“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain


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Our First Storm as Liveaboards

Last week we had our first significant storm as liveaboards.  A Nor’easter hit last Wednesday.

For those who have never had the pleasure of being in one, a Nor’easter is a strong winter storm that gets it’s name from the wind direction.  A low pressure area will pass along the coast and the result will be a rotating storm that looks like a hurricane.   These storms typically bring high winds and heavy rain or snow.

This one was kind of unexpected.  We knew we were going to get a storm but no one was predicting anything like what we got.  Typically we would strip all canvas and anything else on the outside of the boat, add extra dock lines and add extra fenders if we know they are coming.  The same as we would do for a hurricane.

My Bride started to get an idea that this was going to be bad on Wednesday and asked if I could leave early to do some storm prep.  So I left early and got down to the dock around 3PM.  It was already blowing 25 kts and some boats were already having problems.  Before I could even get down the dock I had to stop and help pull a friends boat off the dock.  His Trojan 36 had stretched her lines in the wind and the swim platform was up over the dock and starting to hit a pole. Working together the three of us on the dock were able to slowly move the boat forward 6 inches and off of the dock.  Our friend was then able to start up the engines and pull it forward another foot.  I then continued up the dock to Smitty while doing a quick survey of other boats on the dock.  I already say another half dozen boats that needed immediate help.

I got down to Smitty and it felt like it was blowing about 25 kts steady with gusts up to 35 kts.  Too windy to even try pulling canvas.  So I tied some lines around the furled headsail and checked to make sure it was cleated off well.  I should have wrapped the spinnaker halyard around the sail but I didn’t think of that until later. We were in our slip alone (our boat neighbor had to come out early due to engine troubles) so I was able to have four lines pulling us to windward and off of the dock.  I put Summer on the boat and then went to work on the other boats I saw in trouble.

Again working together, the three of us went about adding additional fenders, retying dock lines and taking down some loose pieces of canvas until all of the boats on our dock seemed to be doing well.  I then went back to Smitty to get worm and wait for my Bride to get off the commuter ferry on her way home from work.

My Bride called and they had cancelled the 6:30PM boat most likely due to high winds.  When she saw that large monohull with a lot of windage try to dock she wasn’t going to get on it anyways.  The next boat was at 7PM and was a more modern fast cat style. When she got aboard they started telling people to remain in their seats as much as possible.  They repeated this warning throughout the trip.  A cruise home that normally takes 30 minutes on this boat took over an hour.  It was rough and the boat was blown out of the channel a couple of times and they were lucky they didn’t end up aground.

After picking her up we went back down to the boat.  Our intent was to hunker down in the warm cabin for the rest of the night.  The wind had picked up significantly and I saw a couple of 45 kts.  When we were sitting below watching the news the gusts would heel us so much in our slip that I would slide off the settee.  We knew it was going to be a restless night.  The boat was bucking in our slip worse than we had ever experienced.  We had been through several hurricanes on our boat, Sandy, Arthur and Irene.  But due to the wind direction, the lack of warning and the strength of the gusts this was worse.  By the time the 10PM news came on it was consistently over 40 kts and gusting into the high 50 kts.

SNAP!  A loud crack followed by a deafening thunder-like noise.  The jib on the boat two slips down had been blown out.  This boat is a planing-hull racer with a carbon fiber stick and synthetic rigging.  We have a mixed past with the owner and currently we can’t stand each other.  But I would never let my feelings for the person stop me from helping the boat.  I immediately called the owner and told him what had happened.  I then put on some shoes and a fowlie coat and headed out to see what I could do.

Once I was in my cockpit I knew this could go bad quickly.  The jib was being held closed near the bottom by a single sail-tie.  The jib sheets where not even rapped around the jib to hold it furled.  I don’t even think the continuous line furler was cleated off.  The boat was bow in, tied up to its starboard side in the double load slip next to us, while we were stern in tied on the starboard side.  This meant we had an empty slip, a finder dock and another empty slip between us.  Which was a good thing because standing in my cockpit I could almost touch the top of this mast when it was heeled over during the gusts.  Gusts that were now as high as 63 kts.  Looking at our inclinometer, we were heeling over to 35 degrees on gusts and that was with 4 dock lines holding us down from heeling.

Our friend Ken was the only other person on the dock.  His power boat is on the end of the T-head which happens to be the other side of the finger from this boat.  Ken was outside now also and we were trying to come up with a plan.  The boat in trouble’s starboard stern line had now snapped and when the boat would heel over it was hitting the dock.  A big gust came and I realized how close to a disaster we were, the bulb keel was hitting the finger that it shared with Ken’s boat.  That was the only thing stopping this boat from going all the way over and hitting my boat with the mast.  But with this boat bucking like it was I couldn’t see how we could get the sail down.

