Planning Your Solar Install

Choosing Solar Panels, Solar panes, solar charge contrller, MPPT

Sailing around the world on renewable energy. The concept is as old as sailing itself. Ever since the first sailors raised canvas, sailing around the world on renewable energy was a natural evolution.

It’s wasn’t until the first steamships appeared in the 1800’s that we actually moved away from renewable energy. So no, it isn’t a novel concept. But I’m not talking about the days of kerosine lamps and canvas sails. Fast forward a couple hundred years.

In our everyday lives we enjoy certain “luxuries” that help us feel like we are living a modern life in the 21 century. Running water, lights, phones, computers, tablets, fans, rice cookers, blenders, microwaves, these are all things that we have grown accustomed to in our everyday lives. Are we really willing to live without them just because we decided to go cruising? Camping is one thing, but let’s face it, most of us want creature comforts.

Sailing around the world on renewable energy is a little different in modern day. Cinderella is not bare bones, we have the luxuries aboard that most people have in their home (minus the microwave and flat screen tv), she is our home after all. And we power all of it with solar.

But where did we begin when sizing our solar system? This can be tricky. You might be tempted to break out the calculators and try to add up all of the energy draw aboard, use estimators to narrow down just how many hours of sunshine you expect to see, size you battery bank to make sure you don’t deplete it by more that 60% each day and so on.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t do that… I’m saying there is an easier way.

Tips on Selecting Solar Panels

Realize that there is no harm in having too much power.
When sizing Cinderella’s system I started backwards. How much space do we have aboard for solar panels?

Most modern sailboats (unless you have a very specialized raceboat) have lots of real estate behind the boom of the mainsail. That space is typically covered with a bimini of some sort to protect the people onboard from the sun. This is an excellent place to install solar panels!

On Cinderella, we measured the space from the end of the boom to her stern. We then measured the width of the boat in the same area. Once we had an idea of the available real estate, we went online to research what our options were.

It turns out there are three major options: rigid monocrystalline panels, rigid polycrystalline panels, and flexible panels.

Rigid monocrystalline panels are the oldest. They have been around for decades, and are getting better and better every year. Rigid monocrystalline panels produce the most power to area of any panel.

Rigid polycrystalline panels are newer than monocrystalline panels. They don’t produce quite as much power per area as monocrystalline panels, but they are far superior when it comes to shading. If the area you have available for panels has lot of shading, polycrystalline panels may be the way to go.

That leaves flexible panels. Flexible panels are the newcomers. They are light and flexible. They don’t produce anywhere near the power of rigid panels, but they can be mounted almost anywhere. Most marine brands also have the charge controllers built in, so you can wire them directly to your batteries. The biggest perk is that you can walk on them, so in theory you can open up quite a bit of real estate. Unfortunately thus far, I have not met very many cruisers that are happy with their flexible panels. They don’t seem to last as long as their rigid counterparts.

Knowing that we are not only running our home, but also charging our electric motor battery bank, I opted to go with the rigid monocrystalline option. The more power the better. Since we don’t have a wind generator, or a radar dome, there is nothing to shade our panels except for our thin backstay.

After measuring the available space (about 80″ x 90″) I started researching brands online. There are lots of threads on this subject. you will find brand diehards, you will find people talking about dollars to watts, you will find enough information to make your head spin.

I again offer a simpler solution: study at the spec sheets. All solar panels are made up of solar cells. These cells are wired together to make different voltages, but are roughly 6″ x 6″ regardless of their efficiency.

That translates to a standard width to all solar panels (with the exception of very small panels). Whether they are 190w or 360w, all of the panels are roughly 40″ wide.

Knowing that, we took that 80″ x 90″ area and decided to fill it with as much solar panel as we could. This came to roughly two 265w to 360w panels depending on brand and efficiency.

So, now that you have an idea of what you want based on your area to cover, where do you find them?

You may be tempted to go online and try to find the cheapest price, but you will quickly realize that shipping a 40″ x 80″ panel costs just as much as the panel! This may be ideal for covering a home roof, but not when you only need one or two.

Go to your local electrician’s supply! They exist in nearly every major city. In Seattle, it was Platt Electric.

I walked in to Platt with my tape measure and told the staff what I was doing. They led me into their warehouse and showed me the options. Since they basically buy full pallets of panels for resale, they were excited to cut me a deal on the leftover panels on each pallet. After looking through a few pallets, I found two 345w Solarworld panels that measured 40″ x 80″. the panels were $250 each, so I got 690w of solar for $500!

Not bad considering that has covered our “power bill” for over a year now and allowed us to be fully off the grid, fully sustainable with all of our “luxuries” plugged in.

Selecting your Battery Bank and Charge Controllers

Once you have your panels selected it’s time to have a look at your battery bank, and what controller you will put between the panels and your batteries.

Charge controllers come in two basic types PWM or “pulse width modulation” and MPPT “Multiple Power Point Tracking”.

Both of these use electronic circuitry to prevent the panels from destroying your batteries. The circuitry is how they differ.

Pulse Width Modulation is an older technology that works by breaking up the DC current heading to the batteries with a series of switches. These switches open and close so fast that the battery doesn’t even notice it. Using a set charge curve for the battery type, these charge controllers very the width of the energy pulse from the panels to meet the battery’s ideal charge voltage. This leads to an efficient charger that doesn’t boil your batteries.

Multiple Power Point Tracking is a newcomer. It is more efficient that PWM and it was designed for passive energy like solar. MPPT chargers work by a neat little trick discovered by Nicola Tesla, the transformer. The chargers invert DC power to AC power using electronic circuitry. All of that AC energy can then be transformed from very high voltage to the exact voltage the battery needs. The AC power is then converted back to DC power and fed to the batteries.

