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Better light than never

Now capable of sailing, motoring, bilge pumping and beer cooling.
This is a recent, if dim (because I shot it just after sunset) picture of S/V Alchemy. Plenty has been going on, but not much of it is visible in this shot. I just thought the absence of the Mumm 36 one slip over was a good chance to get a profile shot without deploying the Portabote. The most recent round of DC-side improvements, which will conclude with a new start battery and the installation of an ACR, have progressed with a notable lack of magic smoke, for which Mrs. Alchemy and Cabin Boy are presumably grateful.
Of course, I still work for a living and have other duties. This is Craig Lahmer, a member of the mooring committee and a diver whose job it is to inspect the chains and related subsurface gear in our mooring field. I tend to drive the workboat from which he deploys, and the weeds he bears amused me one recent morning. But back to business. This is the house bank state of charge after a day off shore power. Not bad.
That tiny "AC input" merits further study. The AC side charger breaker is off here, so why 0.8 A?
Yes, there was a load: Our NovaKool fridge was on for 24 hours. Yep, we have beer and pop and cold water. The head's working again, too, but hey...priorities.
Cheapo temperature sensors are surprisingly useful aboard. The fridge part of the top-loading reefer reads 32F, so I turned it down.

The freezer portion read 14F, really, that's overkill. It's now cycling less frequently.
Cursory readings of just the charger panel (as I have yet to install the amp-hour usage meter) suggest three to four-amp draws when the boat's pretty toasty, such as 33C. That's fine. Real-life usage will differ and will dictate if more insulation is required.
Another long-anticipated change is the shifting of tools from the aft cabin to the workshop, you know, in case one day we'd care to actually sleep in there. The bungees are provisional and "good enough for Lake Ontario" in terms of keeping that box still, but I plan on installing fiddles and tensioned strapping to guarantee lack of undesirable movement.
Yeah, the worklight was fun and all, but I've wanted "general engine bay illumination" for ages.

Another improvement: a 12 VDC LED floodlight in the engine bay. The leads run back to a dedicated breaker (I still have several spares) and make a difference, particularly at night. Not pictured is a new "unswitched" DC subpanel to which the bilge pump leads have been run; the fridge and the bilge pump are now permanently on, unless switched off at the device itself. The bilge pump control panel is now above the LED flood light on the aft bulkhead of the engine bay and is accessible, if needed, from a removable panel under the lowest companionway stair in the pilothouse.

Speaking of lighting, I took a couple of hours to chase down the various dusty conduits for Alchemy's nav lights. Evidently, I found them:

Proper wiring determined through "no, no, YES! RED!" from the dock.
The lights are a new Lunasea trilight/anchor combo, with which I am well pleased, and Aqua Signal 41s, 25 watt fixtures. Technically, our LOD is 39 feet, 11 inches, or a few millimetres short of the 12 metres that demand that size of nav light, but it's no sin to be visible.

 The stern light was never disconnected, and proved to be intact.
 The two pilothouse-side lights both had dead bulbs: I had a 10 W spare of the right base...
...and a 25 W spare for the starboard side. I am so going to 25 watt-equivalent LEDs for these...they draw just three watts.
The steaming light is intact, too. The deck lights are blown or loose...which troubles me not. We have a couple of sailing things planned before haulout and the days are now fewer than 12 hours long: we needed working nav lights.
As if the Lancaster flying over wasn't enough...
 And sail again, we have. JOY!
Felt good.
It's not much of a change, but it's considerably deeper.


Wired and perspired

The boat's DC side will resemble this. At some point.
Any boat restorer will admit that progress is incremental. One reaches a point when the boat can motor and sail, perhaps, but not at night, because the lights aren't currently (so to speak) hooked into the panels for some completely unrelated reason. So there's a reluctance at times to finish one class of job, such as "making the boat move" in order to start another that will take time, effort, supplies, sweat, and time away from sailing, like "getting the fridge to work".
Prepping a typical "big crimp", in this case, a 2/0 ga. negative feed from the battery to the shunt. Evidently auto-focus didn't.
This weel, after the strategic acquisition of several bits and pieces (how, I ask you, could I run out of 2/0 gauge power lugs?), I decided to hook in the house bank to the DC panel. Due to some particularities of the installation, this turned out to be, while not overly puzzling, pretty laborious and hot, cramped work.
Yellow or black, whatever I have, passed for "neg/ground". I haven't bothered getting the right colour of wire cover.
While I was cutting and crimping and labelling and heat-shrinking around the boat's middle, Mrs. Alchemy was spraying cold galvanizing paint over the (relatively few) rust spots in the forepeak workship, and then applying a sort of patchy white Tremclad top coat that, if nothing else, alleviates the gloom until I can get lighting installed in there. There's DC and AC runs roughed it, but I have yet to trace them back to the panels. I suspect they are just looped and tucked away in the general vicinity.
So...empty! The disc is the backing plate for the bitter end U-bolt.
The general idea is that the mass of tools littering the aft cabin and the pilothouse lockers will be shifted forward and some lead "trim ballast pigs" will be shifted aft. There's about half a tonne of these lead ingots; as we add tankage, spares, tools and provisions, I will shift them down, back or off.

