Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wires and smoke

Crimp, solder, shrink

I spent an evening last week wiring the cockpit GX2150 VHF radio to the loud hailer speaker and the new dedicated antenna, and adding an NMEA183 data link between the radio and our HDS-8 chart plotter.  The VHF now gets GPS data from the chart plotter so all of the AIS and distress functions finally work as expected.  In all, there were 3 cables with 18 connectors and, since they are fairly exposed to the sea air, each connection got the full treatment: crimp the terminal, then solder, then heat shrink the connection.  While I have slacked off the 3 stage process for many of our interior connections, I did not want to have to revisit those in the cockpit.

The GX2150 VHF radio includes all of the functionality of Automated Information System (AIS) in the radio and uses the existing VHF antenna.  It has a small display showing a top down view centered on our boat with all commercial ships and any AIS equipped pleasure craft at relative range and bearing.  For each, you can see who they are and the speed and direction they are travelling.  An alarm can be configured for minimum Closest Point of Approach (CPA).  An added benefit is: to Digital Selective Call (DSC) a specific boat is as simple as highlighting a vessel on the display and pressing the CALL button.  None of that built-in functionality is available until the radio has a GPS position, hence the need to tie it to the chart plotter.  A big benefit is that the AIS vessel information is now also overlaid on the chart plotter making it even easier to determine who and what you are seeing around you.
VHF radio with AIS screen
Triangle is an AIS vessel

Batteries and smoke

I was under the weather for a couple days last week but Friday afternoon we had far too much activity.  In hindsight it would have been much cheaper to have stayed sick.  In the early afternoon we called to order the four Trojan T-125 batteries from, the folks who had the best delivered internet price.  After taking our order the salesman told us he could deliver but their local distribution point was right near us if we wanted to just pick them up.  Long story longer, we hopped in the car and drove to Clearwater for them.

The next morning I had a hearty breakfast then started moving the 3 old batteries out of the engine room and moving the 4 new ones in.  I had to make some new battery cables but the swap went relatively problem free.  Then I remembered the battery charger ... in hooking up the very last ground wire for the charger, it slipped from my hand and brushed across a terminal on the "wrong" side of the circuit breaker for the almost new Blue Sky solar controller.  A small flash was followed by the dreaded smell of burning dollar bills.  When reattached to power, the controller powered up and the display showed battery voltage, but the solar panel current showed 0.0 even though the input voltage was 30 volts.  Sigh.  Got a return authorization number and the controller is now winging its way back to California.  I hope the panels are okay.

Luckily, the factory drawings for the batteries were accurate.  Inside the existing in-build fiberglass battery box, the height of the new batteries leaves about 1/8" free and I think there is a whopping 1/4" free at the end of the box.  It sure is nice to see Trojan didn't fudge their numbers!  We kept one of the original 12V batteries, now strapped into a separate battery box, for use as a spare starting battery.

Ice cream!

The other event that made Friday busy was an evening phone call from a guy jockeying an 18-wheel semi through Demens Landing Park trying to find our marina.  We hoofed it out and found he was delivering the Isotherm DR-55 drawer freezer we had ordered only days before from  Now that was fast service!  On Sunday, Julio helped with the install and we now have a huge (for a boat) frost-free drawer freezer that will make long term provisioning much easier.  We had chosen that unit because it (just) fit the available space and is very energy efficient - it only draws 1.5 Amps average from 12V maintaining 0 degrees internally in 75 degrees ambient temperature.
The ice cream carton fits perfectly!

Final portholes

The rest of Sunday was spent getting the last two portholes in.  It took almost 2 years, but we now have replaced 15 of the original 16 30-year old plastic portholes with new stainless steel ones from New Found Metals.  The 16th porthole, the one in the galley, is not going to be replaced.  It would take too much deconstruction of the galley to gain access and is so far removed it really would not admit any useful light or air flow anyway.  We will leave that plastic one dogged and stow the last new porthole as a spare along with the drilling template just in case.  The RotoZip cutter will be a gift to Julio when he comes back to install the aft deck box he is building for us.

A hidden seacock!

