Monday 22 January 2024

Fitting Solar Panels to our Defender Camper

The second phase of Budgie's camper conversion involved fitting a solar power system.  After much research around split charge relays, battery to battery (B2B) chargers and battery composition, we ended up with a 175 Amp solar panel charging a lithium battery via a B2B charger.  

Having used Renogy equipment on our RV camping trailer in Canada, they were an easy choice for the Land Rover Defender.  (Use this link for a 7% Renogy discount code on your purchase.)

Mounting the Solar Panel


The first step was to mount the 175A solar panel to the roof.  The Alu-Cab Icarus roof conversion comes with a track system and we paid a bit extra for a set of Alu-Cab load bars.  The load bars are fitted with a t-track on the top and one side to allow simple fitting of accessories.  It seemed to make sense to fit the solar panel between two of the load bars, but we wanted the bars to still be available to use for other equipment (like skis).  

Land Rover Defender Alu-Cab Icarus Roof Bars

I'd seen a few people mount the panel flush with the bars, but I was worried about the panel getting damaged while loading, so decided to mount it below the bars.  A few aluminium angle brackets and some t-slot nuts, made it quick and easy to fasten the panel to the bars. 

Solar Panel Mounting Hardware for Alu-Cab Load Bars

The plastic end cap on the bars simply knocks off, allowing the t-slot nuts to be slid along the side-facing track.  Using M6 pan head bolts, each bracket can be fastened loosely to the track.

Alu-Cab load bar solar panel bracket

With two brackets fitted to the load bar, the panel can be offered up and the brackets slid into position to align with the pre-drilled mounting holes on the panel.  I used M6 flanged bolts and nyloc nuts to fasten the panel to the brackets.

Renogy loar panel mounted to Alu-Cab load bar

Repeat for the other load bar.

Renogy solar panel mounted to Alu-Cab load bars

Once the panel is fitted to the bars, the whole assembly can be slid onto the cargo track on the Icarus roof from the back.  Once in the final position tighten up all of the fasteners.

Solar Panel mounted to Land Rover Defender Alu-Cab Icarus roof

Running the solar cables

After removing the cab parcel shelf and the front passenger corner of the side panelling, I was ready to drill through the roof.

Drilling a pair of 18mm holes through the side of my new roof was terrifying.  Measure twice (or three times) drill once!

Alu-Cab Icarus solar panel wiring

I used a pair of 20mm cable glands to get the cables through the roof and into the cab.

Alu-Cab Icarus roof with solar panel cable glands

I also fitted a cable entry housing over the top of the cable glands, just to be doubly sure that the holes were watertight.  The housing was sealed and stuck in place with sika-flex, and held in place with a ratchet strap over the roof while it cured.

Cable entry housing being fixed to alu-cab icarus roof

I decided to run the solar cables along the outside of the roof following the gutter line, which means they are mostly hidden behind the awning when the roof is closed.  Remember to leave enough length for the roof to open!

Alu-Cab Icarus Land Rover Defender Solar Panel Cables

I used a pair of 1.5m (5ft) solar cable extensions between the panel and the front of the roof, and then a 3m (10ft) solar adaptor kit from the front of the roof to the battery compartment.

Once inside the cabin, the cables can be run along the inside of the Icarus roof to the B-pillar behind the passenger door.  Routing down the B-pillar, takes the cables to the battery compartment under the passenger seat.

Battery Compartment

With a bit of shuffling about, I managed to get the original start battery moved over slightly which made enough room for the new 100Ah Renogy lithium (LiFePO4) auxiliary battery.

Renogy lithium auxiliary battery in Defender seat box

There's also enough room for the new auxiliary fuse panel, which all of the auxiliary loads will be wired to.

More to follow...


Wednesday 10 January 2024

An Epic Christmas Road Trip

We're now back to reality with a bump after our Christmas break!  We travelled almost 1400 miles (2250km) in Budgie (our Defender); from our home in Portsmouth up to Sarah's parents in Edinburgh, down to Ridley's Dad in Northumberland, back to Edinburgh, over to our cottage on the Isle of Jura, then back home to Portsmouth via Edinburgh and Northumberland!

Portsmouth to Jura Map

Sarah's parents kindly looked after our dog, Hector, while we went skiing before Christmas, and we spent a lovely Christmas back in Edinburgh with Sarah's family, for the first time in 5 years.  Click the link to read more about our ski trip to Montgenevre.

Edinburgh Castle Sunset

We popped down to Northumberland and back in a day, to borrow a livestock trailer from Ridley's Dad, so that we could transport some tools and furniture up to Lorne Cottage.  We managed to time this trip during Storm Gerrit, so had a pretty horrendous journey down through flooded roads and snow, and we were glad we were in the Landy!  We opted to drive back via Berwick on the main A1 to avoid towing the trailer on the usual back roads.  Once back in Edinburgh we spent the rest of the day outfitting the cottage (our least favourite task is shopping, but we survived Ikea without an argument!) and loading the trailer, ready for the drive over to Jura the next day.

We had an uneventful, but wet, journey over to the west coast and a rather lumpy crossing over to Jura!

Defender and trailer with MV Finlaggan

Defender on the Jura Ferry

We knew that the cottage had suffered some flooding while we'd been away in Canada, and that some of the newly fitted floor tiles had lifted and cracked.  So we were prepared with tools and ready for some DIY!  Unfortunately the extent of the cracking was worse than we expected, and it was heart breaking to have to rip up the entire floor in the main bedroom.  Thankfully we managed to salvage enough full tiles which we can use to patch repair the broken tiles in the rest of the house, but we're going to have to re-lay the concrete and find some new tiles for the bedroom as the current ones are no longer in production.  That will be a job for February half-term!

