House Battery Bank: Should we go 48 Volt?

While we wrote Going 100% electric: the “house” after Going 100% electric: the Motor we had in fact made most of the decisions around the house electrical system before we made the decision that we would go straight to an electric motor instead of the diesel.

Now we are thinking about making a change. The things prompting us to consider a change include:

  • The high cost of 48 volt battery chargers. We do need the option of charging our battery bank when in a marina or harbour (or even ashore in the boatyard). We can imagine spending sometime alongside in winter or even popping every so often just to get the batteries fully charged (the expectation of needing to live in colder climates in Winter is influenced by both Covid and Brexit which might limit our options for where we spend our time).
  • We think our house battery bank has ended up a bit small (4 x 120AH) and so are going to be needing to charge it from the Motor bank (4 x 300AH) quite often.
  • Having two battery banks at different voltages ends up creating quite a lot of extra complication.
  • With one exception (the anchor windlass) we have realised that our 12 volt usage is relatively low (LED lighting, boat instruments, water pumps).
  • While we have specified really thick cabling with big busbars and fuses, it is challenging to power 2 x 2,000 watt inverters from a 12 volt battery bank. The current that we need to safely pass is huge and this is where the vast majority of our house consumption will be (induction hobs, microwave, multi-cooker, watermaker, water heater).
  • We didn’t understand enough about how you can power 12 volt systems from a 48 volt battery bank. We thought they were too inefficient but have now realised that we either incur that inefficiency when charging a 12 volt battery bank from the 48 volt bank for all house uses OR when using a 12 volt house appliance (but not a mains powered item from a 48 volt inverter). The total losses are much smaller if we incur them only as we need the 12 volt power rather than to keep a whole batery bank charged.
  • We deliberately chose 4 batteries for the house bank that had enough output so they could be re-wired to be a 48 volt battery bank for the motor if the main bank failed. However, it would take ages to do. So a bigger 48 volt bank with two sets of 4 batteries wired in series and then the sets connected in parallel gives immediate access.

So a little maths about the issue with power over 12v cables.

P = power in watts (W)
V = voltage in volts (V)
I = current in amps (A)

Power = Current x Voltage or P = I x V

Switching it around we have I = P / V
So 4,000 watts from 12 volts = 4,000 / 12 = 333 Amps
Whereas on a 48 volt system we have 83 Amps

More amps = thicker cables and lots of care to avoid melting connections or high losses.

The disadvantages of changing from a 12 volt hour battery bank

Our current thinking

  • As we install them, we will configure all 8 batteries as a single 48 volt battery bank. This is pretty straightforward.
  • We will sell our unused 2 x 2,000 watt Victron Phoenix inverters (get in touch if you are interested).
  • We will use our Victron Orion 48 volt DC to 12 volt DC converter to power all our 12 volt appliances. We can always add extra Orion’s to run together if we need more power (eg for the electric auto-pilot)
  • It would be very expensive to add enough Orion’s to provide all the 1,500 watts at 12 volts for the windlass. So we will add a 12 volt battery close to the windlass. When the windlass isn’t being used we can charge the battery through the standard 12 volt system.
  • We will add 2 x 48 volt 3,000 watt Victon Multi-plus charger/inverters (2 of them to provide redundancy, we can run appliances with some limitations off one of them).

The Multi-plus inverters are smart. They provide mains power to the boat circuit and they automatically take that power from a shore power connection or if that isn’t available from the battery bank. When connected to shore power they automatically charge the battery bank. Two of them can put a total 70 amps into the battery bank.

We will have a 48 Volt battery bank with a total capacity of 1,680 AH (4 x 300 plus 4 x 120). Suppose we arrive at a marina with it fully depleted (ie down to 10% charge). That means we need to put in 90% of 1,680Ah which is 1,512 AH. At 70 Amps charging we are talking about 21 hours to fully recharge the battery bank (realistically we would expect many marinas to be limited to either 16A or 32A supplies so this will be a lot slower). Gradually we would expect marinas to upgrade their electric supply as the number of electric boats increases.

While there are costs to this change it does simplify a number of things, particularly with cabling and charging. All our charging goes into the one battery bank without having to switch solar panels between banks or do inefficient bank to bank charging.

It gives us much simpler use of the battery capacity as we can choose how we allocate the available power between house and motor. For example if we are not going anywhere and expect some sunny days in a while we can use all the capacity for the house. Or if we are motoring up a river to a marina all the house capacity is available for the motor.

In the long term we would expect more boat appliances to be available in 48 volt versions which will gradually reduce the need for DC to DC converters.

We haven’t made a final decision on this yet, but it does look like we are heading this way at the moment.

