KatieKat 2006 Cruise Chapter Two

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GoBackTo 2006 Chapter One
Early-September 2006Watermaker
Techie Yachties
Mid-September 2006Electrical Upgrades
Techie Yachties
End-September 2006Woes and Shakedown Cruise
GoFwdTo 2006 Chapter Three

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September, 2006 -- Watermaker+

When we returned home a year ago, in the back of my mind there was still the nagging desire to have a watermaker on board - not that we really needed one, as in the six years of cruising we had run very low on water only once (on the Isle of Pines in New Caledonia). Anyway, I had agonized for a few years and finally rationalized the purchase on the basis of "independence" and weight savings onboard - after all, a quarter-tank of water instead of a full tank means saving 600lbs. Trouble is, the chain reaction of having the watermaker is the need for increased battery capacity and power generation, which meant the following additions to KatieKat (sigh):

  1. Watermaker
  2. Plumbing for watermaker
  3. Wiring for watermaker
  4. Additional battery
  5. Wiring for additional battery
  6. Additional solar panels
  7. Mounting for additional solar panels
  8. Controller and wiring for additional solar panels
  9. New awnings (because new solar panels are in old awning location)
  10. Hardware for new awnings mounted onto new solar panels
  11. Backup battery charger
  12. Wiring for backup battery charger
  13. Generator for backup battery charger
  14. A great big box full of supplies for watermaker

You get the message, and only time will tell if this was a good idea ... :-)

OK, let's get to the nitty-gritty of this thing: after doing my homework I finally decided to splurge and purchased a Spectra Ventura 150 reverse-osmosis watermaker. It is extremely efficient in terms of water production for the power consumed, has a form factor that could allow me to build it in underneath bunk space if I wanted to, and Spectra has a good reputation amongst cruisers.

Now, one of my rationalizations for the watermaker would be its possible use in an emergency - not necessarily onboard the boat. This meant that I would need to make the watermaker transportable. To this end, I ended up building a lightweight mounting board (thin plywood laminated onto a foam core, all sealed in epoxy)

[Bare mounting board] [Watermaker lying on bunk] [Watermaker standing up]

The white spots on the board are hardware mounting pads which were made by drilling oversize holes and filling with an epoxy filler mixture and then drilling/tapping the mounting holes. These also provide a nice secondary bond for securing the outside skins.

Continuing with the discussion of the above photos, seeing it lying down on the bunk, you get the idea of the size of this thing! The third photo shows the final installation, with simple bracing using a couple of pvc tubes - still need to add one more, for fore-aft immobilization. A couple of clay-colored flowerpot trays catch the drips. Guess what: this had been our guest cabin! :-)

For an input to the watermaker I finally get to utilize the thru-hull I had specified when I bought the boat (located underneath the dinette seat next to the boatspeed impeller and depth transducer). While I was at it, I decided to add a 30-micron pre-filter in addition to the water strainer (the Spectra 150 uses a 5-micron filter). I got carried away and also added some quick-disconnects and a high-pressure pump for a saltwater (or freshwater) deckwash, primarily to hose off mud from the anchor chain.

[Water strainer and plumbing] [Water prefilter and plumbing]

Poor photos, but you get the idea. Valves to bypass the prefilter as needed. So what's wrong with using household Schedule 40 PVC on boats?

As I write this in mid-October after a couple of weeks of use, my initial comment is that I wisely elected to remove the bunk cushions off the boat (inevitable water drips/splashes) but that I still did not provide sufficient clearance for easy filter element replacement). I think I finally cured the last remaining leak yesterday... I intend to write a detailed follow-up critique in a few months. Oh, I almost forgot, the water produced is wonderful!