What does this mean? It means that you can feed very high voltage to an MPPT Charge controller and the controller can take the extra voltage and turn it into useable amperage that won’t boil batteries. Since higher voltages have less energy losses, we can send more useable power to the batteries! And use smaller diameter wires to do it.

Obviously, we went with the MPPT charge controller option.

Next step: Sizing the charge controller

Charge controllers are essentially sized by the amount of heat they can dissipate. In the world of electricity, amperage is heat, so we can say that charge controllers are sized by the amps they can handle.

Since our panels can produce 690 watts, we can divide 690 watts by 12 volts and get almost 58 amps. Thats quite a bit! But that is also the theoretical best case scenario. I assumed that we would normally produce about half of our maximum, so I found a charge controller that could handle 30 amps.

I chose the Midnight Solar Kidd. The Kidd was reasonably priced at about $300 and was designed for the marine environment. They also have the option of paralleling, so if I decided I wanted to utilize the most from my panels, I could get a second Kidd and wire them together to handle the extra amps.

I purchased a second Kidd for our 48v electric motor battery bank. That way if anything happened to one, we have a backup onboard to get us to the next port.

The last piece of the puzzle: the battery bank!

 

 

The battery bank is where you store and draw power from when the sun isn’t shining. There have been huge improvements in battery technology over the past few years, and it seems like the prices of the new technology is always dropping. Since I purchased our house bank for Cinderella over a year ago, we have noticed that the prices have dropped by about 30% on LiFePO4 technology!

We again sized our battery bank based on the space aboard Cinderella. She had two tired old 110ah agm batteries when I bought her, so we replaced them with two new batteries.

At the time Lithium was out of my price range, and the Samsung phones were blowing up left and right. Not quite making a good case for LiFePO4 technology.

Fortunately, there was a new carbon foam battery technology in the market. A company called Ocean Planet Energy launched the Firefly Oasis Battery. They coated standard lead acid plates with some type of carbon foam that prevented sulfation, a lead acid battery’s arch nemesis. This resulted in a battery with lithium like characteristics, at much lower prices.

We purchased two of these carbon foam batteries from Fisheries Supply in Seattle, and have been happy with them every since. Unlike standard lead acid batteries, we could discharge them completely without damaging their lifespan. We essentially got four 110ah batteries in half the footprint.

There you go! I hope this helps you design your solar system from Mercury to Pluto.

Obviously, its best to have a plan before you purchase all of your pieces. If you are curious how we wired our system click here.

DIY Marine Onboard Network

B&G, PLEX, KODI, ODROID, tindie, OPENCPN

NERD ALERT! NERD ALERT! NERD ALERT!

We have been cruising for a full year now! After a year of cruising, you really get a chance to dial in your systems and realize which projects on that endless list are most important and which ones can wait until the next major port.

One that keeps rearing up its head is deep in that dark world of…IT.

From ship navigation systems, to where you store all of those priceless photos it a boils down to a mess of wires all a bunch of 0s and 1s. Can/should it all be linked?

Most cruisers spend lots of time far away from WiFi and even farther from our precious Netflix. Yet we all crave a bit of digital entertainment from time to time, and let’s be honest, where would we be without music on those long passages.

What we plan to do aboard Cinderella is create an onboard wifi network with a dedicated media server. The server will house all of our music, videos, TV shows, movies, and photos. Along with a dedicated media server, we will update our navigation computer and tie it to our ship instruments. The end result will be something like this.

I know, I know, it looks like a lot. But we, along with pretty much all of the boats we have met cruising already have most of the gear!

Let’s start from the top. What I called the Marine Sensor Network. The Marine Sensor Network alone can cost thousands of dollars to replace. Cinderella came with an old KVH system installed in the late 90s. The Airmar sensors still work, but all of our marine displays have since fried. One wave off the Washington coast a one year ago decided we didn’t need them.

Although it may look complicated, it’s actually quite simple. All of our instruments were designed for the NMEA 0183 standard. This standard was created in the marine industry so that different instrumentation could talk with each other. NMEA 0183 is an old standard that requires a separate channel for each input. Basically, if you wanted to interface four instruments to you computer, you would need four separate connections. It can be done, but if we use something called a multiplexer we can funnel all of the instruments through one channel to the PC.

In our situation, using a multiplexer is nice because we can also feed this NMEA information to our autopilot giving us the option to steer by the wind angle, rather than just compass direction. The NMEA multiplexer we purchased was from Quark-electric and was $144.

We purchased it while we were in Mexico, and have yet to install it. Hopefully, this project will re-ignite my drive to have ship instruments again.

Where are we so far?

We used a device called a NMEA Multiplexer to compile inputs from all of our sensors and eventually feed it to our navigation computer or what some people like to call a chartplotter. A chartplotter is basically an expensive, basic “marinized” computer that plots your boats location on a chart. Think Tom-Tom for the water. The difference between Tom-Tom and a chart plotter is usually at least crisp cool boat unit ($1000).

On Cinderella we have come to realize that marine instruments, no matter how waterproof they seem to be, aren’t. Water will eventually find it’s way inside, killing the expensive chartplotter and leaving you in a pickle. We opted instead to utilize a program called OpenCPN to handle our chartplotting needs.

OpenCPN is FREE software designed by boaters that allows you to turn any computer into a chartplotter. The perk here is that ANY computer you have onboard can now be used as a backup navigation computer after you install the application. Every computer we have onboard has it installed, though we only rely one when we are on passage. Being that it is computer based, you still have that pesky water problem to deal with.

We get around the water issue by leaving the navigation computer in the cabin at all times. As part of this ship system upgrade, we will relieve our trusty Microsoft Surface from chartplotter duty and build a custom, cheap, and watertight navigation computer.