The relationship between Convenience and Sustainability

I’ve been thinking about the relationship between these two concepts. Unfortunately, in my view, both concepts have been manipulated by unscrupulous businesses so that they have been undermined. Recently I saw an ad for composting coffee pods that drove that home for me. Coffee Pods have long been marketed as the most convenient way to get real coffee, but sustainable they are not!

The convenience of just dropping a pod into a machine is hard to deny and they have proved popular in homes, offices and conference rooms. However, they demonstrate three really common problems with buying convenience.

  • Price: A lower purchase price for the machine might seem attractive but just as with Inkjet Printers the real cost (and profit for the manufacturers) is in the consumables. I’ve looked at a number of articles and the cost comparison per “espresso” of buying pods is given as between 2.5 and 10 times more than buying roasted beans. Selling something as “Convenient”, almost without exception, means paying more for it.
  • Quality: I have limited experience of pod coffee. A few friends have had them and several places I’ve been for meetings. I’ve tended to prefer the “Mocha” pods as I’ve generally found the plain coffee pods rather bitter to drink black. They seem to attract opinions at both extremes from brilliant to terrible which makes it hard evaluate. Generally it seems to be accepted that the quality is lower than a reasonable automated espresso machine and considerably lower than a crafted espresso. However, it also seems that many people are completely satisfied with the quality.
  • Sustainability: It is very, very hard to say anything positive about using a disposable pod, even if it is compostable. Packaging such a small quantity is always going to be wasteful at every stage of the journey.

Other attempts are being made to improve the sustainability of pods including reusable metal pods. These do impact the taste (a metal filter changes the taste) and they are a lot less convenient (so even worse coffee that isn’t convenient).

This very negative view of convenience works over many different products that have been developed as and sold as “convenient”. However, I want to suggest that it does not need to be true of all moves towards convenience.

My thinking is that for something to be both convenient and sustainable it will need to be developed in a different way. This will affect

  • the leadership: doing more thinking and planning for yourself so the convenience is very customised to your situation
  • the community: solutions developed by and for a community are likely to be more sustainable (not motivated by profit) and more convenient (because they scratch an itch the community finds).
  • the lifespan: something that lasts and can be adapted overtime tends to increase sustainability. By adapting to circumstances it remains convenient.

So sustainable convenience (for me) implies creative work as a community over an extended period of time. An area that I have experience this in over the last couple of decades is Free Software, particularly everything related to Linux. My first encounters and work in free software communities dates back to the late 1980’s (tools for a software development package called Dataflex). Within 6 months of starting our own software business in 1998 we moved all our servers and development computers to Linux. I’ve used Linux exclusively on servers, desktops and laptops ever since. In that time I have contributed (in small ways) to a dozen or so projects and released our own software as free software. Successful free software can be widely used for decades and in that time can make money for multiple individuals and companies while also being great value and game changing for users. As the code never gets lost it can resurface and be repurposed in new ways throughout it’s life.

Applying this in other areas is tougher.

However, there have been many communities supporting each other over the years and more forming around YouTube channels, social media and blogs. We see sharing of ideas, tools and loads of practical help.

Otherwise, I think there is a lot that can be done to subvert the “system”. As one example we think our ideas on Laundry subvert the selling of electric washing machines for boats as essential conveniences while avoiding the issue of microplastics with handwashing. We hope that we can share many other experiences of practices that really make life more convenient without them being sold as “convenient” (Multi-Cookers on boats for stews etc as a safe, quick and energy efficient are one for us). We can find new conveniences (not needing to buy or carry diesel or petrol or gas) that are missed by the profit seeking companies.

To end. We suggest that the quality of life that is possible sustainably is far greater than the quality of life provided by the conveniences needed to allow you to burn up yourself and the planet unsustainably.

More safety from moving to fossil fuel free Sailing

In my post Safe, Sustainable Coffee for sailing? I made the point that using an electric filter coffee machine is safer because you do not have to pour boiling water. Especially you do not have to pour boiling water onto a tower of things resting on each other (eg V60 filter holder balanced on a mug).

What I didn’t emphasise is that this safety aspect is only possible (or at least far easier) with a switch away from fossil fuels. Many yachts are now fitting small inverters to use small mains electric gadgets. However, unless you design a higher capacity system in terms of renewable generation, batteries, wiring, inverters etc and implement it with gimbled surfaces for extra devices you are not going to be able to make the switch to an electric filter coffee machine (unless you run your engine to recharge your batteries a lot).

Unfortunately, there are few good options for making coffee without mains electrical appliances. A moka pot is probably the only option, but you don’t see many people using them with pan clamps to hold them securely on a hob at sea (and very often see them perched quite precariously on pan supports that are designed for much larger pans. Anyway they are not preference for coffee when sailing, I want a longer drink to provide warmth and comfort rather than a quick shot.

