him to move up to a three-week course!

Being in Level 4, and 15 years old, Mitchell is eligible to apply for National Courses.  This is something he has a little experience with as he was able to apply for the Aircraft Maintenance last year.  Unfortunately he wasn't chosen and attended Advanced Aviation at Comox, BC last summer instead.  This year he has applied for the Glider Pilot Scholarship as well as Aircraft Maintenance again.  As I indicated above, National courses require more time and effort to apply for.  It required a narrative letter for each course in which the cadet states why they want to apply for the course and why they are a good candidate.  They also submit a copy of their current school report card.  In the case of the Glider Pilot Scholarship they also attend Ground School to learn the basic rules and theory of flight and must pass a test at the end of it.  This test Mitchell wrote on January 10 and did well, achieving a mark of 70%.  The next step is to prepare for Selection Board interviews.  These are conducted in Regina at HMCS Queen, and the cadets go before an interview board in full uniform.  They are judged on their dress and deportment, and asked questions ranging from their experience in cadets, to current events, to current members of the government, to extracurricular activities.  And they attend an interview for each course applied for!  So there certainly is a healthy amount of stress involved for Mitchell!  He has a third choice on his application as well which is Air Rifle Marksmanship Instructor Course.  Mitchell has been on the squadron marksmanship team before and has excelled within the squadron with the air rifle so it's a good choice as well.  No matter what course he's selected for there will be a lot of travel.  Glider training takes place at Gimli, MB (where he attended Basic Aviation Technology and Aerospace two years ago).  Aircraft Maintenance is at Canadore College in North Bay, ON.  ARMIC is all the way up at Whitehorse, YT!  They are all six-week courses, too!

I certainly wish all the Ms the best of luck in their selections, but they're awesome cadets and have all put a tremendous amount of effort into their duties.  That goes a long way in getting these opportunities.  Hopefully in about six weeks we'll start to hear some results!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Why we do what we do.

On occasion we are sometimes asked how we do it.  How, or why, do we put up with constant travel for cadets?  Our regular parade night is Wednesday.  We are fortunate that in Swift Current sea, air, and Navy League cadets all parade together on the same night, a situation unique in Canada.   Sometimes that will be the only trip we make to Swift Current that week.  Often, though, the cadets will have extra activities.  Sometimes it will be training and sometimes it will be a more formal occasion, such as Remembrance Day parade.  Those extra activities cost us extra trips.

A good example could be a couple of weeks ago.  Wednesday was our usual parade night.  All the boys and myself had our typical duties with our respective units.  Friday was the Sea Cadet/Navy League Christmas mess dinner.  Myself and Michael attended, and Carla stayed in the city after work to help serve the meal.   The next day Sea Cadets had a range night, learning and practising air rifle marksmanship, an activity Michael attended.  Finally Saturday air cadets had ground school, which Mitchell is attending as he hopes to receive the Glider Pilot Scholarship this year.

Four trips were made to Swift Current that week just for cadet activities.  And it's far from unusual.  Sometimes we're lucky and there will be only one extra trip, but it will happen on consecutive weekends.  Ground school this week, drill practice the next, and then a fundraising activity.  Rinse and repeat.

Why do we keep doing it?  I guess the biggest reason is that we recognise the opportunities for our children (and all the children in the cadet program) that the cadet program offers.  And the more activities that they participate in, the greater the rewards.  It's a reality that those who show the most dedication get chosen for summer training spots before others.  They are also more likely to advance into leadership positions and receive awards.  The cadet experience will serve our children well into adulthood with the leadership experience and hands-on skills they learn now.  They learn specific trade skills, but they also learn to be teachers, mentors and role models.  But even more basically, the friendships our kids have developed are lasting ones as their best friends are those who share the same experiences and values.

Sometimes it's frustrating, and sometimes it's exhausting, but in the end, this makes it all worthwhile!  We are so proud of our cadets!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The season is over / Looking ahead to next year

Last weekend we pulled our trailer home from Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park.  It was a bittersweet moment.  We were sad that the camping season is over but the days are getting shorter and colder, and we're busy with the usual fall activities, so in some ways we were ready to see the end of the season.