This is the starboard side of the forepeak. I plan to mount a cot here for crew or just to stow sail bags.
 Back in the crimpware section, I was running short of power lugs. Hard to believe, but true.
Just 2/0 gauge, really, in 5/16ths and 3/8th inch sizes.
A flying visit to the local chandlery got me a bag for 25 for about $60, the cheapest marine thing I bought all week.
Because I like convenience as much as anyone else, I added this socket and dual USB charger plate to the helm station. That whole area has gotten "busy".
Sized for your amperage pleasure.
The positive side of the house bank feeds now through a shut-off right above it, but aft. If a battery fails in in a sparky or splashy manner, this is the the main busbars.
This is a 500A/50 mv shunt.
The negative side needs a shunt close to the battery. A shunt is premised on exact measurements of resistance in order to gauge current; with it, a properly configured battery monitor can gauge how much current each circuit on board (or a variety of circuits over time) is drawing. It's firstly a measurement device and secondarily a way to trace, by process of elimation, which circuits are drawing unusual amount of juice. I have two more for the solar and wind charging sources; used in conjuction with this one, I will be able to measure with a fair degree of precision how much electricity we use aboard and how much we can make via sun, wind, alternator, and, if necessary, plugging into a Honda 2000. Given my calculations, that should be more optional (like I don't want to initiate DC inversion) to run power tools aboard than necessary to keep precious icecubes in play.
The main post-disconnect positive conduit, with an inline 250 A ANL-type fuse (covered)
The usual issue with boats is finding places to put things. There's a handy gap at the top of the mid-ship half-bulkhead accessible under the head sink. The plumbing, both feed and drain, is well away from the "walls" here, so I thought this a good, quiet place to put the main positive bus bar.
The negative bus bar is on the bulkhead 90 degree away and about 18 inches in distance. A refinement to the usual "just clap the ground here" is that this circuit also has a disconnect, meaning that if I wish to utterly isolate the house side from the starter bank side, I can. The starter bank and house bank negative cables are grounded at the engine block.Shortly, I will be adding a ACR to allow charging of both start and battery banks. But for now, I'm still on the master switch.
Position #1 is now house bank and #2 is start. I need a new start battery.
And here it is. We've seen it before, but now it's fully hooked up. I can start the engine will either house or starter bank (the sad little Group 24 I've been using as a house bank and bilge pump battery for far too long). 

Next up is runninga couple of mercifully smaller leads (1-2 gauge) to from the power busbars to power the "unswitched" DC loads, such as the fridge/freezer, which honestly I don't even know if it runs anymore, and to tie in the bilge pumps to the house bank. I also have to secure and tidy up these heavy leads with loads of tie-downs to avoid chafe, and the holes I've drilled need to be split-gasketed (McMaster-Carr makes some nice ones). After that, hooking up the nav lights in order to sail after dark. We want to take a little trip next week, whether I've rebuilt the saloon stairs or not!


Little bright spots

Snowbirds of two types.
I've been doing "big jobs" this summer, despite roaring heat and needed, if ambition-thwarting, spells of paying work. Part of the issue is time management: if I know I have four hours free, that's worth setting up for drilling, big crimping, meter work, etc. That's a nice stretch, although in the typical heat aboard the boat under in my as-yet unrestored-with-insulation pilothouse roof, it's also about the limit of what I can do without passing out. I mean, the A/C works fine in the saloon and the aft cabin, but a) I can't always have it running when I am doing electrical work and b) the lack of insulation on the lid largely defeats it.

