For our sailor friends, I thought I would take a few minutes to talk about all the upgrades we did in preparation for leaving Texas, and how they worked out. In general, most things worked very well. But not everything…
First, the Home Runs.
Solar panels – We have three 140 Watt Kyocera panels with a Blue Sky 3024iL MPPT controller. On sunny days the panels completely meet our energy needs, even underway. The highest energy consumption is underway since you have the same loads as at anchor (refrigeration, freezer, lights, fans, etc.) plus instruments and radar. The nav lights pretty much equal the draw of the anchor light, so no increase there. If we have the wind vane steering, our batteries stay over 95% capacity. Sitting here in the marina we only use shore power for hot water and use the panels for everything else. At 8:30 AM we are producing 7 Amps of current and it will max out at 30 Amps near noon. Coupled with our new Lifeline 900Ah AGM batteries, it is a great system!
Storage upgrades – My buddy Ed Lowry did a couple of projects to help with storage on the boat. The biggest was the addition of three large drawers where the washer/dryer was originally located. This gave us a lot of storage for canned goods, hardware, and tool bags below. He also built shelves in one of the hanging lockers to greatly increase clothing storage (we really didn’t need three large hanging lockers for clothing). Finally, he built a really nice teak trash bin which perfectly fits the available space to maximize trash capacity. It has a tight-fitting lid to minimize odors. On the trip across the Atlantic, we filled this bin twice and had no trash smell in the galley. A big thanks to Ed!
Instruments and AIS – We have Simrad instruments, autopilot, and radar with a Si-tex AIS. First off, the Simrad and Si-tex components work together seamlessly. We bought the Si-tex unit since it was so much cheaper than the one from Simrad, and we are very happy with it. For those who have not used AIS, I will tell you that at night it is invaluable for maneuvering anywhere near ships and commercial traffic. I have trouble estimating distances at night and the AIS takes all guesswork out of it. Ships appear on the chart plotter as triangles, and, since the chart plotter is a touch screen, all you do is touch the triangle to select the target, hit one button, and you have the name of the vessel, it’s heading and speed, and radio call sign. The unit utilizes our speed and heading along with the target’s to calculate the closest point of approach and what time that will occur. This is incredibly useful when you can’t tell for sure how close you are going to get to ship at night. Even better, it broadcasts OUR information so other ships see us as well. This greatly increases our visibility to ships and makes sure we show up on their displays. We talked to a couple of the ships via radio and they were very professional and responsive to us. It seems to be SOP that they maintain one and a half miles distance from other vessels to prevent collisions. Fine with me!
Remote mic for the VHF – I got this idea when I saw one of these installed on my buddy Bob’s boat. For anyone who is still on the fence as to whether to install one of these, I highly recommend it. It is extremely convenient when talking to marinas, conversing with other boats, and, when in the ICW, talking to the lock masters.
Wifi Booster – We installed a Mikrotic Groove router that I bought from Island Time and it has been great. While at anchor in St. George, Bermuda we paid for one week of internet access from one of the sail lofts that caters to cruisers. They were shocked to learn we had great signal as far away as we were anchored. One rainy afternoon we streamed a movie to pass the time. Here in Flores we have free wifi and the booster really brings in the datons. It has really made life more convenient having internet access readily available.
85 lb Mantus Anchor – This thing grabs the bottom like no tomorrow. We used it from Texas, through the ICW, then on to Florida. When we left Florida we disassembled it and stowed it in the cockpit locker to keep it off the bow in case we hit heavy seas. Boy, was that a good move! The trip to Bermuda was rough and we had days of 20 knot winds and 6-8 foot seas on the nose. The bow was repeatedly buried and that big Mantus may well have come adrift. Being able to stow it was a big plus. It will stay in the locker until Portugal, when it will once again become our primary anchor.
Icom M802 SSB radio and P4 Dragon modem – I have been using the radio for talking with Chris Parker (the weather guy), chatting with other folks, sending and receiving e-mail while underway, and downloading weather faxes. All of this proved to be very useful. Connecting to the servers for e-mail takes a little trial and error, and I discovered I have some electrical interference between my Simrad instruments and the radio. Still working on solving the noise problem. I actually had to read the directions of the Sail Mail manual in order to receive weather faxes. After reading, it took me all of ten minutes to start the download. It’s pretty easy!