The same comes to other cooking options. An electric multi-cooker (on a gimbled tray) seems a lot safer option for cooking a stew or soup at sea (well most one pot meals) than either a pan or a stovetop pressure cooker. The advantages include:

  • they cook at a lower pressure/temperature than a traditional stovetop pressure cooker.
  • there are fewer exposed hot things to touch and handle. An advantage when cooking is done but it also means that unlike a stovetop pressure cooker or pan it can be held down in place not just clamped to avoid sliding. So should be safer in more violent motions.
  • Unlike most pans they have a securely fitted lid and don’t need to be stirred while cooking. Reduces the chance of hot food going flying around the cabin (several examples from the Vendee Globe this year).

While we don’t plan to fill the boat with lots of electric devices for cooking, these two seem to us to have significant safety benefits that have not been widely recognised. The main safety concerns that have been addressed in past regulations mainly relate to gas explosions or burning fuel.

Safe, Sustainable Coffee for sailing?

Planning for live aboard cruising on a sailing boat presents particular challenges for one of the highlights of the day – especially if you are aiming for a sustainable life. Almost everything about the environment of sailing makes coffee a challenge, particularly: Availability, Space, Power, and Safety. Clearly we need to get this sorted because otherwise I’m not fit to be around anyone else 😉

As for our expectations. I love coffee and drink a lot, Jane much less. Although we have both worked in a Café which did include barista work we are by no means coffee snobs, so we don’t have the highest standards or expertise 🙂

At home we do have a big commercial grinder (thanks to some lovely friends). We buy our coffee in bulk from TankCoffee, so get away with keeping longer than ideal to benefit from bulk buying prices by starting with great quality beans. We mostly use a Melitta Look IV Therm Timer Filter Coffee Machine. I guess that illustrates what we look for, so no hotplate (spoils the coffee) but also no manual control of temperature and no sophisticated brew cycle that includes a bloom phase.

At the moment we use a very simple plastic holder for filter paper on the boat (we take coffee we have ground at home). When camping I’ve typically used an AeroPress with a cheap Porlex hand grinder (oh look there is now an improved version II and much higher prices).

If we were to want to make Espresso coffee we would really need to have rather fresher beans than we get away with at the moment.

This video from the amazing James Hoffmann: Coffee, Climate Change & Extinction: A conversation with Dr Aaron Davis at Kew was interesting and highlights some of the challenges to coffee for the long term, meanwhile all we do, so far, is try to buy the most ethical coffee with the least big corporations involved as we can.

Availability: Getting hold of coffee and keeping it presents challenges when you are crossing oceans or cruising in remote areas.

Space: A 38 foot boat, particularly an older design has very limited storage which of course challenges high coffee standards in two key ways:
a) shortage of dry places that keep a nice even temperature for storing the coffee
b) a very small galley without much counter or cupboard space.
So that rules out a lot of coffee appliances.

Power: By sailing yacht standards we do have lots of mains electric power but the capacity is limited. That again puts constraints on the number of electric appliances.

Safety: In this video from Ryan and Sophie the dangers of making coffee on a boat were dramatically illustrated.

Our Coffee Plan

Everyone needs a coffee plan! Running out of coffee would be a very serious situation, and I don’t think the RNLI are ready to help us in this kind of emergency. So this is where we are at.

Initially we plan to stick to buying roasted beans in bulk and grinding them as needed. We should be able to carry enough for 6 months at a time without too much difficulty (we currently use between 1 and 1.5kg a month). For us that is a reasonable sweet spot between long storage between shops, quality and price. Hopefully we can buy in beans in decent quantities in most cities – one city every 6 months sounds reasonable 😉 I admit I’m interested in exploring roasting our own beans in the future. Green Beans potentially last a lot longer (up to a year). Maybe we can fund our retirement by roasting coffee to order for the cruising community 😉

When sailing I’m concerned that we avoid any of the (many) ways of making coffee that involve pouring boiling water or unsealed containers with boiling water in them, or free standing stacks of items that hot liquids are moving though. So that rules out all manual forms of coffee filtering, the AeroPress, French Presses and lots of others.

So it looks like a simple filter coffee machine, like we already have, where you add cold water and it puts the hot coffee straight into a non spill, unbreakable thermos flask. Our plan is to have a gimbled tray which can be used for any appliance (induction hob, coffee machine, multi-cooker) so it should be safe to make coffee when heeled or in waves.

If we add one of the higher quality, higher capacity hand grinders (needs less space, less power), then we should be good to go. These can grind to suit Espresso as well as filter machines.

We already have a number of basic thermos style travel mugs which are definitely more suited to a moving boat and drinking outside.

