Redid SSB counterpoise

(pictures will be added when I have time to sit down for more than a minute)

In the course of various projects over the past two years pieces of the ssb installation had been disconnected; e.g. the antenna to the backstay, the copper foil behind the radio itself, a couple pieces of foil surrounding the antenna tuner.

I sat down with the manual and reviewed my literature on ssb installations and discovered that we didn’t actually have a decent counterpoise at all–there were only two old bits of foil connecting the tuner to the rudder shaft and to the backstay chainplate.

I bought 4″ wide copper foil from Alco for 50 cents a foot, and painfully snaked the foil from a keel bolt in the center of the bilge back through all the various holes, under the engine, under the fuel tank, and up the side of Pete’s newly fabricated quadrant protector, to reach the antenna tuner.  It is very difficult to deal with that foil: the edges are very sharp, and it is hard not to kink and bend and fold it all up into a mess.

Fabricated 2nd gerry can mounting board for starboard side (Pete)

We decided that we wanted to carry extra water jugs; we already had one board for lashing extra diesel gerry’s, so we needed to make up a board to go on the other side.

Pete cut no corners; he obtained some solid oak, picked out a stain so that it would match the board on the other side, Ray did the sanding, and then Pete put I think 4 coats of varnish on it.  Totally bombproof.

Replaced insulation in ceiling, salon outboard & quarterberth

Since moving onto the boat, I have been shocked by the amount of condensation and mildew generated just by our breathing (and cooking plays a part too I guess).  The weather has been chilly and wet, magnifying the problem.  At night we would get dripped on by a solution of condensation mixed with uncured boat resin from somewhere in the ceiling–nasty stuff.

We had the salon ceiling (outboard parts that is) off for the knee project, so I took the opportunity to cut pieces from our leftover ensolite foam to fit in the gaps (leftover from insulating hull after knee repair).  We bought the ensolite as old sleeping pads from the army surplus store (army green!)  Two layers of the foam were the perfect thickness, and if I was careful with the sizing, they would fit up in there and stay all by themselves, without bothering with the contact cement.

In the quarterberth all the pieces had to be glued in place; Karen spent an arduous day in the respirator with the box fan ventilating the quarterberth, coating pieces and the ceiling with contact cement and trying to get them to stick.

We have had no dripping, or water droplets forming on the ceiling over our heads, since then.

Fabricated Quadrant Blocker

(pictures will be added when I have time to sit down for more than a minute)

Ever since we pulled the old propane locker, opening up the entire lazarette for storage, we had the unexpected problem that everything we dropped into the back locker jammed up against the steering quadrant, preventing the rudder from turning, which is not a safe feature on a sailboat.

When Pete arrived, I put him on that project first, since he is far more comfortable with wood that I am.  He made us a bombproof box to block off the area where the quadrant moves from the rest of the stern.  It succeeds admirably in the three design criteria: 1) protect the quadrant 2) strong enough to be climbed on 3) minimize amount of space taken away from the storage.

Serviced Windlass

No luck with my previous plea.

So, between Jonny and I we got the windlass apart, cleaned all the gears inside, and re-oiled the whole thing.  Karen cleaned up the wooden pad on the foredeck where it is mounted, then I faired it with epoxy fairing compound (we had taken some big chunks out of it while trying to get the windlass off), sanded smooth, and painted it with an epoxy primer (primekote).  Eventually I’ll have to put two coats of something different on it after it yellows, but there’s no time now.

Jonny dismantled the windlass, but wasn’t around when it time to put it all back together . . . boy was that NOT fun.  There is no manual for this windlass, anywhere; I spent a long time looking around the internet, inquiring in forums, etc.  So just figuring out how the one-way bearings all went back together was a challenge.

Eventually I figured it out, all the parts got cleaned spick and span, I rinsed out gunk and metal filings from the housing so it was all pristine, put it all back together, and added nice fresh oil.

But the real bitch was the very last step: trying to get the bronze hand wheel back onto the stainless shaft.  The threads at the end were all mangled and cross-threaded, and I spent hours, literally hours, just messing with trying to screw the wheel back onto the shaft, without forcing anything.  No matter what I tried, including gentle filing to clean up the threads, nothing worked.  The shaft was a standard size, but the pipe thread on the shaft was a custom-sized pitch–meaning I couldn’t find any taps/dies online that would work on the threads.  I put it aside for a while.

Pete showed up and managed to get the handwheel to thread on the shaft.  Didn’t do anything special, just sat there and messed with it and got it to work.  Now it’s saying something for someone to best me on a task like this, which is to say that Pete is a phenomenon.  I’m just thankful we didn’t have to scrap the whole windlass for this one little problem, especially after I spent so much time making everything so clean and pretty.

Fabricated electronics control tower for radar arch

Originally we were going to have the radar mounted on the radar arch (go figure), but when we got the new radar it came with a mast mount and we decided to use it.  So that freed up the starboard side of the arch on the stern for mounting our various electronics.  The items mounted on this control tower include:
AIS gps antenna (the mushroom shape)
AIS vhf antenna
WIFI access point (the elongated box)
WIFI omni-directional 8db gain antenna (the tall white stick)
WIFI directional 15db gain antenna (the square thing)

I used a pvc pipe and fittings to mount the various components, then through bolted the gray PVC pipe to the stern pole.  Ran the wires into a hole in the pvc, down through the pole, out the bottom, and into the hull through a cable clam.  I used spiral wrap on the wires where they went through the hole and out the bottom of the pipe, to prevent chafing against the edges.  I used dielectric grease on all connections, periodically refreshed, and periodically sprayed the whole shabang with T-9 to discourage corrosion.

It worked really well.  Eventually I ditched the square antenna because it was too directional to be useful with the WIFI setup; the omni-directional antenna worked fine.