This summer had it's challenges.  As we have seen in my start-of-season post, we had a beautiful camp site.  Bison Hollow #2 had a lots of shade and a great view of the lake.  But even with ground mounted panels positioned out in front of the trailer, we had trouble with panel shading from the trees.  It wasn't always a big deal, but on days with some cloud it did hurt our charging performance.  If we end of in that site again next year, we might not park the trailer quite as far back, allowing the panels to sit further out from the trees.   I will also quite likely add another panel so that we can charge faster with the sun we do have.

Another issue we ran into was that this summer was so hot compared to the last few.  We had to remove the little freezer from the trailer as it ran constantly and used up a lot of power through the day.  Combine that with a bit of cloud and it became quite a concern.  So we hauled it home and replaced it with a shelf unit to store odds and ends.

Along with the hot weather, Saskatchewan experienced a drought as well.  We had little snow through the winter, and that trend continued through the spring and summer as well.  It got so dry that the Ministry of Environment implemented a fire ban, which eventually covered the southern 2/3 of the province.  That meant that from July 14 onward we could not have campfires.  Camping is just a little less fun without campfires to sit around in the evening!  But considering how many grass fires had to be fought this year in the province, it was understandable.  The firewood at the Landing this summer was very dry so it spit a lot of sparks which would have been rather dangerous in the dry grass.  The fire ban was finally removed just the week before we moved the trailer home.

But on the plus side, we got to use our boat a bit more this year.   The 135hp Maxum ran terrible last year, but worked great for us this summer.   The kids enjoyed a knee board this year and our son Michael got to be pretty good with it!  For our last outing with the Maxum, we took it down the lake from the Landing to the mouth of Swift Current Creek, a trip of about 10 miles.  That's the farthest we've ever taken our boat, which we would never have attempted last year!  We dropped anchor for a little while and had lunch while Michael tried fishing.  He had a nibble, but whatever it was decided to swim off rather than be caught.  But it was still a fun cruising the lake one last time!

So assuming the Landing has another draw for seasonal sites in Bison Hollow next year, Carla and I kept an eye on the other sites to get an idea which one's we would put on our preferred list for next camping season.  As the park kept that side of the park closed until the camping season opened we went in a little blind this year, relying only on satellite photos and word-of-mouth to make our list, as we have never camped in Bison Hollow before.  When the applications open for next year (in January) we'll have a better idea of what we want, having seen all the sites in person.  As we've seen this year consideration has to be given to sites that allow good solar charging, but shade is definitely appreciated to protect us from the summer sun.  It's a question of which one wins out when it comes time to rank sites on the application.

I'm looking forward to January when we start planning the 2018 camping season!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Camping Season Has Begun!

So we're through the May long weekend and we survived!  The weather wasn't always the best but we managed to have plenty of fun.

We arrived on Thursday, May 18, as the park allows in seasonal campers the day before official opening to spread out the load a bit.  After check-in we headed to our site, #2 in Bison Hollow (the unpowered campground at Sask Landing).  It took a bit of time to get level, but eventually we were set up.  In the photo below you can see the view from our site (before the wind screens went up).  We're very close to Lake Diefenbaker!  It's a beautiful site, very close to water supply and bathrooms, too.

There were a few steps to get the solar system setup again.  Due to how it's arranged, it meant removing the batteries from the box, unloading and placing the box, then replacing the batteries.  With each battery weighing more than 60 pounds, the box is too heavy to lift with four batteries in it.  But once that task was done, it was just a matter of running the cables out to their various locations for reattachment.  That would be the inverter ground wire, 12-volt lines, RV AC power cable, and of course the panel lines.

Of course the weather can never be perfect on our first weekend camping and it wasn't long before we had to set up our wind screens.  We're more sheltered from wind from the west and northwest, but we ended up with strong winds from the south and southwest this time, so you can see those screens in place in the photo above.

