Thursday, April 11, 2013

Life on the hook

We are still anchored in Price Creek, our third day in this spot.  Tonight will also be our third night here; if we have good weather tomorrow we will leave before spending a fourth.  This is really our first opportunity, since buying the boat, to spend multiple nights at anchor (or "on the hook") in one spot.  We did anchor two nights in the same spot on our February training cruise, but we ran the boat all day in between, so it was not as instructive.

One of the things we are learning here is that, as we suspected during the survey, the batteries are shot.  We have five top-of-the-line size 8D AGM batteries, Lifeline brand, for a nominal bank capacity of 1,275 amp-hours.  With properly functioning batteries, we should be able to easily draw 600 amp-hours from them before thinking about recharging, and, in a pinch, over 800 amp-hours.  In fact, however, we are seeing voltage drop into the critical sub-11-volt range at under 200 amp-hours of use.  Our 120-amp charger comes off bulk in just a half hour or so, all of which points to the entire bank having dropped to less than 400 amp-hours of capacity, only half of which is usable.

Today's project might well be to disconnect the batteries altogether so I can test them individually.  It is possible that one or two seriously damaged batteries are compromising the entire bank.  Taking a couple of bad ones out might make our life a bit easier until we are ready to replace the bank, part of a larger project involving a new inverter, alternator, and equalizer to migrate to a 24-volt system.  In the meantime, we are having to run the generator close to four hours a day, in 45-60 minute bursts, to keep everything running.  We need to run it for nearly an hour just before bed to make it all the way through the night, running just the anchor light, the fridge, one chartplotter, and the depth sounder.

Yesterday the weather was absolutely perfect.  While that would have been a good opportunity to do more exploring in the tender, or maybe sit out on deck reading, boaters will know that the definition of "cruising" is "working on your boat in exotic locations."  And so it was that I took advantage of the nice weather to tackle  the languishing flybridge electronics project.

As the weather turns nice, we'd like to spend more time operating the boat from the flybridge; as it stands now, I drive from there only to dock and undock the boat.  Also, it can be easier to "read" the water from there.  Up to now, the lack of a chartplotter on the flybridge has kept us from doing that; without the chartplotter to help, it is just too easy to wander out of the dredged or charted navigation channel and go from 12' water to 3' water in a heartbeat.

Finished installation.

Weatherproof marine chartplotters are expensive, and then you have to buy the charts for them as well.  Fortunately, the older of the two chartplotters in the pilothouse, which also controls and displays the radar set, has the capability of being networked over Ethernet to other chartplotters of the same brand and vintage, thus sharing its maps and even the radar controls.  I was able to wheel and deal to end up with another unit identical to the one we have in the pilothouse for around a hundred bucks, plus another $75 in cables to make it all work.  It came with a mounting bracket, screen cover, and remote control.

That was all well and good, and I could have had this in place weeks ago, if not for the fact that the cable chases that run between the pilothouse helm area and the upper deck are full to the brim.  There is no way to get any more power up there, and even the network cable would be a tight squeeze.  So the project had to wait until I was ready to get under the flybridge coaming and sort out the tangle of existing wires.  It was also filthy in there, and the existing wiring was poorly supported and dressed, unmarked, and, in at least one case, just wrong.

Flybridge radio.  Our position is at lower left of the display.

The whole project took me close to nine hours.  The first couple of hours were spent cleaning everything up, sorting through it all, and labeling everything.  While I was in there, I also took the opportunity to pull the VHF radio out so I could connect its data input to a position-reporting source, important should we ever need to use that radio to make a distress call.  With no way to get additional data wiring to the flybridge, that meant sorting out the existing data pathway to the depth sounder display, which had an unused data output that I could connect to the radio.  As a bonus, connecting that display properly also gave me a working speed-over-ground (SOG) readout.

That's water temperature at lower left.  Yesterday it was in the upper 70s here.

I did find a suitable power source as well, adding a junction block to power the new chartplotter.  For good measure I also tracked down why neither the compass nor the rudder angle indicator had any instrument lighting, which turned out to be three burned out lamps rather than anything sinister in the supply wiring.  Once I had all the wires routed, connected, and secured, and the VHF radio back in position, I did the scary part -- drilling a 1" diameter hole in the coaming to run the three cables for the new plotter (power, Ethernet, and frame ground).  The aluminum plating was quite thick, but a hole saw on my cordless drill went through it easily in due time.

The only way to get the special weatherproof Ethernet cable with its proprietary Furuno connectors molded on the ends through the cable chase was to cut it about two feet from the end, and splice it back together under the helm.  At over $40 for the cable I was reluctant, and untwisting the pairs far enough to splice them is not ideal, but I had no choice.  Fortunately, I had a bunch of "jelly beans" from my misspent telecom youth, which made the splice a snap, and weatherproof to boot (although it's indoors).  I was very relieved when the network came right up after I connected it all.

