Thursday, March 6, 2014

When Working Systems Finally Work

Hans and I spent the summer of 2010 aboard our Knotty Cat in the Chesapeake. Along with horrific humidity we endured average daily temperatures in the upper 90's with evenings cooling down somewhere in the lower 80's (if we were lucky) which resulted in many nights of our sleeping in the cockpit. We had no air conditioning, no fans, no solar panels, no generator, and apparently no common sense. We did, however, have a pit bull and a calico cat.

After two months of torturing ourselves with that good old Jimmy Buffet fantasy of paradise (why doesn't he ever mention the endless days of sweltering heat and terminal sweat? let alone the fact that I don't think I ever ate a cheeseburger) we had to call it quits and go home.

We took stock of our experience and decided that our future should include at least solar panels. This way we wouldn't have to turn off the refrigerator everytime we shut down our engines and would lessen my fear of dishing up ecoli for dinner. I remembered how during our time in the Chesapeake our three daily bags of ice melted just as quickly as I could jam them into the refrigerator/freezer.

Our new solar panels along with the little DC fans that Hans hooked up in our berth made life so much better, and in 2011 we had a great time in the Bahamas. I had been campaigning for a generator for quite awhile and try as I might Hans just wasn't buying into it. I reminded him that if we'd had one that awful night in the ICW when we discovered a huge leak after anchoring we could have stayed the night while the generator took over the task of keeping our bilge pumps operating. He eventually gave in and we bought a Honda 2000 but I have a feeling it had more to do with watching hockey at anchor on our TV than it did with keeping us afloat.

Then Hans really started thinking and sometimes that's a dangerous thing. Wouldn't it only make sense he said, to get a wind generator for the days it's overcast and rainy, yet windy?

So we did. And that's when things started going downhill. Hans and I were able to assemble the wind generator and we even mounted it to the boat but we hired an electrician to wire it so it would be done right the first time. Or so we thought. Our marina is very protected with little wind which is great for us but not great for testing a wind generator so the first chance we had we headed out into the bay. Long story short, it didn't work, so the electrician came back. In the end he was here five times, we had a new on/off switch overnighted (turns out it wasn't bad after all) and it was decided after rewiring the generator to the batteries several different ways that the unit itself was bad. A new one was delivered and installed and we headed out to test it.

Compared to some boats, the Knotty Cat's innards are pretty organized. Just don't ask me what the hell all those wires do.

We decided to anchor for the night because surely all our bases were covered what with the work we'd had done and at first things appeared to be fine. The batteries seemed to be keeping up so we left the refrigerator running when we went to bed. The next morning it looked like the solar panels were helping because the battery readout gage started inching upward. And when the wind kicked in and the generator started spinning like mad we got all worked up. Yaaaay!!! I was so excited I couldn't stop checking the battery gage and then with the noon sun beating down on the solar panels and the generator screaming with glee, I was stunned to see the battery gage go into a slow decline.

Oh, c'mon! Seriously? We have two batteries tethered together to form our 'house bank' and one designated for starting our engines. That's it, and believe me it's not rocket science so why the hell can't we get anything to work? Hans got out our amp meter and we were further stymied when our two 'tethered' house bank batteries showed completely different read outs when they should have been the same. On that sad note we closed up shop and headed back to the marina and then ended our perfect day by sucking a dock line into our starboard propellor.

Thoroughly disgusted at this point, Hans yanked the batteries out of their hidy hole by the hair and told them he'd had enough of their sh*t and demanded an answer. The answer was a lot of corrosion on one of the straps that tether our house bank together so he gave it a thorough cleaning, slammed them back in place, and had someone come check out our solar panels and confirm the wiring of our wind generator.

Aha! Turns out the connections to our solar panels had joined the same union that 'Fritz' our GPS and Otto the autopilot belonged to and thought they were going to call the shots on the Knotty Cat. We nipped that little situation in the bud and had new connections installed. It was also confirmed that the wind generator was wired properly and the house bank batteries were now working in sync and not competing with each other. We're pretty sure that because of the corrosion only one house battery was being charged and that the battery not getting any juice is the one wired to our battery gage.

With fingers crossed we anchored out this past weekend in hopes that our systems might decide to behave.

And they did!!

The solar panels kept up with no effort and even though we didn't have a lot of wind the wind generator did its part too.

The new connections on the solar panels. When not being used, we disconnect and roll them up and put them away.
But, we're not totally useless and there are some things we actually do ourselves. Hans maintains our engines and is good at waving a multi-meter around. Unfortunately, though, it seems like the only things I ever fix are in the head. I've replaced valves, smelly hoses, and even connected our new holding tank. Recently I took apart the flushing mechanism in our port head (as it was constantly leaking water) and replaced it. And let us not forget that I ventured up the mast a few weeks ago and replaced our anchor light.

Ah, my little man. Wilbur loves anchoring out. Here he enjoys some sniffies.

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