Today, I had about two hours to spare for boaty things. There's always a myriad of small improvements I've wished to make and many of which I've long since acquired the requisite bits and pieces. One such was a small LED light, picked up for a liquidation price a couple of years back, which I wanted to use for direct, more or less, light on the breaker panels and indirect, dim light for the pilothouse. I'm not talking about a red light for night watches or map-reading, but a low-draw general illumination light. I saw it digging around for some monster switches, and thought...well, it's one more box ticked, isn't it?
Light fantastic.
Unfortunately, I can't do half-assed anymore. Unseen arethe carefully crimped connectors and terminals, lovingly sealed under heat shrink and made with 100% marine-grade tinned wire. I tied this LED fixture in to the cabin light 10 amp breaker, as most of those lights are already low-draw and it would be overkill, even for me, to put this on a breaker. At first, I tied it onto the fuel pump breaker (the white-labelled switch last on the lower panel), but unsurprisingly, the fuel pump induced a rather disco rhythm to the light, which would have been obvious had I not been stunned slightly from the racket of low passing jets during the Air Show (see top photo). 

It was a simple job, but it's satisfying to do simple jobs that don't involve unplugging the shore power to avoid welding.


Testing times, currently

Boat blog-unrelated shot of one of the two flight-capable Lancaster bombers left on Earth overflying National Yacht Club. It's important to lift one's eyes from the task occasionally.
A spate of work on the homefront meant that my battery bank was both unhooked to the DC side and off charger. Even with the installation of the galvanic isolator, I do not believe there's a compelling reason to leave the charger on unattended for a week, not when I have suspicions concerning the quality of the shore power setup.
Very much as seen in the above video, I checked out the specific gravity of each of the battery cells (18 in all in a six 6 VDC batttery bank). Initial readings were between 1.250 and 1.260, or "not bad", even uncorrected for temperature for my somewhat toasty vessel. The initial voltage was 12.47 VDC, "corner pos to corner neg", (recall that I am treating my house bank as one large 12 VDC battery), which was also indicative of pretty good health. The science of measuring battery state of charge and health (as judged by its ability to reach 100% of its rated capacity) is somewhat daunting and I claim no scientific expertise. I do think I now grasp enough to handle the basics, however.
Well, best hook this up then.
I then charged the bank until only a trickle of amps was being provided in the "float stage" from my charger. After an hour's rest (off charger completely), I registered 13.04 VDC. Measurement of each of the individual flooded cells gave SG readings of circa 1.275. All the batteries are therefore deemed fit. 
Behold the Skil 18 x 3 belt sander.I bought it (on sale, of course) to refinish red oak stair treads. Little did I know...
 I was, however, thinking that it had been a hot summer here and that my battery temperature monitor had frequently reported case temperatures of over 31C/88F. That in itself is no biggie, but I wanted to check the electrolyte levels nonetheless. So I thought I'd do a minor cosmetic job first.
Evidence that sloppy power washing will haunt one's decks.
This are the rather rudimentary aft-deck seats on Alchemy. We haven't paid attention to them, except to ponder at times how much of them we would likely cut out to put in propane tanks, liferaft valises and fender stowage or even some sort of dock box in which to put items like a barbeque while on passage. They've been neglected, but ultimately, it hasn't hurt them much, except aesthetically. The belt sander I purchased earlier in the summer to rehab some Victorian stairs at home made short work of the remaining bits of varnish, and a quarter-sheet palm sander did the rest. The result is either worthy of "nothing", or, in other words, just to let the bare wood "silver" naturally, or to give it a nice oiling. We'll see which Mrs. Alchemy opts for : coatings and stainings are more her department as I'm a grumpy incompetant when handed a brush.
Still needs some finalizing, but better than it was.
Back to the light of the charge brigade, I got a bright LED emergency torch and shone it down the fill holes of each cell on each battery. While, as would be expected from factory-fresh batteries, none showed exposed plates, I made an arbitrary call premised on imminent load cycling before the cool weather of fall and injected 10 ml of distilled water into each cell. This was enough to ensure the suggested 1/4" of electrolyte above all plates, but not so much that the level was particularly close to the underside of the vent caps.
Also, don't sweat into the batteries. It's an amateur move.
 Lastly, these vented caps need some vigourous thumb pressure to "click" back in. They are called "Water Miser vented caps" and, while better than just a pop bottle "solid" cap, they aren't the gold standard of a self-watering setup. Not sure if that's actually a good idea, however, as I would prefer just to have the habit of regular inspection and maintenance, much as looking at the end of a dipstick on a diesel can tell you more than just your oil level.
Click, and we are done.
A shout out to solar-power enthusiast"Handy Bob" for his role in suggesting these batteries, with which I am well-pleased.


