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Solar Panel Saga

The solar panel saga

When we bought Jocara she came with a big brand new solar panel that had never been used. It had not been installed and was still in its carton box. We had a frame made for it that sits on our davits. Just before Jocara's press launch on 24 May we put the panel in the frame where it sits wedged snugly with rubber in the corners. We then had our haul-out, came back and 2 months later it was time to actually wire the panel up. As John walked aft to start this job he saw the panel wasn't there. He stared in disbelief at the empty frame where only yesterday the panel had been. But it very much wasn't there. How? Did it get stolen? No, impossible. It's hard to get to, awkward to handle and not exactly the sort of thing you walk away with unnoticed. But then it must have been blown out of the frame. That seemed pretty incredible too. The panel is quite heavy and fitted tightly. However, we did hear a gust in the middle of the night followed by a bang. Incredible as it seemed the wind must have blown the panel out of the frame. Which meant that now it was lying on the bottom of the marina!

It took a while to get our heads around to the idea, but we decided it would be worth it to do a dive to try and find it. Diving in the marina isn't exactly fun and the panel might be broken anyway, but we couldn't face having to buy a replacement. Replacing it would be very expensive and take time. We really should dive for it. Matthias and I went down with the wreck reel, a stick and some lights. The depth is only about 6-7 meters, but it's dark down there. You cannot see the bottom, you just sort of feel it when you start sinking into soft muddy stuff! And the lights don't help at all, they just reflect all the particles. I stayed at the pillar holding the wreck reel and Matthias swam around in a circle poking the stick into the bottom to feel for something hard. After one complete circle I let out the reel a little more and Matthias would start the next circle. It was almost impossible to see when a circle was completed because I couldn't clearly see the compass. Next we tried swimming out into the most likely directions where it could have sunk to the bottom. This didn't work at all. How to swim a straight line in nearly zero visibility. And anyway, it's not a very good search pattern. So, we gave up. The next day, however, we decided we would have one more try. This time we were really well prepared. Matthias had a full face mask and I an earpiece so that he could talk to me under water. We also had a better stick to poke with and two sticks to put into the bottom that would tell Matthias when a circle was completed and it was time to let out more of the line. Matthias stayed at the pillar and I was doing the circles and the poking. It was quite an experience. I really do not enjoy not being able to see, but I am very comfortable diving. I could only see a thick brown fog and mud swirling around. I had to slowly swim in a circle, making sure I kept the line taut with which I was attached to the wreck reel Matthias was holding, whilst gently poking into the bottom. I couldn't see a thing, had no idea how fast or slow I was moving and my mask started to flood because of the ear piece. I could hear Matthias say: "You're not moving anymore". My heart was beating fast and I was completely disoriented. I was overwhelmded and starting to lose it. But then I focused on why I was down there. I really wanted to find the solar panel. When I got that focus I could sort myself out. I cleared my mask, made the line taut, stopped caring about being blind and continued swimming and poking. When Matthias asked if I was OK, I pulled the line once, which was the signal for yes. Just a little while later the stick hit something hard. I groped down with my hand and felt something big and flat. Our solar panel. I pulled the line 3 times in quick succession, which meant "I got it!" We got the panel out, cleaned it up and it looked fine. You can see where it hit something, but that damage wouldn't interfere with it working. It's now back in it's frame!

I still find it incredible that the solar panel got blown out of its frame. It's recovery was quite amazing too, to actually find the panel in the muck in one piece. It's a little story with a happy ending that has taught me about focus and not giving up.


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