There are, in our opinion, three basic requirements of all navigation computers. One, the computer must know where YOU are. Two, it must know where the boats around you are. Three, it must not draw too much power.

Nowadays, these basic requirements are pretty easy to satisfy. To tell the computer where we are, we have been using a cheap USB GPS dongle. We carry two in case one gets hit by water. Here is a link the the one we use on Amazon, its about $30.

To tell us where other boats are, we use an AIS receiver that receives signal from our mast mounted VHF antenna. In order to use both the VHF and AIS with a single antenna, we needed to install a splitter. Anyone who remembers the days of clunky color TVs might remember what a splitter looks like. Here is the one we have installed onboard Cinderella, it was about $70.

We really liked the Microsoft Surface for use as our navigation computer. It has a large touch screen monitor, it has a nice fold down keyboard and a neat bluetooth mouse. Unfortunately, that wave that killed our marine instruments also got to our Surface, and ever since it takes a little TLC to start it up and keep it going. It had a hard year, and it’s time we come up with something new to replace it. We are currently looking at simple 12V computers like the RasberryPi or Odroid. They are both small, low power, and can be sealed into a watertight box and stowed in a small cabinet.

Along with the computer, we will need to find a low draw 12V monitor and a simple bluetooth keyboard and mouse, but I believe the new navigation PC could be had for $200-$300.

So now we have our boat instruments connected to our navigation computer, but one major piece remains. The media! What about the music/TV shows/movies? The last piece of the upgrade is the NAS or Network Attached Storage server. What we will call the Cinderella Cloud.

The Cinderella cloud will be essentially made up of three pieces, a hard drive (where the media will live), a NAS server (means to organize the media), and a router (means to share the media with all of our devices).

We have had a small router onboard since before we left Seattle. I read a cruising blog a long time ago and decided to purchase a WiFi extender so that I could pick up WiFi at the marina from far away. Along with the WiFi extender, I purchased a 12V router to allow all of my devices to utilize that WiFi.

We plan to buy a 12V NAS server from Odroid, and pair it with a large capacity, low draw hard drive.

These hardware components don’t mean very much alone, but with the help of neat media software (Plex or Kodi), we should be able to connect to the Cindy Cloud and scroll through all of our movies, TV shows, or music at any time from any device and stream away. It will be like our own little onboard Netflix!

If everything goes to plan, we should have an entire onboard network integrating marine instruments, a navigation computer, and a media server, all for less than the cost of a standard chartplotter!

Reinstalling the Mast

Mast reinstalled into boat

After the week of work was completed on Cinderella’s mast, we (me especially) were ready to put it back in, and get on with life… Or should I say more boat projects…

Ava and I finished the last task remaining late Friday night in the cold rain. We worked partially under the headlights of Sabbie (Ava’s great little Saab), and used the car as refuge to warm up. Unfortunately, 10 minutes of headlights with no engine charging her batteries was a little rough on ol’ Saabie, and we were thankful of her manual transmission when I was pumping my legs pushing her up to speed.

Ava learn how to push start a car that night, and I was hoping it wasn’t an omen of what was to come.

THE MAST WAS READY TO GO IN!!

Unfortunately, we were unable to schedule the crane to put the mast back in that week, so we would have to schedule an afternoon lift the following week (around my work schedule). That eventually was pushed back to an early lift the following Friday due to a mixup at Canal Boatyard. Even with the mixup, I would recommend them without question, they are in close proximity to our slip, and the guys really know what they are doing.

It was Saturday, and the mast work was done. All that was left to do was to have the yard put the mast back in.

How exactly does one reinstall a mast again? More importantly, why was in not until now that the question popped into my head?

After a brief moment of doubt, I realized that the process is done all the time, all around the world, surely I could figure it out.

I started with google “How to reinstall a sailboat mast.”

It seemed simple enough, have the crane operator lower the mast back into place while I guide the mast back onto its step. Once on the step, attach the forestay (rod going to the front of the boat) followed by the backstay (rod going to the back of the boat) and then the shrouds (rods going to the sides of the boat).

How hard could it be? It turns out, not very hard at all!

Mast prepared to go back into Cinderella

The mast was back in and we had it stabilized in no time. All that remained was to motor back to our slip where we could put the final tension on the rig whenever the weather looks better.

That is where things will get interesting.

The goal of the day was to get the mast back into Cinderella and get her home. We want to avoid any fees associated with keeping the mast in the yard.

Goal accomplished

The rig is back in Cinderella, but we still can’t sail her. This isn’t good because I am itching to go out and sail worse than ever.

Swiftsure is only a couple months away and there is still much to do. We have a hole in the deck around the mast that needs to be filled and two turnbuckles that we need to replace before we can tension the rig and finally put the sails back up.

Mast reinstalled into boat
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Follow along next time as we apply spartite, replace turnbuckles, and tension Cinderella’s rig.

Rod Rig and Mast Inspection

If you are following along, we unstepped our mast in order to inspect all of the rod heads and fittings before we depart on our trip around the world. While we are at it, we ran new halyards and added spreader lights.

What seems like a short list has a funny way of growing…

After unstepping the mast I got to work over the course of a rainy, dreary PNW winter week. Unfortunately the clock is ticking, and we can’t leave all of our projects for the summer months. I’ll just keep looking at pictures of tropical islands and hope that keeps me warm…

Ah, much better.

Inspecting the Rod Heads

The first step to inspecting our rig was to remove all of the turnbuckles from the rod ends. The main point of failure on these rod rigs are tiny horizontal cracks that form on the rod heads from work hardening as the rig is loaded and unloaded over the course of its life. That is what we are primarily looking for.

