Twenty years ago, in the Everglades at night, Brandon Rahe used to see dozens of opossums, raccoons, and marsh rabbits. But an explosion in the population of invasive snake species – most notably the Burmese Python – has resulted in significant ecological damage to the fauna of Florida.
Today, you’re lucky if you even see a raccoon; He says.
Adult Pythons are not subject to serious threat from predators: Birds might have a go at a snake hatchling, and an alligator or wild pig might tangle with them, but once a Python is one year old, it’s large enough to kill them, he says.
There may be as many as half a million Pythons in the Everglades. Native snakes competing for the same food and the same habitat, lose out. Brandon is one of about 100 individuals contracted by Florida government agencies to eliminate pythons and seek out active nests.
Van life, work and play
Brandon’s work revolves around his van and a Victron Energy power system.
The van is Brandon’s overnight Python-hunting rig, equipped with light bars on the sides and up to four spotlights up front, all of which are wired to an eight-way switch panel. There’s a nearby campground where Brandon can connect to AC power and run the Air-Con all night. His van is equipped with a refrigerator, too:
I love having refrigeration on board at all times, being able to grab a cold drink or a cheese stick. Florida is very hot in the summer. When I’m mobile and go to the grocery store I can put my cold items in the fridge and continue to run errands and not have to race home.
The power system – which has recently been updated – includes:
- Multiplus 12/3000/120-50 120V Inverter/Charger. The robust MultiPlus provides power for all onboard domestic appliances and includes many advanced features. For example it will avoid overloading a generator or a current-limited camp site power supply. It even adds battery power on top of the limited AC supply to meet larger-than-available onboard demand.
- Orion Tr Smart 12/12 30A Charger – Non Isolated. The Orion DC to DC charger provides 3-stage charging in dual battery installations – where there is a ‘starter’ and ‘house’ battery. It automatically detects when the engine is running or has stopped changing its configuration to avoid accidental drain of a starter battery – eliminating manual intervention or re-wiring. The Orion can also be used as a power supply – maintaining precise voltage supply, overcoming voltage-drop on long cable runs to distant equipment, for example.
- MPPT 100/30 SmartSolar charge controller. This solar charge controller is a fully featured device which maximises the solar harvest to charge batteries using intelligent charge algorithms. It can be read and programmed straight from a phone.
- 3 x Pylontech RT12100 12V 100Ah Lithium Batteries
- BMV-712 Smart Shunt. This battery monitor measures and records a host of system data allowing users to see battery State of Charge, as well as the highest, lowest and present Voltage and Amperage. It provides up to 46 days of historical trends, settable alarms and an automatic relay and will also measure battery temperature.
After visiting Yellowstone National Park recently the starter battery in the van failed. They contacted nearby Victron distributor, Intelligent Controls, and after discussions and analysis decided to upgrade the battery bank and exchange their old Automatic Charging Relay for an Orion 12/12 DC-DC Charger. The relay didn’t appear to have failed, but it had a very basic mechanism for regulating the incoming voltage from the alternator; explains Reid Loessberg from Intelligent Controls. Because of the failed starter battery, the relay’s voltage reference got derailed, allowing the alternator to smash the AGM [Absorbant Glass Mat] batteries full of charge until they were swelling up like pumpkins.
Incorporating an Orion DC-DC charger into the system ensures that Brandon is able to safely charge any battery from the vehicle’s alternator and do so with much more sophisticated control than the relay they previously had in place.
Brandon’s damaged AGM battery bank was replaced with three 12V Pylontech lithium batteries. I had two 170 amp hour AGMs with 50% discharge capacity; he says, which meant I only had 170 usable Amp hours. Now, we’re stepping that up to three 100 amp hour batteries, and if I can discharge the Pylontechs down to 90 or 95%, that puts me at 270 amp hours conservatively. So I have a full hundred amp hours more than I had previously.
Taking part in all these adventures is Amanda Radford. Brandon met Amanda while she was working as a nurse in Florida. Brandon was running a gym at that time, and I had a degree in exercise physiology. He encouraged me to take on a few clients as a personal trainer to get a break from the stress of the hospital.
When Brandon first invited Amanda to the Everglades to hunt for pythons, she agreed to go. I was definitely scared of snakes, but that weekend Brandon spotted a Python and I watched him reach down and catch it in his hand. From then on I was hooked.
It was about a year ago that Brandon became ready for a big life change himself. He says: Right out of college, my personal training business grew very quickly and just never stopped. I loved adventuring and had all the gear and had built out a van with a Victron Energy power system back in 2018 to take on longer cross-country trips, but I just never had time. I was over it.
I realized that I need to go live my life before I’m too old or my body shuts down. I can earn money later. Right now, I need to get out there and live my life.
Last year, Brandon traveled across the United States, visiting the cities and rock climbing in the national parks he’d always wanted to visit. Meanwhile, Amanda provides in-person and virtual training sessions to clients all over the country – her working life allows her to join Brandon on the road for a month at a time, taking care of her clients from wherever she happens to be.
Last year they put 10,000 miles on the van, often camping without an AC power connection. With everything set up just as they need, the adventure is really only just beginning.
[If you’re based in North America and looking for some expert ‘mobile power’ advice you can get in touch with Intelligent Controls. Or check out some of their resources – including RV alternator charging.]