Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Leaving the Palm Beaches

I am typing under way in the Atlantic, about half way between Palm Beach and Port Everglades. We have excellent conditions, with waves just 1'-2' and light wind. We do have about a knot of current against us, from the Gulf Stream. A group of ten dolphins has been playing in our bow wave for an hour, a record for us, and another pair just joined them for an even dozen. Louise posted a short video on her Twitter feed, here.

We really enjoyed our ten-day stay at anchor in Palm Beach. We never did make it ashore on the Palm Beach side -- there's no place to land a tender, and the trolley that used to run over the bridge is long gone -- but we went ashore almost daily in West Palm Beach. We made use of the free trolleys to go shopping, and mostly ate along Clematis Street just a short walk from the dock. We even received some mail by General Delivery at the nearby post office.

Palm beach from sea. Donald Trump is somewhere in the background, gloating over his Super Tuesday victory.

My knee is still recuperating and I am still hobbling around, but I was able to spend most days aboard getting work done around the boat, which is never-ending. We also met up with fellow cruisers Rudy and Jill, of Briney Bug, and met some new faces: Jay and Peggy aboard Little Lara, Helen and Earl aboard Leaning Out, and Dean aboard Aeon Azure. We ended up having lunch one day with Rudy, Jill, Jay, and Peggy at Nico's Pizza downtown.

On the project front I tackled some of the backlog, starting with the multi-stage charging regulator I picked up on eBay a few months ago. This has been a to-do list item since we first bought the boat, when we noted the AGM batteries aboard were prematurely end-of-life, some with visible case ruptures near the terminals.

The problem with conventional alternator regulators in an application such as ours is that even our massive 17kWh house bank is fully charged after just a few hours under way. By the end of an eight-hour cruise, not an uncommon day for us, the alternator is continuing to supply "bulk" voltage into a fully charged bank, essentially "cooking" the batteries. It's quite possible that the battery we had to replace recently was a victim of this process.

We knew when we upgraded the electrical system to 24 volts and installed six new batteries that we'd have to correct this problem. In the interim, I dialed the alternator voltage down to the lower end of the bulk range (but still well above an appropriate "float" voltage), and on longer cruises such as overnight passages we'd turn on as much load as we possibly could throw at it, to divert some current away from the batteries. And I kept my eyes peeled for a good buy on a multi-stage regulator.

The new regulator, with display lit. I had to move the switch at right to make room.

That good buy cropped up a few months ago in the form of a used Balmar Model 624 re-branded as a Leece-Neville. Omitting "Balmar" from the eBay listing meant few people even saw it, and fewer still because the seller mis-spelled "Leece" as "Lance." I picked it up for $70, sans harness, a mere 20% of discounted retail. I knew the installation would take me a couple of days, though, in a quiet anchorage someplace, as I had to run multiple new wires and also somehow get the stock regulator off the back of the alternator in tight quarters to bypass it.

The alternator after modification. The regulator is to the left of the large capacitor. Tight squeeze.

Sure enough, it took me two full days, but it's mounted, hooked up, and getting its first real test on today's cruise. It may take a few more long cruises to fully dial-in the settings. Programming is an exercise in patience, involving tapping a magnet against a specific point on the regulator in various patterns, so that the device can be fully sealed against moisture.

Another long-standing project has been to automate the engine-room fan so that it comes on automatically whenever either the engine or generator is running, with the capability to force it on or off manually regardless of the automatic setting. I've also been researching automatic engine-room fire suppression systems for a future project, and I needed to design the fan control such that it shuts down, no matter what, when the bottle discharges.

The fan control system, a tight fit in a 5" electrical box. The label will get moved from the relay to the cover plate.

That project also took two days, between stringing wires from both engines, and rerouting the 120vac fan power through a junction box where it can be controlled by a 12vdc relay. I also needed to re-wire the wall switch from 120vac operation to 12vdc operation. It's all working properly now, and we can just leave the switch on "auto" and forget it. Whenever we get a fire bottle, it will be a simple matter of cutting and splicing one wire. All the digging around in the wire harnesses informed me where to install the engine shutdowns for the fire bottle as well.

Several smaller projects have been ticked off the list as well, including installing a cover over my home-brew Automatic Transfer Switch (and once again cleaning up the switch after some wet exhaust drips; this is a terrible location for a switch, but it's where the installers chose to put the one it replaced, and I'm mostly stuck with it). I also replaced the long-dead flybridge compass lighting with some LEDs and rewired that and the rudder indicator lighting to the light switch for the engine gauges, so they won't be on every minute we're under way. While I was under there I found two spare ignition keys (so anyone could have driven Vector away even with the boat locked up), tested the upper ignition switch, and topped up the steering reservoir.