Doing the right thing involves having the right skills

The video above is by Duncan Wells. I recommend a viewing. Recently, a tale of a careless and evidently unskilled boater doing a "hit and run" at a local club reminded me of a small incident in my own. A couple of weeks ago, my neighbour to the west at NYC in a Mumm 36 was being blown on and failed to allow for this in his solo turn to the east. He bent a stanchion on one of my fixed 1/2 in. steel tabs, which are welded to the deck pipe rail, and he hooked the one assigned to a future wind gen pole. 
The tab is identical on the port aft quarter as the one in this shot bearing the deck crane. Naturally, you can see why Alchemy did not budge. Unfortunately, I don't have a second fender on the inside...I never thought I'd get hit there.

I was aboard and heard, but didn't feel, the impact. I did hear nautical expletives and jumped off the boat to hear the member in question yelling that "he'd be back!" Fair enough; it's understandably traumatic when one dings the vessel and doubly so for an active racer who probably spends as much as me refitting just going around the buoys.

Mister Mumm docked on the wall to inspect his damage. Mine was about a dime's worth of blemished paint. I wasn't sore about it, and actually enjoyed experiencing the physics in play and realizing that my eight 3/4" dock lines worked as advertised, but I said if he saw my portlights open, just to knock on the boat and I would happily walk him out so he could stay at the tiller and throttle. 
Confused yet? Try it in real life on a calm day...much easier.

Maybe I'll explain "warping out", too, but really, this happens to everyone at some point. What's inexcusable is it happening more than once. I've been sailing now for about 17 years, much of it solo in a 33 footer, and now in a steel 42 footer four times its mass. Because of that, I try to take a lot of care coming and going, and simply go to the wall if my own dock is dangerous due to the conditions or I'm undercrewed. I don't hesitate also to ask for the dockmaster to take a (usually amidships) line against which I can maneuver with control. But then one has to know that seeking help to dock isn't representative of a lack of experience, but is simply prudent seamanship. 

I have seen in the last 17 years a decrease in the ability to handle sailboats in close quarters and rarely do I see anyone warping off or using simple line-handling (and prop-walk in a constructive fashion) to leave or enter docks safely. And yet it's not hard: here's one of the better books I've read lately on the topic:

Deficiencies in boat handling are real issues in most clubs these days: the absence of proper etiquette is grounded in the missing skill set that should be the baseline of responsible seamanship.


Splendid isolation

Behold the Yandina Galvanic Isolator: It's like a check valve for stray currents.
Take a deep breath, sailors: This may get technical.

Boat electrics are a complex and an even nuanced subject. Not only are knowing the basics of wiring out AC and DC circuits necessary if you want to run your own liveaboard show, but the special situations of a) boats sitting in weak electrolyte and b) metal boats sitting in weak electrolyte must be appreciated. Some terms are inexact or differ among the English-speaking peoples, such as "line or hot, neutral, ground or earth", while others, such as "floating ground", give rise to unintended images of hovering turf.

Part of the battery rehab has been, of course, the installation of the inverter, the device that creates AC power from DC power stored in the house battery bank. Learning about how that circuit is tied into the existing AC ground (see "floating") suggested that I should improve the shore power situation with galvanic isolation, which, in basic terms, stops stray currents in the water, a fluid highly conductive of voltage, from dodgy dock electrical supply, people dropping live extension cords in the water, or people whose boat wiring is not up to spec and who may consequently be leaking volts into nearby water.

Diagram (c) Boat U.S.

This is a problem with many solutions, all of which make great bedtime reading for people like me, and which can be exacerbated on metal boats. Not to mention that in severe cases, which may nonetheless be insufficient to trip the breakers designed to protect the circuit, the waters can become sufficiently electrified to injure or kill swimmers, the gravity-prone or kids messing about in nearby boats, who fall in all the time. It's not just the zinc anodes that suffer.

I can note and complain about flaws in my own club's wiring, and, as you'll read below, there are problems. But I can't actually fix them myself. I can, however, protect my boat. The Yandina gadget is one step in that direction.
Measuring the diodes in one direction...
...and then the other. Both were within spec, according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Acting with the guidance of a trusted source, I determined the galvanic isolator was functioning and then found a logical, shady place to mount it (it's not a large thing).  Then out came the shore power plug and I broke out the Holy Trinity of electrical hand tools: my Klein cable cutters (obtained in a junk store for five bucks), my Ideal Stripmaster and my Ancor double crimper.
Of course, even though I replace this typical cord when it shows signs of wear, there are better options these days.
Firstly, I had to cut into the 30 amp line. Keen eyes will spot a second 30 amp line and yes, we can run them combined for 60 amps, but I've never bothered. The throw switch seen to the left of the shot here is the "30A/off/60A" option, but it's never been an issue. If it becomes one, I can alter this installation.

