Monday, January 31, 2011

Manage those electrons

I've talked at length about managing your onboard source of electricity.  To do this effectively, there is one key instrument you *need* to have - an amp-hr meter.  This device keeps track of the amount of electricity going into and coming out of your batteries - it is effectively a battery "fuel gauge".

The devices are not hard to install.  To do their work, they need to sense the battery voltage(s) and the current flow.

For current flow, all will come with a "current shunt" - a precision very low resistance resistor made up of copper plates stretched between two copper blocks.  Final calibration of these resistors is done at the factory by grinding away some of the plates, so don't be surprised to see this. The shunt is typically installed in the negative lead to the batteries, between the batteries and the first connection (multiple battery banks will require multiple shunts - often combined in a single unit).  That is, no load (including the engine starter) on the batteries can escape passing thru the shunt.  Two light gauge wires will be connected across the shunt and directed to the amp-hr meter.

Next, the amp-hr meter needs to know the battery voltage.  If you have multiple battery banks, it will need to know the voltage of each.  On the Link 2000, the negative connection at the shunt is used for the negative voltage connection; a separate light gauge wire is run to the batteries for the positive connection (yours may differ).  It is *extremely important* that the positive connection be made as directly to the batteries as possible.  Ideally, to the battery terminal itself.  If this is not possible, the connection should be made to a very heavy conductor (say at the "1,2,Both" switch).  Any current being carried in the wire to which the voltage sense lead is connected will distort the voltage reading, potentially to the point where the system becomes useless, if the current is high enough or the wire is small enough. 

But the good news is that all the sense leads need only be very light gauge.  Typically they should be twisted pairs to minimize interference.  If all your wires are going from the meter to a single area, a standard RJ45 ethernet cable is a great source of multiple twisted pair wires in a single jacket.

The Link 2000 shown above also controls our inverter/charger.  That connection is made with a standard telephone cable (if that still has any meaning in this era of cell phones...).

So, to install, choose a location for the meter display, choose a location for the shunt, and string light gauge wires.  It actually does qualify as a *small* boat project.

Friday, January 28, 2011

No chips

Today, Chuck on s/v Sea Trek demonstrates how to install a switch in a wood panel without destroying the panel in the process.  A very nice tutorial.
With the main electrical panel now replaced, there were a few small things that were unfinished and now is as good a time as any to get those done. The bilge pump switch for the secondary mid-ship bilge pump has been out for some time now. It was temporarily mounted in the forward hanging locker after the smaller secondary electrical panel was installed, but it was not convenient to get to. We did the installation for the anchor windlass some time back, but the helm switches to raise and lower the anchor from the steering location had not been done.

These are the kinds of small projects that I like to do over the winter months to have everything ready for any spring cruising we might want to do. The bilge pump switch will be mounted directly over the sub panel for the Air-Conditioning. The switch was originally mounted where the electrical panel is now, but whoever installed the switch did a really sloppy job of cutting the hole, and that was another consideration when deciding where to mount the AC panel. But I did want to keep it close to that location because it was easy to see, and I can reach the manual switch, even when standing in the front of the engine compartment. And because this is a toggle switch, it will be behind the steering wheel, so it can't get bumped accidentally.

The first thing that I did was to make a template out of a piece of cardboard so that I could get the hole exact and have everything lined up straight. With the template in place, I can trace out the area that needs to be cut out for the switch and LED light with a marker. I then tape around that area with easy release tape so that the wood is not damaged when the cuts are made. Teak plywood can be tricky to cut, and if you are not careful, the plywood will splinter and leave a ragged edge. So I first score the plywood surface with a utility knife to eliminate splitting and chipping, and drill a hole in the center of the cut out area.

The next step is to cut the hole, and my favorite tool for this, and many other small projects, is my Dremel Tool. I have the saber saw attachment that can be used directly on the Dremel or can be attached to the
flexible shaft attachment. I am always careful to make my cuts inside the area that I scored with the utility knife. This is the method I use for mounting any switches, electronic displays or gages.

