Short and Longer term plans for Instruments, Navigation, Communications, Safety

True to form we are going to be ripping out all the original instruments, after 44 years they are all well past their useful life. Both the speed and depth sensors used holes in the hull (and we are determined to minimise holes!). Nothing is connected to anything else and their were no updates to technologies such as DSC on the VHF radio (allows private direct calls between radios), AIS (potential to receive and transmit details of your boat, location, speed and direction for warnings of potential collisions), or GPS (position). Even the compass has problems as it’s light doesn’t work and there is air inside it instead of oil.

Later we need to get onto other essentials such as navigation lights, as the current ones are all either broken or very UV damaged and none of then are LED.

When thinking about instruments and navigation there are almost an infinite number of options available and the choice can be bewildering. Hence, a very common choice is to fully equip with a range of sensors and multi-function displays from a single manufacturer connected using (for new systems) NMEA 2000 (a wiring and data standard). However, this is way beyond our budget (probably by at least an order of magnitude). The biggest names supplying everything are B&G, Raymarine and Garmin.

Obviously, there are significant advantages in buying a complete set of instruments, and electronics from one company. Principally it should all connect and integrate seamlessly. Installation should be simpler and the learning curve should be reduced.

However, there are disadvantages besides the cost.

  • With a fully integrated system you can only see the output from a sensor (for example the depth) if the sensor, the network, the system cpu and a multifunction display are all powered and working. That is a lot of potential points of failure and potentially a lot of power consumption.
  • Another disadvantage is the extent to which you get locked (literally or emotionally) into a single ecosystem. That means when you decide to add something new (for example connecting to the boat systems using your phone over the Internet) you might find yourself waiting for the one supplier to add this feature or unlock it for others to connect to.
  • Until you start connecting items from other manufacturers you can never be quite sure how standards compliant the system is. So if a sensor breaks do you buy what is available locally or wait until you can get something from the same manufacturer?

At the other end of scale are the cheap but not connected products. For example you can have  standalone depth sounder (sensor and display), a GPS, a VHF radio with AIS that doesn’t share the data with anything else.

In the middle are options to buy individual items that can be connected using a standard interface (most commonly now NMEA 2000). This way you can start with specific paired sensors and displays (such as wind speed and direction) that can later be connected to other things. With some skill and luck you can mix and match from different manufacturers.

Once you have fully integrated instruments and navigation you can have a big chart plotter screen that doesn’t just show the chart and your position but adds radar overlays and AIS targets and predictions based on wind speed/direction (current as well as forecast), even camera views can be added. But at this point you have gone beyond the data speed/capacity of NMEA and are needing to look at using WiFi.

That brings us to some leading edge developments that are starting to bring in new competition and disrupt the marketplace. Principally Bluetooth LE, WiFi, 4G and solar.

An obvious example is to have a solar powered, wireless wind sensor for the top of the mast. This is potentially much simpler and more reliable than running data and power cables in the mast. The traditional companies now have these. However, they typically wirelessly connect with a proprietary protocol to a little black box that is physically connected to the NMEA 2000 network. As far as the rest of the system is concerned it appears exactly the same as a wired sensor. An alternative is skip a few technological steps and use other standards, such as Bluetooth. This means you can have a solar powered, wireless wind sensor that connects directly to your phone which displays the data using your choice of app. No NMEA network, no other devices needed.

Also there are more options than just the proprietary NMEA standard. For example there are black boxes available that connect to NMEA 2000 and make the data available over open Internet standards (both WiFi and wired). The Bluetooth sensor companies are also adding black boxes that connect their devices to NMEA.

Another development is to bring the Internet culture of Open Standards and Free Software, that can run on a variety of different hardware, to the marine instrument and navigation arena. Two notable examples are SignalK (an open standard that replaces NMEA and runs on Internet standards) and OpenCPN which is a free/open navigation tool (runs on many operating systems and also phones).

At this point these are not really mature consumer options, they require a fair bit of DIY (potentially to the level of soldering circuit boards), some familiarity with system setup & administration and even programming.

Given the constraints of our budget and time, the lack of anything to build upon, we have decided to get afloat with the things we see as essential, have them mostly standalone with goals of low cost, reliability, simplicity, low power consumption and the ability to add more DIY functionality later.

Instruments

Compass: New bulkhead compass to replace the original “Big Ben”. Not connected to anything but a light (at the end of the day a compass, a watch, a sextant and paper charts make a safe fallback situation that should be available even after a lightning strike)

Depth: Our first choice would be an in hull depth sensor (no hole in the boat needed) with a dedicated screen (with features such as a shallow water alarm) plus interconnection potential so that in the future  we could check the depth on our phones while ashore (in case we have miscalculated the tides and we are about to go aground, could also be that the wind changed and blew you into shallower water). Unfortunately, I haven’t found this combination so we will probably go for the Nasa Clipper Depth (approx £130) which doesn’t have any connectivity options at the moment.