To make disassembly challenging, early Navtec fittings were dimpled in place, this does not allow for removal like that of a cotter pin. Fortunately we didn’t have any of those on our rig. If you do, they have to be drilled out and cannot be reused.

I was sure to label each of the turnbuckles from where it came from as well as the rod, so that I can trace any issue I might find, as well as put everything back where it came from. (If I was thinking I would have marked the threads with tape so that it would be easy to put exactly back…)

There are two main ways to test the rod ends, one involves a magnifying glass and the other involves spraying a dye on the end and following that with a developer that highlights any cracks. I decided to use the second method. It’s a little more costly, but it will prevent any cracks from hiding from me. Plus who knows, the grey sky of Seattle might mask the grey cracks on the grey rod ends.

I started by taking everything apart and cleaning with simple green degreaser. A bag of rags worked well to scrub all of the old lubricant and grime away.

After the ends are clean, a red dye is sprayed onto each end. Be sure to hold the rod head down such that the excess dye runs off onto the ground and not back down the rod. After spraying the dye, the instructions say to “let stand for 1 – 30 minutes.” Hmmm. I let them stand overnight as it was getting cold and dark.

The following day I wiped the excess dye off the heads with a rag and sprayed on the developer. The idea here is that the dye would leach into the micro cracks and would not be wiped away by the rag. Once the developer is applied, the red dye stains the developer and the crack is highlighted. You can see remnants of the red dye below the developer in the picture below.

In our case I found one crack, but it was vertical, not the dreaded horizontal. This could have been from the original casting, but to be safe I will have a rigger take a look at it and give me their advice. For now, I labeled it and will reassemble as is.

In order to complete my full inspection, I needed to also take the rod out of the spreader ends and inspect the section of the rod that runs through the spreader.

Since ours were covered in deteriorating old leather caps, we had to remove them to see what was below.

It turned out to be lots of tape and stainless steel wire ties holding the rod in place. Well, we will have to replace all of that…

 

Cleaning the Hardware

Once home I washed each turnbuckle, pin, and bolt in degreaser and inspected each part by hand. I found some cracks in my forestay turnbuckle and my starboard lower turnbuckle. These appeared to be cracks in the plating, but I am going to replace them anyway, it’s cheap insurance.

After everything was taken apart and cleaned, it needed to be prepped to go back together.  I applied a thin film of lanocote grease to everything to ensure the threads would not gaul during reassembly. Lanocote also helps prevent corrosion if two dissimilar metals are in contact, it seemed like a good choice.

There are several lubricant options that can be used, I was told tef gel, or a Molybdenum Disulfide lubricant are also good choices. I had lanocote, so I used lanocote.

I then reconnected each turnbuckle to each rod end after lubricating the rod ends with lanocote. Each end got a new cotter pin, and I used some riggers tape to cover any sharp edges from the cotter pins.

Replacing Halyards

After the hardware, my attention was turned to halyards. I knew I needed all new halyards, Cinderella has 4 headsail halyards, one main halyard, and a storm sail halyard/ spinnaker pole lift halyard. We will also be adding checkstays to help support the mast in big seas and when flying the storm jib along with lazy jacks to help us handle the main short-handed.

What does this mean? Why it means lots of new shiny rope! Or should I say lots of expensive, new shiny rope.

I fished a length of paracord through the mast so that we could take a halyard to the local marine store and get our halyard length. Since all of my halyards terminate at the same location, taking one for size should work just fine.

It turns out, each halyard is 105′. The cruiser oriented double braid came in at $0.81 – $0.91 per foot, and I needed over 600′ of it. Ouch. Oddly, this seemed cheap compared to the more race oriented halyards, which were between $2 and $4 per foot! What does BOAT mean again… Break Out Another Thousand.

Ava picked out the new colors for our halyards (though we didn’t have that many colors to choose from). At least we had some choices, and for a few bucks more we can now yell to our non-sailor friends PULL THE GREEN ROPE!! instead of PULL THE PORT GENOA HALYARD!

I also purchased two fids so that I could splice my new shiny rope around my old hardware. A good reference for how to splice double braid was done by the late Andy Hall, and can be found here.

Once all of the halyards were spliced, back into the mast they went. One by one I taped the ends of the new halyards to the old halyards and fished them through.

While I was at it, I removed and replaced the line that was used to raise and lower the tail end of the spinnaker pole, another splice and Ava and I now have fresh lines on the mast!

 

What’s Left?

Now that the the rods were cleaned and inspected and the lines were replaced, we had five more minor projects to finish while the mast was out of the boat.

1) Install flag halyards for raising the flags of all those countries we will visit
2) Install spreader lights to help see the deck at night/draw the bugs away from us.
3) Replace the anchor light and tricolor lights with LEDs
4) Lubricate and reattach the windvane and anemometer
5) Sew new leather pieces around our cap shrouds to prevent sail chafe

Installing Flag Halyards

Fortunately, I had blocks for the flag halyards in a spare parts bag, I just needed to rivet them in place. I used stainless steel rivets and  some lanocote to attach them to the bottom spreaders.

Since my bottom spreaders are about 16′ off the deck, I bought 60′ of pre stretched poly line and hung them from the blocks. Done.

Install Spreader Lights

Spreader lights are expensive! As with anything labeled “marine,” so I hopped on amazon and bought a set of Jeep flood lights. If the 4×4 guys can beat them up in the mud, they should be able to handle a bit of salty air. The best part, they are LED and draw just over an amp. We will see how they look after the mast is back in.

Replace Anchor and Masthead Lights

Again, anything labeled marine grade is expensive. Add in the fact that these lights have to be seen from 2 nm according to USGC regulations, and you have yourself a $200 purchase.