Tasco stove – we replaced our aging Force Ten before leaving Seabrook and are very happy with it. Laura gives me big hugs and kisses every night and tells me how much she loves me for installing it.
Wind vane – We installed a Scanmar Autohelm wind vane before leaving. For those not familiar with it, this is a trim tab unit which utilizes a separate auxiliary rudder. The process is to first balance the boat as well as you can using sails alone and then let the wind vane handle the final steering. Orontes II balances very well, so this was not difficult to do. We promptly named her Wendy, and she has steered over 1000 miles so far. She does a great job close hauled and on a reach, and we are still working out how to use her on a broad reach. The only downfall is that it has been hard to keep the cables properly tensioned. After a few hundred miles of usage, the cables slip through the clamps to the point that the unit no longer steers at all. I worked on this several times underway, perched up on the davits and hanging out above the solar panels. Yes, I wore my inflatable pfd while doing this, and only in daylight with other people in the cockpit to watch me. I think I finally have it fixed and am looking forward to the next few legs while in the Azores to test her out.
AC power system – I installed a Charles Marine isolation transformer and it works great. Since Europe (and the Azores) are 230 Volt, all I had to do was rearrange two small jumpers inside the transformer to give me 120 Volts for the boat. Once I emptied the cockpit locker to give me access, it took all of ten minutes. Where I messed up was by not preparing a european shore power cord. I should have brought about 75 feet of 3/c #14 SOW cord to make my new shore power cord. This would be a lot smaller, lighter, and more flexible than the big, bulky cords I have now. In Europe, since the voltage is double the US voltage, the current is half, so you can use smaller power cords. I just never thought about it before leaving the US. Everything on the boat seems to at least tolerate 50 Hz power, with the exception of our air conditioner. Even though it is rated for 50/60Hz it doesn’t work very well. We didn’t give it a very long test so I will continue to try this to see if it improves.
Swings and misses
Bow roller extension – Our two bow anchors are the 85 lb Mantus and a 60 lb CQR. These two are both very large and they interfere with each other when both are stowed. There just is not enough room for both of them with them rubbing against each other. Some of my friends advised me to dump the CQR, but I want two anchors and I think the CQR is a good one. I did remove the 75 lb unit since it was too large, but I kept the 60 lb anchor. To keep the CQR and Mantus separate, I installed a bow extension to keep the Mantus farther forward and separate it from the CQR. This way, instead of having two big anchors sitting side by side, I had one about 16 inches forward of the other. Well, this didn’t work at all. There may be a way to weld an extension in place, but trying to bolt one on is just not rigid enough for the loads involved. I removed the bow extension before leaving Louisiana.
Hawsepipe for secondary anchor rode – To go with that second anchor on the bow, I needed a way to get the rode down below to the chain locker. My solution was to cut a hole in the deck and install an oval hawsepipe with a hinged cover to keep out water. I located the hawsepipe aft of the windlass, and could not think of a way to drain the locker. I actually drilled a drain hole for this area but it was so low (actually in the boot stripe!) that it let in a LOT of water while under way. Luckily I found this out while still in Texas. I plugged it and just resolved to try and not let water get below when retrieving the anchor. Well, this didn’t work at all. While pounding into those seas on the way to Bermuda, we had sheets of water going over the bow. The cover for that hawsepipe does nothing to keep out green water; it is only good for keeping out rainwater. So we had lots of water pouring down into the chain locker with each wave that swept the foredeck. When the chain locker was full of water, it started overflowing into the vee berth and soaked our mattress. The water then started draining into all those big lockers UNDER the mattress. It was an awful mess. In Bermuda it took us days to remove everything from these lockers and clean and dry them. Some things were ruined, like our space heaters we had bought for use in Europe. Laura’s sewing machine may or may not be a fatality; we are still working on it. I don’t think I lost any tools to rust, but we will see. To fix this I now have a drain for the forepeak that comes down to the bilge. I also taped the hawsepipe with duct tape before the trip across the Atlantic. So far, no more water down below.
That’s it for now. In summary, most of our upgrades and equipment additions have worked out great. A few are still works in progress and I have more left to do. I’ll let you know how things work out.