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The Wonderful World Of Electrickery

The Wonderful World Of Electrickery

As soon as one major project is finished, the next one is champing at the bit to get started, or recommenced, or finished, or something. We have known for some time that the batteries were just about dead.  The main house battery hasn’t been holding a charge for some time and the smaller starting battery is probably near the end of its life also.  The designations for which battery is the house and which is the starter are purely mine.  Old Keith, the previous owner is no longer around and has gone off on the great eternal cruise, so apart from whipping out the Ouija board, there is no way of knowing what he had in mind when he began modifying the electrical system on The Gull.  I believe it was Keith that put the dual battery system in, as well as upgrading the lights to LED.  The folder that we inherited when we first took ownership of the boat tells the story of the last couple of decades of La Mouette.  It is full of receipts and instruction books, surveys and sales brochures.  It is a very interesting read indeed, and from reading between the lines, and a close examination of purchases, much can be revealed.  For instance, the rust in the gearbox we encountered was due to salt water ingress and we have discovered receipts where the gearbox was repeatedly flushed to get all the salt water out.  We still have no idea how it got in there in the first place but there are lots of blanks that we would desperately love to have filled in.  The sales brochure from a boat broker that is about 10 years old plus various survey pictures show us a slightly different boat to the one I am currently the owner of.  It’s not that dissimilar, but there are lots of little differences, mainly cosmetic, but the distribution panel is different, as are the curtains, cushion covers.  Telling the story of some overhauls by Keith.

Ten years, however, is a long time in boat years, so it’s not really surprising that it’s now time for a major refit of all of The Gull’s systems. The rigging and mast have been done, the engine has just been overhauled and now it’s time for the electrical system.  At this stage everything is pretty much an open book – do I completely strip every last wire, switch, relay and fuse out of the boat and begin from scratch with a new system, or do I break it down into sections and replace them one at t a time?  What electronic gizmos do I want to incorporate in this brave new world, or is it just the same system as before but newer?  Well solar charging is definitely on the agenda as is a stereo system.  I have a portable blue tooth speaker box, and it pumps out great sound but the battery only lasts a half hour before it needs recharging.  Music is important, so I think a stereo, probably with Bluetooth, and decent speakers are definitely on the agenda.  New radios are also on the list as is a new distribution panel.  The old one is one of those cheap rocker switch types you see in the chain chandleries for about $35.  The other big question is do I do it myself or pay someone of unknown quantity or quality to do it for me?

Truth be known, I am not an expert on electrics. The wiring diagrams that I have been looking at are very abstract and no doubt that people more experienced in electrical matters than I can read them very well.  I am also struggling with a lot of stuff such as bus bars and where do you put them,   I do have the wonderful Nigel Calder book on Boat Maintenance, plus a few other books on refitting marine electrical systems but they all seem very confusing.  Hours and hours of research are paying dividends bluand some of the fog is clearing but it’s a long and winding road.  I have learnt a lot of things however, which leads me even more in the direction of a total rewire.  For instance, the main power feed to the distribution panel comes from the engine ignition switch.  Yes, that’s right, there is a red wire coming from one of the ignition terminals up to the panel when it should be coming from the battery switch and have a fuse somewhere along the wire.

I have noticed that there has been a distinct lack of fuses. The automatic bilge pump was connected straight to the battery with no fuse.  I installed an inline fuse early in the piece.  It seems to be a common feature of boat ownership in that you spend a lot of time and resources fixing up dodgy repair work from previous owners.  I would guess that the reason why a  lot of people end up with DIY electrics (and a lot of other stuff) is because the boating industry is so expensive.  Maybe if goods and services were a bit cheaper, and more reliable and trustworthy, then boat owners would make more use of professionals – and they wouldn’t have to charge as much.  But this is fairy tale stuff – like living happily ever after!

The basic theory in the coming electrical refit is to keep everything as simple as possible. Not too many complex systems.  There will be interior lighting of course, the outside boaty type lights, radios and of course engine electrics.  A solar charging system and a few nav instruments and that’s about it.  We will probably get a fridge one day, so provision for a few other items will be built into the system.  The major change that is planned is to create an electronics station just above the port quarter berth.  I will make up a wooden panel where the new distribution switch, radios, stereo, 12 volt outlets etc will go.  The engine dashboard will remain in the port inside companion way bulkhead where it is and possibly a couple of engine gauges. The system will be totally DC of course – shore power currently consists of an extension lead and a power board.  It will stay this way – no shore power when you are on the hook or on the mooring.  It’s only at marinas you have access to shore power, so we don’t really believe that a complete electrical system is really justified for those odd occasions.  Besides “off the grid” means “off the grid”.  The only thing holding us to the dock should be the mooring lines.  Certainly not power cables.

Like most plans and projects, things will change and evolve somewhat – “oh look at the shiny thing – we must get one for the boat”! Lin and Larry Pardey didn’t have electrics in their boats and if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us.





Light the Blue Touch Paper and Run Like Hell!

Light the Blue Touch Paper and Run Like Hell!

