The Domino Effect
Wanna know what the Domino effect is? Well, everything on a boat leads from one thing to another. NOTHING is simple. Landlubbers have this romantic dream about us sail boaters.... we're just sitting in our cockpits having drinks with little umbrellas in them watching the spectacular sunsets each day. Nothing to do but hang out and have fun, right? Well, that IS partly true... we do get to see some spectacular sunsets, and every now and then, we do have drinks (sans the umbrellas!). But, a lot of the time, cruising is work!! There is a saying that the definition of cruising on a sailboat is "working on your boat in exotic locations". As much as we hate to admit it, this is TRUE.... at least it has been for us lately!
Where did our domino effect begin? When we were in Mexico, we decided that we wanted to change our refrigeration from engine driven to a DC system that runs off the boat's batteries. We had an old SeaFrost system that required us to crank the boat's engine each day to get a refrigeration holding plate cold enough to keep the refrigerator cold for the next 24 hours. I wanted a refrigerator that.... #1). Had a Freezer (so I could keep ice in the box)... #2). Did not require that the engine be cranked each day. Each time we got ready to leave the boat for a few days to travel, I had to completely empty the refrigerator each time, or ask someone to get on our boat and crank the engine each day.
Right about the time we were thinking of changing our refrigeration system, I had an opportunity to go back to the States and work for several months. Make some money. Use it to do some improvements on the boat. We decided to bring the boat back from Mexico to the Florida Keys to have the work done. Goods and services are much easier to obtain in the good ole USA. So, Money=New Refrigeration. Simple, huh??
As we learned, not so simple......
First, the refrigeration box was old and had to have one and a half inches of new insulation added... then, it was resealed.
A keel-cooled Frigoboat DC refrigeration system was installed. It was COLD! FROZEN, even! The freezer worked so well that it froze the contents of the refrigeration side, too. After a lot of fiddling back and forth with the thermostat, the service guy determined there needed to be more insulation between the refrigeration side and the freezer.
Finally, success! We had ICE for drinks, food at a perfect temperature!
So, why was this not simple?? Well, in a word..... POWER! The DC refrigeration system gets it power from the batteries. And, the batteries need to be charged to keep the refrigerator running. OK, this problem can be solved.... Gotta have power. Who has the power????? ...........Evidently, not us.
Installed two SolarWorld 175 watt solar panels. Had to build brackets to install them on top of the boat's bimini. Certainly, 350 watts should be enough to keep the batteries topped off......
Not so fast, you Wyatts! We have a Xantrex battery monitor so that we could keep an eye on our battery power level. We needed to maintain a certain number of battery volts to keep the batteries charged. The solar panels weren't getting it! We had PLENTY of sunshine each day (Hey, we were located in Florida, isn't that the SUNSHINE state???) We STILL could not keep the batteries charged. Ok, so it must be our batteries!!
So, let's replace the batteries. Let's see... we need 6 new Group 27 AGM batteries @175 each..... $ 1050. Ordered! Let's lift the old batteries out from a tight, tight location in the quarter berth (Oh yeah, FIRST clean out everything in the quarter berth!!). Each battery weighs 67 pounds. Let's stress and strain and get the old batteries out.. Ok, put the old batteries in the dinghy and get them to the dock for disposal. Now, let's talk the battery store into delivering the batteries to the dock.... yep, yep.... now, load the 67 pound batteries into the dinghy.... onto the boat.... and lift each 67 pound battery back to its tight, tight space in the quarter berth. Then, wire them back up.
Now, let's monitor the batteries! Let's look at the battery monitor and look at the battery charge level and the amps many, many times a day! Amps, amps, amps.... what are we using?? what are we producing?? Volts, volts, volts.... what is the level??? Let's look at what the solar panels are producing, too! Oh, and for the fun of it, let's look at the BlueSky solar panel monitor and compare it to the Xantrex battery monitor. Of course, they NEVER match up, so let's spend a lot of time ruminating about this, too! When we wake up in the morning, let's look some more, then grouch, then ruminate. Look, grouch, ruminate... repeat!..... Let's get obsessed about this!!
Finally the first mate (me!) could take no more! I told LA.... let's add a wind generator. My logic.... we were pretty sure we wanted one for the Caribbean anyway, we pretty much had all the money we were going to have.... let's take the plunge and do it now! Get a Kiss wind generator. Spend $1500. Ordered! Aren't we something! We're going GREEN on Genesis! We're right with the times..... solar panels, wind generator... well, we quickly figured out that going GREEN means you gotta spend GREEN! Well, you've got to spend money to make money. Oh, wait a minute... we're spending money to make power! It's gonna work out, isn't it?? Isn't it?......
Simple, huh? Not so fast, AGAIN. The wind generator needed to be installed on the stern of the boat. No problem, huh?? Just a little one... Our radar radome was installed on the stern right where we needed to install the wind gen. So, the radome was going to have to be moved to the mast. Easy?? Uh, not so easy! A new, longer cable had to be ordered so that the radome could be connected through the mast, through the boat, and back to the radar monitor screen. Cable, ordered... Radome mounting bracket for the mast, ordered.....
