Our ‘van is a 2014 model and brilliant though it is, one thing it lacked was USB sockets and we need plenty of those to charge our phones, tablets, iPod and the 4G mobile broadband modem. The cab area does have two 12 volt sockets, but these only function when the van ignition is switched on. There are no dedicated USB sockets in the habitation area. We do have some mains to USB adapters, but these are only useful when we are hooked up to a mains electric supply. There are two USB outlets on the satellite TV unit and we have been using these to power the Chromecast and the bluetooth speaker.
So I decided to install some additional USB power outlets.
The TV runs on a 10A circuit but really only draws around 2A maximum so I decided to extend the TV circuit rather than wire in a new circuit. A double USB socket can draw up to 3A at 5V, so doesn’t use too much on the 12V circuit.
I got the necessary components from 12 Volt Planet and set about installing a double USB socket and an isolating switch with a fuse so that it can be switched off in the event of any problems. The van’s ‘tech’ cupboard already contains the Satellite TV box and has a blanking panel at the back to hide the excess cable. I decided to fit the USB socket and the switch onto this panel.
It’s now wired so that I can easily add another double USB socket if need be. It’s fused with a 3A fuse to be on the safe side. Now all I have to do is connect it to the van’s 12volt TV circuit. Simple eh?
Having removed the panel and drilled the holes, I then cut and crimped the wires while enjoying some afternoon sun in the garden.
Final product, in place and switched on, glowing nicely.
Proper USB charging
As this was quite a simple task, I now plan to install a few more USB sockets on the passenger side of the van, but next time I will install a new circuit rather than piggyback off an existing one.
TV reception in the van is a bit hit and miss. We have a satellite receiver and TV so can receive heaps of rubbish channels from all over the place as long as we have a direct line of sight to the satellite orbiting overhead. Most of the campsites we have used have been well wooded to provide shelter from the heat of the sun. Consequently we have been unable to receive satellite TV or radio channels for a fair proportion of the time we have spent in the van.
We have been able to receive 3G mobile phone and mobile internet signals though and have seldom been outside of mobile network coverage.
The EU recently has forced mobile phone operators to remove roaming charges throughout the EU and most of Europe which means that internet data is now much cheaper to use while abroad in the EU.
I recently bought a ChromeCast device from Currys, where the price had been discounted from £30 to £19 for one day only, and connected the Chromecast to the AV input of the van’s satellite receiver.
The chromecast is a media streaming device which can be controlled from a mobile phone. Video and audio channels (Youtube, iPlayer) are streamed from the mobile internet to the phone then ‘cast’ to the Chromecast device which outputs video and audio to the TV.
The Chromecast has a HDMI output port to connect to a TV and uses a USB connection to provide its power. We have the HDMI plugged into the satellite receivers ‘pass through’ HDMI input to provide the video and audio signal, and use one of the satellite receivers two USB ports to provide power.
I also bought an unlocked 4G LTE mobile broadband modem to replace my ageing 3G MiFi, which is locked to Three.
The TP-Link 7350 can use a SIM from Three, Orange or others to provide network access at 4G speeds.
The idea is to use a French Orange prepay SIM when we go to France next and avoid the back-haul through the Three network to the internet. The TP-Link provides the local WiFi network in the van that allows our mobile phones, tablets and Mac to connect to the internet as normal as well as to control video and audio streams to the Chromecast.
We tried this set-up out on our recent camping expedition to East Sussex and were able to stream BBC TV programs using the iPlayer video, BBC radio channels as well as Youtube videos to the van’s TV.
For my 60th birthday Louise gave me a ‘Vineyard Tour and Tasting with lunch for two‘ voucher that I could use at any one of a number of vineyards in the south of England. We looked at the map and decided to use it at the Carr Taylor vineyard which is found a few miles north of Hastings in East Sussex. I booked the visit for the 12th July and then searched for a place to stay nearby for a couple of nights as we intended to stay in the ‘van and use our bikes to get to the vineyard. We chose the Meadow View campsite as it seemed to be closest to the vineyard, and we reserved our space for the 2 nights.
Our drive to East Sussex was uneventful; it was dual carriageway for most of the way. The last 12 miles or so to the campsite was not so easy; our satnav took us cross country along some very narrow and steep roads. Thankfully the oncoming traffic was fairly light and gave way to let us pass.
Parked up and ready for the tour of the vineyard
The weather had been scorching for the previous couple of weeks. A change was forecast. It started raining shortly after we arrived at the campsite and it rained very heavily all night. This was a worry for our cycle ride. Thankfully, the rain stopped by about 6am.