When it comes to making fancier coffees for use at anchor we can look at one of the manual Espresso machines such as a Flair (no power needs and they fold away for storage). There are also an increasing number of ways to froth milk without the steam wand from an Espresso machine.

I’m sure we will also carry an AeroPress as a reliable backup if the filter machine breaks, just a lot of caveats about safety if using at sea.

I’m not interested in a any of the Pod machines (Nespresso etc), while re-usable pods are now available I’ve not heard good things about the drinks they make. Anyway as I prefer a longer drink (such as a long black) you would have to add hot water to the drink.

Holiday progress day 13: yes more cockpit work

We are getting very close with the cockpit after today.

The epoxy work for the aft cockpit drains is nearly finished. After drying overnight we should have just a few little bits to fill with thickened epoxy to make sure that the lower lip if fully sealed (where it tucks under the old grp lip and flange).

With the lip bits are now fixed in place (to both the cockpit floor and to the drain area) and the area around the white skin fitting filled with epoxy so there should be nowhere for water to collect.

As you may be able to see our resin has gone a bit jelly like and so isn’t mixing as smooth as it was (don’t know if this is shelf-life or temperature or what). We are nearly at the end of a big bottle, so as it seems to still set hard we will use it up on areas where the finish isn’t too important (and hopefully ones not critical to safety).

I have managed to get both of the old drains out ready for new TruDesign skin fittings.

If we can’t finish them this holiday we will simply seal them up for the moment.

We also had a big delivery of shiny bits today (sadly FedEx left only parcel 1 of 2 so not everything).

Here is the PSS Pro dripless seal and the refurbished bronze flange it will fit to.

Here is the Aquadrive (thrust bearing and CVT that allows for the motor to be on a different alignment to the propeller shaft).

Then we have our motor mounts.

This evening we had a really nice socially distanced BBQ on the beach with the members of the NWVYC we cheated slightly as we don’t have a BBQ. So we ran a power extension cable from the boat and setup our Induction Hob on our workmate 🙂 It was very effective 🙂 Anyway it was lovely to see people and chat about boat refits (and other topics were permitted).

Hoping dry weather continues so we can get the cockpit watertight.

Going 100% electric: the “house”

I recently detailed where we are at with the Electric Motor, now for the domestic “House” side.

The House power supply

I have started building the battery box which will sit above the motor and motor batteries in the motor compartment.

We have 4 x 120AH Lithium (LiFePo4) batteries from KS Energy KS-LT120B. These have Bluetooth BMS’ which I have been able to connect to from a Raspberry Pi (so one day will be able to monitor and control from the integrated navigation system). Their high continuous current rating of 160 Amp and 30 seconds surge at 250 Amp means they are easily able to power our inverters. It also means that we could rewire them in series to replace the motor batteries if we needed to.

These batteries are going to be connected in parallel so they act as a 12 volt, 480AH bank. This is one decision we agonised over. An alternative would be to have a 48volt house battery bank (and even have a common battery bank for the motor and house – such as Sailing Uma have). The biggest advantage of a 48 volt system would have been for the inverters. However, there are also disadvantages, particularly if you want to add additional battery capacity (you need to add four 12 volt batteries at a time).

Powerful 12 volt inverters require a lot of current, they therefore need very thick cables and short cable runs. Ours are going to be very short and so on balance we have gone for the simplicity of running everything on the house side at 12 volts.

So our batteries are connected in parallel using a massive 60mm x 6mm tinned copper busbar. We will be using very short 95mm2 cables to connect the batteries to the busbar. All 8 cables will be the same length. This form of connection is one of recommended ways (simplest of them in our opinion) of making sure that the battery use is balanced equally across the batteries.

From the battery box +ve busbar we will have doubled 95mm2 cables to a fuse. Then doubled 95mm2 cables to a shunt (used so that the Victron battery monitor sees everything). Then again doubled 95mm2 cables to the main battery switch. Finally the doubled 95mm2 cables go to a +ve secondary busbar at the forward end of the battery box.

From the battery box -ve busbar we will have doubled 95mm2 cables direct to the -ve secondary busbar at the forward end of the battery box.

The reason for doubling the 95mm2 cables is twofold. First, our inverters could potentially draw more current than one 95mm2 cable can carry. Second, the inverters are very sensitive to any voltage drop over the cable (it can cause fluctuations which can damage the batteries). By doubling the cables and keeping the lengths very short we should avoid both problems.

We will have 4 connections from each secondary busbar. All of them will have circuit breakers or fuses on the positive and all of them will have 95mm2 cables to the circuit breakers/fuses.

