“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

Been Awhile

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It’s been awhile since we have put anything up on our blog. Between the poor internet, being busy with work and a number of other excuses we could list, it’s been too long since our last post.

We have been busy spending our full-time wages on repairs and upgrades to Smitty. It will probably take several posts to get these caught up to where we are at the present.

The upgrades and repairs in this post are the result of Irma and Maria. We have found that a number of electronics have ended up toast as a result of salt spray or just increased salt in the air. Some, like the controls for our refer, went almost right away while others, like our Rogue solar controller, took months to manifest. But when you pull these items apart you can see salt and corrosion on the circuit boards and sometimes even find the area that shorted out. Our friends on land have had similar issues. If we ever end up going through another hurricane (let’s hope not!) the first thing I will do is wash down anything with a circuit board with fresh water followed by rubbing alcohol.

So lets talk about some repairs we have done. The first thing we lost after the storms was our refrigeration. We had failed to block our vent cowlings on the stern and water poured into them getting salt water all over the refrigeration compressor. The compressor its self was fine but the control module and the circuit board were toast.

Luckily I was able to salvage a control module from another boat. But that boat didn’t have the circuit boar. So I reproduced most of the function of that circuit board using wires and a terminal strip. It worked and we had refrigeration again but it wasn’t as efficient and didn’t have the diagnostic ability of the original.

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Refrigeration module about to be salvaged from another boat

When our friends Jamie and Keith on s/v Kookaburra arrived in November they brought a spare control module and circuit board with them. Jamie is a former marine refrigeration technician and an invaluable source for help in these maters. They arrived just in time as our refrigeration began acting up again just after they had settled in on their mooring in Elephant Bay.

With the spare parts in hand I began trying to get our refrigeration in proper working order. However after replacing the salvaged module and putting the new circuit board in the refer was still drawing more power then before and not staying as cold as it should. Jamie and I went through the system but couldn’t find the cause. Out came the trusty multi-meter and we started looking for issues. Sure enough we found a massive voltage drop at the compressor. With our batteries reading 12.55 volts (solar disconnected to help with the diagnostics) we were only seeing 12.35 volts at the compressor. Worse yet it would drop to under 10 volts when the compressor would kick on. This was likely trigger a voltage sensor on the compressor that is there to protect our batteries. Keeping with the multi-meter and using some 20 foot lengths of wire we eventually determined the issue was with the ground somewhere between the engine and the battery bank. We used the wire to jump the positive and negative connections to several locations around the boat to find were the voltage drop would be present and absent. For instance the voltage drop was still present when we put the wire in to feed the compressor from the battery selector switch and negative buss bar behind the electric panel but it was gone when we connected the compressor directly to the batteries. By this process of elimination we were able to determine where the voltage drop was occurring. So off I went to clean and check all of my ground connections in that run.

Several years ago I had installed a negative buss bar on the port engine bed to allow Smitty’s grounds to go to a buss bar connected to both the engine and the battery bank thus eliminating the potentially problematic “stacked” connections that come from corrosion that builds up on the block and causes more resistance in the connections. Well as it turns our I missed one connection that was on a different bolt on the block. This one was to ground the refer compressor and several other items. Once I removed this connection, cleaned up the connector with a wire brush and moved it to the negative buss bar everything was working perfect again.

Chalk one up for the multi-meter. And add a spare refrigeration module to the list of necessary spares for us to carry.

Our next area of corrosion issues was our engine instrument pod. Some of our alarm buzzers and gauges started acting funny. There were too many of them in one spot for it to be anything but the instrument pod for the engine. I took that apart and sure enough found some corrosion in the “European style connection strip” that Catalina used in the pod.

I removed the strip, cut back a few inches on the wires to eliminate any corrosion and terminated them with marine adhesive heat shrink ring terminals. I then used two 65 amp terminal strips to make the connections. The system is much more secure and resistant to corrosion.

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The starting circuit was separated from the gauges on different terminal strips to allow for better spacing and easier diagnostics in the future.

Then we had a big dollar item succumb to the residual effects of Irmaria. This time it was our Rogue solar controller.  This was a $400 piece of hardware that literally is irreplaceable as the company has stopped making these and is no longer in the business of making small solar controllers.

Again more corrosion then we would expect to see on an item only a few years old.

The one good thing that came out of this was that solar controller technology has come a long way since we did our research. After talking to a few cruising friends and doing some research we purchased two Victron BlueSolar MPPT 100/15 controllers (Should have bought the MPPT 75/15 but not a major difference) with the Bluetooth Dongles for programming and monitoring. (Note: Victron now makes the SmartSolar MPPT Controllers with the Bluetooth built in) We opted to go with two smaller controllers instead of the one large controller. Our array is a mix of panels; 500 watts coming from two 100 watt semiflexible panels, two 50 watt semiflexible panels and two 100 watt hard panels (more on these later). My research suggested that separating these onto different controllers would yield better results. Sure enough, these new controllers have about 15% better production than the single Rogue controller. Plus being able to monitor my panels through an app on my phone is really convenient.

The last (hopefully) item we are choking up to Irmaria is our Raritan Macerator Pump with Waste Valve.  We purchased this as a Defender First sale item from Active Captain when they used to do weekly emails before the Garmin acquisition. Its more expensive but the idea of a macerator pump designed for a “clean” swap out or fix appealed to me.

Raritan Macerator Pump

Now while I am upset this failed, I am so glad I put this in.  It worked exactly like advertised. I changed out to the new pump in 2 minutes with zero mess. I didn’t even have to use paper towels to cleanup the area after. And the pump failed with the holding tank 3/4 full. So this could have been ugly. But thanks to this well engineered pump it wasn’t.

So hopefully that ends the Irmaria related upgrades. We have also made a number of upgrades to the boat that where more geared towards making life on Smitty better. Oh, I lied. We also lost our windex and the directional portion of our Raymarine wind transducer from the mast head. In addition our RAM Mic for our VHF would no longer transmit. So these are some other items that got upgraded that we will discuss later as part of the electronics upgrade we did.

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5 thoughts on “Been Awhile

  1. The higher concentration of salt in the air, water, spray etc., is one of the things I don’t deal with here on the Chesapeake. The environment here just isn’t as salty as it is where you are, near open water.

  2. Sorry to hear about your damage from Irma, but glad it’s not catastrophic. We look forward to reading more about your solar panels, and will look into the Victron controller. We will tackle this project soon and it is Greek to us!

    The Virgin Islands are a great place to stay a while!

  3. Nice to see you back blogging. You guys sure have been busy 🙂

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