Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Power to the People

Funny old game, boating. The boat goes in, if the yard’s to be believed, this week. I had been promised it would go in the week before Memorial Day, but anyone who knows boatyards knows that line is right up there with The Check’s in The Mail. So I spend the weekend doing yard work, and never went near the boat – no reason to, as she’s ready for launch.

What a contrast to last year. This time last spring we had taken our first steps down the Road of No Return… that is, we’d stripped everything removable from the decks and cockpit, portlights and hatches included, and were prepping the boat for new paint, new grabrails, new ventilators, and a new rig.

The latter process involved enlarging the hole in the cabintop that the mast passes through (the hounds), fitting a new mast step, and installing a deck ring. Doesn’t take long to write it down; but what an agonizing process it was. I’d never done anything like it, and it was fairly critical; if I screwed up, the mast might end leaning one way or the other; the location of the mast step itself was just as critical.

With the help of a couple of wise old heads in Joe Grenier, the rigger at Hawthorne Cove Marina in Salem, and Scott Alexander, sales manager for mastmakers Selden, I contrived a measuring jig that involved taping vertical straightedges to the chainplates and carefully measuring the distances between them; then we rigged up a laser level across the midpoint of the cutout and shone the beam down onto the mast step. To cut a long story short, it worked. The mast stood as straight as we could we wish when it was finally stepped, raked a desirable 3 degrees aft with enough latitude for adjustment.

In amongst all this I filled and sanded a couple of dozen dents, holes and gouges in and around the gelcoat, filled in a 14” x 6” hole in the cockpit footwell where I’d removed the old hydraulics panel, took off the winches, and generally sweated blood over that and a dozen other jobs. Then, grunt work complete, my wife took over and painted the cockpit and decks.

That accounted for all of April and May and most of June; when we finally got the boat launched it we found we didn’t have a headsail that would fit the new furling gear, and so we spent a few more weeks sailing with a blown-out #4 jib whilst awaiting the new genoa.

Anyway, that seems a lifetime ago. This year we’ve almost had the opposite problem. There is still a hell of a lot to do, but only one thing that would have interfered with the operation of the boat – dead batteries and an antiquated charging system that looked as though it could fail at any time.

After killing off the house battery over winter (see State of Charge, below), I leapt (well, slouched) into action early in April. I relocated the engine start battery to make room for a second house battery, and bought two new Group 27 flooded batteries from West Marine. This doubles my house capacity to 180ah; low by most standards, but since I am replacing almost all the domestic and running lights on the boat with LEDs, and there is no power-greedy fridge, it should serve us well enough.

Spanking new cables in attractive red and ABYC-compatible yellow replaced the cracked, greenish items that had been on board for a generation or more, and I connected these, via a new Blue Sea Dual Circuit Plus battery switch, to a Blue Sea ACR 7160 automatic charging relay that automatically diverts the full alternator charge into the house battery bank after the engine battery is topped up. This means I never again have to worry about forgetting to click the switch to ‘both’ so both banks get charged; the switch keeps starting and house circuits separate, while the ACR combines batteries for charging and isolates them when the engine’s turned off. This is small potatoes compared to some of the electrical systems I’ve seen in boats costing 20 or 30 times as much, but it’s as close to state of the art as we’ll ever get with this 35-year-old boat.

I need to know what this whizzbang system is doing, so I also added a Microlog battery monitor that shows me the voltage on both banks as well as actual current input and draw. I now know that the stereo draws nearly half an amp, and that my minuscule solar panel is putting close to two-tenths of an amp into the house battery at high noon. This was a weekend well spent; the project was surprisingly easy, and extremely satisfying. There’ll be a full account of this makeover in the October issue of SAIL.

While I was fiddling around with electrics and dabbing paint on the bottom, Pip was replacing the tired old vinyl hull liners and redoing the cabin overhead. Then, suddenly, there was nothing pressing that needed to be done… and that’s a feeling I’ve never had around a boat.

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