Replaced chainplates, added plinths

In the process of re-glassing the knees to the hull, we decided that it would be prudent to replace the chainplates as well.  Most of the old ones looked okay, though when Jonny cleaned one up really well for inspection there was clear signs of pitting right where the plate passes through the deck (see the pictures).  The nature of stainless is that it fails without much more warning that that, and we already had everything apart, and Pete was willing and able to fabricate a new set for me, so it was a no brainer.

The old plates were 5/16″ thick, the metal yard had 3/8″, so we went up a size.  The yard cut the plates to length and Pete drilled the holes and rounded the ends.  The metal was mill-finished from the yard, i.e. a roughish matte gray texture, and stainless corrodes where it isn’t polished, so I spent 2/3rds of a day polishing just the upper 4 inches of each plate–the portion that lives through the deck and above deck.  If we weren’t two weeks away from departure, I would have done the whole surface, because I finally figured out the fastest way to do the polishing (after a few years and many different stainless polishing project attempts) and goddamn the mirror finish on that stainless is gorgeous.  There is an immense satisfaction in taking a gray flat metal and taking it to the point where you can see yourself in the reflection.  But there is no functional reason to polish to portion that is below deck–it’s only the portion inside and above deck that is susceptible to the corrosion.

Jim Hassberger from Kanga suggested that we add plinths to the deck, through which the chainplates protrude, in order to prevent the plates from ever sitting in water.  At first I didn’t want to do the extra work, but good sense prevailed and we took the extra time to do it.  Jon cut rectangles from a leftover piece of 3/8″ thick FRP (pre-made sheet of fiberglass) from McMaster-Carr that we had used in the construction of the lazarette and propane locker lids.  He ground a bevel into each side, then I cut an overlarge slot down through the center to admit the plates.  I temporarily mounted the chainplates (two bolts each loosely connected), then marked the position of the plinths.  Then I removed the chainplates and glassed the plinths to the deck with slightly thickened epoxy (after having sanded down the area under them to bare glass).

While epoxying the plinths to the deck, I filled the voided core area underneath them (from which I had removed the balsa) with thickened epoxy as well.  I used a putty knife and my fingers to jam the thick epoxy in the gaps, and roughly shaped the slot with my finger.  After it cured I came back with the dremel and cleaned up the slot.  Now, if any water penetrates the sealant around the chainplate, it will enter the ceiling of the boat (and be visible) rather than rotting out the core of the deck, to which it has no access.

The plinths didn’t end up adding that much time and effort, and didn’t cost anything since we already had the extra fiberglass plates sitting around, so I’m glad we did it.

I used new bolts/nuts/lockwashers on the chainplates, stainless of course, and bedded them onto the side of the knees with a light layer of silicon to prevent water from wicking into that joint to corrode them (Pete’s suggestion).

Built storage shelves for icebox

It quickly became clear that a wide open, deep icebox is extremely difficult to use efficiently–you spend all of your time rummaging through a stack of food, or have to remove everything to get what you want, or discover that containers have tipped over and spilled their contents.

I decided to built boxes out of acrylic, using the jigsaw to cut the pieces, the sander to take off the sharp edges, and the methylene chloride toxic stuff to weld it all together.

This is a process that I have used a couple of times now on the boat for working with acrylic, I believe I explained more of the details earlier.  Some of the details worth mentioning: cutting the acrylic with the jigsaw is frustrating, but doable with care and patience.  I use the wood scrolling blades; the metal blades seem to get gummed up and stall.  The blade just melts a path through the acrylic, which re-seals itself in places after you pass.  So then you have to go over the same cut a second time to free it up.  The blades get super hot and eventually snap, so you need quite a few of them.  There are special blades designed for cutting acrylic, but honestly I can’t tell the difference between them and the wood blades–perhaps they’re a bit more heat-resistant.

The methylene chloride is a nasty solvent, extremely volatile (evaporates very quickly), and very thin.  A respirator and good ventilation is a must, or you will surely kill brain cells.  The deal is that the methylene chloride melts the acrylic, which then rebonds as the solvent evaporates; the result is literally a weld–continuous acrylic–rather than a glue job.  It is important to get the surfaces as flush as possible along the entire length of the seam, which can be difficult when cutting with a jigsaw.  Because the solvent doesn’t fill in any gaps whatsoever; so only the areas where the surfaces directly touch will contribute to the strength of the bond.

There is a trick for applying the methylene chloride.   You use a little plastic bottle with a syringe cap.  You squeeze out the air in the plastic bottle, invert it and stick it into the container of methylene chloride, then let go and it will suck up into the plastic container.  You don’t need very much.  The you use the same method for applying: hold the syringe bottle upright, squeeze out a decent amount of air, then let go and invert the bottle.  While the bottle is sucking air, no solvent will come out even though it’s inverted.  Then you take the syringe and run it down the seam you’re welding, squeezing the bottle slightly to let the solvent drain out.  You will have 10 seconds or more to apply the solvent before the container refills with air and starts to leak out.

It’s best to clamp the two pieces of acrylic together.  But, if you have a second person and steady hands, you can sometimes just hold the two pieces together while you weld them; it should only take about 45 seconds for the bond to set.

It was a challenging problem, to figure out how to build the boxes such that they would fit down in the icebox.  At least one of the boxes I had to finish assembling inside the icebox–so that one will never come out without breaking it apart.  I put all of the boxes on rails–I used strips of starboard for this, nice and slick–so they slide back underneath the inaccessible sides of the box.  And I was paranoid about the box banging on the evaporator plate and damaging it, so I put extra effort into making blocks and stops that would prevent the acrylic from touching the evaporator plate.  After our first sail I discovered that I also needed to come up with a way to prevent the boxes from sliding back and forth while the boat rocked, so I used some cotter pins with keeper cords–works like a charm.  All in all, a very successful project.  No space is wasted and the system is easy to use.  It took a damn long time, but what’s new.

knees (part 3)

See knees part 1 and knees part 2.

