It Won't Be Long Now!
12 April 2011 | Slip F27, Opua Marina, New Zealand
Things are starting to wind down in the boat projects department and I can finally start to ease back a bit. Time flies. In the next few weeks we will be setting sail for Fiji and onward from there. Almost six months in New Zealand. We received our large shipment from Miami, well the second shipment now, and all the little tail-end of things are finishing up. The second order had our full set of back-up paper charts as well as cruising guides and a few other odds and ends. I never sail without a set of paper charts. A lot of people don't carry them as back-ups. They think that GPS never goes down. Anything can happen to electronics out here. Our friend, Randy on Lost Elvis, just had his boat hit by lightning the other day and it wiped out all his electronics on board. Insurance will cover him, so all is good there, but insurance doesn't do you a damn bit of good, in the middle of the ocean, without any charts and you don't know where you are...ah, oops! Better safe, than sorry. I have never truly trusted electronics to last forever, because they don't, especially in a salt-water environment.
It has been a busy month and a half since we got back from traveling around New Zealand. I have rewired so many things on board and now that I have the generator put back together, painted and running great, I have rewired it to put out 120/240 volts. The generator used to produce 120 volts only, so I made some changes to the taps and it now puts out 240 volts as well as 120 volts. It works out well because I always used to have to pull the dive compressor out and put it on deck to fill our dive tanks. It was a pain in the ass, but the gas motor had to be outside because of the carbon monoxide it produced. It was also so loud. I used to hate running it in the anchorage if others were around. It sounded like I was mowing grass on deck with an out-of-control lawnmower [for a half hour each tank], but that's how most dive compressors are. When I was in Panama I bought a new 2 horsepower, 240-volt electric motor for almost nothing, hoping that one day I could get the generator running consistently enough to replace the gasoline motor with the electric motor. I can now fill our dive tanks and leave the dive compressor down below because it's now electric. Now it will be silent in the anchorage, and it's a good use of the generator when it's already running anyway. Yea!
The new battery monitoring system that I installed is almost hypnotizing to me. [TRL: he's not kidding] I watch it all the time, scrolling through all the data it keeps on the battery banks and charging/discharging information. I know it sounds boring, but for so long the batteries were just there and I had no idea how full they were or how much charge was left in them, what was going into them etc. The new battery monitor monitors the state-of-charge, amp-hours consumed, voltages on the battery banks and how long the batteries will last for, as well a ton of other features. Tara just shakes her head, but it's awesome. The new solar panels are totally helping with electrical production too. I have increased our solar panel capacity from 155 watts to 440 watts, plus I have added an MPPT controller (Maximum Power Point Technology). So we're making power now, big time! An MPPT is quite a piece of technology. Ok, sorry in advance to those who don't like this type of thing. I totally "geek-out" on it though. Solar panels are wired for up to a certain voltage-producing amount (peak power point) and also a certain amperage output, but most of the time people only wire them for 12 volts output. Therefore, the peak power point is not harvested fully. These new solar panels I bought are good for around 36 DC volts each and the old ones, which I relocated over the dodger, are good for around 17 DC volts each. In a DC circuit, when voltages are wired together in series, the voltages of each source are added together. So now, with the panels wired in series, the voltage is a total of around 106 volts, instead of around 12 volts. Another advantage of wiring the solar panels in series is that as voltage increases, amperage decreases proportionately. So I am able to install smaller wire due to the reduced amperage. Are you with me so far? Now this is the great part of the MPPT: using Ohm's law, which is the equation of volts times amps equals wattage, combined with it's smart tracking algorithm and advanced technology, which finds and maintains operation at the solar array's peak power point, it will produce 30-40% more than the old solar charge controller alone at the old level of 12 volts. Pretty cool eh? There are only a couple of companies that make a MPPT controller, but I felt this was the best one on the market. The other MPPT controllers I researched were bigger, less efficient and not as expandable as the Morningstar controller.
The whole davit section turned out amazing. There is a new weather station, dinghy motor hoist and of course, the new solar panels. It is all made in 1¼" stainless tubing to match the existing aft railing on Pursuit, so it blends in nicely. I didn't want to turn the whole davit section off the transom into a big, old contraption, just to try and produce a few more amps. I felt that somewhere there had to be a happy medium between solar production and a total monstrosity. I see some cruiser's boats and they have just a mammoth mess of tubing, welds, wires and anything else that could be added onto the back. I think I once saw a kitchen sink welded onto one. I really wanted to avoid that look. The guy who did all the stainless work was an artist. He was a little tough to deal with in the beginning. Everyone warned me about him, but it the end he was great. We totally connected and he was fantastic to work with. We would throw ideas back and forth and in the end it turned out amazing. Right down to the new flag holder.
There are so many other things I did while here, but it would take one or two more blogs to list them. Maybe later? I know a bunch of friends were asking what was going on. No blogs ever, but I was busy. Being in New Zealand waiting out the cyclone season is a great time for cruisers to work on their boats. It is necessary too and in my opinion, sailors are crazy if they don't take the time and opportunity to work on their boats in preparation for upcoming passages. Starting with the big one back up into the islands of the South Pacific. Like the old adage goes; if you don't look after the boat, the boat won't look after you. I did major work to the engine also, replacing a lot of the parts, such as the oil cooler, gaskets and a temperature sensor. I also had the alternator rebuilt, modified the mounting bracket to align it better and changed all fluids. As I type, I keep thinking about all the other stuff I did on board, but enough of that.
A lot of other friends that we knew last year are starting to arrive in the area again. Some traveled around the country like us, some went back to work for the six months to put some money back in the cruising kitty and some never left their boats. It is great to see some familiar faces showing up again. Everyone is getting excited and talking about the next sailing season and what countries they are planning to sail in the next year. It is exciting to think about it. Tara is getting all the provisioning, first-aid meds, ditch bag updated and other necessary things prepared, along with the frustrating job of trying to get cruising permits and visas for some of the countries along the way. Indonesia is not an easy country to deal with as far as visas and cruising permits go. They are just not set up that well and to try and do it upon arrival, almost guarantees that a boat will be turned away, and Indonesia is supposed to be amazing. So we don't want to miss it. You only go around once...well, who knows, maybe more?
It won't be long now...