But other than the wind, we love our site!  As you saw above, it has a beautiful view, is so close to the water for the kids to play on the beach or to carry our kayaks down for some paddling.  And it's also very nicely shaded to protect both us and our trailer from summer heat!  Although we have plenty of solar power, it's not enough for running the air conditioner so I'm hoping we can have enough shade to avoid running a generator.

All that shade did present somewhat of a problem for our solar panels.  After the first day I realised I had to move them further ahead of the trailer.  When I first set them into place, they were in a perfect position, for that time of about 1:30pm!  What I didn't realise was that both earlier and later, two trees shaded them a lot.  Our charge rate can be cut in half with the shading we had. I ended up moving them forward of the trailer another few feet.  We still encounter some shading, but not nearly as much.  It's not usually too much trouble to be fully charged by noon if we get a sunny day.

We're not pushing the system very hard.  It's running the freezer full time powering the console on the fridge which is using propane for cooling.  Other incidentals are charging phones and laptops, a decorative light with a CFL bulb (the green light hanging over the site) in the evenings and running the 19" TV and DVD player one night.  We've run the microwave for a minute one day to defrost hotdog buns, and Carla has used her hair dryer a couple of times.  And a couple of cold mornings (one night close to 0C/32F!) had us run the furnace.  It's all working great!

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Running On Solar Power

In my last post I described activating our solar system.  Since then we've been testing it in the yard.  How has it been going?  Pretty good I'd say!  Sure, it's running the simple things.  The clock radio is on, the radio works and the LED interior lights are shining!  But that's not really putting a load on the batteries and inverter.  So what have we tried?

The first item we turned on was the small apartment freezer.  This is a four drawer unit, and with a family of five we appreciate having that extra freezer space in the trailer!

This freezer, a Danby model, pulls five to six amps of energy while running.  Obviously it will run more often when it's hot out.  On cool days we've seen it take about 5% of battery overnight (when the panels aren't providing charge) and as much as 10% when it's very warm (a 29C day).

One day we decided to cook supper using solar power!  Carla put together a slow cooker recipe with chicken breasts in a mushroom sauce and alongside she cooked some rice in an electric rice steamer.

We didn't run them at the same time.  When the slow cooker was done Carla shut it off and turned on the rice steamer.  It was a sunny day so we had plenty of energy coming in to run the cookers, using about 8-10 amps of power, but with all the sun, by the time we ate, the batteries were only down to about 96%.  And it was back to 100% a bit later!

We enjoyed a delicious supper under the awning outside!

Today we gave the ice maker a try.  It's an Igloo branded machine, medium sized, and holds about 2.3 quarts of water.  When we first plugged it in, it hit 30 amps on startup but settled down to about 9 amps when running.  We let it run for a couple of hours and it used 2% of the battery capacity.  This was evening and very cloudy and raining a bit so we weren't getting any more charge at the time, but the results were good.

And here's the solid results...

We made enough to fill two medium freezer ziploc bags to store in the freezer. Great for using in the margarita machine!

Further testing will be coming up this week, such as the fridge.  It will run on propane but the control panel runs on 12-volt power.  I might try it on the inverter, just to see what will happen.  

It's great fun to watch the energy put to use, then be replenished by the sun!  We roll out to Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park in 11 days, when the system is put to work for real!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Road to Solar, Almost There!

Well, it's been a while since my last report, but since then I've been slowly building up our solar system in preparation for camping season.

Since I last posted, I purchased the last couple of big items.  SaskBattery in Regina had a sale on both solar panels and 6V golf cart batteries.  These batteries are designed with a large storage capacity and the ability to be discharged and recharged often.  I bought two 235 watt panels and 4 of the golf cart batteries, each 225 amp-hours capacity.

Here's how the batteries are arranged in the old truck tool box I'm using to contain the system.  The batteries are hooked up with what's called "series-parallel".  Each pair of batteries is hooked up in series (positive-negative).  That sums the volts of the pair, so 6V becomes 12V.  Then the pairs of connected in parallel so (pos-pos, neg-neg) so that we sum the amps to 450amp-hours.  I have a divider wall beside them as we don't want battery gases getting into the electronics in the charging compartment.