This job was massive, and I didn’t have the luxury of time to sit back and consider.  I forged ahead, ripping out the cabinetry on both the port and starboard sides, then the slats, and then going to town with the grinder.  Making fiberglass snow a 1/2″ thick that covered everything–thank god I taped it all off with plastic.  Even with a box fan in the hatch sucking it out, it was still insanely uncomfortable.

On the starboard side the cabinet didn’t come out so easily: I ended up breaking it a little in the process.  On immediate inspection, both of these knees showed a small gap and cracking between the bottom point and the hull, indicating that they had indeed parted from the hull somewhat.  After chiseling off the old kerfs (those vertical pieces of wood on either side of the knees, to which the horizontal trim battens were nailed) I was able to see that they used entirely too little tabbing to secure the knee to the hull.  In the process of grinding off the old, bad stuff, I discovered that at the lowest level the tabbing had delaminated from the hull along its entire length, so I ended up having to grind off all of the old tabbing from the hull (I wasn’t that bad on the port side).  I was in the bunny suit with the respirator and ear plugs and safety glasses and full face shield over that for 6 straight hours grinding away–it was a very unpleasant day.  By the time I was done I had created a 1/4″ of fiberglass “snow” over every single surface inside my bubble (as karen called it).

As on the port side, I fabricated triangular extensions out of plywood to extend the knees farther down the hull.

I used the same method and layup as I did on the first knee (in part 2).

As usual, putting it all back together took an eternity.


Replaced primary anchor

The bow anchor was a 44 lb Bruce (genuine forged bruce).  I wanted a heavier anchor for general use.  I sold the 44lb and bought a 66lb cast bruce look-alike.  Supposedly not as strong as the genuine thing, but I’ve never heard of an anchor breaking.  It was a great decision.  It worked well for us across the whole pacific, and almost never dragged.

First knee reglassed (Part 2)

See knees part 1.

Jon cut two triangles of 3/4″ plywood that I sandwiched together and used as an extension to the bottom of the knee–this was an excellent piece of advice I received from Paul Rosenthal (justifying the cost of having him out for a consultation by itself).  He also convinced me (or pointed out) that there was no good reason for putting a reinforcing pad of fiberglass between the knee and the deck.  As he explained, the deck should only take the load if the construction is wrong–the hull should be taking all the load.

This was my lay-up (so that I remember two days from now when I do the next one):

large fillet of epoxy thickened with chopped glass (a container of ready-made chopped glass from TAP plastics).
Strip of 6oz glass ~1cm
strip of knytex ~2cm
6oz glass ~3cm
knytex ~3in
6oz glass ~5in
knytex ~6in
knytex ~7in
knytex ~8in (4in each side)
6oz glass ~9in

The knytex is a layer of mat and biaxial fabric bonded together; it is thick and extremely strong.  It does not like to take corners at all–hence the thick fillet.  If not for the thick fillet, the knytex would pull away from the joint and leave a gap (and weakness).

I think the job is strong enough.  I am not a fiberglass professional and so I worry about various things, like whether I use too much resin, and other small things, but until someone smarter tells me what to change I have to plow forward with what I’ve got.

Knees Broken (Part 1)

My worst fears have come true: the raised lumps on the deck that we discovered while refinishing are caused by the knees, which have separated from the hull and are rotating up and pushing on the deck inboard of the chainplates.  Three out of four knees have ~1/8″ to 1/4″ gaps at their bottom ends, and the tabbing towards the bottom is colored white, further indicating delamination from the hull.

We were intending to depart in January; I don’t see how that’s possible now with this job thrown into my lap at the last minute.  Karen and I just moved onto the boat, and I’m going to have to rip out the cabinets and do a massive fiberglass grinding and repair.

I removed the slats that hide the port forward lower; I chose to tackle this one first because it doesn’t require removing cabinets to access it.

I used plastic to tape off the entire area.  I wore a bunny suit, full facemask, and respirator.  I ground the fiberglass tabbing off until reaching clean, solid glass.  That part really sucks, the grinding.


Refinished Deck

Ooh boy this has been a long time coming.  I have been looking forward to this job more than any other, for the past year, because it is one of the few jobs that people walking down the dock can actually see and admire.  Most everything else I do on the boat is hidden behind some panel and goes unseen and unsung.

Since we bought the boat, the deck has become increasingly ugly.  We made no attempts to keep errant epoxy or other crap from marring the surface; many spots have holes drilled for the purpose of repairing minor delamination; some areas jonny gooped over with plain epoxy in a failed attempt to fair the surface where there was some crack or hole.  The final state of the deck before I started sanding it was undeniably shameful.  Some might argue that appearances don’t matter and that our deck only looked ugly, but the truth is that there were cracks and holes all over the place that were admitting water into the balsa core and causing increasingly serious delamination (see my post regarding the delamination mess).

Since other projects have been so much higher priority, I have had a really long time to dream up how I was going to tackle this project.  I went through a number of different options for which non-skid to use.  For a few months I was planning on going the way of Wally, using a product called Ultra-Tuff.  Fortunately, Wally’s boat Stella Blue happened to be in a marina less than 10 minutes away at the time, so I got in touch with him and went over to see for myself how it turned out.  I have the utmost respect for Wally–he does the most meticulous and ridiculously successful work on his boat of anyone I know and his project pages have been invaluable to me–but I didn’t like the ultra-tuff that much.  Largely because it was a sharp, fairly brittle feeling surface, and not too pretty.  I definitely didn’t want to do the shake-sand-on-paint route, or the route of putting “microballoons” or some other such artificial sand in the paint and rolling it on, etc, because all of those decks that I have seen look very amateur, very DIY, and didn’t seem all that non-skid either.