Electrical Upgrades

All right, next came the new battery. My two flooded lead-acid 225AHr 6v batteries which I bought in Hobart in 2002 are still going strong, but one of the two 2003 105AHr 6v batteries died, so I replaced that bank with a 130-lb 4D 12v 198AHr AGM battery made by Deka. I chose this AGM battery because its charging regimen is close enough to flooded lead-acid batteries that I don't need to modify the outboard motor charging system and, having again recently researched this area, I now feel confident that I can parallel this AGM battery with the existing flooded lead-acid battery with no adverse effects. I mounted this new battery in an ideal very inaccessible spot forward under the main saloon seats (ideal because this space is useless for normal storage as it is all but inaccessible, and its location is lower than where the normal batteries reside and is also dead center on the pitch axis of the boat - thank you for this suggestion, Stephan). AGM batteries are truly maintenance-free, with no fluid levels requiring constant checking and topping off - they're also nice as they won't drip battery acid if the boat is upside-down :-) My third battery (backup, if needed for motor-starting) is a tiny 12AHr Odyssey AGM which I've been using sucessfully as my primary 12v battery on my Insight hybrid car. Sorry, no photos.

After the batteries came the new solar panels. Having had six-years of good luck with the stock Kyocera solar panels (I shouldn't have said that, because one of the originals promptly died and I'll talk about that later) and the form factor lent itself to the overhead mounting location I had in mind, I splurged (again) and bought two Kyocera 130-watt panels. As I write this in mid-October and now that I've been very carefully monitoring all the solar panels for the last couple of weeks, I have significant concerns about the extreme power output drop due to partial shading of the panels - something I had simply not paid any attention to in the past. Perhaps the diodes are blown... anyway, a topic for future discussion. At this point in time, I have one original 120-watt and three new 130-watt solar panels onboard.

[Kathy on aft deck at dawn with foggy San Francisco in background] [Underside of solar panels, Halloween spider dangling]

The first photo (it's a nice one, check it out) was taken as we were leaving San Francisco at dawn just before the fog hit - will discuss that experience later. The new solar panels are quite visible. Onto the panels I've added a handhold to the side and two awning tracks, one on the forward and one on the aft edge. My first awning sewing job was the gap filler at the leading edge. The second photo shows the underside of the new panels (ignore the dangling Halloween spider).

Ok, we've got the panels, but now to wire it all up and install a new controller. First I experimented and, having three solar controllers lying around, I installed all three onto a panel to compare their performance. Although I really like the versatility and programmability of the Australian Plasmatronics controllers (I have two) and the utility of the MorningStar controller, there is no question that the increased efficiency of the maximum power-point tracking controller wins out: the controller puts out more current into the battery than the solar panel produces! For you techies (recalling that a solar panel is basically a constant-current device), the controller achieves this trick through an extremely efficient dc-dc converter which takes the solar panel's output at 17.6v and converts it down to the battery-charging voltage level - we're talking about increases in charging current on the order of 20%! I think the outfit that makes this is now called Blue Sky and I'll try to find them and provide a link. This older controller that I had lying around, despite being wonderfully efficient, is kinda dumb as it doesn't have the sophisticated battery-charging regimen (bulk-absorb-float) of the others (which I still use for the original panels and which override this controller once the batteries are close to fully-charged). BTW, maximum power-point tracking is now the standard for home solar installations.

[Experimental solar controller assembly] [New solar controller overall view] [New solar controller closeup view] [New solar controller backside view]

I had already removed the MorningStar solar controller when I took the first photo of the entire assembly. The last three photos show the present controller - yes, the backside is a simple plastic basket which provides a nice ventilated mounting for the panel!

The controller has a switch-selectable input or output current monitor, but I added an ammeter as it's kinda fun to see what the solar panel output current is and what the contoller is actually putting out at the same time. I've added a battery temperature sensor for the controller. Ah, also, I've added a dedicated voltage monitor with alarm to the new AGM battery: this New Zealand-made CruzPro unit is the only one I could find that has an overvoltage alarm. Most people are happy, I guess, with undervoltage alarms. The AGM battery doesn't like to see anything over 14.40v at room ambient. The problem is that the outboard engines can get the batteries over that voltage if they're fully charged, and I have to manually disconnect the AGM battery when that happens. We also take the precaution of disconnecting the AGM battery when we get off the boat, just in case a controller loses its mind (it has happened).

