Trying a new approach to entertainment and navigation.
Both Van Blancs had aftermarket media systems, the first had a Kenwood and the last a Pioneer. They were state of the art DAB Radio and Music entertainment systems with Satellite Navigation and phone integration. They also had quality aftermarket speakers. Both great bits of kit in their own way supplied and fitted by Jason and Noel at Absolute Audio.
But here is a thing; We used the radio and occasionally music a lot when driving but not so often when parked up. We gave up on the Sat Nav which was slow to update routes and sent us on unreliable detours so we started using Apple Car Play with Apple Maps and now also Google Maps. We started using Apple Maps in Norway this year and and found it equally as good and with some advantages over the built in system. Using Car Play maps has a small downside in that it does use a small amount of data but in return it is real time and far better. We also have Car Play in our new VW Polo and we are sold on it.
So this time we have a new plan. The van comes as standard with a decent media system with DAB, Music, Car Play and Phone integration so it does everything we want while we are on the road. In which case we will stick with it and only maybe look at the speakers.
Instead we have invested £150 in an UltimateEars Megaboom 3, Logitechs Blue Tooth speaker offering. It integrates well with iTunes and Apple Music from iPhone or iPad and playing with it at home so far sounds brilliant. It is controllable using an app and its speakers are designed to fill the space and give a good range of sound that can be adjusted by an equaliser in the phone app. The unit is waterproof and cordless, charged from a USB point, so it can be used anywhere inside or outside the van.
Collecting together domestic stuff I need to build a domestic water and waste system.
I am starting to get to grips with the water, waste and sanitary on board a camper van. We will have a toilet with a sink and shower but don’t for one minute imagine a spacious bathroom.
Once we get the van I will get two tank kits from CAK Tanks in Kenilworth. One will be 100ltr of fresh water and the other about the same of grey water. These underslung tanks will be wrapped in insulation to guard against freezing and will be plumbed into the kitchen and toilet / shower room. They will both have senders to the control panels so we know when they need emptying and filling.
Fresh water will be pumped from the tank through 15mm push fit plastic plumbing by a small 10ltr Shurflo Trailking on demand pump that actuates by the pressure drops when a tap is opened. These are nice reliable little units for motorhomes and marine use. Operating on 12V it will have a master switch on the control panel.
Hot water will be supplied to the toilet sink and shower via a Binar 5S12 diesel water heater. This is part of a Russian made family of air and water heaters for boats and leisure vehicles. It comes as a complete kit ready to install with a small temperature controller. It will give enough hot water for a shower or wash using a few drops of fuel. They are very compact and I haven’t decided yet whether this should be underslung or whether I can find space in side.
The toilet unit will be a built in Telford 403L Cassette type system with an electric flush from the pumped water system. It has a level indicator for the 19L cassette that can be withdrawn for emptying from the storage space behind the rear doors.
The sink unit is a neat one that I found from O’Leary Motorhomes. It is actually a spare item for a Swift camper van and looks so much better than the cheap moulded sinks that are on the market. When it folds up it leaves a nice flat panel and the challenge will be to match the finish of that with the rest of the toilet / shower.
I have to find the kitchen sink. I have seen what we want but am having trouble getting one but I will. Then we need a simple shower unit and a plug in one outside for dog washing and the like.
The grey waste will all collect from the drains into the grey water tank. This will be emptied by a simple dump valve when you are parked over the grating at a service point. It will have a flushing inlet so that it can get a quick clean out occasionally and both the tanks will have facilities for opening them up for cleaning every year,
Getting the electrical supply right will be important for living off grid and wild camping
With our new van we want to be able to travel for longer, not worry about the seasons and avoid too many expensive camp sites. To do these things a greater degree of self sufficiency when it comes to electrical power would be useful. We don’t have too many electrical devices, in fact the fridge and lights are probably the most demanding as well as enough juice to fire the hob and a bit of USB charging for phones and pads. The only real difference in our new van will be a 230V microwave for which we will need an inverter which will also be useful for charging tooth brushes, for the occasional hair drier and maybe a toaster.
Travelling in Norway this year we only used MHU (Mains Hook Up) once or twice to charge my toothbrush. Other than that travelling most days or parked up with solar kept us just about topped up although it got touch and go a couple of times. Van Blanc had a 110Ah leisure battery and a 100W solar panel and one advantage of a pop up roof is that we could get a better angle of incidence on the panel. So this time we have decided that overkill is a good plan, enough power for a few days parked up off grid and out of season.
Our van will come with a 98Ah starter battery and the larger 180A alternator so we are off to a good start.
We have bought two very large batteries, 12V 205Ah Leoch Gel Tubular Plate deep-cycle Powabloc from Alpha Batteries. These Gel Tubular Plate batteries have capacity ratings of 205Ah (100hr), 180Ah (20hr) with true deep-cycle and deep-discharge capabilities. They are sealed & maintenance-free and have a typical max. cycle life of 1500 cycles @ 80% DoD and come with 6-year warranty. The only minor draw back is that they weigh 60kg each but given that the van is rated at 3,5T we have a bit of headroom. They will sit on the floor out of sight ahead of the rear axle.
On the roof of the van we have space for 2 big solar panels so we have bought two 200W panels. These are Xplorer 1200 x 990 again from Alpha Batteries. They are a good quality German made panel that come with a 6 year warranty. I will have to devise some brackets that keep them low on the roof and an airfoil to reduce the wind resistance and any noise.
Next we have to manage the power, battery to battery charging from a Euro 6 source, solar charge control, mains hook up charging and all the other system management. Our previous vans were simpler and a learning curve but for this one we wanted a good integrated system. In the end we have got a complete Votronic system which is a little more expensive but should all integrate.