All of those methods are still a hundred times better than our deck was before I touched it, and all perfectly adequate solutions.  But I had about a year to plan this project to perfection, and since the sheer magnitude of this job is overwhelming, I needed to feel like I would be really excited and proud of the end result, or else my motivation would waver.

I ended up choosing a product called Kiwi-Grip, because of the ease of application, the ease of recoating when necessary, and the look of the finished surface (as viewed up-close on various web pages where I found references).  It costs $100/gallon and you have to use a lot of it to get a really nice texture.  I ended up using 2.25 gallons to do the entire boat.

I elected to brush on a two-part polyurethane paint for all the non-non-skid (i.e. “skid”) areas.  Usually this means the trim around the edges of hatches, the outside edge under the caprail, etc.  Two-part polyurethane is synonymous with “linear polyurethane”, which I can abbreviate as LP, and that’s a hell of a lot easier to type from now on.

LP is harder to apply nicely than single-part polyurethane.  The surface of it gels quickly, so you have to start painting and keep moving and you can’t go back and fix “mistakes”.  For the professionals, “mistakes” refers to brush strokes that remain visible in the paint after it cures, instead of disappearing into a mirror-finish gloss that looks like it was sprayed on.  For me, “mistakes” refers to long drips and runs and uneven gobs of paint, etc, in spots where I accidentally caught the brush on an edge, or couldn’t see the white-on-white paint dripping down, etc, and so my mistakes are very obvious.  The good thing is that the mistakes don’t matter for the functionality.  LP is a hell of a lot more durable and long-lasting than single-part polyurethane, so I get to claim victory for choosing the LP even if it does end up looking like shit.

I chose Interlux Perfection for my two-part polyurethane, because we can get a deal on it, it’s made for amateurs like me, and it is popular (i.e. reliable).  In retrospect, I may have chosen a cheaper alternative.  Even with our deal, the stuff is way overpriced.

So the order of things is as follows:
pick a section of the deck, then . . .
1) sand deck with 80grit
2) prepare spots that need fairing by digging out loose shards of gelcoat
3) vacuum up dust
4) wipe down spots that need fairing with acetone
5) mix up a batch of Quikfair and apply to all prepared digs, holes, scratches, etc
6) sand down quikfaired areas with 80 grit
7) if inadequately faired with only one round, repeat steps 3-6
8) vacuum all dust
9) mask off
10) wipe down/clean the deck with the thinner (in this case Interlux 2333N)
11) paint coat 1 of two-part epoxy primer (I used Interlux Primekote)
12) lightly sand with 120grit
13) vacuum all dust
14) wipe down with 2333N
15) paint coat 2 of two-part epoxy primer
16) lightly sand with 120 grit
17) vacuum all dust
18) re-mask off for only LP areas
19) wipe down with 2333N
20) paint coat 1 of LP (I used Interlux Perfection)
21) lightly sand with 320 grit
22) vacuum all dust
23) wipe down with 2333N
24) paint coat 2 of LP
25) re-mask for only non-skid areas
26) wipe down with acetone
27) paint kiwi-grip (one coat only (hopefully!))
27) pull up tape and admire
28) repeat steps 1-27 for other sections of the deck

One thing I’ve learned from this whole affair is that all of the two-part stuff is way more of a pain in the ass than all of the one-part stuff.  To start with, you can just open a can of the one-part stuff, mix it up, and start going.  And then close up the can at the end of the day.  With the two-part products, you need to open both cans, use little mixing cups or spoons or something to very accurately measure out perfect amounts of each, then use up the whole mixture usually within an hour or so (there’s always a time limit on the two-part stuff), and whatever extra you have is wasted, but usually you’ll end up being about a quarter cup short, but you sure as hell don’t want to mix up another cup full of the stuff because it costs almost as much as gold.  Not to mention all of the two-part products are about 10 times more toxic and deadly than the one-part products–this includes the two-part epoxy bilge paint from sherwin-williams that gave me a headache for a day (I was stupid it was my fault, no respirator that time), the two-part epoxy bottom paint primer we used before painting the hull, the two-part epoxy primer paint (Primekote) I use on the deck, the two-part polyurethane Interlux Perfection, and even the regular old West System two-part epoxy (redundant since all epoxy is two-part).  Contrast this with the kiwi-grip, which is an acrylic water-based paint: I open the can, slap it on the deck with a brush, roll it out with the roller they provide, then put the lid back on and rinse everything out quickly and easily with water.

True, the LP will last a long time.  But on the other hand, wherever the non-skid starts to wear off, I can just grab the can and goop some more on in a matter of minutes (if I’m not too lazy to just ignore it for years that is).  Both approaches have their appeal.  After throwing away hundreds of small paper cups and whatnot in the course of mixing up these two-part poisons, I have to admit the Kiwi-Grip’s ease of application was pretty refreshing (though I’ll be singing a different tune if it only lasts a few months before it starts to fall off).

The pictures in the galley are in chronological order of how the boat was painted.  I did not sand the whole boat, then mask the whole boat, etc.  I did it in pieces.  First I did the rims and lids of the propane locker and lazarette with the primer and LP, then I did the foredeck with primer, then masked for the LP, then remasked for the non-skid on the foredeck.  Then I ran out of kiwi-grip on the foredeck and ordered more.

I learned, from doing the foredeck to completion first as a proof-of-concept, that you don’t want to put kiwi-grip down over the LP (I had inexactly masked before painting the LP, assuming that the edge of the LP didn’t matter once I put kiwi-grip over it).  I knew better but forgot.  Two reasons not to let the kiwi-grip end up over top of any LP: 1) it won’t stick well to the LP 2) the LP will show through the kiwi-grip much more, being glossy bright white and whatnot.  So after that I masked perfectly for the LP, then masked perfectly right next to it for the kiwi-grip.