  • Inverter 1: a Victron 12V inverter giving up to 2000 watts (95mm2 cable)
  • Inverter 2: a Victron 12V inverter giving up to 2000 watts (95mm2 cable)
  • Lofrans Tigres Horizontal Anchor Windlass windlass 12v connected via 70mm2 cables (thicker than the 50mm2 specified by the manufacturer)
  • Distribution busbar for Main 12volt switch panel (busbars situated above the corridor to the aft cabin, switch panels on the bulkhead above the entrance to the corridor)

The 230volt AC systems

The Victron inverters get connected together into a single mains supply. So we have a 230V 4000watt mains supply via a standard circuit breaker box. The main purpose of having so much 230 volt power is the galley. In the galley we have

  • 2 x single induction hobs (max 2000watts each)
  • Microwave/combination oven/grill (max approx 1000watts)
  • Multi-cooker (max 900watts)

And no doubt we will be adding coffee machine and a few other gadgets.

So we will be able to run any 2 of these devices at full power at the same time (and to be safe we won’t run both hobs on full power at the same time).

Beyond the galley we have

  • 230volt water heater to supply sinks and shower
  • Device like our current laptops which only have 230 volt power connectors.
  • Two wall infrared panel heaters.
  • Power tools (most of them are now cordless but the batteries are charged from 230volts)
  • One day in the future a 230volt watermaker

Our electric outboard motor for the dinghy has a 12volt charger as well as a 230volt one.

4000 watts should be plenty with some simple house rules

  • only one cooking device while using the windlass (why would anyone be cooking when you are either raising or lowering the anchor?)
  • if using two cooking devices then turn off most other mains devices (possibly via the circuit breaker?)

The 12volt DC systems

These are mostly very normal for boats with lights, instruments, electric autopilot (we mainly want to use a windvane anyway), fridge (not planning a freezer), windlass (a lot of current but not for very long).

However, we are also going to be building our navigation, entertainment and office systems around 12volt Raspberry Pi computers and 12 volt screens. This will include WiFi to our phones etc. We will be fitting a hi power/long range 3G/4G antenna that will make it’s connection available via WiFi to everything else.

The Raspberry Pi’s will be used for navigation (we have a touch screen for the cockpit) with OpenCPN as well as for general use (everything from NetFlix to general office to video editing) on a TV screen in the saloon.

We will be using a SignalK server to connect the Raspberry Pi systems to marine instruments (AIS, Radar, WindSpeed/Direction etc). Anyway that is a whole lot of other posts.

Capacity

While it is perfectly ok for us to plan the system so that we can deliver 4000watts for cooking at full power on two hobs or run all these other devices the fact is that we still have a battery bank with limited capacity.

Here we admit there are a lot of unknowns and variables. However, we think that being able to monitor our battery use very accurately will allow us to modify our behaviour to suit the available battery charge (eg no hot showers or minimise cooking power use).

The next key part of the picture is how we recharge our batteries, both house and motor banks). That will have to be a separate blog post.

Holiday progress day 3: being comfortable in a boatyard

First, some good news. All the epoxy work filling the holes yesterday worked better than we dared hope. Everything has hardened nicely, very little slumping. Going to be straightforward to put the fibreglass cloth on both the inside and outside.

As the forecast was for heavy rain from about 11am and as we felt we needed recovery time from yesterday we took today off boat jobs.

So this morning we went for a walk in a part of Anglesey we haven’t been before, apart from some tiny showers the rain held off and we went further than we planned. Absolutely beautiful area of sand dunes.

Then a quick visit to Toolstation in Bangor to collect some more holesaws (finding ones the right sizes for things seems to be an ongoing battle – this time I need a 60mm for the new cockpit drain seacocks).

Then a late lunch of eggy bread 🙂 Although we might have had to eat up some scones with Jam first to keep us going. To keep up the rest and recovery theme an afternoon nap was essential 😉

This evening we had an Aduki bean bake that we had brought from home, first time we have used out combination microwave on oven setting.

All very nice and we have sat in our saloon watching sailing YouTube channels, playing games and doing cross stitch (yeah that last one was Jane only). Meanwhile the wind has changed direction by 180 degrees and it has started to rain.

All this got us thinking about what makes a boat a comfortable space to spend time on in a boatyard. We’ve watched lots of YouTube videos of people in boatyards and so many of them find it an uncomfortable/stressful place to be. We don’t find that, even with all the jobs to do our boat very much is our own home. So what is the difference?

Climate: A lot of YouTube channels are doing boat work in very hot climates and doing dusty jobs in a lot of heat is unpleasant. North Wales isn’t that 🙂 and that is a good thing. We have found our two electric wall panel heaters, occasionally boosted with a fan heater and supported by a thick duvet have meant we have been comfortable here all year round. So an electric supply is really important.