Next up is the board with all the charging parts...

In the centre of the board, surrounded by the various switches and fuses, is the charge controller.  It takes the power from the 36 volt panels and converts it to 12 volts for the batteries.  This conversion also increases the amps of charge.

I bought bulk cable and terminal ends from Great West Auto Electric in Swift Current and then did my own cutting and crimping.  The crimping tool I bought off Amazon.  It's a simple tool that uses a hammer to exert enough force to crimp the end on the wire.  It worked great for all the different sizes of wire I used, from 8AWG all the way up to the big 2/0 battery cable.  The result...

So once everything is wired up, I arranged it all nicely in the box.  Charging on the back wall, inverter in the bottom, and the batteries to the right of course.  Wire sizes as follows, 6 guage from panel junction box, to the charge controller, (through the red switch). 4 guage from the controller to the batteries, 2/0 through the batteries, and 2 guage to the inverter and the trailer 12V system.

So finally came the day to hook up the panels and try it out.   I laid out the panels and run the wires through the junction box, wiring the panels in parallel.  That maintains their 30 volts but doubles the current out to 15.6 amps fed to the charge controller.

So, did it work?  Let's check the battery monitor...

Above left we can see that we're getting 24.3 amps of charge, and we see on the right that it pushed the voltage up to 14 volts to speed the charging.  And it wasn't long before we saw this...

Yes, we're 100% charged!  We haven't tested too much yet, but Carla did test her 1200 watt hair dryer and it worked like a charm on power through the inverter.  It pulled 70 amps but we have plenty of stored energy and the inverter, which only showed about 900 watts while the dryer was running, is sized to run that kind of load, so no worries!

And now we wait for camping season!  Considering we have snow in the forecast this third week of April, I'd say it can't come soon enough!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Road to Solar, Chapter 4

So in the past couple of week...I think a week, though it seems like much longer...I've received a few more packages in the mail!  It feels like Christmas all over again!

So let's take a look at few items.

The above photo was from a couple of shipments.  The pair of items in the upper left come from Mouser Electronics.  This is a combiner block and a weatherproof box to house it.  Solar panel wires will go into one end of it to be combined into a pair of heavy wires coming out.  Those wires go to the next item to the upper right, which came from We Go Solar.  That is a Morningstar Tristar MPPT 45-amp charge controller.  This device takes the power from the charge controller and uses it to charge the batteries connected to the system.  Morningstar makes 30-amp and 60-amp charge controllers in this series but the 45-amp unit is sized closer to what I'm expecting from the panels I plan to install.

The bottom of the photo shows a Bogart Engineering TM-2030 monitor and shunt.  In the system I plan to install, all the negative cables will be attached to the shunt and the monitor as well.  It then measures the current going into and out of the batteries and allows the user to track performance of the system.  One can select a number of different things to display: amps in, amps out, battery voltage or percent of charge.  This monitor will be very handy!

And as Columbo says, oh, just one more thing...(for today)...

This is the last link in the chain of my solar system, a GoPower 1500-watt pure sine wave inverter, ordered from Amazon.  It will take the 12-volt power from the batteries and convert it to regular household AC power.  While a number of items in an RV are 12-volt powered, such as the water pump and lights, some of the items we prefer to bring to our seasonal site, such as the TV and satellite receiver, require 120-volt power.  This GoPower inverter, like the charge controller, is sized for our needs.  One can buy bigger or smaller inverters as well.  I chose it after a lot of research, including seeing some videos of the internal parts on YouTube, where it appeared to use some heavy-duty materials inside.

In a couple of days Carla and I plan to head into Regina and visit SaskBattery.  They have a sale this weekend that includes 220 amp-hour 6V batteries and 235-watt solar panels.  That's the last of the major parts I need for this system.  Hopefully I can do a write-up on those items next week!