Wind Speed and Direction: We want a wind instrument that uses a solar powered, wireless sensor at the top of the mast – that means one less wire in the mast, and one less hole in the deck to leak (hence a much simpler installation). This eliminates one of the most common causes of problems (the wire or the connections) and must surely reduce the chance of lightning taking out all your instruments. We want it’s own dedicated display for installation simplicity and to increase reliability by keeping the number of points of failure down. However, we also want the option to be able to connect it to other devices in the future. That allows better information on the chart plotter. Much more than that, by connecting NMEA to our Raspberry Pi systems (probably via SignalK) we can connect phones locally using wifi and remotely via 4g over the Internet. Not only does that let you to display things on your phone such as a graph of wind direction and speed over say 24 hours, but it also lets you pick that up while the boat is anchored and you are shopping. Then you can see if there might be a problem coming (is there a wind increase that will make it harder to get back in the dinghy? Or might your drying laundry be about to blow away?). The Clipper Wireless Wind (True) looks a good initial option (but only Nasa themselves seem to be selling the True wind version at the moment at £373) . While we would not have the true wind display initially, it would be available once we connect it to NMEA with a GPS device also connected. An alternative would be the innovative OpenWind.de solar, Bluetooth LE but it is over £100 more and we would have to use a phone as the display until we have a connected computer display.

No speed: We are not going to have any measure of speed through the water. It always requires a hole in the boat so we are ruling it out. We will rely on GPS (and there are going to be multiple GPS systems). These can now use multiple satellite systems which improves reliability. They don’t allow us to directly see the effect of tide or current but we feel this is something we can live with for reliability (the paddle wheels used in the ones we could afford are vulnerable to damage and growth) and safety (look at the Sailing Zingaro where he nearly sank his Oyster because the speed sensor leaked and note that he should have also had a working bilge water alarm and automatic bilge pump as we already have ready to install).

Navigation

Initially we are going to use our phones and Android tablet. There are plenty of apps that we can use. I’d like to start with OpenCPN which is what we eventually plan to run on Raspberry Pi computers.

While I have most of the stuff to setup the Raspberry Pi navigation system (and there will be lots to write about that in the future) I doubt I will have time before our first launch. Maybe it will be a project whilst we are out sailing on my sabbatical – but I don’t want it to be something we rely on without a lot more time to develop and test it. Even then I’m not planning to have it as the only way to view instruments or navigate – just too risky.

In the long term though the plan is for a “chartplotter” in the cockpit that can be seen and controlled when steering. It will be powered by a Raspberry Pi 4 below decks controlling a 15.6″ touch screen (with the option of bringing out a wireless keyboard and mouse in suitable conditions). This will display a chart with the boat position and AIS overlay. So it will be used primarily for live navigation.

We will have another Raspberry Pi 4 below, using a 21″ TV as it’s display (again a wireless keyboard and mouse). This will be able to function as a chartplotter (principally for planning, backup and keeping an eye on things when nipping below when on watch). It will also run our entertainment, office and editing software. We will have a 3rd system (with a more basic screen) pre-configured and up-to-date that will be wrapped with a battery in multiple layers of foil and plastic that will act as a Faraday cage so that it should survive a lightning strike.

Communications

We do have a basic handheld VHF radio which we will keep for emergencies and dinghy to boat communications (bit with mobile phones likely to be the preferred option if there is a signal).

We will add a fixed VHF radio with DSC and a new aerial. Possibly something like a basic ICOM IC-M330GE for around £200

We will setup a WiFi network for the boat and eventually we would like to add a full 4G mobile connection to that using big aerials to pick up a mobile phone signal several miles offshore.

Safety

AIS: We will install a minimum of a full Class B AIS system that both transmits and receives. We are looking for models from Digital Yacht that provide a WiFi interface (simplest for both our Android devices and Raspberry Pi’s). So at the budget end an iAISTX for £522.00

I think that if we upgraded to the iAISTX plus version (£642) which has an NMEA interface then it should be possible to connect the AIS to the VHF DSC system allowing you to pick a target and directly connect to them on the VHF using DSC. So if the AIS tells you that a ship will collide with you 5 miles ahead then you can call them to ask what they plan to do about it. Without this you can find the call details on the AIS and manually put them into the VHF (tricky if it is rough and you are stressed/tired and the wind is changing etc).