Watch out seagulls! La Mouette now has an engine that works, however, as we all know, it’s not enough for a diesel engine to just go suck, squeeze, bang, blow.  It also has to propel the said vessel through the water to destinations with palm trees.  Well at least to get the boat out of the marina to where the sails can take over, and then go to destinations with palm trees.  But I am getting ahead of myself here – there won’t be any palm trees until La Mouette can get out of her berth!

The engine rebuild went fabulously, unfortunately, we faffed about too much and by the time the rebuild was completed, Christmas was upon us and the installation was delayed, in fact, until February.   As I am inexperienced in aligning the engine with the propeller shaft, we got the boys from Minards Diesel shop to give us a hand.  James, who lives in nearby Ettalong, helped out.  Tuesday was set aside as the big day, and I took a couple of days leave to prepare the boat and do all the last minute jobs.  Monday was spent finalising the engine mounts.  The original ones were quite rusty and pitted and needed a jolly good clean up.  The rubber mounts were going to be replaced, but the actual brackets, which were basically 90×90 angle needed a good clean and a coat of paint.

The starboard forward mount seemed to be the worse one out of the four brackets – mainly because it was situated directly under the water pump and at some time in the past, the pump must have leaked with the result that the bracket was incredibly rusty. It was so rusty in fact, that despite being cleaned up with degreaser, hit with a wire brush bit in a drill, and then being treated with rust converter, followed by two coats of primer, the rust was still coming through.  I even cleaned it up several times  and after several more coats of primer, the rust still came through!  Very frustrating to say the least.  In the end, I filed and sanded it – eventually, I ended up with four engine mount brackets that looked good enough to go back in.  There were also a few other bits and pieces that needed cleaning and a coat of paint which was duly done.  The centre piece of the engine is the red five litre fuel tank that sits on top and it was going to need to look good.  The original tank had had a leak at some stage and was fixed with epoxy.  The boys from Minards recommended scrapping it.  The spare tank I had was in pretty poor condition as the flange was separating due to rust.  E-Bay came to the rescue and I purchased another tank.  However, when cleaning this one up, I found that someone had repaired a leak by braising an old two cent piece to it!  I had definitely got my two cents worth with this tank!

With all the bits painted up and looking new all that remained now was to do one last clean of the engine bay, install the mounting brackets and ultimately the engine.

Tuesday morning dawned to the sound of ducks quacking around the marina and fisherman scooting around the bay in their tinnies. James came around with the engine and we man-handled it out of the truck onto the trolley, up onto the wharf and ultimately into the sparkling clean engine bay using the boom as the lifting device.  Surprisingly, all the engine mounts located correctly except one, the forward starboard mount.  Guess which bracket gave me all the trouble when I was painting and cleaning?  Correct, the forward starboard mount.  For some strange reason it just didn’t line up with anything.  James went out and found some 90×90 angle from somewhere and made up a new bracket.

By the end of the day, the engine was pretty much in but a lot of things still needed to be done before we could hit the starter button. Friday was the next scheduled day and things would continue then.

We stayed over on The Gull on Thursday night in order to get an early start. Friday morning saw more of the Yanmar come together and by the end of the day it was pretty much ready to go.  As we sat back in the cockpit in the late afternoon enjoying a couple of well earned beers, we watched a huge storm front come through.  First, the black clouds headed south west, then the wind changed direction by a complete 180 degrees.  You could see the storm still heading one way and some of it coming back the other.  It was quite strange.  Then the air changed and we all felt that pre-storm feeling – a disturbing quietness.  Perhaps it’s the negative ions that give that feeling, or it’s just the anticipation of what’s to come.  It was time to go.  We packed everything up and headed back to the city.  With the storm had come a blackout and there was no power in the area,  including the train crossing at Woy Woy.  The resulting detour and traffic jam added another half hour to the trip home.

Saturday morning was the run down the final straight. Everything had been connected, aligned, bolted, painted, crimped, fuelled, charged and given one final wipe over with a clean rag.  The big moment had arrived.  James had mentioned a problem with the alignment in that he couldn’t turn the propeller shaft.  This was strange as I had been turning it around a few days earlier to paint the flange.  It appears that the shaft had to be pulled up into the boat a little bit in order to get it to mate with the output shaft from the gearbox and it we figured that the most likely reason was a barnacle build up on the propeller itself.  To check if this was the case, I gaffer taped a waterproof camera to the boat hook and stuck it over the side to have a look.  The propeller wasn’t just encrusted with barnacles, it was basically a blob of them.  No wonder we couldn’t turn the shaft!

Would it work? That was the big question.  The wiring harness had been in as a poor condition as the rest of the engine bay and some stopgap repairs had been needed.

I am surprised that we haven’t experienced any problems with the wiring to date as a lot of it is in pretty poor condition. High up on the to-do list is a total rewire.

With all the battery cables connected up and the wiring loom connected, the ignition switch was switched on and we quite surprised to hear the shrill warning buzzer sound. Of course, it’s supposed to sound and boat owners are conditioned to expect it when you turn the key, but it still came as a surprise!  We must have got something right!  That was the first position of the ignition key, the second is the actual start and we gave it just a quick turn and were gratified to hear the engine try and turn over.  All that remained was to bleed the fuel line.  Once bled we hit the key and ….  It started!  It took a few moments for it to settle into some sort of regular idle but it was going.  We killed the engine and again hit the starter.  Bang, it went straightaway.  The various deities were looking upon us favourably.