Yesterday a minor leak at the galley sink drain turned into a very wet problem.  I found we had a seacock I didn't know about lurking behind the refrigerator compressor under the shelf beneath the galley sink.  Since I didn't know it was there, I did not exercise it when we were hauled out and, of course, it refused to budge now :(  Working on the sink drain was a very wet process with the water line just below the bottom of the sinks, but we got new seals on all the leaky bits.  Now we have to give all the salt water soaked wood and things a fresh water bath then let everything dry.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ides of March

This has been an eventful few weeks since our holiday sail. Brad got our replacement 4G radome and new VHF radio antenna installed on the mizzen and so far everything is working great. While he was up there we also had him seal all the holes the wires go in so hopefully the aft head will no longer have such a wet floor after every rain.

I don't think I mentioned it, but the last of the cabin sole work got done in November just before my trip to India. Everything looks so much nicer with the old carpeting gone. Of course there is still a throw rug/runner outside my office door (the engine room) for obvious reasons.
New cabin sole walk-thru

This past weekend we got the porthole in the forward head replaced so there are only 3 plastic portholes remaining. We intend to spend one weekend day in the near future replacing the two starboard salon portholes then say the job is done. The last one, the one in the galley, is just too difficult to get to. We would have to remove the stove and dismantle a great deal of cabinetry to get close enough to replace that one. Since it is not accessible for light or ventilation anyway, it would only have been done for looks. So 13 stainless steel portholes installed, two to go!

Along with the porthole, the forward head shower pan also got a going over. Cate was not happy that the new cabin sole just outside that head got moisture under the varnish and was starting to darken. Julio took up the molding around the shower pan and found there were big gaps in the 30-year old sealant. So now one crack in the pan has been fixed, the sealant all around between the pan and cabinetry has been replaced, and a new waterproof finish put on the pan and surrounding molding.

More goodies arrived this week so I will shortly be busy replacing the Xantrex C-60 controller with the new Blue Sky MPPT Solar Controller, installing an inverter remote panel, wiring the new VHF antenna to the cockpit radio, and taking out a lot of now unused cables to clean up the wire bundles in the engine room.

The date has been cast. I officially retire on the Ides of March. We will probably hang around the local area for an extra month or so to get the last of the stuff installed and tested. After that we are free to go where the wind and sails take us.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Kudos to Navico support

Our Lowrance/Navico 4G broadband radar had failed just before the holiday break.  I had discussions with their tech support about possible problems, then, when bringing it down from the mizzen, we found it sloshed!  Problem found.  We got an RMA and sent it off to the Navico repair center but since we bought it in March, we expected to have to pay for repair.

A few days ago a brand new unit appeared on our door, um, dock step ... with no charges!  Now to get Brad to haul it back up the mast.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

CapitalOne - friendly warning

When I got back from New Delhi, India last month I was surprised by a $4.95 foreign transaction fee for each purchase I made on my credit card.  Knowing that shortly most every transaction would be foreign, I decided to find a credit card that didn't charge that fee.  I settled on the CapitalOne card with 1.5% rebate, no foreign transaction fee, and no annual fee.  I was happy with the terms and credit limit so I signed up and got two personalized credit cards headed our way.

Before the cards even arrived I got a call from the CapitalOne fraud division.  They wanted to know if I really was who I said I was, and if I had indeed meant to open an account with them.  I verified my personal details back 60 years and said YES and told them why I decided to switch.  We chatted a while and I hung up thinking they must do this with every new account.

The cards arrived and for two weeks we moved all our day-to-day purchases to that card.  Then I ordered the Blue Sky MPPT solar controller, an almost $500 purchase.  CapitalOne fraud division called the next day to ask if I really wanted to make that purchase or had my account been hacked?  I said YES, I really wanted to order that part and in future, please expect boat parts to cost some money. I also related my angst over the necessity of repeated phone calls, especially once we start cruising and using sat phone.  She said there should not be any more phone calls from them and said "enjoy your travels".

Now today, a mere two days after the last call, I get yet another call from the wizards at CapitalOne fraud division.  This time wanted to know yet again if I was who I said I was and did I really want to open an account with them.  Ach!

I do not suffer fools well.  It might be that the CapitalOne fraud division is located in a state that has newly allowed marijuana use, I really don't know and at this point I really don't care.  All I know is that I do not have the time, patience, or cell phone/sat phone minutes to hand hold the idiots in that group each and every time we try to use that credit card.