If we could afford it I would like the Digital Yacht Class B+ device as it transmits at twice the power. Hence, we would be detected by ships at a much greater range than 8 to 10 miles as well as more reliably in very busy areas with lots of signals. However, the AIT5000 with WiFi is £1,074.

Whichever AIS we get, we will add a Man Overboard alarm and Man Overboard devices to our life jackets. That means if we fall into the water an alarm automatically goes off on our boat (and any others within range) and the chartplotter will show the position of the person in the water so that you can find them again.

The AIS will probably use an aerial splitter so that it can share the aerial with the VHF radio.

Radar: For the foreseeable future radar will remain on our “would be nice to have” list. Cost is approaching £2,000 for the radar dome, mounting bracket etc. OpenCPN already includes support for a growing number of Radars so you can see the radar scan on top of the chart (makes it easier to work out if the radar image is showing land, rain, a ship or a buoy). For collision avoidance we think AIS is much cheaper, it gives much more accurate and detailed information, however not all vessels have it. Radar is great for fog, rain squalls and navigation in busy waters at night. Radar is much better for detecting fishing boats (who frequently don’t want to advertise their position on AIS).

At first launch

So we will have the following before we launch:

  • Compass
  • Depth with dedicated display
  • Apparent Wind speed and direction with dedicated display
  • 2 phones and a tablet all with chartplotter software and charts (with waterproof cockpit mounts and USB charging)
  • AIS class B (displaying on the phones and tablet) with MOB alarm
  • AIR MOB transmitters for our life jackets
  • VHF radio

Medium term

  • connect the devices that support it, with NMEA 2000 (gives true wind on the Clipper Wind, AIS integration with the Radio (including MOB support)
  • Raspberry Pi 4 powered chartplotter in the cockpit
  • Raspberry Pi 4 powered chartplotter, office and entertainment in the saloon
  • Spare Raspberry Pi system in Faraday cage

Long Term

  • Long range 4g connection for the whole boats WiFi
  • Additional sensors and monitoring through a web interface on all our devices anywhere as long as boat and we have an internet connection (battery state, solar, motor temperature, tanks levels, bilge pump alarms, lots of environment data such as temperature and humidity etc)
  • Mast mounted forward looking camera with night vision for watch keeping
  • Security cameras
  • Radar
  • Long range WiFi connection for the whole boat (as free WiFi comes to more places)
  • Extra Raspberry Pi powered screen in the cockpit for a customised dashboard next to the chart (wind, depth, battery, solar, cameras, AIS text).
  • Automation (alerts to phones, full management of solar power including control of dump power – eg heat water, run dehumidifier, electric blankets, boat heating)
  • Add PyPilot software to control original electric autopilot motor

That should be enough to keep us going for a while and also plenty to spend our entire living budget for several years  – which gives an idea of how much of it will happen 🙂

Fitted our dehumidifier, an Ecor Pro Dryfan DH1200 INOX

I’ve fitted our dehumidifier. We bought it during lockdown.

It is all stainless steel and capable of removing 10 litres of water per day at 27°C. It has a built-in humidistat and is set to only come on if the humidity is outside the desired range (can be set to on or off or between 10% and 90%).

We figure it should keep the inside of the boat very nice in the boatyard. However, what we really hope is that we can extend the life of electronics, clothes and food if we can keep the boat drier while cruising. You don’t have to save all that many things from mould, mildew or corrosion to recover the £640 purchase price.

It does give off warm dry air (a nice feature normally in the UK, less so in the tropics) into the cabin. The “waste” is warm damp air (like a tumble drier). We have chosen to have this blow into the cockpit, at least for the moment, hoping this minimises the chance of sea water getting into it.

We will see how well it works, I’m tempted to put one in the forward heads where we will shower and dry clothes.

DIY Washing Machine for Sailing

There are some things that (nearly) all Sailing Channels on YouTube have in common. One is the significant costs in time, money and hassle of maintaining Diesel Engines. Another is the pain of laundry, that is one I want to look at again.

I’m going to group the approaches to laundry into three categories: Electric Washing Machine; Laundromat; Handwashing.

All these have problems.

Electric Washing machines:

  • Purchase cost
  • High power requirements (almost certainly going to require a generator)
  • High water requirements (almost certainly going t require a watermaker)
  • Large space required
  • Not designed for a marine environment so don’t last very well
  • Potential to fit a filter to catch microplastics

Laundromat:

Well summed up in this video from Ryan and Sophie:

  • Quite expensive
  • Very time-consuming
  • Requires access to large enough town (in much of Europe now only common in marinas)
  • Unlikely to have filters to catch microplastics

Handwashing

  • Available everywhere (but not attractive in a cold/wet climates)
  • Drying laundry is a real challenge anywhere apart from the tropics
  • Unlikely to have anyway to filter out microplastics

Our approach

In the past we have considered a WonderWash, but at the moment getting one in the UK seems almost impossible (most sellers specifically not exporting to the UK, others might but shipping would double the cost).