As we were trying to figure out how to get on board, the owner and his 18 year-old son showed up.  We got lucky and there was a slight lull in the gusts.  We got the owner’s son on board, I gave him my knife (ALWAYS have a knife, I initially forgot it and had to go back) and he was able to cut the halyard.  The owner, Ken and I were then able to pull the jib down and sit on it on the dock.  Even with 3 grown men it was trying to throw us off.  We got it lashed down.  I don’t know how much damage that sail took but I can’t imagine it will be cheap to repair as this is one of those expensive racing sails.  We put some more lines on the boat and it was back to being secure in it’s slip.

Since I was out, I took another walk to check on the rest of the dock.  I adjusted a few dock lines but for the most part everything was good.  There was one boat that was going to loose it’s bimini but the boat was bucking wildly and one side was already snapped free so there wasn’t much I could do.  I went back down below and tried to get some sleep.

Sleep didn’t come until well after 2AM.  The boat kept bucking and heeling.  I was awake again at 5:30AM when some more gusting had us moving around again.  Soon after that the wind died down but it was supposed to pickup around noon.  I got dressed and went to do some work stuff for the morning.  We planned to work from the boat for the afternoon just in case it got bad again.

We drove around to check out some of the storm damage.

IMG_2440IMG_2422IMG_2417

We stopped by and spoke with the dock master for a while.  There was a lot of damage around the marina.  Large power boats with their swim platforms ripped off by the waves.  A sailboat broke free in the mooring field and ping-ponged off of boats as it bashed through until it eventually got hung-up on another boats anchor.  Of course that boat didn’t have its anchor tied off so it paid out all of the rhode before the boat ended up smashing onto another boat repeatedly while being held at the end of the rhode.  Many of the boats on the moorings had chaffed through one of the pendants and were being held on by a single, partially chaffed pendant.  A lot of the small boats took punishment because their undersized dock lines broke and the boats were smashed against the concrete docks.

Back at the dock we were getting a pretty good storm surge. This was about an hour and a half before high tide.

IMG_2414As predicted the winds kicked back up again.  However it was only around 30 kts with gusts into the low 40 kts.  For the most part the second night was uneventful.  While walking the dog before bed, I came across a 25-foot center counsel that was taking water over the stern.  I got a battery pack and bilge pump from a friends boat and pumped out the boat so that it could make it through the night.  Probably just too much rain that killed the battery and the bilge pump stopped working.

This weekend I came out of the boat to find a bag in our cockpit.

IMG_2434 The owners of one of the boats on the dock left the makings for some Dark n’ Stormies and a nice thank you note for looking out for their boat during the storm.  Our dock suffered the least amount of damage out of the all the docks in the marina.  Also during the storm I was posting updates on a Facebook page we have for our dock so people didn’t have to wonder how their boats were doing.  We are the only liveaboards at our marina.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Just another benefit to being liveaboard friendly.

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Strange Electrical Issue

This issue has been going on since we’ve owned our Catalina 310 but I never really thought about it until recently.

We have two GFCI Outlets on the boat.  GFCI Outlet #1 is at the navigation station and according to the wiring diagram should be the only outlet connected on that run.  GFCI #2 is at the galley counter and should be the first in the line protecting the rest of the outlets on the boat.

C310 115VAC Wiring Diagram with Markup C310 AC Plan with MarkupNow here is where things get a little strange.  When GFCI #2 is tripped, no problem.  All of the other outlets are tripped down the line.  But when GFCI #1 get’s tripped, it also trips all of the outlets, including GFCI #2.  Further, the bottom outlet on GFCI #1 will continue to work when tripped.

Looking at the wiring diagram there is no reason why tripping GFCI #1 should disable the outlets on the leg for GFCI #2.  But it happens.

Also, I don’t like the fact that the bottom outlet on GFCI #1 continues to work when tripped.

My plan is to verify the wiring is as per the diagram.  I suspect that somehow the factory wired the GFCI outlets different than shown.  I am also going to replace both GFCI outlets, which brings up another question.

Is there any difference between a marine GFCI outlet and a standard GFCI outlet you get in the box store?

I looked at the GFCI outlets at Fisheries Supply, which are made by Marinco.  I read the info on their webpage and they call it a “marine electrical duplex GFCI receptacle” but I can’t find anything that actually makes it marine.  What is the difference between the Marinco and the Leviton Smart Lock Pro 15 amp weather resistant outlet?  The Leviton is less than half the price and I can go pick it up and skip the shipping charge?