Hmmm…the bike ride was a little harder than anticipated. The terrain around Sedlescombe/Westfield is very hilly and not brilliantly signposted. One wrong turn and we ended up cycling about 4 miles further than intended. Somehow, we managed to arrive on time.
The tour of the Carr Taylor vineyard itself was well worth the visit. The tour group was about 20 strong, the guide was very knowledgeable, explaining how the vines were planted, which varieties were grown and why, and he had heaps of interesting information about how a vineyard and wine producer works throughout the seasons.
The wine tasting was an eye opener for me. I had only tasted English wine once, and that was enough. My experience was limited to tasting an English red wine from a local vineyard. Carr Taylor doesn’t produce red wines, the reason being that we don’t get enough sunshine in England to ripen the grapes, so they stick to white and rose wines, and to fruit wines including apples, elderberry and others.
The tour lasted for a couple of hours but the time passed quickly as our guide was very entertaining. It concluded with a wine tasting- then lunch with a glass of still white wine.The tasting comprised sparkling brut white and sparkling rose, followed by still white and still rose and then a selection of their fruit wines. Carr Taylor is planted with mostly German sounding grape varieties as well as some Pinot and Chardonnay Their white and rose wines, and the fruit wines, are really very good, so good in fact that we bought a bottle of rose and two bottles of apple.
Tucking into the buffet lunch complete with stilton, pate and local wine.
The cloud had disappeared by now and it was starting to warm up a bit. We had decided to buy a couple of bottles of the local produce and were discussing with the tour guide how to get it back to the ‘van when he mentioned that the vineyard operates a ‘BritStop’ camp site on the premises. So, we could have parked in their campsite/carpark just yards away from the tour start point! Oh, yes, and we discovered there had been a Groupon offer at the campsite…missed that, too! Oh well, at least the vineyard tour was a gift!
These three beauties will go into the wine fridge for a while, but they won’t have to wait too long before being opened.
So, we loaded 3 bottles into the pannier bag and attached it to my bike, then it was back to the van for an afternoon relaxing in what was left of the summer sunshine.
Very tasty home made chilli accompanied by French cider for dinner. The chilli had been in the van freezer since the beginning of June so was ready to be eaten.
Well, on our first day at home I decided to investigate the broken satellite system. I pulled the covers off the cable trunking and using the volt meter measured the voltage on the power cable. While doing this I discovered that the live wire to the satellite receiver was disconnected. It looks like it had never been fully connected and had possibly rattled its way loose during our drive. I reconnected the cable properly and behold, we have Cbeebies and other assorted rubbish on the TV. What a simple fix.
Now where did I leave that damned water filler cap?
Update: a visit to Southdowns Motorhomes Centre this week solved our water filler problem, we bought a new filler cap complete with keys for the sum of £15.22. Sorted.
It’s winter. It’s pretty cold and I don’t want the van to get too cold inside or it’ll take forever to warm up.
We do have a portable halogen heater that we bought in Aldi, but I’m not too happy putting it on a timer to switch on overnight so we bought a small 1Kw oil filled radiator that we will connect on a timer so that it keeps the van warm at night.
An electric heater is fine when we are on electric hookup, however a 1Kw heater is not going to keep us warm if we are out and about in the van in the depths of winter. The best way to keep the van warm when not connected to the electricity supply is to use its gas fired blown-air central heating system. The problem with this is that we use the same gas bottle to power the kitchen hob and the fridge, and we only have the one 11Kg propane bottle, and we really don’t want to run out of gas.
We have the space in the gas locker for 2 propane tanks and have already done the hard part of connecting up the LPG filler point so we decided to buy and fit the additional bits necessary to double our gas carrying capacity.
Our configuration now consists of two Alugas 11Kg bottles, both bottles are connected to the LPG filling point on their inputs, and both outputs are connected to a T-piece which is connected to the gas regulator. Both bottles will be filled at the same time, and gas will be used from both bottles at the same time. I cannot see the need for either a manual or an automatic switchover as both bottles will be refilled at the same time from the same fill point.
The regulator and T-piece are fastened in place by 15mm pipe clips which fit quite well and should hold it all in place.
All checked for leaks and it seems to be fine. All we need to do now is to fill up with LPG.
Regulator is above the bottles so should not become gunked up.
The aluminium bottles weigh very little so will not really impact on our van’s payload. I wanted to use the new 14kg bottles, but they would not fit the gas locker. Still, with 2 x 11Kg we should be able to survive at least 10 days before needing a fill up even in the coldest winter.
Update 8th January
We filled up with gas on Friday, putting in around 17 litres. This filled one tank which was 3/4 full anyway, and half filled the other. No smells of leaking propane, phew. Next time we’ll fill it to the brim.