There are a number of washing machines being marketed at campers, however, they look very flimsy.

So we plan to build our own, very simple and very robust washing machine. We will start with a watertight plastic key such as this from Solent Plastics

If we make a frame so that it can be rotated with a handle then it is just a matter of putting in the washing, some water and some form of reef safe detergent, then rotating it. We would need a keg large enough for the largest thing we need to wash (our duvet cover). We can use it to store our dirty clothes when we are not doing the washing. When clothes have been washed, all we need is a large funnel into a microplastic filter and we can pour the water away without dumping microplastics directly into the sea.

A side benefit is that we can easily use the same system to wash plastics before shredding them as part of our plastic recycling.

Drying. We think we need the combination of 3 things to be able to dry washing whatever the climate.

Spin dryer: However, you end up getting laundry to fully dry it is much faster if you first use a spin dryer. We haven’t seen a really effective human powered spin dryer. So we think a mains electric spin dryer is the best option. There are not very large and they spin out most of the water (which is easy to collect to pour through the microplastic filter).

Obviously in a suitable climate the simplest option is to hang laundry outside dry. That is not possible all year round in the UK and many places. So to allow drying inside we plan the combination of heating and dehumidifying.

We will have a dehumidifier in the motor room. We wrote about this in Sustaining Electrics and are still planning for something like an Ecor Pro Dryboat 12. Running this should help ensure that laundry dries quickly and without causing damp throughout the boat.

When we need heating it will be via a Refleks diesel heater that will not just provide direct heat but also distribute hot water through radiators. This is a dry heat which is important, we don’t want to introduce more damp into the air. We will have a radiator in our forward head with the shower drip tray and plenty of hanging space for our washing so that it can dry reasonably quickly. The water from the shower (like all our grey water) will go through a microplastic filter before leaving the boat. Obviously having a shower won’t be possible while laundry is drying and access to the forecabin will be inconvenient. However, while there are just the two of us we can use the en-suite heads in the aft cabin and so it won’t be a problem.

Summary:

We think the combination of a diy manual washing “machine”, a mains electric spin dryer, a dehumidifier and radiator heating will

  • be cheap to buy, install and maintain.
  • be good for collecting microplastic
  • be a good combination of low hassle and low cost laundry
  • take little space and not use much electricity or water
  • provide a good basis for washing plastic for recycling
  • work in a wide variety of climates and weathers
  • allow us to be off-grid for long periods of time

Our Scandinavian challenges part 2

In Our Scandinavian challenges part 1 I covered the time/permission complications of getting to spend time in the fantastically beautiful (and remote) parts of Scandinavia and the Baltic given the impact of Brexit.

I ended with “In part 2 I’ll look at the other key challenges these cruising grounds have for us (particularly heating and renewable energy).” so here we are.

We are not (definitely not!!!!) planning to spend winters where the sea freezes unlike some of those crazy YouTubers I linked to in the last post 🙂 However, we are going to be spending time where some heating is going to be needed, whether that means wintering in the UK or being further north in the Spring or Autumn (either heading towards to back from a summer in or close to the Arctic). As we are going to be living aboard full-time in or retirement we want to give ourselves as many options as possible.

It should be no surprise that when it gets cold an electric boat that is aiming to have zero fossil fuels gets hit by a double whammy.

If the weather is cold enough to need heating then it is almost certain that you will get very little energy from solar panels (even on those bright sunny winter days the sun isn’t very high in the sky for very long).

If it is cold then you are going to need to heat the boat and all forms of electric heating use a lot of electrical power. Plus of course we tend to prefer hot food and drinks when it is cold and on a n electric boat that too will use lots of power.

So we generate less power but need more power. Ouch.