After the foredeck, I did the port side deck and cockpit, more or less together.  I did it in pieces because it was just too overwhelming to try to do each stage over the entire boat all at once (actually, I did it in pieces because Karen convinced me to, and then I saw the wisdom of her reasoning).

Refinished wood on deck (scrape, sand, varnish)

. . . including dorade boxes, the hatch surrounds, cockpit coaming, and the caprail.  Jonny did this job.  I wish I had more pictures of the finished result, somehow forgot about that one.

Jonny did 4 coats on each surface.  First coat was thinned 50% to penetrate, second coat was thinned 25%, all coats after that were un-thinned.  Varnish used was the Epifanes high-gloss.

Added solar panels to the arch

We bought some solar panels from a guy in Berkeley, via craigslist: two 180W Mitsubishi panels for $360 apiece a total of 360W, for $720.  Exactly $2/W, which is a good price as far as I’m concerned.  Even better, they precisely fit the dimensions that I was seeking to fit in the space allotted for them on the radar arch.

Also, I included some additional photos detailing the arch mounting and construction.

Installed KISS wind generator

I bid $600 for a three year old KISS wind generator on ebay, never thinking I would win it (the minimum bid was $600), but I did.  I was the only bidder; I believe it was because the seller didn’t want to ship it and was located in Pennsylvania (really nice guy though–Mike if you read this don’t worry I’m treating the wind generator to the usage it deserves!).  Conveniently, I happened to be driving back east to get married at the right time, so we just stopped off and picked it up.  Also conveniently, jonny ended up buying a car right before attending the wedding, so he was able to put it in his car to drive it back to the west coast.

A few notes about the KISS: it is an AC alternator, so the power coming down the three lines out of the generator is three-phase AC.  The electrical box that is supplied with it is an on/off switch along with a rectifier.  Since the AC is more efficient than the DC, all other things being equal it is better to mount the electrical box closer to the batteries; i.e. use a longer run of cord for the AC and a shorter run after it is rectified to DC.

When the switch is turned to the on position, the generator is under load producing amperage that is fed to the batteries (duh); when the generator is switched to the off position, the generator is shorted out such that it self-brakes.  This self-braking works only up to a certain wind-speed.

There are thermal cutouts located in the alternator that will open-circuit the generator if it becomes to hot.  When the generator is open-circuited, the alternator can free-wheel and the blades can pick up speed.  As soon as the unit cools down enough, it restarts and puts the blades under load again.

So, there are three possibilities: the unit can either be under load and feeding power to the batteries, shorted and braking itself as best as possible, or open-circuited and freewheeling.

If the unit is free-wheeling faster than you are comfortable with (storm conditions), then you have to take a boat hook and use it to push on the tail to rotate the unit out of the wind.

Other models of wind generator have more sophisticated safeguards in them to deal with excessive wind, and even built-in charge controllers to protect the battery from excessive current–I share the opinion of the KISS generator’s inventor, however, that those safeguards are not worth the additional cost and complexity.  If you understand how the generator works and how to deal with it in the infrequent situations that it is either producing too much power or speeding out of control, then I see no need to spend the extra money on extra stuff to break.

I would recommend the use of Tef-gel on all the stainless to aluminum surfaces, i.e. the stainless bolts in the aluminum rotor hub, and the aluminum hub on the stainless rotor shaft–it seems to be by far the most lasting protection.

Fabricated new arch for radar, solar, wind generator

The old radar arch on the stern was a lot of metal tubing accomplishing very little–a mount for the radar and two dinky solar panels.  We were going to need something more to mount our wind generator and larger solar panels anyway, so I got it in my head to build my own thing for the stern.  I envisioned two vertical poles, the wind generator on one and the radar on another, with a rectangular frame in between for the solar panels.

First I was going to use aluminum, but I balked after my first attempt to weld aluminum ended with a weak joint in which I had no faith.  Then I was going to use cheap-ass galvanized pipe that you can get in any home depot.  But you have to be careful welding galvanized stuff–it’s poisonous when you burn it off–and it is only marginally corrosion resistant for a piece of metal that will be permanently mounted less than two feet from the salt water.  Then jonny convinced me to use stainless steel.  Initially I balked at that, because I knew that it would be ridiculously tedious to polish it up, and it needs to be polished up in order to be corrosion resistant.  But jonny convinced me by promising that he would do the polishing, and confidently proclaimed that it wouldn’t be that hard or take that long.

Many months later, it is complete and polished and mounted.  For the past month the two poles have sat on the deck of the boat, waiting for me to finish the polishing job that jonny only half completed.  Can’t say that I was really surprised; half-assed is jonny’s m.o. for all things boat related, and overconfident proclamations come out of his mouth only slightly more often than I have been convinced to believe them–which is a failing that I am trying to rid myself of once and for all.

Polishing the stainless was, as I predicted, a complete bitch.  We discovered via trial and error that the most efficient way to go from a flat matte grey finish to a mirror polish is to start with 220 grit sticky-backed sandpaper disks on the 7″ disc sanding pad on our milwaukee variable speed grinder (turned almost all the way down).  After sanding off all the matte grey, we used the stiffest buffing wheel we could find (the one with the most circles of stitching holding it together) combined with the coarsest rubbing compound–the type intended for “cutting or polishing of stainless steel”.  It takes absolutely FOREVER to get it to a decent polish.  In retrospect, I wish we had shopped around to hire the job out to some place.  Jonny did the majority of the work on them, then we mounted them temporarily to get measurements.  “Temporarily” turned into three weeks, and by that time there was already a patina of rust all over the areas of the pole that were not completely shiny.  It’s crevice corrosion, the bane of stainless steel; it happens wherever there is a scratch or a pit in the metal.  Keep it mirror shiny and it won’t develop a spot, but the rust will find the little scratches and make a home.