Sleeping cabin: Having our aft cabin well separated from the saloon really helps with comfort, we can have a permanent bed and it isn’t affected by many of the jobs. One of us can be asleep while the other is active in the saloon and we don’t get disturbed.

Ladder: Obviously this is more difficult when you are not in your home boatyard but a really good ladder makes such a difference to your comfort. You will need to carry lots of stuff up and down. You will be using it in the dark and in the rain. It amazes me the ramshackle things that people use despite keeping their boat close to home and in the same boatyard every year. We have an aluminium double extending ladder, we have had it for around 30 years. We don’t have to extend it for Vida so every step is a double tread. We have a dedicated line for tying it on securely, a cloth to protect the side of the boat and we lock it up with a u-lock. All basic stuff but it makes life much easier.

Composting Toilet: A huge comfort advantage is a comfy composting toilet. No need to get dressed, go out in the rain and dark to boatyard or clubhouse toilets. Can go several days without needing to empty anything (with two urine containers we are basically good for a week). We get a toilet we can use that doesn’t smell compared to the boats with a sea toilet and holding tank who get the smell without the use.

Bucket sink drain: Ok in one sense so we only have this because we haven’t finished the plumbing yet. But our galley sink drains into a standard B&Q plastic bucket. It is easy to take outside and empty so we can use the sinks as normal.

Bike bottle taps: Ok so again we don’t have plumbing yet. But also, like many others our boatyard doesn’t have much water supply (one tap in our half of the yard and you need tokens to get water). So we are reusing 2 litre water bottles (easy to carry up ladders as they are not heavy) and during COVID we can bring water from home to save using shared facilities. Instead of a tap we use a cycling water bottle, leave the nozzle open, tip up and squeeze.

Solid wheelhouse: the combination of a centre cockpit (which is why we have that great aft cabin) and a wheelhouse with solid roof and glass windscreen is great. We have a removable heavy canvas back (and this is going to be much improved with some zips for easier access). It means we have a dry space to store stuff for projects without cluttering the cabin. It means whatever the weather we can have the main hatch open for ventilation if we want, we can get in and out without hanging around in the rain. When arriving or leaving it acts as a convenient dry staging post for all our bags (pass them all out to the cockpit, then pass them all down – saves a lot of climbing).

Electric cooking: We are using a single induction hob, a combination microwave (microwave, grill and oven) and electric multi-cooker (mostly used as an electric pressure cooker. We get far less moisture in the air than cooking with calor gas, it doesn’t require bottles to be changed (and taps to be turned off for safety), it is much faster to cook with.

Windows and hatches that don’t leak: We are in North Wales after all 🙂

What would I change/improve? Well, given that we are still in the middle of a full refit there are lots of things still on the jobs list. For living in the boat yard the ones I’m looking forward to are:

  • Zipper access through the wheelhouse rear cover
  • Doing the wiring so that we have permanently fitted lights (we have camping LED strip lights, they work but we are going to have better)
  • sort out the creaking floor boards
  • properly fit the insulation and headlining in our sleeping cabin before winter.

Holiday progress day 1

We like cheating how long a holiday feels by being able to leave the evening before. So I was working on Sunday but we were able to leave by 7pm. We were fortunate to beat the rain and get the van basically unpacked (food, clothing) and carried onto the boat before the rain arrived.

So we were able to start our holiday this morning with a nice long lie in, instead of having to drive and unpack here.

It rained pretty constantly until about 3pm but only showers since. So not worth starting on the outside jobs on the hull.

Instead we tackled some of the jobs in the corridor to the aft cabin.

We have cut away the remains of a fuel tank support, removed the last the the old bulkhead to the engine compartment, then we have cleaned and sanded it. This has given access to the outside edge of the starboard engine bearer which had acted as a dirt trap. We have scrubbed it and left it soaking with some bilge cleaner.

I’ve also put some temporary supports under the floor bearers.

So this is nearly ready for painting. Meanwhile the corridor floor is now screwed down so much quieter walking to our cabin.

It does make it clear that we are going to gain quite a lot of floor width in the corridor which will make the route to the aft cabin a lot more pleasant, especially when the boat is heeled over.

So we have now had our meal. As this photo shows we fall a long way short of trendy 🙂

Was too hungry to take a picture before eating 🙂 We had jacket sweet potato with cauliflower, falafel and a tomato sauce. Followed by scones and blackcurrant jam. With a glass of red wine.

Think we will now take advantage of a gap in the rain to go for a short walk.

Cabin Refurbishment: Part 4 Layout

Continuing from Cabin Refurbishment: Part 3 Interior Theme and Style

Plans so far (layout and technical)

We really love the overall layout of Vida with the small, safe, protected centre cockpit that allows for an aft cabin accessible from the main cabin and two heads compartments.