If we stick with a zero fossil fuels target then there are a number of options to help out but no magic solution:

  • Sail the boat to somewhere warmer 🙂 Given Schengen I suspect Turkey, Croatia, Cyprus and Algeria will be more popular for UK cruisers than they used to be. But the weather in the Mediterranean is no picnic, if anchoring you can end up moving often to find shelter from different wind directions. Winds can be very strong coupled with large waves that might come from a different direction. Another option is to go further south for example to the Cape Verde Islands, but then you could continue across the Atlantic to the best season in the Caribbean 🙂 But we do want the option to be able to winter in the UK so that we can visit family and friends.
  • Insulate the boat better. This is an obvious improvement that miraculously helps in both hot and cold climates 🙂 We have been working on going from zero insulation to a minimum of 10mm closed cell foam. See here for our first attempt to fit the foam – it didn’t stay up. Next plan is here but probably we will put more layers of foam to increase this to at least 20mm and reckon the purchase cost will be worth it in increased comfort and reduced energy use.
  • Heat locally. So rather than heat the whole boat do so in zones (we already have not heated the forecabin at all, in very cold conditions we could close off the aft cabin and stay in the saloon) and also use thicker duvets, heated blankets and hot water bottles (yes we won’t use a hot water bottle with an electric blanket!!) to avoid heating the cabin as much.

However, these are not going to be enough when it gets very cold.

We do have electric heaters (both wall panels and fan heaters). I think we will try some of the low power “greenhouse” style tube heaters under the bunks. That will give us 3 options to compare for warmth, control, comfort and energy use.

Despite all these efforts we are sure that in winter, despite all our solar, we will consume a lot more battery power than we can generate.

That leaves us with two more avenues to pursue. a) what other options are there to recharge the batteries b) what else can we do to make the battery bank capacity last longer.

What other options are there to recharge the batteries

One strategy that solves the problem is to spend time connected to shore-power. We have seen many cruisers on YouTube spend the winter in Marinas (Salty Lasses, Uma, MJ Sailing, Sailing Fair Isle are all examples). This way you get a permanent connection to mains electric. You can keep your batteries charged, have all your electric heaters running and stay warm.

But there are disadvantages. In the UK this quickly becomes costly (a winter marina berth for us will range from maybe about £1,500 for 4 months to £2,500 for up to 6 months that without going to the more expensive parts of the country where £800 a month would be a starting point). More than just the cost is that we want to live aboard our boat so that we can go sailing not sit in a marina for half the year.

So we want to explore options where we extend the time we can manage on batteries and go into marinas/harbours for a night every so often to get the batteries fully charged (and maybe have groceries delivered). It looks like we could expect to pay up to about £40 a night. One option would be to spend a winter along the South coast of Cornwall and Devon. There is beautiful sailing along that coast, lovely harbours, rivers and towns to visit. There are very lots of rivers with good shelter and many where you can anchor (eg Helford, Fal, Percuil, Fowey, Tamar, Yealm, Dart). Then you have a wide choice of marinas and harbours when you need to charge the batteries. If we can keep that under 10 days a month in marinas then not only do we get the sailing and beautiful views we also save money.

One obvious strategy will be to invest in wind generators, given that cold and windy weather often come together. They work out at between £1K and £2.4K per generator (remember we need 48volt ones). Calculating how much difference this can make is difficult, it depends how sheltered a spot you find and the weather conditions. We have a few options for where we might install one or more wind generators. It is important that we don’t end up casting shade onto our solar panels from the wind generators as that would have a dramatic impact on the solar performance. Also, as with the solar panels I would prefer to be able to take them down and inside if we are expecting a storm. If the demountable option works well then potentially we could have a position at the side of the mizzen mast that could be used when sailing. Then we would only put them wind generators up when the gain will be greater than the loss in solar due to shading.

As a starting point I’m thinking one wind generator using a demountable pole fitting towards the bow. With that we would only have the wind generator up while at anchor and it would be as far away from the solar panels and where we sleep as possible so that neither the shade nor the noise will be a problem. That will let us properly evaluate how much difference it makes. If we think it is enough then we could explore other options.

With our ketch rig the only option for that won’t cause shading and can be used both at anchor and when sailing is a permanent mounting on top of the mizzen mast. That doesn’t excite me. The top of a mast is the last place you want to add weight. It will also be moving around a lot in waves which will affect it’s performance. Finally, the foot of the mizzen mast is above the head of our bed. I’m concerned about noise and vibration disturbing our sleep. However, it would be out of the way and (until it breaks) very convenient. If we want that option to be available we need a generator that can be remotely braked (manually or automatically) if the wind strength is too high.

It is very hard to estimate how many nights in a marina having a wind generator would save us. We would have to save about 40 nights to recoup the cost. We could achieve that saving over a couple of winters if we could reduce the need to get shore power to once every 10 days instead of once every 5 days (both are guesses and will be very weather and location dependant). Of course it would also help avid the need for shore power a bit in other seasons, particularly if permanently mounted.

What else can we do to make the battery bank capacity last longer?