I used 2″ nominal 304 stainless steel pipe, schedule 10 for the vertical uprights, obtained for a reasonable price (which I have blocked out of my memory because reasonable for stainless is still way too goddamned expensive) from Alco in San Leandro I think.  Pipe and tubing are measured differently.  2″ tubing has an outside diameter of exactly 2″.  2″ nominal pipe, schedule 10 (refers to a thickness of .109″), has an outside diameter of 2.375″ and an I.D. of 2.157″.  I used 1.25″ dia. nom. pipe for the support legs and the crossbar, and the top pipe inserts on which the radar and wind generator are mounted are 1.5″ nom. pipe.  All schedule 10, since that’s the thinnest I could get and isn’t as thin as I wish it would have been.  I made myself a little chart to keep track of all the diameters, because no one could ever identify their pipe for me so I had to carry around a set of calipers and measure them for myself:


I decided on a vertical post on each side, each supported by two struts.  I didn’t want the struts to rise above the height of the pulpit–a style consideration, I just didn’t want all that metal blocking the view or experience aft of the boat.  That, and I knew it wasn’t necessary for strength (especially considering how crazy strong the pipes are that we’re using).

Jonny and I spent a whole morning fucking around with cardboard tubes and protractors trying to determine the exact angle that the struts needed to make (in both the horizontal and vertical planes around the vertical poles).  We used the average of all our measurements, and then I used the diameters of the two pipes and the angle between them to print out a “coping” diagram to use for cutting off the pipes, from this sweet website.  You print out the curve on a piece of paper, cut it out, wrap it around the pipe, then use a sharpie to draw the line on the pipe.  Then take the cutoff blade (or 5 of them) and a grinder, and painstakingly cut the pipe to match that curve.  Afterwards, the strut will rest against the vertical pipe just right.  Remarkably, it actually worked, and really well at that.

Then I welded the struts to the vertical poles at the tech shop.  Essentially I learned to TIG weld just for this project, so I don’t have very much experience.  And it shows.  The weld job I did is acceptably strong, I hope, but it isn’t pretty and it is far from admirable to those who know welds.  In a nutshell, I went over it too many times, trying to make it look nice, and in the process heated the metal too much, causing the weld to be weaker and more prone to corrosion than it otherwise would be.  I’m not too hard on myself for it, because it’s still pretty good considering how little experience I have.

I’m glad I was so anal about measuring the angles accurately, because the poles just barely fit in place.  In truth, on one side we needed to fabricate a shim to go between the strut and the hull because I didn’t get it quite right.  It was a tall order to get it even as close as we did, so I’m just thankful that it works.

I fabricated the brackets to mount it to the hull out of a scrap piece of stainless box iron: I cut the box in half and then in half again to get L-brackets.  Again, polishing these up was ridiculously tedious.

I cut backing plates for the brackets out of a scrap piece of thick-ass stainless–1/4″ thick I think.  Two of the plates sat on a curved piece of the hull, and I was concerned that when we cranked down on it it could break the fiberglass, so Jonny puttied up the backside (the surface that the plates would sit on) with thickened epoxy and then smooshed the plates down onto it (with a piece of waxed paper between) to form a nice base for the plates to sit on.

So I welded the supports to the vertical pole, but I decided that I wanted to use fittings to mount the rest of the supports in place–I wanted them to be adjustable and removable if necessary.  I went with “speedrail” fittings for the pipe, then had TAP plastics fabricated some starboard bushings to mate our leftover 1″ stainless tube into the pipe fittings (I couldn’t find any commercially available adaptors, anywhere).  Our old bimini frame (1″ stainless tube) had been hanging off the bow for months; I cut almost all the pieces I needed for the solar panel frame out of the old bimini apparatus.

At the top of each of the vertical poles I made a 1.25″ nom diameter pipe insert, that bolts inside.  I welded the radar mount to this insert (instead of directly to the top of the vertical pole) so that it can be removed with two bolts.  The wind generator got mounted to the insert on top of the other pole (the KISS wind generator is designed to be mounted onto either 1.5″nom pipe or 2″ tubing).

The resulting framework is the strongest of any I’ve seen.  It is probably also the heaviest, but my intuition tells me that our mounting points on the hull are going to be strong enough to handle it all (I really hope we don’t have problems with it!).


Finally!  After replacing nearly everything else in the cooling circuit, I decided the problem must be the heat exchanger, even though we already cleaned it out with muriatic acid.  I bought a new one from Transatlantic Diesel (they know their stuff over there) although I asked for a heat exchanger for a Perkins 4-108 instead of a Westerbeke and so they sent me the right one for the wrong engine (our Westerbeke engine uses a Perkins 4-108 block and so for most purposes it’s really a perkins 4-108).  I called them and they sent me the right one no problem.

It took only a few hours to put it in.  Afterwards I ran the engine at an idle at the dock, then put it in gear and let it strain against the docklines a bit.  It never got above 185, whereas before it would overheat while sitting at the dock in idle.

The new heat exchanger is a better design than the old one, as well: the new one has a bolt with metal end caps and a gasket underneath, so that it can be fully dismantled.  The old one had a single rubber endcap, allowing access only to the center of the tubes (one half of the circuit).

Granted, we won’t know for SURE until we take her out and run it hard, but I’m optimistic that we finally fixed the problem.