It was a bear of a project, and now I'm sore from crouching under the coaming all day, but we have a working chartplotter now on the flybridge.  As a plus we can also operate the radar from up there and overlay it on the chart.  It's an older system, not as whizzy as the newer charplotter in the pilothouse that also gives us AIS information and has a larger chart memory, but it is functional and will let us drive from up there whenever we'd like.  I will need to invest in some new charts for these units, but I only need to buy one set instead of two.

Charts on the bridge!

Today the weather, as expected, is less pleasant, and we are expecting winds to increase to 15-20 knots this afternoon.  We may put out more scope (more anchor chain) just to be safe; up to now we have been pretty stable, even with about four knots of current ripping through here.  With the current changing direction eight or nine times since we arrived, our "bread crumbs" on the chartplotter look like a toddler's attempt to draw a figure-eight.

Anchored track.  Big loop at the bottom was my turn and up-current approach.

It will be a good day for indoor projects, such as testing the batteries, or maybe tracking down more phantom loads.  If we leave tomorrow morning, we should have +2.5' MLW and rising on a 7:30 departure, which will get us to McClellanville at high tide there, +4.7' MLW, around 10:30.  There's a dock in McClellanville if we think we need it, but we will probably continue along on the ebb to the Santee river.  If it's either foggy or windy in the morning, all bets are off and we will be here another day.


  1. All great improvements Sean. You will soon have a great boat. Those batteries still seem new to me, but they were installed five years ago, so I guess it's time, and a 24 volt system would be a huge improvement.

    1. Thanks, John. These Lifelines should have given another few years, but the non-adjustable engine alternator has not done them any favors. Stock alternators like this one can tend to "cook" AGM batteries, especially on long runs. I'm guessing that's what happened -- at least one of the cases is cracked open (as we noticed during survey), evidence of slow overcharging. I did not get to that project today, but I am hoping that the cracked one is just bringing the whole bank down -- an easy fix. When we switch to a 24-volt alternator, we'll get one that accepts an external regulator, preferably 3-stage, which can be properly adjusted for AGM batteries.

      BTW, maybe it does not come across in these posts, but we love the boat. It's "a great boat" already; it just needs a few things here and there. We've really settled in and are happy to call it home. I said the same thing about the bus, too, but if you go back through the blog you will see that it was the same endless parade of projects, some large, some small -- simply a fact of nomadic life.

      We're also really pleased that you continue to follow along, and comment from time to time. Reading all of my drivel to get to the salient points can be exhausting, I've heard.

    2. No offense taken, and I love your writing. I'm actually thrilled that it was sold to someone who will love and care for her. I loved the boat as well, but I had nowhere near the technical expertise, energy and tenacity you are bringing to the job.

      My only wish is that you could be cruising more offshore, as the draft makes this trip all too difficult for you.

      Note, I had to go into Georgetown years ago in my Fleming 55 with leaking exhaust risers. The long run up that river against the tide was very tough against about a 5 knot current. I don't know where the Intercoastal comes through, but I was going in from the ocean and it took forever.

      Good luck and keep up the good work.

  2. Lots of projects but it sure keeps the blog interesting.

  3. Yes, the never ending supply of projects must seem very familiar. As a soon-to-be bus owner I miss your vivid descriptions of life aboard Odyssey and the project challenges she provided. However, Vector seems to have more than enough to keep even you busy Sean. Your new water loving readers with a tech/DIY interest are in for a treat.

  4. i may not be too bright, but didn't you just change the batteries out in Odyssey? why not just use those instead of buying new?

    1. That's a good question, Tom, and I think it merits a longer answer than I want to type here in the comments. I will try to get to it in the next couple of blog posts.

  5. So it looks like you are anchored in the middle of the channel. Don't you have to be over to the side, so other crafts can get by?


    1. No. Price Creek is not considered a "navigable waterway." It's way too shallow at both ends for larger vessels to get through, limiting it to small craft such as ours. So there is no "channel" per se; there are no buoys, markers, or other "aids to navigation" and no designated channel, so the entire creek is fair game.

      For us, it would not be possible to anchor here at all except right in the middle of the creek -- it's about 400' from shore to shore, so perhaps 350' of water deep enough for Vector. With a high-water depth here of around 20', and another 5' or so from the water to our pulpit, we'd need to pay out 175' of chain to achieve the golden "seven to one" scope, which would make our swing circle that same 350'. For this reason we are on a bit less than six to one right now.

      With nearly 350' of passable water in this section, though, there is plenty of room for other craft to go around us on either side. We saw one other trawler come up the creek, our first day, but I guess he wanted an anchorage all to himself, so he turned around and went back to the ICW. This creek is long and wide enough that quite a few boats could anchor here, and I understand it can get crowded in the busy season. Most trawlers will choose to anchor much closer to the ICW, in shallower water with less anchor rode out.


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