Once the hole is cut I like to insert the switch to be sure there is enough clearance for the inner workings and that the switch can be aligned with everything around it. One work of caution, BEFORE drilling or cutting, check the area behind the spot to be sure you will not drill or cut any plumbing or electrical wiring. Once I am satisfied with everything, a thorough vacuuming is in order. Usually Susan is standing next to me with the vacuum running as I am cutting, sanding or drilling. But this time she was not on the boat, so I have to do a good job in the clean up.

Next step is to connect up all of the wiring. The tools are basic - a good pair of wire strippers, wire cutters, crimpers, my multi-tip screw driver, some wire ties, my favorite wire tie cutters (fingernail clippers), and a tube of silicone grease. With all of the electrical work on the boat, a good coating of silicone grease is added to both sides of every connection. We have almost never had a corrosion problem with any connections over the years using silicone grease. Just as with the larger electrical panels, before I removed the wires from the switch, I labeled them so it would be easy to put them back correctly.

I also like to be sure all of the wires are just long enough that should I have to work on the switch again, I can pull it a distance out of the hole to make working on it or rewiring easier. A bit longer length of wire allows for repairs should the need come up to cut and replace the ends with new connectors. At this point, everything is secured with wire ties to keep it neat.

The final step is to mount the entire switch. I use a small carpenters level to be sure it is aligned and mark the location of the screw holes. I then drill a small hole where the screws go to keep the wood from splitting. Everything is mounted and looking just as I planned.

The next switch is the anchor up and down switch, and the process to locate and install that is exactly the same as the bilge pump switch. This one needs to be in a location that is easy to reach while at the helm and since both of us are right handed, the right side of the helm seemed natural. We can also reach it from just outside the sliding door to the main salon, at the steering station. This one took a bit more wiring, since it needed to be run to the reversing switch for the windlass. But it was still simple and straightforward, and now two more items are off the to-do list. On to the next one.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"Overnight" shipping reprise

My frustration is gone.  And if you check with Jane, she will tell you that it was mighty frustration indeed (sorry Jane).

But now all is well.  I am now a happy Clearwire camper.

And the hardware is a surprise as well.  It is as small as a cell phone (which it probably is, under the covers).  And it runs off its own internal battery!  My biggest objection to the "ClearSpot" modem was that it ran off of 110V, something in short supply off the dock.  It turns out that it is the charger which runs off of 110V.

Insert *BIG* smiley here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Scrounge #2: clock

Originally the clock and barometer on Eolian were not a matched set - the clock was considerably bigger than the barometer.

And then one day, by the dumpster, we found another clock.  Oh, it was a corroded mess and the mechanism didn't work.  But it was a near match in size and style to the barometer.

I snatched it up in a heartbeat.  It wasn't the best dumpster find I've ever made (that was a 15 hp outboard), but it was a good one because of its potential fit on Eolian.

So, I ran it across a buffing wheel and cleaned up the corrosion.  I gave it a few coats of a clear epoxy varnish.  And I got a new mechanism from Klockit for $5 (really!), and look at it now!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Scrounging: refrigerator door

When I moved aboard Eolian, the refrigerator was a mess.  Rebuilding it was something that was absolutely required, but definitely doesn't qualify as a small boat project.

But replacing the door on the refrigerator does.  The old door was a corroded aluminum frame with a thin piece of unfinished (and therefore mottled and dirty) teak plywood in it.  But I found the door you see above at a local chandler here in Seattle - for $10 - it was an exact replacement.  It didn't look like this then - tho it was new, the finish panel had been damaged in shipping or handling, and the retailer was just trying to get rid of it.  I bought it, and for a few dollars more had a piece of black Plexiglas cut to fit where the trim panel goes.  I think it is a perfect complement to the black glass oven/stove, don't you?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Locked in position

Today, Paul of s/v Solace shows us how he constructed an adjustable solar panel mount that locks in position.  Clever!