The most obvious answer is to install another form of heating that does not use the battery bank. All the YouTubers who have visited the Arctic Circle or Scandinavia in the winter have some form of heating that is not electric. They all say they can’t manage long at anchor otherwise. While our goals are not so extreme (the midnight sun is attractive to us but the sun not rising above the hills at all is not) we would be crazy not to learn from them. So what do they have besides electric heating (that they all only use when connected to shore power). There is a great video from Alluring Arctic on this, our takeaways from what we have seen are:

Wood burning stove

Uma have one of these and we have seen a few others. However, recent reports that we have seen on the high levels of pollution they release into the boat (mainly ash whenever you refuel it) and the air pollution from the chimneys mean we have ruled this out.

Diesel powered hot air

Probably the best known brand is Eberspächer, these install out of sight and burn diesel to heat air. Then then use a fan to blow the heat through the ducts around the boat. They are a more modern replacement for the paraffin heater we removed. The provide lovely warm dry air all around the boat. However, the ducting takes up a lot of space in lockers and they use quite a lot of electricity. Ran Sailing for example can only use it for one night or so before needing shore power to charge their batteries. Sailing Yacht Salty Lass have one and it is clear that these also require regular, quite time consuming maintenance to keep the insides clean and efficient. Obviously they need a diesel tank (and would normally take it from the main diesel engine tank which we don’t have).

So we are ruling this out for the loss of locker space, the significant electric use (which is what we are trying to avoid) and the amount of maintenance needed.

Drip fed diesel heaters

The brand that seems to offer heaters most suitable for us is Refleks. Their 66MW would fit neatly to a bulkhead which would be safe and not get in the way much. However, there are other options. The 66MV is insulated so it only heats the boat by hot water radiators, we could position that in a custom locker out of the way. The 66MK includes a stove top for kettles etc which would really help cut out electric consumption but I’m not sure where we could fit one. It seems some models can provide hot water for domestic use such as showers but I’m finding the information about which models do that a bit hidden.

As they are gravity fed they don’t use any electricity (I don’t think they even need a pump for the radiators?) and they are supposed to be very low maintenance.

We think at the moment a Refleks heater would be a good option. Whilst it does mean some fossil fuels it is far more efficient to directly heat the boat rather than run a generator to charge batteries to then heat the boat. It also gives a backup heat source should we have a catastrophic electric failure.

Conclusion

By combining lots of these options we hope to get to the point where we can cruise in Arctic summers, stretched Scandinavian sailing seasons and British winters while stretching out the time we can go without needing to connect to shore power.

We will work up to the full combination of insulation, localised heating, wind generation and a Refleks heater (hopefully for radiators in all cabins and hot water for showers) with the goal of being energy independent (with care and some help from the weather) for a couple of weeks at a time. Only time will tell. If nothing else works we can sail to the middle the Azores high pressure and bob around for a few weeks to warm up 🙂

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.

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.

Continuing Solar planning

Sadly, we can’t do much but plan at the moment. However, that does at least give us the opportunity to improve those plans.

In More on sustainability, I included a bit about Jimmy Cornell needing to abandon his attempt to sail around the world with zero carbon emissions. So another incentive to improve our plans.

This is what we have so far:

Wheelhouse roof

4 x 40 watt panels (total 160 watts) for the top of the wheelhouse roof. To be connected so that the two sides are in parallel reducing the impact of the considerable shading as the main boom is just above the wheelhouse.

Guardrail mounted

4 x 175 watt panels (total 700 watts) to be fitted alongside the guardrails. They will be moveable, tiltable and removable. So we can have up to 4 on either side of the boat (to catch the sun). While sailing we should be able to have 2 per side (positioned about 3/4 of the way aft), with the option to drop them to be vertical (like canvas side dodgers but with a gap for water drainage below them) for docking or if waves are a problem. But there are plenty of people sailing with these pretty permanently mounted (eg Rigging Doctor, Millennial Falcon, Sailing Project Atticus). We can also remove them and store them below in really bad weather (recognising that ours are larger and hence more windage).

We have been exploring lots of potential ways of fitting these. Quite a lot will end up depending on how our budget goes over the next few years, we explored a cheap getting us started option using lightish timber struts. However we now have a better solution Simplifying guardrail solar panels.

Longer Term Plans:

By adding a solar “arch” (see below) we should have a grand total of 1460 watts. That is more than Jimmy Cornell, plus we will be able to rotate and tilt most of them to improve efficiency. Coupled with significantly reduced power consumption (only 2 people, wind vane steering, only one fridge, no electric winches etc) we think we are heading towards the right ballpark figure.

Solar Arch.

We have lost count of the number of design options we have been through. Here was one. It got pretty complicated as we work around all the constraints. Our fairly narrow stern, mizzen boom and need for Hydrovane self steering make the structure very challenging.