The scribble refers to which outlet on the pilothouse exterior this cable is attached.
Carefully scoring the outside cover to reveal the green ground wire, I opened up about 15 cm. There was no need for any more to be exposed.
Stripping. I live for it.

My old friends, the heat-shrinkable butt crimp connector. That doesn't even sound rude anymore.
Crimping the isolator into the ground circuit was straightforward. Still haven't quite figured out the +/- adjustment on the crimper, however.
After applying the heat gun, it looks reasonably weatherproof. Given that it's in the companionway to the aft cabin, opportunities to experience weather should be quite limited.
A few cable ties to neaten up my work and I was done. Plugged back in, there was no evidence I had done a thing, and yet I had protected my boat from current events.
Squared away, yet still accessible should that be necessary.
Now, while the rationale for this installation is clear to me,  the world is full of crappy shore power circuit connections and dodgy boats. I may not be entirely done. There's an argument (particularly on metal vessels) for installing a larger, bulkier and more expensive item known as an isolation transformer. It's the electrical equivalent of wearing a wellie in a whorehouse should one wish to avoid the clap of galloping corrosion. The arguments in favour of it are strong, but I would need to see more benefits in the form of a longer record of anode wastage on Alchemy. Certain factors are currently (no pun intended) influencing the lack of enthusiasm for installation of an isolation transformer. Firstly, we will be on the hook (and therefore not on the shore power) in most places we visit. Not being on shore power, and not being near other boats on shore power is more than half the battle in reducing galvanic corrosion issues. Secondly, we don't have a generator built into the boat...and tied into its AC circuitry. It's all DC, from panels to wind genny to battery bank. Unless we are inverting DC to AC, there's no AC. We will have AC also in the form of Honda 2000 portable generators, definitely one and possibly two, but they aren't attached to the boat directly.
Not to code, hell, no
That judgment rendered, there's some squirrelly stuff on the docks at my club. Spend a few weeks in blistering heat wiring out things and one starts to dwell on it. A guy three slips down has been running two domestic-grade (think 16 gauge garden variety you'd use to power a weed whacker) from his wee charger on his '70s-era boat (wired probably identically to Valiente) across his decks, off his bow, over the water and down a bow dock line. From there it goes to the power post I share with a cabin cruiser that is constantly drawing 60 amps to keep the beer cold. When I asked why, the owner said the "power post closest to him doesn't have a working 15 amp plug". Well, that's really a club issue the boat owner has. Letting a live extension cord dip into the water next to my steel boat is my problem. He's since pledged to get a 30 amp cord. Hell, he's paying for the dock.
See that white fuzzy thing in the middle of the shot? That's the outer cover and inner fuzz exposed because the cord's nearly cut through.
Yet this stuff is distressingly common on the docks. Either through a perception that "well, I only need enough power for the clock radio/Koolatron/little 10 amp battery charger" means only an extension cord is necessary, or because the club is negligent or ignorant on how poorly crappy cords and water mix one sees this far too often.
Black electrical tape does not, in fact, keep the electricity in.

I use "pro-grade" 12 ga. extension cords on occasion to run tools while I've got the AC circuitry in pieces on the deck. I secure it to the dock and wrap it up when I'm done. I don't leave the boat plugged in generally, because of what I've learned. The battery bank will shortly be on solar and wind...I won't have to plug it at all if I'm not running power tools. These concepts aren't hard, but remain, in my view, poorly understood. Since I started sailing in 1999, there have been three serious firest at nearby facilities: a fire at RCYC caused by a battery charger left plugged it via an extension cord that burned several boats; a fire at QCYC caused by leaving a fridge plugged into an extension cord (that one nearly burned the club down, if I recall correctly); and a fire at Outer Harbour Marina from an extension cord plugged into a heater in the on-site toilets. I saw the results of that one personally: 
It did not buff out.
The commonality, of course, is the lowly, unattended, probably hot and overamped extension cord. They are, unless really expensive and made for mud-caked construction sites (I have 150 feet of those and use them as needed over the winter) made for temporary, light duty. They aren't waterproof and the longer they are, the more likely they are to melt. The 30 amp shore power cord, with the right adapter, is the only acceptable power cord that should be seen at a marina or yacht club unless it's in active, supervised use. 
Yikes. An argument for hauling out if I've ever seen one. Photo (c)
I realize that extension cords are easy and that shore power cords are unwieldly, heavy and expensive. I don't care. Your negligence doesn't get to burn (or corrode) our boat. Send your hate mail care of this blog.