Until the prop is cleaned of its barnacle collection, there wasn’t much more to be done. Just clean up the boat and make it ship shape again.  The wooden engine box was put back in place and the main saloon was tidied up.  Things were starting to get back to normal.  The afternoon saw another storm front come through and this time the drive back to Sydney was fraught with excitement as hail stones were bouncing off the bonnet and the motorists on the freeway couldn’t handle the hail stones, nor the rain which seemed to be a wall of water at times.  Sydney drivers are just like cats – a few drops of rain and they go into a mad panic and rush around doing stupid things.

It’s one thing having your engine looking brand new and working, but La Mouette still has to leave her berth and once again brave the currents and tides of the Brisbane Water Channel, not to mention all the kayakers, jet skis, ferries and the antics of the BBQ hire boats. But more of that next time.


What Shall I Buy My Boat for Valentine’s Day?

What Shall I Buy My Boat for Valentine’s Day?

The world of Facebook is a weird place and I sometimes wonder why I even have an account. As much as we all complain about it, we are nonetheless compelled to continually check it out and inevitably winge and grumble at all the crap we see on there. At the moment, people are having a complete meltdown about some of Donald Trump’s policies, however, Facebook is one of those things that at any one time, someone is having a complete meltdown over some issue or other.  In between the meltdowns are pictures of cats, dogs and what people are having for lunch.  That’s pretty much what Facebook is about.  I had a Twitter account for a while but just didn’t get what it was about, but it seemed to be much the same, people having complete meltdowns but without pictures of cats.  As for Instagram, I have no absolutely no idea what that is about, but somehow there will be meltdowns or cats somewhere, after all it’s the internet!  Oh, there was one meme recently that I found amusing, can’t remember the picture but the caption was “What shall I buy my boat on Valentine’s Day?”  There were other variations too,  “what shall I buy my car/bike/Land rover”?

It’s very timely actually, because the engine is scheduled to go into La Mouette on 13, 14 and 15 February. Valentine’s Day.  Well the thirteenth is Valentine’s Eve and the fourteenth is actually Valentine’s Day and the engine should be in place by then with the just all the hoses and wires to connect up and then, fingers crossed, it will go.  Instead of being the intrepid, self-reliant, do-it-yourselfer, I am getting the diesel shop to help install the engine.  The main reason being the alignment of the prop shaft to the gearbox flange.  As a result of the rebuild the engine has got a replacement gearbox and the, chances are something isn’t going to be quite right or fit on the engine mounts like it used to – so that will have to be fixed and then the alignment done.  The alignment is critical and I haven’t done one before, so this is my chance to see how it works.  The learning curve is steep!  I haven’t seen a Youtube sailing vlog yet of someone doing a prop shaft alignment.  There are instructional videos on Youtube on alignments and I have watched them, but have yet to see SV Delos, Sailing Uma, Whitespot Pirates or Drakeparagon get out their feeler gauges, dive into the engine bay and do an alignment.  I rather think that they pay someone else to do it also.  I know that most of them have had engine troubles at one time or another.  Some of the vloggers seem to have magic boats that nothing ever goes wrong and they just live the high life of sipping gin, admiring the bikini girls whilst anchored off a pristine white beach with palm trees and a gorgeous sunset.  Other vloggers are a bit more down to earth and seem to live in the same universe as I do.  Just when I think that my boat is about as unreliable as an old Series Landrover, I can watch other couples experiencing the same boat issues that I am experiencing and feel reassured that it’s just not my boat, but just part and parcel of the joys of boat ownership.  Part of the fascination of the Youtube sailing vlogs is that they are people just like me, getting out there and having a go, making mistakes, finding solutions and most of all, trying to get something out of life.

So, once Valentine’s Day has come and gone, all the chocolates have been eaten, and the roses start to droop, will I be out there navigating the channel, avoiding the rocks and yelling orders at the crew?  Not quite.  La Mouette hasn’t moved from the berth for a while and her bottom will be growing things.  I even hate typing words such as “hasn’t moved from the berth” – it’s almost an admission of failure.  La Mouette has become like all those other boats that never leave their moorings.  However, we both know that it’s not quite like that, but nonetheless, it sometimes feels like that.  Next on the list is a haul-out and bottom clean.  La Mouette, I am also ashamed to admit, has a couple of blisters on her bottom and they will get fixed.  In fact, the plan is a soda-blasting to remove the 30 odd layers of anti-foul and go back to bare gel-coat.  Fingers crossed we won’t find any disasters under all that antifoul, fix what needs fixing and then a couple of layers of epoxy barrier so that those pesky blisters don’t return.  The plan is to get a couple of other jobs done whilst she is out of the water and then we can begin navigating those channels once more and shouting orders at the crew when they don’t do as they are told.

Exciting times ahead for La Mouette and her crew, but more on that next time.