Fortunately, my masthead light fixture comes apart and you can replace just the bulbs. I found two LED bulbs that fit and WALA, LED anchor lights at a fraction of the price.

Lubricate and install Windvane and Anemometer

Ever since I purchased Cinderella, that windvane/anemometer combo looked sad. It hung sideways so you couldn’t really tell wind direction even though I had the electronics for it, and the cups never spun.

It turned out that the vane was zip tied to the masthead… crooked. I cut the zip ties and bolted the vane to the masthead. After a bit of lubrication, the cups spun again with ease and the vane was pointing into the wind. I just love it when the fix is nearly free!

Sew New Leather Shroud Caps

Since the old leather caps were in rough shape, they were getting pitched and we had to start fresh.

Fortunately, my crafty lady had some scrap leather laying around and Ava went to work making templates from the old crunchy leather.

After a quick stop at the leather shop and some hole punching, we were able to sew new leather end caps on our spreaders on a dark, cold, rainy night.

For the record, Ava’s sew job turned out much better than mine. Don’t those stitches look nice!

How fast the week flew by! Of course it wasn’t all work, we did take advantage of a few bands being in town to dance some of the stress away.

Almost done!! Follow along on the next step as we put the mast back in the boat!

Let’s take the Mast Down!

Arguably the second most important part of a sailboat is it’s rig (coming in just after a sound hull). After all the steps to sailing look something like:

1) Keep air in the boat and water out
2) Scoop wind with sail to move boat
3) Smile and crack open a beer, you are sailing!

Then why do we neglect our rigs?!

Well, a healthy fear of heights is probably one reason. A lack of understanding and a belief in mysticism might be another. But I would venture to guess the seemingly overwhelming yard costs associated with stepping and unstepping a mast is probably the main reason.

Maybe I’m generalizing, but of all the sailors I know (several of whom talk about going offshore) few have intimate knowledge of their rigs. This should raise eyebrows.

What is it made of? What sort of fittings are used on the boat? When was it last inspected? Is it original? How many years are recommended between inspections? If something breaks, what do you do?

After going electric, we are pretty much counting on our rig to get us around the world. No if ands or buts about it, it has to stay up. Knowing that we can’t afford to put a new rig on Cinderella, we better make damn sure we do everything we can to keep it standing so we can manage steps 2 and 3 from above. Afterall, sailing is supposed to be fun, right??

Where do you start? Well the previous owner is probably a good place. If they weren’t to knowledgeable, maybe the owner previous to them. If that doesn’t work, try a rigger.

We did both, and oddly enough it was the rigger that was able to put us in touch with the PO who raced Cinderella all those years ago. What we found out was invaluable. We knew when the mast was installed, the specs, who did the install, when it was inspected, the age of the halyards (and that they needed replacing ASAP), the sail inventory, when to use those sails, and much much more. We are fortunate Cindy’s PO was very knowledgeable and willing to share everything he knew.

Where does that leave us? Well Cinderella still has a nasty leak around the mast, and we have a 20 year old rod rig with the life expectancy of (get this) 20 years! Now Navtec rod rigs can last up to 50 years or more if properly taken care of, but the only way to know anything is to take it apart piece by piece and have a look for ourselves.

So that’s what we did. I decided to take a week off work and we would have the mast unstepped and set up in the local boatyard where I could work away until she was ready to go back in.

We convinced some friends to come along, offering the breakfast, wine, and beer, in exchange for help and photo skills.

Before this, I have never pulled a rig before, this is where research and the PO come in handy. It turns out, Cinderella has a stock Express 34 rig built by Ballenger Spar Systems in CA and the PO knew where the balance point of the rig was, and outlined the steps of removal for us.

They looked something like this:

Prior to arriving at boatyard

1) Remove boom, vang, sails, and any appendages connected to the mast itself (leaving the halyards, you don’t want to have to fish those through later)
2) Disconnect any wiring to mast VHF cable, wind instrument cables, light cables and so on
3) Lubricate all turnbuckles and make sure they turn freely (you do not want to be stuck unseizing turnbuckles when yard fees are $100/hr)

Upon arrival at boatyard

4) Let the crane operators begin supporting the mast from its balance point (on our rig, that is just below the bottom spreaders)
5) Go around and loosen all turnbuckles completely (Cinderella’s mast is keel stepped and will stand upright without any rigging attached
6) Disconnect all standing rigging and tie of to the mast
7) Double check all running rigging is disconnected from the boat (we forgot this one)
7) Have crane operator do their thing and watch in wonder as the mast slowly lifts out of your boat.
8) Cover hole left by mast removal with something (we used a plastic bag and duck tape.

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That’s it! It really isn’t a complicated procedure, and the crane operators have done this hundreds if not thousands of times. The weirdest part is motoring your boat back to your slip without the mast in place, no more requesting bridge opening!

Follow along on the next step where we replace the halyards, take the turnbuckles apart, inspect the rod ends, and add spreader lights!

 

Building STORAGE! Part 1

If you remember from one of my first blogs, I spent some time insulating the hull and covering it with cheap flooring in order to stop my condensation problem. Guess what, its coming down. After talking to more boaters, and advancing my boat-building knowledge, I realize my attempt was simply a band-aid.

Over Thanksgiving, Ava and I sailed to Port Townsend to speak with Port Townsend Rigging about pulling our mast and doing a complete inspection of the rig prior to departure in September. After a day setback with the install of the Dickinson heater, we departed a day late and without reliable heat. I still had my portable propane heater, so we were able to warm up down below when were weren’t on watch, but it’s not quite the same as the warm, dry heat of the diesel burner.