Replaced seawater faucet (again)

When we took out the pressurized freshwater system, we removed the standard kitchen-style faucet that was in the galley and replaced it with a home-made faucet fashioned out of a piece of copper tubing, to use for the seawater foot pump we installed.  We spent a lot of time with various fittings and heat shrink tubing to make our own fixture that would be able to rotate yet not leak.  It worked for a few months, then one day I grabbed it and tried to rotate it out over the sink and the copper tubing just twisted on me.  Clearly it wasn’t going to be a lasting solution.  So I bit the bullet and bought a brass fixture from Svendsens.  Then of course I had to drill a new hole to accomodate it, since the old hole was way too big and there weren’t enough threads on the fixture to let me fit large washers.

Installed Battery Monitor

After spending $1200 on new batteries, I want some simple way to monitor their state of charge, largely so that we have a better idea of when we need to run the engine to charge them back up.

It is best to recharge a lead-acid battery before the charge drops below 50% (of the amp-hour capacity); if you discharge them too much you damage them.  And it is not practical to charge them all the way to 100% with the alternator each time–as the batteries approach full charge the charging process gets slower and slower.  When you are idling the engine only to charge the batteries, you want to limit the amount of time it runs.  So it is more practical to charge the batteries only to about 85%.  This means that in actual practice you will only use 85%-50% =35% of your total battery capacity during each charge cycle.  Our total battery capacity is 720Ah, so I expect that we’ll be able to use 250Ah before needing to turn on the engine–and hopefully the solar and wind and tow generator will keep up so that we never have to.

If you let your batteries sit for 12 hours with no sources or sinks connected to them, then you can simply measure the voltage and know the state of charge (11.6V is 50% discharged; 12.7V is fully charged).  But while cruising we will never let our batteries rest without some device drawing power, so we cannot simply watch the voltage to know how charged they are.  Hence the battery monitor.

I chose the Xantrex LinkLite, because Xantrex makes great stuff and we got a great deal on it at Svendsens.  It required a fair bit of wiring, since it uses a shunt installed in the battery negative (big-ass cable) to measure the current.

I have been told by many people that the batteries need to be fully charged every once in a while (i.e. up to 100% not just 85%) in order to stay in sync.  I just put it in this past week so I can only comment on how pretty it looks in our electrical panel.


Our first weeping blister

Well I have been sanding the entire boat, piece by piece, to repaint.  Turns out the side of the cabintop has hundreds of small blisters, a very few of which started weeping after we sanded (or maybe before, but none of us noticed).

These are the first of the infamous Valiant blisters that I have experienced, so I consider myself lucky.  The bulging ones can be ignored, but I feel the need to take care of the ones that are weeping, so that the paint will stick when I put it on.  Not like it will help much–those other hundred blisters will probably be weeping within a few months anyway–but it is after all only cosmetic so I’m going to get my painting finished and then call it good, and do my best to ignore the rest of the blisters that will surely come.

I dig out the blister with a sanding tip on the dremel, until it looks like all the wet stuff is gone.  Then clean/dry with acetone on a rag.  Then mix up a small batch of quikfair and spread it on, trying to leave the surface of the quikfair a little high.  After it dries (sandable in about 5 hours) I sand it fair.  Then it’s ready for the normal painting procedure (two coats of epoxy primer, two coats of two-part polyurethane).


Can anyone identify this windlass?

And give me a link to a manual for it?  I have no idea how to take it apart and service it.

I know it needs servicing because every fifth crank or so I move the handle without anything happening.  It feels like the pawls don’t want to catch, or something.  Regardless, the windlass is important, and no doubt it looks like all hell inside, knowing my luck and having experienced everything else breaking on the boat.

Replaced engine water temperature gauge and sender

Not sure if the old gauge and sender were operational or not.  Even if it worked, I hated the old gauge because it had one uncentered tick mark between 180 and 240 degrees, so it was impossible to tell what the actual temperature was.  What good is that?  I only care about the temperature in that range anyway!

I was under the impression that the gauge and sender have to be matched to each other or else they won’t be accurate.  I still don’t know whether or not this is the case, though I have since discovered that there is a standard for the senders (separate for american and european) so that in theory any american sender should work with an american gauge.  Regardless, I didn’t want to take a chance so I just ordered them as a set from Sherri at Transatlantic Diesel.  When they showed up I was frustrated, because the gauge had the same shitty problem as the original one, and I was disgusted by the idea of replacing our old gauge with one that was equally useless.  So I bought another one, a digital one off the internet that came with its own sender.  Of course when it showed up I discovered that the sender is too small to fit in our 1/2″ npt spot for it on the engine, and even though I have an adaptor that accepted it, it still wouldn’t work because the sensing tip on the sender was too short to protrude through the adaptor plug.  Just figures.  So I borrowed Jim’s thermocouple (Jim’s on Kanga down the dock from us) and set up a jury-rigged little science experiment in the galley, consisting of a pot of water on the stove, with the thermocouple and the sender in it, wired up to the gauge, which was jury-rigged to the back of the electrical panel to give it some power, and then I sat there over the stove, holding the sender in the water in one hand and the thermocouple in the other while the pot of water heated up, and tried not to burn myself as the water got all the way up to boiling.  Crude, but the experiment convinced me that the gauge and sender are compatible.  The gauge appeared to be reading ~8 degrees low, or else only a few degrees low and just lagged behind the response of the thermocouple.  I should have waited to see what it read while the water dropped also (to resolve that question) but I was out of patience and in the middle of a shitty conversation with jonny.  So I am satisfied with that level of accuracy for now, and I’ll use the thermocouple in the holding tank of the engine eventually to check it again.

So I mounted and wired the temperature gauge into the panel.  Now of course I have to change around my master wiring diagram because it’s pretty different from what it used to be (I had to move around a number of the hot and gnd supplies for the other gauges, since they had been piggybacked onto the old temperature gauge).  But anyway I have faith in the temperature gauge and I’m ready to start the engine back up and see if we still have an overheating problem, or whether either the new cam in the seawater pump or else the new gauge have resolved the issue.

fyi Gordon May’s info on testing engine gauges is extremely well written and valuable advice.  I have uploaded the pdf “GaugeTesting” to my site, so that it still exists when the original post goes away.