However, there are a number of ways we want to tweak the layout, for long term live-aboard cruising. A lot of these tweaks come from the benefits of switching to zero fossil fuels, we gain useable space in a number of places. For example:

  • Our cockpit locker now has more that twice the volume (removed diesel fuel tank, paraffin heater and tank, 4 x 12volt battery, water heater, water pump, fridge compressor)
  • We have gained an aft lazarette that used to be mostly filled by the gas bottles.
  • The corridor to the aft cabin is now wider on both sides (electric motor is smaller and doesn’t need the same sound and fire protection; diesel fuel tank removed)
  • The heads compartments don’t have to leave space for and access to 3 seacocks each, we are having much smaller wash basins too (although we are adding small waste water tanks and the composting toilets are a bit larger).

The original layout was rather “optimised” to sell the idea that you could have 8 berths (2 aft cabin, 2 forecabin, double using the saloon U-settee and infill, starboard settee with pilot berth above) and have all 8 sit around the table for a meal.

However, there was never going to be enough space for 8 people’s belongings (especially if they wanted you to have some food for them). Sitting 8 around the table would mean constant climbing over each other for access.

Our plan is to optimise for us as a couple living aboard with the capacity to have two guests for extended periods. In harbour we would use the aft and forecabins for sleeping, each with en-suite heads. Neither of these cabins is suited to use at sea, there the most comfortable place to sleep is a single bunk, in the middle of the boat, with a good lee cloth to stop you falling out. So we are planning for a minimum of one person on watch and so will need 3 sea berths.

That would give us the potential to have a few extra guests, for shorter visits, when in harbour or for shorter passages in good weather.

So here are some of the ideas we have at present.

We have already shared our ideas to remodel the aft cabin to make better use of the space, improving the way into the aft heads, providing a comfortable seat and easier climbing onto the bed, plus better insulation and more practical storage. We have now realised we can grab a little more space from the engine compartment from what was used to avoid siphoning with the exhaust.

I recently wrote about our plans for extending the galley. We plan for a under counter front opening fridge (where the gas oven used to be), for a microwave combo oven above and back from the induction hob. The induction hob to be gimbled but with the option to swap it for the Instant Pot or coffee machine so they can be used gimbled instead. In harbour we will be able to bring out the spare induction hob for more adventurous cooking (we think that having two individual induction hobs is a much better option than a one double hob).

We are pretty sure we want to change the chart table area quite a lot. Part of the goal will be to make the corridor to the aft cabin a bit wider as well as providing good storage (possibly large stuff such as bikes, or a watermaker, or for extra solar panels when they are not in use, or …). If we can make it work, we would like to rotate the chart table itself so that instead of sitting on a folding seat facing outwards (which blocks the corridor) you sit facing forwards. That would give somewhere that you could sit at when on watch keeping an eye on the instruments without disturbing someone asleep on the saloon sea berth.

We have an idea to turn the corridor access to the aft cabin into a single quarter berth when on passage. So essentially a pipe cot/fold down bed that you get out whenever on passage. That would provide a really secure, comfy bed in a place with little motion and easy access to the chart-table. When there are just two of us that leaves the saloon for seating/dressing etc. If we have extra crew we then have 3 sea berths without needing to have the double decker option at the saloon settee. This is only attractive because you will no longer be sandwiched between a noisy/smelly diesel engine and a smelly diesel fuel tank.

We have been exploring different options for the forecabin after we have done all the practical work to improve anchoring. One option is to keep it mostly the same, but improve it for use as a guest double cabin. The key challenges there are the height to climb into bed when it is setup as a double and the way the doors work for the heads.

The second option is to more drastically strip it out so that it functions better as a store/workshop with the option for one or two guest single berths that fold away when not in use.

Our heads compartments will both be laid out very differently, in large part, due to the composting toilets being a little larger but needing no plumbing connections. We have glass washing bowls to sit on top of worktops, so we are going to be very trendy, because they were the cheapest option at B&Q 😉 We want a very easy to clean, spacious feel rather than lots of little cabinets. As we have moved increasingly to plastic free bathroom products, you need far less space for stuff anyway.

In the forward heads we are determined to make the shower easy, comfortable and welcoming to use. We will also add an outside shower but we are British and living in Manchester so an outside shower is currently beyond our emotional imaginations capacity. A key to this will be to change the complicated multiway doors around the forward head in some way that will also replace the hopeless sliding door to the main cabin with something easier to use

We have already changed the saloon from having a big central table, the new table leg allows a table to be moved around so access is much easier. Eventually we will have a tabletop that opens out if needed. We can also use the same table and leg in the cockpit for al-fresco dining. We will make it so the U-shaped seating area can become a 2nd single sea berth.