What was supposed to be a pleasant 18 kt breeze behind us turned out to be more like 25 dead ahead. As luck would have it, rain showers graced us all day. We were soaked and cold. If we look at the situation optimistically, we did have lots of wind!  In just 7 hrs we had made it to Port Townsend, and tied up to the fuel dock for the night. In the morning after getting our slip, we wandered around the boatyard, chatting up nearly everyone we could find. One of those folks was Andy, one of the employees of Port Townsend Rigging.

Like all boaters, Andy could tell a story. Before long we were all back aboard Cinderella, beers in hand. Andy was telling us about the modifications he made to his boat, and made me aware that I should reconsider what I had done when I insulated the main cabin. He told me about how he added storage behind the settees in his boat. In doing so, he not only added insulation and storage, but also strength to the hull.

This sat in my mind for a while before I finally took the leap. I was going to take everything down and build out cabinets behind the port settee to give Cinderella even more rigidity and precious storage.

This became a larger project (shoscker) than I expected, but the end result is well worth it.

I began by taking all of the flooring down and pulling off all of the stringers I glued to the hull.

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The next steps took the majority of an evening. The port settee was designed to be slept on, not at at, it was much deeper than a normal seat. This allowed me to create plenty of storage behind the future seat-backs, but where would those seat-backs be? It is very challenging to draw a straight line in a boat, even more challenging to take that line and make a template to follow the curvature of a hull. I eventually decided that I needed 19″ for my seat, and the rest would be storage.

I then drew lines up the bulkheads at about 85 degrees to outline where the seat-back would eventually be. From here I was able to glue in my supports and begin cutting cardboard templates.

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Since the access to the storage below the settees did not allow for 19″ seats, I decided the bottom shelf would be 4″ off of the settee (the height of the cushions). I was fortunate I bought an electric carving knife for cutting foam because it works wonders on cardboard templates too. I proceeded to cut out templates for each piece I needed before cutting each piece out of 12mm plywood. At the local lumberyard they have 12mm finished birch plywood that seemed like the perfect choice.

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I kept going until I had each piece cut out an test fitted. Fortunately, you don’t need a perfect fit to the hull here. You actually want to leave about a 1/2″ gap to fill with foam so that the swelling of the wood won’t cause any pressure points on the hull and potentially create stress points.

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The next step was to cut the foam strips to fit the gap. I used polystyrene I had leftover for the initial insulation job, again the carving knife was invaluable. After the foam was glued in place, I made fillets out of thickened epoxy so that the fiberglass would have a gentile arc to adhere to rather than a sharp 90 degree bend. Finally, I was able to lay the fiberglass. I applied three layers with the first halfway between the hull and the plywood and the next two overlapping on either side.

 

PowerSurvivor 35 Watermaker Install Part 1

When reading and thinking about cruising in the Pacific, one topic seems to come up over and over again: water. It is after all, one of the most important components to life.

Up until now, we have cruised here in the Puget Sound between the USA and Canada, two places where potable (and delicious) water comes free from the faucet. It’s something all of us take for granted, and probably the most important resource we have. When we are in the middle of the big blue sea, or in a remote island paradise, we can’t quite count on the faucet method. So what are our options?

It turns out there are three main options. People have been sailing the seas for thousands of years, and the tried and true method for water management is quite simple, big tanks and rain-catchers. We’ve heard from a few veteran cruisers that adding a bit of bleach to water tanks and bladders will keep the green things at bay. That remains the simplest method of capturing drinking water. The next option would be buying water from a trustworthy source. I’m not sure I want to trust our life and health to the water treatment systems that exist across the globe, so that leads us to the third option: Water desalination via reverse osmosis.

While we will try to capture rainwater along the way, my mind says something as important as water should have a redundant system. Enter digging at the Fisheries Supply swap meet at 5am in the rain, and our $200 PUR WaterSurvivor 35!

[Pajo was in Australia for work while Ava perused the swap meet and chatted up some salty folks. A transaction via FaceTime allowed Ava to use her Jersey charm to negotiate another good score, the Aries Wind Vane… more on that later].

With a bit of research, we discovered that although the PUR WaterSurvivor 35 is one of the original marine desalination systems, it is still in production by Katadyn who bought out PUR. Not only that, the system PUR designed has been used all around the world by all sorts of boats, and some systems are still in service to this day. Based on those facts, we will be installing our bargain watermaker aboard Cinderella.

Before digging into our old-new watermaker, I did my usual and scoured the forums to see what we really had. It turns out, a fellow by the name of Gary Albers has dissected these things forwards and backwards and published his knowledge on the World Wide Web for all of us to share. His website can be found here (thanks Gary!).

Our watermaker will run on 12v DC power, although we will have a hand pump option if things go sour.

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As you can see in the photo above, she is in some rough shape. What happens to things in rough shape? I tear into them thinking I know better.

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The first thing I did was pull the motor off of the pump. I began with a screwdriver chipping away at the crusty paint and oxidation so I could actually see what I had.

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I immediately decided the motor had to come apart so that I could repaint everything. This thing will live in a marine environment, and I really don’t want everything to oxidize together.

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As you can see I chipped away all of the old paint to see what the aluminum looked like below. Fortunately, it is all salvageable. The next step was to look at the motor inerts. You can see the brushes extended out below, that took lots of work to get them unstuck. I am pretty certain that the last time this thing was switched on, noting happened. This is one of three things that can go wrong with an electric motor, but fortunately after a bit of sanding and working, the brushes spring back and forth, just as they are supposed to!

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The next step will be to sand and paint all of the components and reassemble the motor and gearbox assembly. After reading up on the gearbox there has not been a recorded failure, and the grease still looked to be in good shape. If I can help it, I will leave the gearbox alone and simply paint it.