There are many ways of mounting solar panels. Here is one way to mount with a tidy way to raise and lower the panels.
In a storm north of New Zealand I lost a solar panel along with the temporary railing that I had it mounted on. I have since had the aft of the boat reworked with railing built so it looks like it was always there. Much stronger. Deciding that my previous attempts at methods to angle the solar panels were not that good, I have come up with the following idea for the rail mounted solar panels.

You will note the small vertical rail inserted half way along between stanchions. This was used to mount my actuator arm.

For the actuator arm, I used a stainless antenna mount and  had made a stainless tube made with a thread at one end and closed off the other. This was screwed to the antenna mount.

This attached to the small vertical rail in the middle.  The solar panel  was mounted with white rail mount clamps which I had previously used to good effect. This time around though, I had to add spacers because the railing was curved to follow the lines of the boat.

At the bottom of the "solar panel actuator" the one inch stainless leg was placed in some pressure PVC pipe bought from a hardware store and this in-turn was secured to the bottom of the solar panel with leather on both sides of the pipe and the leather secured to the solar panel. This allows free movement of the stainless piece of the solar panel actuator as the panel is raised and lowered. I used two different types of antenna mounts. One with allen key and the other with a turning lever. The one with the lever, I cut off short because you only need thumb tight and the lever would interfere with my lee cloths.

After trying both, I prefer the lever arm rather than the allen key type.

The panel raises from full down to 30 degrees off the vertical. One could, if you don't have lee cloths, build the actuator arm with a curve in it near the mounted piece so that when raised it would allow the railing to not impinge on the actuator arm. I'm happy with 30 degrees off the vertical and lee cloths.

The lee cloths had small "U" shapes cut out and bound, so that the hinges and actuator arm could function. The lee cloths were secured to the railing and toe rail with cable ties. Lee cloths not shown here.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Directing the flow

Last post I talked about creating air circulation around Eolian's Dickenson heater.  But I kind of glossed over one pretty important issue. 

The air rising off of the heater strongly wants to go up.  In order to get it to go out, and in order to get some air flow down behind the heater to reduce the heat load on the bulkhead, careful redirection of the air flow is required.

It just so happened that an old metal grate located above the Dickenson was equipped with some very nice movable vanes, both vertical and horizontal.  This was perfect for engineering the air flow.  But it was ugly.

So, in another beautification effort around the heater, I built a teak bezel to cover its frame.  This was a little tricky because I had to route out a lot of the thickness of the bezel in order to accommodate the grate frame.

I think it came out OK, and most importantly it allows me redirect the air flow as necessary.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Keepin' it moving

The Dickenson heater on Eolian is mounted on the aft side of the main saloon bulkhead.  Immediately behind the heater, between it and the mast, is a small plenum, roughly square in cross section.  When we got Eolian, there was a portion of an abandoned air conditioning unit installed in there, long since removed.

But the space still has real value.  See, the Dickenson heater makes a *lot* of heat.  Left to itself, all that heat just rises straight up and cooks the overhead - not good at all.  So I purchased a 12V automotive radiator fan and mounted it in the plenum, just behind the air register above and behind the heater.  This fan serves two purposes:
  • It moves the heat away from above the Dickenson, cooling the overhead and the bulkhead behind the heater
  • It circulates the heated air thru the cabin.
But where does that air come from?  Originally, there was a small metal grate lower on the bulkhead, but it was ugly and rusted.  I pulled it out and replaced it with the small teak grate you see below the switch panel.  This helps indeed.

But it was not enough area, and more importantly, its location meant that there was little air circulation forward.  Killing these two birds with one stone, I installed another,  larger grate on the starboard side of the plenum, at the bottom.  With this arrangement, most of the air that the fan is delivering over the top of the Dickenson comes from forward, meaning that there is now air circulation, and heat, there.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Finishing the job

I don't know who installed the Dickenson heater on Eolian

Where the stack penetrates the cabin deiling, it is necessary to provide space around the stack, which gets very hot, to prevent there being a fire hazard.  On the actual fiberglass surface the exterior penetration fitting provides this space. 