Broken tiles and concrete

Lifting broken tiles

Sad looking dog on broken floor

It wasn't all doom and gloom though; the work we had done on the drainage out the back, seems to have done the trick, and the cottage was warm and dry!  Apart from the floor it was looking really good, and the furniture we had brought over really started to make it feel like home.

Happy border terrier with Jura tartan chair

As it happened, it was exactly 20 years since Ridley took Sarah over to Jura for her memorable first visit.  The cottage certainly didn't look like it does now, back then it was a one bedroom cottage with only coal fires for heating.  We arrived over for Hogmanay (New Year) to discover that the shop had run out of coal.  Then there was a power cut, which lasted three days!  The pub and shop both shut for Hogmanay, and the only method of cooking we had was a disposable BBQ (there is no gas on Jura).  I vividly remember attempting to cook sausages and garlic bread wrapped in tin foil over the disposable BBQ in this fireplace:

Old fireplace

Of course the BBQ didn't generate enough heat to get the chimney to draw and the entire cottage filled with smoke.  We then had to open all the windows to clear the smoke, which made the cottage even colder.  Somehow Sarah still fell in love with Jura and agreed to come back!  This year we celebrated the anniversary with our first meal in the renovated Lorne Cottage.

Lorne Cottage dining table

Jura certainly knows how to celebrate Hogmanay, and we had a great time celebrating with wonderful friends in five different houses over three days of parties (interspersed with smashing up tiles!).  The weather on New Year's day was beautiful, and we managed a quick dip in the sea from the beach in front of the cottage.

Wild swimming on the Isle of Jura

Lorne Cottage from the beach

We also spent our first night sleeping in Budgie's pop-top so that we didn't have to drive down the island after the New Year's Day party and despite the cold temperatures, we were cosy and warm in the roof tent.

Boys in an Alucab Icarus on a Defender

We were booked onto a late ferry from Islay on the 2nd of January, but because it is a Scottish holiday the wee ferry from Jura to Islay was running a reduced service.  This meant that we had to go over to Islay much earlier than necessary.  As it happened the earlier big ferry had just finished loading as we arrived in Port Askaig and still had space available, so we managed to drive straight off the wee ferry and onto the big ferry as it was about to depart - lucky timing!  We headed back to Edinburgh to return some borrowed tools to Sarah's Dad, and spent an extra evening with them.

The next day we had planned to head back to Northumberland to drop off the trailer and spend some time with Ridley's Dad, but Budgie had other ideas!  We got about 10 minutes down the road before the battery light illuminated constantly and the temperature gauge rose rapidly.  We pulled into a petrol station to take a look, and discovered a large leak of water/coolant which was dripping onto the fan/alternator belt causing it to slip.  After a quick look around, Ridley couldn't identify where the water was coming from, so topped up the tank and headed carefully back to Sarah's parents watching the temperature gauge like a hawk!  Luckily they have a large garage, which we could fit Budgie in to take a proper look.  It took a couple of days to dismantle the fan assembly, identify the water pump as the problem, order parts, change the pump and re-assemble, but by Friday we were back on the road!

Defender 200tdi water pump replacement

We spent the weekend in Rothbury; including a trip to the tip to get rid of all of the broken tiles we had dragged back from Jura, helping out around the farm, catching up with the family, and a couple of meals out.

Alucab Icarus on a Land Rover Defender

On Sunday we headed back down to Portsmouth, with a quick stop for brunch and a catch up with friends in Morpeth.  Budgie performed perfectly and didn't skip a beat on the six and a half hour journey home.

We now need a holiday to recover from the holiday!  What did you get up to over Christmas and New Year?



 

Wednesday 3 January 2024

Skiing Montgenèvre

Shortly after we moved to Portsmouth, the boys realised they wouldn't be able to ski every weekend of the season, like they had been used to in Canada!  

After a bit of internet searching and researching European ski locations, we settled on a trip to Montgenèvre in France.  The small town sits about half way between Grenoble in France and Turin in Italy and is right on the border.  We flew into Grenoble Alpes-Isère Airport with EasyJet from Edinburgh, and had a private transfer with Snow Cab.


Welcome to Montgenevre

It's the oldest ski resort in France and it's possible to ski across into Italy to join up with the Milky Way resorts of Clavier and Sauze D'Oulx.  Beware that the Italian resorts open later than Montgenèvre; for our early season trip before Christmas the rest of the resorts hadn't opened.  There was still plenty for us to do though, with over 100km of runs and 38 lifts.  It's a good mix of beginners and intermediate pistes, with a few advanced runs.

Beginners ski area Montgenevre

View from the top at Montgenevre Ski

Montgenevre Ski Lift

The town itself is fairly small, but retains a rustic Alpine charm and has a good selection of bars and restaurants, and according to Innes all the food was 'delicious'!

Innes with a calzone pizza

We stayed at the Résidence Club MMV le Hameau des Airelles, which is a collection of self-catering apartments in a number of chalet style buildings set around an outdoor pool. The location is ski-in / ski-out, but the access lifts hadn't yet opened when we were there. It was just a short walk over to the piste though and there is also a free regular shuttle bus which stops just outside the hotel. There's also a great bakery just across the road for lovely breakfast pastries.
 
Night time view from Montgenevre Apartments

Montgenevre Pool

We booked the flights, hotel and transfers through Heidi, who we highly recommend.

Not sure what to pack for your ski holiday? Check out our handy guide and printable ski trip packing list.