Tried to repair delamination; made a mess

There was one remaining area of the cabintop just forward of the hatch over the galley that was  delaminated when we bought the boat, and never got around to fixing it.  My sense was that the delam was not due to water penetration, but rather just a spot where the deck came unglued from the core, and that’s why it wasn’t a top priority on my list.

Since we are currently refinishing the deck, it is time to take care of it now.  I took the hammer around and tapped in a few other spots and found more delamination (big surprise–go looking for a problem on a boat and you are bound to find it).  I took a pencil and the hammer and circled the area that was sounding hollow.  Then I selected a drill bit sized to the syringe that I have for injecting the epoxy, and I drilled a number of holes all over the place in the area.  Then Karen and I mixed up bowl after bowl of epoxy and injected it into the area.  Karen jumped down below to make sure it wasn’t finding a way into the boat, and saw nothing.

The next day I showed up at the boat to discover a cured puddle of resin covering the galley sole, and stalagtites of resin around the hatch above the puddle.  I spent an hour and a half grinding the resin off the floor with the belt sander (36 grit) and another hour and a half chiseling apart the ceiling trim and panels.  Now the floor of our galley has a large spot of ugly bare wood that I need to polyurethane, and I still haven’t successfully fixed the delamination on the deck.  That sucked.

Replaced cam in seawater pump

As mentioned a few posts ago, I pulled the seawater pump off the engine expecting to notice wear on the back plate.  I didn’t find that, but I did notice that the cam appeared worn.  For $50 I got us a new one and installed it.  Haven’t run the engine yet to know if this will help with the overheating.  You tell me, does it look like the old one was that bad?

Refrigeration, pt 5 (FINAL)

Pt 1
Pt 2
Pt 3
Pt 4

I installed gauges in the countertop above the icebox: a thermometer (convenient to have one outside the fridge so you don’t have to open the box to check), a green LED that lights up whenever the compressor is running, a red LED to show faults, and an hourmeter to use in measuring the duty cycle.

Here is the wiring diagram for my system:


Also, here is a pdf for the Danfoss BD50F_compressor.

I did not install the plumbing or the pump for the water-cooled condenser–I’m going to wait to buy that stuff until hotter climates (other projects take priority).  Up in the bay area the air-cooled condenser is more than adequate, and more efficient than running the water-cooled condenser anyway.

The whole box is painted with two coats of Primekote and two coats of Perfection.

The icebox has stayed 32-38 for the past three weeks, so it’s working well.  We have been having some issues with the compressor short-cycling (coming on for two minutes, going off for three, back on, etc).  The situation started to worry me when we started getting the intermittent fault code of three red blinks: indicating “rotor blocked or pressure differential too high”.  I speculate that the compressor was trying to turn on again too quickly–before the pressure differential had sufficient time to equalize through the evaporator plate.  My research on kollman’s forum and the rparts forum tells me that the short-cycling is a result of too much of the thermostat sensor touching the evaporator plate.  I have pulled all but an inch of the sensor tubing off of the plate, coiled up a few inches away from it.  It seems to be working better, but I haven’t got a trustworthy data set yet to be sure.  Aside from that, the box is totally finished:

Replaced batteries in house bank

Two of the old batteries wouldn’t hold a charge, and the other two were low capacity, unfortunately mostly due to neglect (not being kept topped off with water).

The old ones were 4 Rolls-Surrette EIGH 262, each of which is 6V and 262Ah (at the 20hr rate).

The new ones are 4 Rolls-Surrette S460 (pdf datasheet here), each of which is 6V and 350Ah (20 hr rate).  They are marketed to the solar energy crowd, which is why they quote the capacity at 460Ah at a 100hr rate, which just isn’t the way us sailboat people measure it.

The new batteries are exactly the same footprint as the old ones, but about 5 inches taller.  As a result, we had to remove the old battery box and modify it to allow for more headroom (there are things mounted over the batteries close enough to have prevented them from fitting).  I cut out the bottom of the box on the left side and dropped it down, cut side pieces, lightly screwed it together, then jonny glassed over it, then we painted it with a couple coats of Primekote epoxy paint.

Remaining: fabricate new acrylic cover to go over the top (to protect against tools, or the furnace cover, from shorting out on top of the batteries), and add buckles to the webbing straps.

Installed echo charger

The echo charger siphons charge from the house bank to the starting battery, up to 15A.  It follows the voltage of the charging source, and cuts the circuit whenever it is below ~13V (a one-way valve to keep the starting battery from draining, and charged up).

We have a Xantrex Freedom 20 inverter/charger that has a built-in echo charger.  After we installed the starting battery a year ago I wired this up to the starting battery.  However, at some point it stopped working, and it would cost more to pull out the large unit and ship it off to be fixed than to buy a new echo charge ($120).

I mounted the new stand-alone echo charge above the batteries in the engine room; so far it is working as it should.


discovered lumps

While sanding the boat pre-painting, we discovered three lumps (one starboard, two on port) inboard of the shrouds, where the knees underneath are exerting upward pressure on the deck.  No word yet on whether this should be cause for alarm.  Here are some pictures; it’s hard to see.  The blue is where I sanded through the gelcoat on the lump.

repaired jib sheet foot blocks

The jib sheet runs aft to a turning block, turns 180, and leads to the winch.  The last sail we were close-hauled in decent wind and I noticed that the bracket on the port side was bending–starting to rotate forward under the force.  We pulled the brackets from the boat, I fabricated a couple of support struts from the spare sheet of 316 stainless we have, and then I welded them up down at the tech shop.  Jonny shined them up and we’ll put them back on after we paint the deck (hopefully in the next two weeks).

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