I checked into the cost of a replacement membrane (I haven’t the slightest clue on its history) and it’s about $340. A new seal kit runs about $120, so all in all I should have a completely rebuilt 12v watermaker aboard for about $660. Not too bad considering a new one is in the $4000 range, YIKES!

I am going to be updating the galley layout in the coming months, so it’s the perfect time to look at possible mounting locations.

Newport Dickinson Heat Part 3

Hopefully the last part in the series. After our chilly evening sail, I realized that I had some improvements to make.

The plan:

  1. Add Barometric damper to “dampen” the wind gusts coming down the chimney pipe.
  2. Fiberglass a pad for the chimney top to sit on that is level with the deck.
  3. Cut chimney pipe to fit with the damper in place.

The first step was to run out and pick up a barometric damper.

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These are not cheap coming in at bout $60! Let’s face it though, sailing here in the PNW without heat on-board is pretty miserable and that $60 seems trivial when you are cold and wet. Also, when we depart in September it will be nice to have warm dry heat en route to San Francisco.

The next step was to glass a chimney pad. This was probably the most time consuming portion of the whole install. I have never tried to make odd shapes out of fiberglass before, so there was a bit of learning involved here, but I figured it couldn’t be that hard.

I started by measuring the deck fitting (7″ in diameter) and searching for a bucket with rounded bottom edges to use as a mould for my epoxy. It turns out that the pain mixing buckets were perfect, 7.5″ in diameter, and the edges were nice and rounded.

I waited for a nice dry morning and went out with a piece of paper that I had previously wrapped around the bucket to size and drew the deck curvature onto the paper. I then scribed that shape onto the bucket and cut it with scissors. The resulting shape was test fit to the deck curvature and I used a level to check to see how well it fit.

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The photo above shows me test fitting after I glassed over the bucket. It turned out that the deck fitting was too short to reach the disctance of the new pad, so I had to trim 1.5″ off using my dremel. I then mixed up some thickened epoxy filler and epoxied the mould into place. I then cut several small pieces of fiberglass and glassed the pad into place on deck.

The end result came out pretty well. Its structurally sound and after a bit of sanding and paint, you won’t be able to tell it wasn’t original!

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I then used the dremel to cut the chimney pipe and the guard to fit below the damper. Here is a look from the interior.

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Newport Dickinson Heat Part 2

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About a month had gone by, and Ava and I had returned to the PNW after some traveling to visit my family in the Midwest. Contrary to my belief, it had actually gotten colder in Seattle. My little space heater was now working full time and could hardly keep the boat temp above 60. It was time to revisit that Diesel heater.

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If you recall I had left the project installed but not in working order. Ava and I went sailing through a gale to Port Townsend and while we made excellent time (averaged 7 kts!) we were nearly frozen to the bone upset that we had to rely on my little propane Mr. Buddy Heater. I now had a bit of inspiration, I once again revisited the diesel heater.

The first step to troubleshooting was to download the calibration procedure from the Dickinson website (find it here) and check to see if my valve was set properly.

The calibration can be tested by removing the copper pipe from the bottom of the valve assembly and allowing the diesel to drip directly into a measuring cup. Dickinson calls for the valve to fill 1 tsp over 50 seconds on setting 1.

Simple enough right? Wait! I don’t have measuring spoons. Just before my drive was diminished, I had and idea. To google!

As we may or may not know, silverware was originally designed to measure, you guessed it, the teaspoon and the tablespoon. It turns out, a normal spoon is approximately 1 Tbsp and a dessert spoon is approximately 1 tsp. Oh the magic of google. Unfortunately, in my minimalism I do not have any dessert spoons, so I would have to use a regular spoon.

Since there are 3 tsp in 1 Tbsp, I have two options, either eyeball what 1/3 of the spoon looks like, or wait 150 seconds and the full spoon should be full of diesel. (note: be sure to clean the spoon afterwards thoroughly). I chose to eyeball at the 50 sec mark. The less opportunity for diesel to spill in my cabin the better.

After all of this, I was able to determine my valve assembly was calibrated nearly perfectly, the plug must be further down the line.

I proceeded to the next step in the process, the copper pipe that connects the burner pot to the valve assembly. What do you know, it was completely plugged.

I should have spent the extra time when cleaning out the stove prior to installation to clean the pipe too, but it was cold when I was cleaning, and I lost motivation very quickly.  So simple, yet so frustrating.

After sacrificing half of a spiral bound notebook’s spiral, I was able to use the wire to clean out the pipe to reinstall. A few minutes later, I had it all back together.

I opened the valve to setting 1 and waited, sure enough there was enough fuel to prime the stove in 5 minutes. I lit the pool of diesel, and we were off. It took about 5 minutes to preheat  enough to vaporize the diesel, but the stove was working properly.

The stove now works, and I am no longer spending the occasional evening aboard in a puffy coat.

The Newport heater also happens to come with a built in 12v fan to force air into the burner pot. This allows the user to better control the burn. I like this feature, as the old sig 180 had limited burn range before inefficient combustion. I basically had to run it full blast or nothing (quite the waste of fuel).

I was eager to see what this fan could do! I wired it up and switched it on. Nothing.

I immediately assumed the switch had failed. A few minutes  with the handy dandy Fluke multi-meter, and I found the culprit.

The motor, after sitting in a marine environment for x years, had seized. The local Dickinson dealer proceeded to drop my jaw when they told me the replacement was $85!

Crafty as I am, and after my newfound knowledge of electric motors from the Manta Drive, I disassembled the tiny little fan motor and found out what was wrong. It turned out that one of the bushings had corroded after being in the environment for so long.

After a bit of fine sandpaper and a dab of winch lube, I had the motor was spinning free once again. The best part, I still had that $85 in my pocket!