We have (tried to) cancel that brand new CapitalOne account and are shifting back to my prior card. Anyone have recommendations on reputable credit card offerers with no foreign transaction fee and rebates?

Update 1/4/2013 10:00am: Just now I received yet another call, this time from the CapitalOne Executive branch.  The message they left said they "wanted to touch base and  see how they might be able to assist me in the future".  I just do not care enough to waste precious cell/sat phone minutes to hold their hand.  They are such a sad bunch.

Update 1/8: The executive branch person called once more today, again leaving a message offering assistance and demanding I call her back.  But finally this evening the account status has changed to Closed.  The entire ordeal lasted 3 weeks. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Our Happy New Year cruise

Horizon got to shake her sea legs for the first time in a while and we got to spend several days on the hook to start wringing out her systems.  It was pretty chilly for Florida with highs in the 40's and 50's.  Since the oven is our sole source of heat, Cate worked her magic keeping us warm and well fed over several days making Christmas ham, pop-overs, pecan pie, oatmeal bread, escalloped oysters, dilly cheese and chicken and other (obviously non-fattening) entrees.

Point Desoto, Manatee River

Things that worked well this time:
1. The Torqeedo electric outboard purred like a champ!  It is so light and easy to lift on and off the dingy and runs with absolute quiet.  Of course 3-4 HP is not going to get the dinghy up on plane, but it is great for tooling around an anchorage.
2. The Lighthouse windlass smoothly brought up the 60# CQR and 3/8" all-chain rode but I did have some problem keeping the foot switch activated and may end up moving that for easier access.
3. The deck washdown system got a good workout cleaning mud off the chain and anchor.
4. The Rutland 913 wind generator worked fine in winds over 15 kts to keep our house batteries nicely full - unfortunately the wind only stayed above 15 for one of the nights.  Even with the KISS isolation mount we still get some sound of revving airplanes but it is not objectionable and will always be an alarm of rising wind.
5. Unhooked from cable, we were surprised how well the mast mounted TV antenna worked.  Now if we only had enough surplus power to use the TV a bit more...
6. I keep finding new and great things the Lowrance HDS-8 chart plotter does so well.  We are starting to settle down to a fixed set of pages and detail data that make navigation so much easier.
7. The marriage saver headsets augmented the hand signals nicely with only a rare one finger salute thrown in for good measure.
8. Purists may scream but we really enjoyed sailing "jib and jigger", under jib and mizzen sails.  As a test we never once raised the main and Horizon still moved nicely and was extremely controllable.

Things that needed help:
1. While the solar panels worked, they just do not put out anywhere near what they should.  They are 30V panels and the Xantrex C-60 controller just wastes too much power feeding a 12V system.  We have already ordered a Blue Sky MPPT controller to eek out every last drop of power from the panels.
2. The existing batteries hold even less power than I thought.  We have decided to go with Trojan lead/acid batteries instead of AGM's.
3. Our 1800W sinewave inverter is wired in the AC side but still needs the two battery cables run.  The only form of AC we had available during the trip were square wave inverters that most of our boat electrical items just do not like.
4. Likewise the Link battery monitor is only partially wired in and cannot yet be fully used to monitor the system.  Replacing the house batteries will be the perfect time to add all the incidentals like moving the rest of the engine room grounds to the bus bar, adding the big battery fuses, and generally cleaning up the 30 year old daisy-chained power distribution system.
5. The ancient Simrad W-32 wheel pilot did not work well at all and we may be moving a Simrad hydraulic autopilot higher up the wish list.  Along with the heading sensor on a new autopilot would come other benefits such as overlaying chart display with radar and showing MARPA vessel trails.

1. Our Navico/Lowrance 4G Radar was not one of the things we could use since we had to send it back for repair.  It had stopped working a month or so ago and when we brought it down from the mizzen mast, it sloshed!  Factory seals were still in place but water got in somehow.

While I spent some time working in my office (the engine room) we did get lots of quality time jigsaw puzzling and reading months of magazine back issues and just chillin' - all endeavors that will be much more common after my retirement in a few short months.  Just a little more work and we will be so ready :)