Now, let's get that Radome off the stern....... hey, let's even get some friends we just met to help us!
Mike and Carey Cummins
Mike and Carey were originally from Los Angeles, but have been living in Florida for the past 15 years and are now retired. We met them at Boot Key Harbor while they were on vacation on their boat and we became fast friends. They were handy...very handy. Using a Westsail 42 hull, they actually built their own boat over a period of 4 years. Amazing, huh?
The beautiful Carey Ann.......
And, oh I need to mention it was at least 100 degrees outside that day!! Also, notice that beautiful white pole we had used to install the radome to the stern? No longer useful to us! Originally cost $800. But, can't exactly be riding around with a big white pole on the boat... so we had to ditch it! We took it to a consignment store, and got $200 for it and was glad to get it!
What's next?? Install the wind generator. Sounds simple... just put it on the pole, wire it up, and let's make wind! No, no, not so fast! The wind generator blades must be BALANCED before it is installed on the pole. And, this must be done on LAND. And, it must be done in an area where there is NO WIND BLOWING. We took the wind generator to the marina workroom. The three blades are placed on the wind generator and the blades are placed between two tables. And, yes, the tables must be LEVEL for this to work. The object of the game...... Drop the blade to the lowest point and make sure the blade doesn't spin. Why??? This balances the blades so that they will make a minimum of noise when they spin. (Noise... the enemy with wind generators) There are little metal strips on each blade. To balance the blades, a sliver of metal is shaved off until the blade drops to the bottom JUST right. Do it for each blade, discuss, then do it again... and again, until you finally get it balanced. Patience is definitely a virtue in this process. Fortunately, Mike and Carey had done this already when they installed their wind generator on their boat. (Notice Carey's hand on her hip.... she and Mike are "discussing"). Having them help us made the process easier to understand, and easier to achieve.
OK, NOW install the wind generator. When you get ready to wire it up, be sure and do something stupid like dropping the wire down into a small hole in the boat. Fuss a bit, then retrieve it. Continue, and finally... it's installed!
OK, remember the radome???? Oh yeah, it's got to be installed on the mast. And that wire has got to be dropped down through a mast full of wires and come out on the bottom through a hole about the size of a quarter. Decisions, decisions.... should we bring in a professional...., or risk a potential divorce over getting this project done. Divorce? Not an option, especially since we're coming up on our 30th anniversary.... don't want to jinx anything just yet.....
Bring on the professionals!
Gary and Gavin with Keys Rigging were the guys with the plan... They've done this plenty of times and know just how to do it. Pop riveted the bracket to the mast. And that radome doesn't look so big when it's installed up on a pole, but you put it on the deck, it grows exponentially. Yep, they had that figured out, too. Put it in a hanging net and hoisted it right on up the mast. All done in 3.5 hours flat! Would have probably taken us at least 2 days, a lot of cuss words, smart-ass comments, and glares to get this done. $560. A bargain. Lots cheaper than a divorce.
Now, let's get back to our regularly scheduled programming... Now, let's monitor the batteries! Let's look at the battery monitor and look at the battery charge level and the amps many, many times a day! Amps, amps, amps.... what are we using?? what are we producing??
Then, let's let the wind die.......... The wind has to be blowing at least 10 knots to turn the wind generator blades. So, still can't get a handle on the power situation... What if the sun isn't shining?? The wind isn't blowing?? We can still crank the engine to charge the batteries. Well, I'll be darned! We started all this SO WE WOULDN'T HAVE TO CRANK THE ENGINE EACH DAY. Well, let's throw a little more money at it! Let's buy a $1000 Honda 2000i generator!
What a neat little generator! We crank it and boost the batteries in about an hour's time using a 50 amp battery charger. It has lead to other good things for us. First, we were just running the vacuum cleaner and a few power tools. Then, well, you know what happens....the domino effect again.
How so? We found out from another cruising boat that they were using their little Honda generator to RUN AN AIR CONDITIONER while they were anchored out on their boat. Uh oh! After we found out this juicy bit of info, coupled with some HOT, no wind days and nights), we knew we had to pursue this. LA found out that this little gem of a generator could power a 12000 BTU MERMAID a/c. $1500 later.... we ordered and installed a Mermaid 12000 BTU reverse cycle air conditioner. The generator uses about 1 gallon of gas for every 4 hours of run time. LA set up an after-market 6 gallon fuel tank to extend the run time of the generator. We are very happy (and cool!) with this setup. It has really made a difference for us on those nights where the wind dies down. Keeps the boat at 72 degrees, and us....well, we're sleeping like babies.
So, I guess what I'm saying is.... this Domino Effect can end up being a good thing after all. Finally.... who's got the power???? WE DO!!
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