Our current thinking is to mount two 300 watt panels almost completely independent of each other (total 600 watts). Through a combination of rotating and tilting we will be able to position them for maximum efficiency while also being able to have them either clear of the mizzen sail (ie sticking out aft beyond the boat length) or safe for docking or storms (ie extending forward over the mizzen boom and aft cabin) at which point we would not be able to use the mizzen sail. They will also be removable, even at sea so that again we can stow them (probably on deck due to their size) if needed.

Our plan is to first shorten the mizzen boom as much as we can for the existing sails. Longer term we might get a new mizzen sail with a shorter foot but fully battened with a fathead sail (google images of Fathead mainsails), that would keep the boom further out of the way,

Then the implementation we have agreed with Hydrovane puts the actual vane a little higher than normal so that it is clear of the mizzen boom and sail (thus allowing us to tack without having to touch the vane mechanism).

The solar support will start with an upright carbon fibre tube in each aft corner of the deck (or possibly just down the transom a little), these will be positioned so that they are just clear of the boom as it swings across. They will have a diagonal strut going forward and another diagonal going across the stern. There is a vast array of carbon fibre tubes available up to 54mm diameter so we have some calculations to do. We will mount a smaller carbon fibre tube through the deck that will go down to the full where it will be epoxied in, this will stand clear enough of the deck for the main upright to drop onto it and be close to fully self supported, the struts will add more rigidity as a precaution.

The top 500mm or so will be above the diagonal struts and the top part will be filled with thickened epoxy. This is then a base onto which the pole for the solar panel drops. These Carbon Fibre Tubes are designed so that each size slides into the next size up. So the poles for the panels will be one size up from the fixed upright tubes. They too will have a thickened epoxy filling in key places but leaving 500mm open to drop onto the upright tubes. Connecting the tubes this way allows the upper section to be rotated or removed. We will have a hole for a pin will allow the rotation to be locked in two places (and will also stop the top tube lifting off).

A smaller tube will be fitted horizontally to the top of the solar panel upright. Using a smaller diameter will allow us to attach it by through drilling the upright for the horizontal to fit though. The joint area will then be filled with thickened epoxy to lock everything in place. The horizontal tube will only project out on one side of the upright (like an inverted L). Using the rotation and locking pin this can be forwards or backwards from the upright. This horizontal will be approximately 3/4 of the length of one of the solar panels.

To attach the solar panel we have two slightly oversized square tubes. These are the long enough to be fitted to the solar panel (going across the width of it). They have holes drilled in the middle, with short lengths of tube (next size up from the horizontal) fixed into them so that they can slide onto the horizontal tube. This attached the solar panel and allows it to tilt.

To support this we add a smaller tube as a diagonal brace between the upright and the unsupported end of the horizontal tube. At which point it will look a like we have a pair of gallows on the boat with solar panels on top 🙂

All the fixed joints will be created by smaller diameter tubes going through the larger, the smaller tubes will have smaller holes inside the joint so that when the joint area is filled with slightly thickened epoxy they get locked into place. We will also use epoxy fillets on the outside of the joints.

We will use dyneema guys to control the tilt of the panels with the option to use them to lock the rotation in other places than the locking pin allows.

To remove the panels we will use a halyard. We will rig it so that the pull is up a topping lift, that means as the upright tube comes free the whole thing won’t swing wildly about into the mast.

This give us multiple positioning options:

  • Preferred sailing option. Turning the panels aft so clear of the mizzen, with the ability to tilt them either for maximum solar efficiency or for minimal windage (compensating for the boats heel) depending on the conditions.
  • Preferred docked option. Turning the panels forward, the mizzen can’t be used but they are fully within the deck outline so not going to snag on other boats or be a hazard to people on the dock.
  • Moderately bad conditions. Assuming that you have taken the mizzen sail down, turn the panels forward and take the tilting control lines forward for maximum stability (better angle and braced to the deck rather than the support post).
  • Storm conditions expected (whether sailing, at anchor or in a marina). Lift the panels up so the uprights come off the fixed supports (using a halyard that has a low friction loop so that it runs up the mizzen topping lift giving a close to vertical lift). Lower to the deck and secure.
  • At anchor. Rotate and tilt so the panels are close to right angles to the sun, adjust to compensate for both the boat and the sun moving.

Safety

There are obvious concerns about having large panels relatively high in the air. However, there have now been multiple Atlantic crossings by boats similar in size to Vida with panels this size on solar arches.

We do recognise that our design is a little different due to the complications (mizzen and hydrovane). We do not think this design is possible with the typical stainless steel tubing designs. However, carbon fibre tubes can be used for a wide variety of purposes including masts and wind turbines, that support significant loads on unstayed uprights.