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Trying to Make Sense of Solar Options

I posted about some potential solar options last year.  But after considering the feedback I received it was clear I had more homework to do.  So I have been trying my best to do good due diligence on solar panels.  But I now feel like I have hit a stage of analysis paralysis.  I am hoping someone can help get me past this hump.  Here are the options I have been evaluating.

What type of Panel?

Solbian: With Compass Marine’s help last year I had determined that for the Solbian panels I could fit two (2) of the SL90L or SP112L panels on my bimini.  They have the same foot print but the SP series is the highest efficiency and therefore more money.  I don’t see the SL series listed on Solbian’s website anymore plus I think I would pay the premium for the more efficient panel if I went this route.  So for now I am planning as if I were to use the SP series but I am looking at the SP100L to make sure I get the best fit on my bimini.  Estimated cost without including the solar control (see below) is $2,750.

Rigid Panels: This would obviously mean I would have to build a frame and would have a bigger hassel for dismantling and storage below during a storm.  I would also mean more overall weight.  Neither of these are things we want when cruising in a smaller boat.  But I think I still need to consider this as an option.  So for this setup I looked at two 140 watt Kyocera panels (KD140SX-UFBS).  Estimated cost without including the solar control is $1,800.

Chinese Semi-flexible Panels: I know, I know.  Quality sucks.  You can’t believe the ratings. They are just poor quality knockoffs of the Solbians.  But the biggest thing I want from the Solbians in the mounting and storage ability.  I could possibly be satisfied with the performance of these panels.  And now you can buy them from American companies or on Amazon that might help with warranty issues.  I can’t not include them in my evaluation without later doing the “what if” game.  So I looked at the Go Power! GP-Flex-100.  Estimated cost without including the solar control is $1,350.

Here are the specs from the panels:

Peak Power (watts) Open Circuit Voltage Rated Voltage Short Circuit Current (amps) Rated Current (amps)
Solbian SP100 102 21.8 18 6.1 5.7
Kyocera 140W 140 22.1 17.7 8.68 7.91
GP-Flex-100 100 20.8 17.8 6.10 5.62

What type of Solar Charge Control?

MPPT vs. PWM: So I was starting to put together a review of maximum power point tracing versus pulse width modulation charge controls.  I was going to my typical go-to source for info, Compass Marine AKA Maine Sail, and he just published an evaluation of the two types of charge controllers.  His conclusion is that MPPT Controllers give you approximately 20% more power than PWM.  Seems like a no brainer but let’s see what that money difference is before we decide.

For costs, I looked up a few different options.  Compass Marine has a few brands I have seen him post favorably about when it comes to controllers: Genasun GV-10 MPPT, MorningStar has been given some good words in the past, and I also wanted to look at something bigger and Compass Marine has recommended Rogue in the past.  For PWM, Compass Marine used the MorningStar PS-15, the MorningStar Sunwize Sunsaver Duo and the GoPower! Digital Solar Voltage Regulator.

Here are the specs and costs on these controllers:

Type Amps Stages Cost
Genasun GV-10 MPPT 10 4-Stage $170
MorningStar SS-15L MPPT 15 4-Stage $200
Rogue MPT-2024 MPPT 20 6-Stage $250
Rogue MPT-3048 MPPT 30 6-Stage $350
MorningStar PS-15 PWM 15 4-Stage $85
MorningStar Sunwize Sunsaver PWM 25 4-Stage $170
GoPower! PWM 30 4-Stage $124

So clearly there are differences in quality; I included some lesser quality products like the GoPower!.  But if you look at similar MorningStar products you are going to pay around twice as much for the MPPT as you would for the PWM.  But if we are talking about a 20% increase in efficiency for about $100 it seems worth it.

What do I really need?

I did a power consumption work sheet.

Power Consumption worksheet 2

Based on the work sheet I am estimating around 125 Ah per day usage while cruising in the Bahamas and the Caribbean.  My real-world data courtesy of my Victron Battery Monitor puts me closer to 80 Ah per day.  I am continuing to size based on the 125 Ah per day because I do expect to use more power when we hit Florida, the Bahamas and the Caribbean.  But the hours of good solar energy should go up too.  So I am estimating I have 5 hours of good solar for my estimated power generation.  I don’t expect to get more than 4 while we are still in the Northeast but we will also be at a dock during that time except for weekends and some limited cruising.