On the inside, however, Dickenson apparently supplied only a vented trim ring.  Because the stack is too close to the bulkhead, the installer had to trim a little of the trim ring off to get it into position.  And it was necessary to cut away the headliner so that it would not touch the stack.  But that is where he stopped.

I glued some spacer blocks made from scrap to the bottom of the fiberglass deck surface using Gorilla glue (this is the best gap-filling glue there is!).  These spacers were made to be the same thickness as the spacing between the headliner material and the underside of the fiberglass deck. 

Then I made a three-sided bezel out of teak, large enough to provide the necessary air gap, and large enough to provide a surface for the vented trim ring to screw to.  I drilled it and mounted it to the spacers using screws, trapping the headliner material between the spacer and the bezel.  Then I bunged the screws and varnished the teak.  

Looks a lot better, doesn't it?

Monday, January 10, 2011

"Overnight" shipping

Here on the end of G Dock at Shilshole, we are having real problems with our normal wireless internet provider.

Faithful as I am, and inertia being what it is, I have well over-stayed with this provider.  So, last Monday I signed up with ClearWire (I suspect they are in your city too).  Part of the "good deal" I got was free overnight shipping.

Well here it is an entire week from the overnight shipping date, and I still do not have my ClearWire usb modem.  I failed to ask "Which night?"

So my small boat project for the day has been trying to establish an internet connection with my old provider that holds up long enough to get this post off. 

This is not making me a happy camper.  I think I'll open a beer and get out my guitar.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Betsy Ross I'm not

(originally published on Windborne in Puget Sound)

We spent Saturday night anchored in Port Madison. It was a lovely evening, and the harbor was essentially empty due to a big Latitudes & Attitudes rendezvous over in Poulsbo. Ah, peace and quiet - that's the ticket.

As the evening was a little cool, we elected to cook something for dinner that would add some heat to the cabin... so we had corn bread and clam chowder. Both were from pre-packaged mixes (you add canned clams to the chowder). In fact, I was a little stingy with the water in the chowder, so it turned out more like an etouffee. And there was merlot. And guitar.

The next morning (after eating the leftover cornbread, of course), I started a project (I can't help myself). It seems that the stitching on our dodger and bimini, which we had newly made 6 years ago, is starting to go. Not the Sunbrella canvas, but the stitching. Aside: Why can't they make thread out of the same stuff as the Sunbrella? The stitching always fails first.

I have about 25 feet of stitching to redo; about 10 is done so far.

I have a far greater appreciation for Betsy Ross sewing together all those stripes...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Racor Redundancy

When we got Eolian, the fuel system was a bit of a hodge-podge.

There were the two main tanks, of course, port and starboard. And a 45 gallon day tank.

On the engine was the final fuel filter, a 10 micron one that looks like an oil filter. Next inline upstream was a Racor 900 gal/hr large filter. Upstream from that were a pair of steel canister filters - the kind where the bottom screws off, full of fuel, to change the filter element.

And valves. Enough valves to control a nuclear power plant.

After experiencing a few "unscheduled stoppages" (as the Previous Owner termed them), I tore into the system. Here is what I found:
  • The 30 micron element in the Racor was clogged
  • The steel canister filters had no elements in them
The steel canister filters were a poor design - you were virtually guaranteed to spill fuel with them when changing an element. And they were rusty. So I pulled them out.

Next , I bought a second Racor 900 - yes, this is way, way more flow rate than our engine needs (we burn a little less than a gallon/hr at cruise), so the centrifugal water separating feature of the Racor was not really going to function, but the huge filter element would absorb a *lot* of gunk before blocking off. I liked that.

I installed the second Racor right next to the original, with valving such that I can switch filters while the engine is running. The valving will also isolate the clogged filter so that the element can be changed under way.

Finally, I installed a second fuel vacuum gauge in an easy-to-read location so that we can easily monitor the need for filter change-over.

(I also re-plumbed the entire fuel system, removing a third of the valves, but that's hardly a small boat project.)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Bike hanger

Now here's an interesting way to store your bicycle at the dock. Don't think it'd work out too well under way tho.
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