We didn’t like the way the main settee backrest hinged up to make “bunk beds”. The lower bunk was very nice (but you couldn’t sit up in it) but it was very difficult to climb up into the upper berth. A side effect was that the settee was too deep for normal length legs 🙂 So we will add a more comfortably positioned backrest that moves right out of the way.

We really don’t like the storage in the saloon area. Every cupboard door and opening is a different size and none of them line up (which is not what is shown in the construction drawings). Many of them are so deep that you have to empty them to reach things at the bottom. So one day this will be simplified making the space look larger while being more useful.

Phew! It sounds a lot. Fortunately we won’t be doing this all at once, nor are we in any rush. These jobs will be spread over years while we are still working and using the boat for weekends and holidays. While there will always be much less volume than a modern 38 foot yacht we are very happy that we will have plenty for our needs and all in a boat design that is proven, trusted and affordable.

Cabin Refurbishment: Part 2 Approaches

Continuing from Cabin Refurbishment: Part 1 the story so far and what is delaying us.

I’m going to generalise and say there are four main approaches to the interior of older yachts.

The Minimal: don’t change anything, don’t fix anything that isn’t a problem for you. Probably coupled with gradually reducing expectations of where you will go. This is where Vida had been for a number of years which included 2 years out of the water. Inside the layout and furnishings were essentially original with nearly all original equipment some of which didn’t work and some of which had become dangerous (eg gas installation, paraffin heater and especially it’s jerrycan). As is obvious from the speed we have taken stuff out this is clearly not something we are comfortable given our goal of preparing the boat for a live-aboard retirement.

The Restoration: There are lots of people who do this absolutely beautifully, spending hours and hours sanding and varnishing the interior woodwork, replacing like for like with beautiful care so you can’t see the joins. This is not us either, partly because we don’t really like that traditional look of so much dark wood, partly because we want to be sailing not sanding and varnishing, partly because we think things have moved on from what was a traditional yacht in the 1970’s.

The Functional: Do what is needed, very often on a low budget, so that you can get sailing. Often something by younger people who take on a project boat. Whilst Vida is definitely a “project” boat we are not yet ready to go off live-aboard cruising (which is what we see for a few years time in retirement) so we have time to do things to a more comfortable standard befitting our advanced years 😉

The Radical: a complete refit including remodelling and modernising. Obviously we are doing this on the technical side (composting toilets, removing seacocks, fossil fuel free etc). Clearly this can be done to a wide variety of standards from exquisite to utilitarian. Our preferences are more to the pragmatic and functional end of the spectrum. We are not interested in a wow factor of beautiful joinery or a “luxury” presentation so much as everything working awesomely and being very low on maintenance.

Obviously, these are very simplistic generalisations and most people will combine the different options for different parts of the boat (a forecabin might get ignored for a long time unless it is where you sleep in which case it might be first priority.

We choose to put ourselves towards the more extreme end of “The Radical” approach for a number of reasons.

  • It makes the technical stuff easier and quicker if we are not trying to make restoration as easy as possible. We save ourselves a lot of effort if we can remove things to improve access without worrying about restoring them or keeping it functional while the work is happening (so for example it hasn’t been an issue for us to have 9 or more holes in the bottom for months and months)
  • by spending some money we can save a whole lot of time (eg by buying new sinks for a new worktop rather than trying to rescue the old ones), our present lives mean we are quite time poor at present.
  • We believe that expectations and products have changed a great deal in the last 40 years. Examples include
    • what we expect to cook and eat when sailing or living aboard. Making a cup of tea or instant coffee and adding water to dehydrated food is only expected by weight watching racers. We want real food and given that our diet is almost entirely meat free we want to be able to prepare meals from fresh ingredients wherever possible. Our budget and anchorage preferences means we want and expect to cook ourselves nearly all the time rather than eat at restaurants. This affects storage, food preparation areas and galley equipment.0
    • Navigation, communications and entertainment are a whole different world with significant impacts on every part of the interior (the Internet, mobile phones, batteries, electronic charts, LED’s, TV’s, video etc)
    • Our expectations of comfort (warmth, dryness, depth of mattress, materials, ventilation)
    • Where people expect to cruise to. Yes the world but also the North West Passage was impossible for a yacht and many places would not have occurred to ordinary people, they were for the amazing adventurers only. So now we can watch people going to Greenland or the Norwegian Arctic Circle and think we could do the same.

What we are still realising is that our approach means that when we think of refurbishing the interior we are actually looking at rather more radical re-workings of the space than we had expected or realised. That seems a good place to finish this post and leave you hanging on for part 3 🙂

Continued in Cabin Refurbishment: Part 3 Interior Theme and Style