So, that’s a long winded way of saying if I assume 85% charging efficiency on the solar panels and I run my engine for 1.5 hours per day, I would generate 115 Ah per day.  So this would mean that I could go with the Go Power! or some other semi-flexible panels and the result would be I would have to run my engine an extra hour on 1 or 2 days during the week to keep near 100% SOC.  Additionally I wouldn’t gain much power generation for the double the cost of the Solbian panels.

So where am I thinking wrong? 

The things that are in my head are as follows:

  • Is 5 hours too high of an estimate for good sun in the tropics?
  • Is 85% of the stated Ah rating too high to use on the panels?
  • Should I be taking temperature into account and, if so, how?

Bottom Line

After thinking about these options it’s clearly the installation method for the Solbians is what got me going in that direction.  While rigid panels offer the best performance for the area, the inconvenience of installation and storage take them off the table.  As far as charge controllers go, the MPPT seem to be the best bang for the buck and worth the small amount of additional money to get better performance.

Next step: research the Chinese made semi-flex panels and MPPT controllers and place an order.  Unless someone talks me out of my plans for solar again.


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12 Months, 52 Weeks, 365 Days or 8,760 hours….but who’s counting

As of today we have 12 months left before we cut the lines, give or take for a weather window. Lots of mixed emotions and thoughts about hitting this point. A little panic at everything that’s left to do. A lot of anticipation about quitting our jobs and sailing off. Most of all excitement about being this close.

As you get with most would be cruiser’s blogs, here is our epic list of projects we need to get done before we cut the lines.

Fall 2014

  1. Standing Rigging Inspection
  2. Temporary Electrical Panel
  3. Strip Canvas & Sails
  4. Pull Inflatable
  5. Frame for Shrink Wrap
  6. Order Heater & Dehumidifier
  7. Change Head Intake Plumbing & Fix Leak on Head
  8. Propane Tank Inspection
  9. Change Oil & Winterize Engine
  10. Disconnect & Drain Stern Shower
  11. Bottom Cleaned & Zincs Replaced
  12. Fish Zinc for Winter

 

Winter 2014-2015

  1. Install Tank Sensors on Holding Tank & Water Tank
  2. Install Fishing Rod Holder below deck
  3. Bottom Paint Inflatable
  4. Rewiring in Bilge
  5. Remove Bilge Pump Check Valve Housing
  6. Upgrade Bilge Pump System?
  7. Tune Up Outboard
  8. Cockpit Table Upgrade
  9. Read Bruce Van Sant’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South: The Thronless Path to Windward
  10. Rebuild Winches
  11. Repack & Inventory Ditch Bag
  12. Finish First Aid Kits
  13. Inventory Tools & Spares
  14. Anchor Light Plan
  15. Install Inverter (Dedicated Outlet?)
  16. Install 12 volt outlet at Helm
  17. Install iPad mount at Helm
  18. Install LED lights in cockpit (?)
  19. Check Steering Cables
  20. Fix Forward Hatch Leak(s)
  21. Wax/Polish Portals
  22. Put Shelves in Hanging Locker
  23. Put Shelves in Cabinets In Galley (?)
  24. Mainsail Cleaned & Inspected
  25. New Light for Forward Berth Area
  26. Lube Head Pump
  27. Bimini Patch & Reinforce or Replacement
  28. Make Gerry Can Holding System
  29. Install Wheels on Inflatable (?)
  30. Install Refer Thermometer
  31. Take First Aid/Survival Course
  32. Test Galvanic Isolator
  33. Make better bug screens for hatches
  34. Make sun/rain shade for front hatch
  35. Make Fender Holders

 

Spring to Summer 2015

  1. Gelcoat Repair on Port Stern Corner
  2. Gelcoat Repair on Windchaser
  3. Wax Hull
  4. Practice Heave To and Reefing
  5. Setup Reefing Marks on Furling Line
  6. Anchor Snubber/Swale Bridle
  7. Practice Anchoring
  8. Install Solar Panels
  9. New Access Hatch for Emergency Rudder
  10. Install Port Visors (2 or 4?)
  11. Install Saltwater Wash-Down System for Anchor
  12. Install New Life Lines (?)
  13. Get ICW Guide & Bahamas Charts
  14. Figure out preventer or boom break

 

Fall 2015

  1. Fill Parts & Supplies Inventory
  2. Check Dates on Flares
  3. Summer Vet Checkup & Get Full Copy of Vet Record
  4. Apply for Bahamas Import Permit for Summer
  5. Quit Jobs!
  6. Empty Storage
  7. Close PO Box
  8. Donate or store work clothes
  9. Sell Car