New cover for the ATS. I rerouted the wires to all come in from below, due to occasional drips from above.

A couple of days ago, my own project list was waylaid when we spotted another boater in trouble. Aeon Azure, the 36' sailboat that's been anchored just north of us since we arrived, was weighing anchor when we saw him bring up from the briny deep The Kraken, or something that looked a lot like it. We hopped in the tender and rode over to lend a hand, meeting her single-handed skipper, Dean, for the first time.

Dean's anchor and chain had fouled with a 3"-diameter hawser which was firmly attached to the bottom, probably an old mooring for a barge left over from a bridge renovation project. Complicating matters, the hawser, his chain, and another smaller line also attached to the bottom were all wrapped up in a spiral coil of rebar. I needed to use my cordless reciprocating saw to cut away the rebar, then spend a half hour leaning over the dinghy gunwale untying 20-odd feet of 3" hawser to get him free, all the while hoping a similar fate did not await us. We told him to just pay it forward, but he came by the next day with a case of beer anyway.

It's the Kraken! Yes, that's a knot in the anchor chain above it.

Beer is just what I needed after yesterday's project. Having discussed over breakfast that today would be our best shot at taking the outside route to Fort Lauderdale, at least for the foreseeable future, we decided we could be done with West Palm Beach for this trip and start moving along. A decision helped by the fact that the city will soon close the docks and boot the boats out of the closer anchorage in preparation for the upcoming Palm Beach Boat Show.

That meant I had to stop procrastinating and actually fix the waste macerator that, umm, crapped out back in September. I missed the window to get that done before our last outside passage, and we really needed to have an outside run for testing. No time like the present, and, with pleasant weather, we opened all the windows and I got to work. (No pictures for this project, you'll be happy to know.)

There's no way around the fact that this is a crappy job, in the most literal sense (I'd use a stronger word but this is a family blog), and I had to throw away the work clothes I wore for the task when I was done. We have a spare macerator on board, the one that was inoperative when we bought the boat and which I since resuscitated by cleaning the blades and replacing the impeller. After swapping the replacement in I added a switch in the bilge so the macerator can be operated from down there (instead of just at the helm console) by someone who can also open the valve and watch the tank level.

I was really hoping that this problem was, like the last one, just a broken impeller in the pump, but I am sorry to report that when we tested it outside the three-mile limit today, it did not empty the tank. So we have some other problem downstream, most likely a stuck check valve, and I have more unpleasant work ahead of me. It also means we'll need to stop at a dock for a pumpout on our way to the anchorage today, if they are still open when we arrive.

Our dolphin escort was with us for over an hour and a half today, and now I am just an hour from my turn at Port Everglades. Even with the pumpout we should be anchor down by around 5:30 or so, in time to enjoy one of those beers on the aft deck before dinner aboard. Our next project is to find a place to haul out and get the bottom painted and the stabilizers serviced.


  1. Sean,
    I am an avid reader of your blog and have read every entry (including your bus adventures). Reading about your regulator install reminded me to ask about your "promised" 12 to 24 volt conversion article. Did I miss it or is it still in the works? Keep up the adventure and know there are many of us who enjoy your terrific and informative blog.
    Regards from a fellow PE,
    Capt. Kirk

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      No, you did not miss it; it's still on my plate to get it done.

      The holdup here is diagrams. I really can't do the subject justice without some wiring diagrams to go with it, and I'm still hunting around for a way to do them.

      Back when we built the bus I purchased a drawing program called SmartDraw and spent probably a dozen hours just learning it well enough to do all our construction drawings, including wiring diagrams. I probably have well over 100 hours in those drawings.

      Since then I've been through three different computers and even changed operating systems. I no longer have the ability to run SmartDraw, so I could not even update the Odyssey drawings if I wanted to. (I do have their free "viewer" program on an old Windows machine so I can at least load them read-only if I need to.)

      I've tried a half dozen programs to get started on these drawings. I'm not willing to drop more than $50 or so on a drawing program, and it has to run under Linux. I'm sorry to say that I have yet to find one.

      LibreOffice Draw will probably do the job, but I'll have to create all the symbols from scratch, as I have yet to find a decent electrical symbol library.

      I'll get it done, eventually; I figure I have a dozen hours or so to get far enough to crank out a couple of drawings. Now that I've built a few more custom circuits on the boat, such as the bypass power for the inverter, a custom ATS, and the new fan control system, I really need to get this done so I can add the drawings to the boat's files.


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