It turns out the fan really helps get the burner lit, and aids in combustion of the flame. Something was still up though, the flame seemed to hesitate every now and then.

Oh well, it works, and I am now sweating in my t-shirt aboardin these cold nights.

We had some guests over, and decided to go out for an evening sail. Everything started out great. Light breeze coming from the sound, a nice slowsail towards downtown.

The wind was nearly directly behind us. It was pleasant. As we came about to circle around the lake, I see smoke! Saing to windward caused a back-draft that killed the flame in the burner pot! This would not do for distance sailing.

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Still not happy, I have some ideas on how to make my setup better.

Follow along for Dickinson Heat Part 3 – I add a barometric damper and fiberglass a pad for the chimney to sit on.

 

Newport Dickinson Heat Part 1


H Climate change, whether you believe, (or sadly) don’t believe is making itself known here in the PNW. I guess it could also just be winter, but who really cares, its cold! Cold weather + no heat + rain + gale force wind makes for some some less than ideal sailing. Being that we now have less than a year before departure, we are trying to take every advantage possible to get out there. Last year, Ava and I took advantage of some extended vacation in late December  to go on a two week sail through the Gulf Islands in Canada, it was unbelievable. A big reason why we managed to have a great time can be summed up in two words.

Warm. Dry.

When I began construction of the new cabin aboard Cinderella, I removed some items that wasted space. One of those items was the old diesel drip heater, a SigMarine 180. Being that we plan to circumnavigate the globe along the equator, we did not need a bulky SigMarine 180 taking up all that space aboard. It was great having all that space open this summer, but now that winter has kicked in we are less than enthused about taking extended sailing trips away from the dock and the wonder of electric heat.

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The Sig 180 provided dry heat that allowed us to live in comfort during our sail. it also managed to dry out all of our clothing as we sailed along from island to island. There has to be a way to keep the heat, but not waste all the space. After all, we are going to be shrinking our lives into a measly 35 feet for the next couple years, the more space we can keep the better. Enter the Newport Dickinson Heater.

Along the way in my boatly learning, I acquired an Ericson 27 which had a bulkhead mounted version of the very bulky, free standing behemoth I yanked from Cinderella. An afternoon and some very sooty hands later I had successfully salvaged the heater from Cinderella’s smaller sister ship.

Ava and I had planned another sailing trip over thanksgiving, so I had a deadline to get this new heater installed and working.

The first step was to clean what looked like 30 years of soot out of this old heater and prepare it for installation into Cinderella. I disassembled the heater as far as I was willing to go (pulling the valve assembly off and disassembling it) in the cold one afternoon and cleaned out all of the parts to prepare for re installation in the starboard bulkhead of Cinderella.

Time was ticking and I needed to prepare Cinderella for the addition of this new heater. I had two major modifications I needed to make.

  1. Cut hold in cabin top for chimney EEK!
  2. Cut stainless steel heat shield to fit on starboard bulkhead behind the heater.

Cutting a hole in the cabin top turned out to be quite a task for my Harbor Freight holesaw kit. I think I went through 4 battery charges on my drill before I was able to cut the 4″ hole required for the chimney. It did work though, and I am impressed with how much use I was able to get out of this cheap little “one time use” kit. Every time you put a hole in the cabin top of one of these fiberglass boats, you need to be aware of any possible leak points. Most fiberglass production boats have a sheet of either plywood of balsa sandwiched between the fiberglass layers to add rigidity to the boat. A hole in this fiberglass is a potential leak point which could rot the wood and destroy the rigidity of the cabin top. Not good. Fortunately I had mixed up some epoxy for another task below, so I was able to seal the balsa coring with the leftovers around the hole I drilled for the chimney.

Cutting the stainless steel heat shield turned out to be quite a PITA! I started with a cutoff wheel on my dremel, but in short order I was out of blades and with quite a bit left to cut. After looking over my saw options, I landed on good old fashioned horsepower, that’s right, a hacksaw. After about an hour of grunting and grumbling I had finally finished making the cut and Ava and I were able to install the heat shield and the stove.

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Fortunately, I had 3 pieces of chimney pipe to choose from after removing 2 heaters, so I was able to find a piece that looked the nicest and fit the location perfectly.

The only remaining task was to go topside and install the chimney top from above.

The chimney top would connect to the chimney coming from the heater and complete the stack.

My initial belief was that I would be able to bend the shroud around the chimney to fit the curvature of the cabin top – a novice move. I quickly realized that I would need to build up the cabin top to a level plane to meet the chimney top on the deck.

Level on a boat is… relative?  It was getting dark and cold, and I had run out of time if we still wanted to go cruising.

The deck was sealed, so my main worry had subsided. I did the only thing I could to attach the chimney top to the deck and get us ready to leave, marine silicone adhesive.

It looks pretty awful, but it will cover the majority of the hole, and allow us to use the heater on the short term until I can make a fiberglass platform for the chimney top to attach to.

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The next day rolled around and it was time to test the old, new heater! We screwed the day tank to the wall, filled it up and primed the burner. The directions say to set the valve to setting 1 and wait 5 minutes for approx a Tbsp of diesel to form in the burner pot. 10 minutes had gone by and I could hardly see diesel in the bottom pipe of the burner, something was wrong. “Well, maybe I need to give it extra time to fill the valve assembly. I’ll give it another 10 minutes,” I thought. 10 minutes later and I had a pool of diesel! Time to light this thing up and test it out!

Nothing.

The pool lit, but after a few minutes it would go out and no more diesel would flow into the burner pot. Something was clogged, but it was going to have to wait for another time. Thanksgiving was going to be a cold, wet sail.

And it was.

Follow along for Part 2 of the Dickinson Newport Diesel Heater Install.