Unlike other solutions we have a variety of options do deal with different conditions. We are not creating a fit and forget solution but one that fits with our expectation of Active Solar Generation which we believe is a critical factor in achieving zero fossil fuels. The real potential to increase solar generation isn’t clear but a 30% increase is possible when you can angle correctly and far more if panels can be moved to avoid shading.

Wind generators

We can potentially add a similar pole support base on each side of the boat by the mizzen mast. In suitable conditions a wind generator can then be deployed. Again using the active generation principle. Wind generators are only effective in certain conditions, so why would we want the noise and windage all the time? However, they are the best option for reducing the need for a generator when we need electric power for heating while anchored in winter when there isn’t much sun.

Avoiding engineering calculation paralysis

Two recent examples have in equal measures frustrated and amused me.

In their plans for Ruby Rose 2 Nick and Terysa have oodles of calculations but they appear to be aimed at justifying fitting large diesel engines because an all electric boat isn’t possible. They seem to have totally missed what was shown to be possible in their interview with Dan and Kika from Sailing Uma.

Then there is the subscription website “Attainable Adventure Cruising, The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site” with an article in the last week “Induction Cooking For Boats—Part 1, Is It Practical?” where I joined a discussion coming from our very different approach.

Both these present a numbers based “engineering” approach to decision making about the “practicalities” of moving away from fossil fuels. Sadly due to the initial assumptions the approach almost always leads to the conclusion that renewable energy sources cannot provide enough power for either propulsion or cooking.

The approach rejects working examples because they don’t present numbers in an “acceptable” way.

Our problem with this approach is that it is simply too easy to make assumptions about what is needed and the conclusion depends far more on the assumptions than on the calculations. In both these cases the assumptions are based on the expectations and lifestyle of a couple.

Ruby Rose have assumptions about never compromising on a luxury lifestyle with every modern convenience.

John and Phyllis have decades of experience cruising in high latitudes and strong views on what is safe and seaworthy. They have a stated goal of not considering anything that has not got a 10 year history of reliability.

Both these approaches are flawed if the goal is sustainability (or if budget constraints are tight). So if your assumptions are that you need to motor for an hour at full speed, and 500 miles at cruising speed, cook for a couple of hours every day, run a water maker, washing machine, multiple fridges and freezers, electric auto pilot, video editing laptops every day then you are going to conclude that renewable energy sources can’t cope.

Cynically if you control the list of things that you want to run all the time or anytime regardless of the conditions then you can guarantee that you will never be able to manage with renewable resources (at least until the last oil well has run dry and the Netherlands has disappeared under the sea).

Yet there is another way. One that we find most often from people with limited resources.

Embrace the limitations

Or start at the other end. Start with the resources that are possible.

  • What battery bank capacity can I afford?
  • What size battery bank can I fit (size and weight)
  • How many solar panels can I fit (and afford)?
  • Is wind generation going to fit my boat, my budget, my geography?
  • Is water power generation either from regen on an electric motor or something like Watt and Sea going to work (how much time sailing at suitable speeds)

These provide the constraints. Then sustainability becomes how you live within the constraints. There are plenty of options.

  • A vegetarian or vegan diet (as recommended as a key way of reducing our carbon footprint) can reduce the cooking energy significantly (no a roast chicken cooked for several hours is not required every week, if you want it then save your energy up first, or use a solar oven)
  • Set your passage plans according to the energy you have, probably slower (but then the whole point of sailing is surely to sail)
  • Set your cruising ground according to the season and energy available and required (so you probably can’t sail sustainably into an Arctic winter which is just a constraint, like the ones the majority of people live with all the time)
  • Have food available that doesn’t need to be cooked if you are short of energy (Huel and the like)
  • Plan to use appliances when you have the energy, keep the ones that have to be on to a minimum (eg freezers, fridges, autopilots).
  • Embrace the constraints. Do you really have to be able to do the washing, make water and cook for 2 hours on the same cloudy day – if yes then why?
  • To be honest the list is endless, we have gone in just a few years from it being normal to only use an engine in harbours to expecting to motor constantly for days at a time. From no refrigeration and basic hobs to dishwashers and ovens and drinks coolers in the cockpit.

The argument that it isn’t possible to live within the constraints of renewable energy is disproved by history. It is disproved by the examples already documenting their experiences eg Sailing Uma; and Beau and Brandy.

The challenge is to our assumptions, our privilege, our expectations of luxury. The opportunity is to open ourselves to the impact our lives have on others and to stop seeing ourselves as deserving something that our actions deny for others both now and in the future.

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.