We will use a Votronic VBCS 60/40/430 Triple controller. This will manage the charge from the vehicle battery / alternator when we are on the, from the solar panels when the sun shines and from mains hook up. It can manage the input and charge from all three of these sources and look after the starter battery as well as the leisure batteries.
The controller itself will be monitored through a Votronic VPC Jupiter 400 panel with a blue tooth connector for a mobile phone app. Not only will it display current battery and charge states but it will warn if the levels are too low. In addition it will also provide switching for the water pump, monitor the fresh grey water tank levels and the inside and outside temperatures.
And then there is the occasional need for 230V which will be managed by a Votronic Inverter SMI 1700 ST NVS pure sine wave inverter. This will provide a steady 1700w to 230V outlets from batteries or direct from mains if hooked up. Being pure sine wave all sorts of electronics devices could be connected.
Of course there are all sorts of other wires, switches and plugs to take account of and make safe. There will be a Commando plug for mains hook up, a double pole consumer unit with reverse polarity warning and a couple of boxes of 12V fuses to protect everything.
Had a great time at the NEC looking at equipment for outr new van.
To get ready for the arrival of our new VW Crafter that we are going to convert over the winter we took ourselves and our credit cards to the NEC Motorhome Show. We booked a hotel the nights before and after to give ourselves a whole day and what a good day we had. The show wasn’t too busy on a Thursday and we were there from open to close. So what did we see and and buy.
Well we started with a look around some of the big panel vans on offer. Most were on Fiat Ducato chases with just a few on Sprinter and Crafter chassis. To be honest we didn’t see anything we hadn’t seen before and if the did one thing it confirmed for us why our fit out ideas are better than the market norms. There were only a couple on VW chassis, Westfalia and Hillside, but these just followed the others so nothing inspiring although we did learn a couple of useful points.
So off to start spending. Talking to some of the companies there we ended up identifying a few “deals” and a couple of decisions to make. As well as finding out who to go to when the time came. The idea though was to buy as much big kit as we could now to hedge against the pound crashing further after brexit and to make sure we had the kit ready to do the job.
Trying to understand the difference between makes and models we spoke to both Fiamma and Thule about wind out awnings. It always amazes me how little some of the people on stands know about the product, often companies seem to take anyone along regardless of their ability to present and sell the product. Anyway rant over. So after deliberating we were minded to go for Thule but when we tried to place the order the price we were told just went up and up so in the end we went back to Fiamma, who incidentally were being represented by our local dealer, Johns Cross. From them we ordered a 4 meter long F65S in black with a grey fabric. The painful thing wasn’t the several hundred pounds for the awning but the £180 for the fixing kit! Still it was on order and by the time we got home the following afternoon it had been delivered direct from the distributor.
We had been going to look at a Thetford fridge that is designed for a panel van. Campervan fridges are ridiculously expensive for what they are and this was certainly no exception. On the way to look at at it we stopped by Vitrifrigo whom we had bought our last fridge from only to be presented with a new slightly larger, cleverer and even more expensive fridge. These both had us in a quandary for the day. The head man from the Vitifrigo made us a show special and returning customer off that in the end we could not resist.
The 150L compressor fridge layout is the best we have seen in a compact package and with a remote compressor. It has a large -18C 3* freezer compartment and brilliant cool drawer. It can be set to night mode to keep it quiet and turbo mode for freezing. The fridge is a useful height that will sit in a cabinet over one of the rear wheel arches. Yes it was very expensive but it will be a boon to be able to shop and store for more than a day at a time.
Next on the list was our Wallas XC Duo diesel hob / heater – the same as we had in Van Blanc. Actually we already knew we were going to buy one so this was just a placing the order exercise. Sue loved cooking on ours and although we rarely used it for heating we are sure that in a well insulated van it will have no problem keeping us warm. Anyway we wanted to say high to Darren the tech sales guy from Wallas and had fun helping him make a couple of sales.
For all sorts of configuration reasons we had to order the van without swivel seats and use aftermarket swivel bases. I found that no one yet seemed to make specific units and that converters were using those for other models and adapting them. So at the NEC I had a look at a Westfalia “Sven Heiden” that is based on a crafter and found they had used some from a company called Aguti that I had not seen before. Later in the day we came across a trade distributor who had Aguti in their range and who told me that they had recently got the bases but as no one yet had them for sale they would sell direct. Again they are expensive but they are the right thing and seemed to work well.
And really that is all we bought and paid for at the show although we looked at a lot of other products that we have since come home and ordered that I will detail my next posts.
Ordinarily would have liked another white van but really – a long wheel base Crafter doesn’t do it. Too much white and looks like a DPD delivery.
Oh and it cost £8 just to hose the dirt off Van Blanc after the tunnel cleaning in Norway. So this time we decided on metallic Iridium Grey in the hope that it won’t show the dirt so easily.
So we needed a name that would lead to a decent graphic. We started with VW which gave us Van W From there we got Van Wolfsburg (Wolfsburg is the historic home of VW) which then got shorted to Van Wolf. Wolf is good because we can get some nice frontal and silhouette graphics and some decent gothic fonts.
If you have been following us as as Van Blanc and want to continue you will need to use our new URL vanwolf.blog and soon vanwolfsite.wordpress.com
After weeks away this year and sometimes in less good weather we have come to the conclusion that if we want to carry on touring into old age and do it regardless of season then we need a bigger and better equipped van.
So our VW T6 has been sold and going to a new loving home.
We are upsizing to a VW Crafter LWB that is on order and has an estimated build of week 47, late November. So now its time to start planing and buying stuff.