[Victron Energy Battery Charger] [Honda Generator on forward trampoline]

Finally, to complete the picture, I've wired in my Victron Energy 30-amp charger (where the old batteries used to reside, and it's still easily removable) and my standby Honda 2000i generator can keep the watermaker going if for many days we have no sun and no wind and don't use the motors and have no shorepower. December 2006 Update: should have left that Honda generator at home to reduce onboard weight, as its primary usefulness was for boat heaters in Alaska. With the new solar panels we have power to burn here in Mexico!

All this, just so we can make water ourselves instead of taking it from a tap. (sigh)

[Photo of Joe doing the wiring] Somebody's got to do this stuff! Yes, it leads to hair loss. Ooh, I just noticed: on the table is my 20" screen iMac which we took along during our shakedown cruise in the California Delta. Its screen brightness and huge chart plotting display were superb, but the darn thing is just too large and heavy to take along on our cruise :-(

Click here for an in-depth discussion of KatieKat's Electrical System.

October 2007: Click here for a discussion of the performance of these electrical upgrades after a year's service.

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End-September, 2006 -- Woes and Shakedown Cruise

Enough whining ... or, as our Australian friends would say, "whinging". I just erased my tales of woe and let me just summarize that before our mid-September shakedown cruise I had managed to destroy the starboard engine water pump (by lifting the engine out of the water and not realizing it was running), but the good news is that I learned how to take the engine out of the boat.

[Photo of line coming down from boom into engine compartment] [Joe with motor hoisting line] [Michal head stuck into engine compartment]

The external block for reef#4 I had added when we first started cruising is perfectly located for hoisting up the engine. Thank you Michal with the help removing and installing this engine - the darn thing is heavy!

Kathy and I were able to go on our shakedown cruise to the California Delta in late September. Ever since we returned home I got out of the habit of snapping photos, and thus have little to show for this weeklong trip. For the record, our shakedown cruise path took us from Brisbane Marina (just south of San Francisco) -> San Rafael -> Antioch -> Rio Vista -> Benicia -> Petaluma -> Loch Lomond (California) -> Brisbane. Suffice it to say that it was nice to transition back into cruising, but for this entire trip I was busy with wiring and plumbing upgrades which I simply had run out of time to do while at home.

[Kathy on boat with boxes of stuff] Loading all our stuff back onboard.

[Mika the cat under table] Yes, Mika the cat is travelling with us.

[Ship just outside entrance to harbor] Having ships pass just outside the harbor entrance in Rio Vista is rather intimidating. They're heading inland to Sacramento.

[Ashley] While we were in Rio Vista, we were visited by Kathy's brother and his family. This is Ashley, one of Kathy's nieces.

[Bridge] The old Vallejo bridge is in the process of being dismantled.

During this shakedown cruise I discovered that the output from the original Kyocera solar panels was woefully inadequate ... traced the problem to one of the panels having internal damage and thus ordered a replacement without waiting for the hassle of a warranty claim (they're supposedly warranted for 25 years). I have no idea how long this problem has existed as we motored so much last year that solar needs were negligible and the two panels are paralleled so it's hard to tell when one isn't putting out. As I mentioned above, I'm dismayed by the very rapid output dropoff with partial shading of these panels and need to investigate this further.

[Photo of darkened spot on solar panel] The failure inside the solar panel is quite evident in this photo. Pushing on this spot from underneath restores its operation - if this happened in the middle of the ocean I think I could temporarily fix it.

October 2007 Follow-Up: When I finally contacted Kyocera, they immediately sent me a free brand-new 130W solar panel (and even offered to replace the other 120W one for free even though it was still working) and included postage to send the old one back to them. Wonderful customer service!

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