Progress from home

We haven’t gone to the boat this week. Jane had to work today (Covid cover) and I’ve got work tomorrow.

However, I have been able to complete the repair of my pillar drill (satisfaction of mending tools).

Having done the repair I went straight on to use the pillar drill to finish the holes in the motor mount brackets. This is a great example of where a pillar drill with a good drill bit and cutting paste is so much better than a normal drill. It had taken hours to do 6.5 holes and had destroyed a couple of drill bits. Today less than 2 hours to do the remaining 9.5 holes without ruining any drill bits.

Low down progress

On Saturday we managed a few jobs that are about as low as we can get.

Water getting low in the wrong places

During the heavy rain on Friday we discovered a key source of the water in the (very deep) bilge at the aft end of the keel. I’d left a few holes in the floor of the anchor locker when we had removed the old windlass and chain guide. So water getting into the anchor locker was falling into the chain locker, from there it flowed down a hose (so that it gets past the shower sump) onto the front end of the keel (where we had cut the old hose so for the first time we could see the water coming in, when we had the floor up).

So I filled the holes and we went down in the depths (currently about 1m below the electric motor frame) and pumped out 5 buckets of water (we had removed a lot more with a temporary bilge pump a few weekends ago).

Battery storage on the keel

With a dry bilge we did some cutting and planing of the battery box we had started months ago (when the 120AH batteries were going to have to sit above the motor). It now fits on the keel under the companionway and saloon floor.

It just needs ply ends, epoxy coating and the batteries installing. A battery box for the 4 x 300AH will sit on top of it (one of these batteries will be behind this and a bit higher as it is behind the ladder and the space is not wide enough at that point).

Fortunately all the lower 120AH batteries and the 300AH at the aft end have bluetooth enabled BMS (battery monitoring systems) as these will be quite inaccessible. The other 3 x 300AH will be easily visible to check.

We will make these boxes as watertight as we can and they will be fixed in place so that there is no danger of a couple of hundred kilo’s of battery smashing everything and everyone should we ever be rolled over.

We have also done some detailed design work for how we plan to connect the battery banks. We are (seemingly unusually) planning to keep them entirely separate as it isn’t a good idea to combine different sizes of battery into a single bank. We want the flexibility of using each bank for either house or motor depending on need. However, never both connected to either house or motor at the same time. We also want to be able to direct the solar panel charging to either bank according to need. The 70A mains charger built into the Victron MultiPlus II will always go to whichever bank is connected to house (so when we connect to mains we always put the most depleted bank as the house to get charged first) .

Water in the right places

We think we can fit a 70 litre water tank in front of the batteries and an 18 litre one in front of that. Plus another 18 litre tank under the aft most 300AH battery. Finally one more 18 litre tank in the forward top half of the bilge under the motor.  That makes 124 litres nice and low down that will all be fully plumped in (you get a set of taps to choose which tank the water comes from for a tap or the shower).

In addition we think we can fit 4 x 25 litre portable water tanks above the propeller shaft aft of the motor. As well as taking us to 224 litres in total, these will be convenient for collecting water in the dinghy (providing we take a trolley to save carrying them by hand).

This should be plenty of water for coastal cruising but we still need more (and would like a watermaker) for ocean crossings.

Dave not getting stuck in the bottom

Using a temporary “ladder” I went into the cockpit locker to check the setting on the dehumidifier and the position of the forward mizzen chainplate.

Low on money

Well not so much low as actually sitting down to price all the things we need to be able to launch in March 2022 (in time for a 3 month sabbatical). It is a long list, however, it looks manageable and there are not so many unknowns now. Actually a bit of a confidence builder.

Lower Mast

Next will be back to tasks to get the mizzen mast (the lower one) back up but with dyneema rigging. In part that is to prove the chainplate and rigging design but also so that we can sort out the windvane self-steering, pushpit and aft solar panels. We still need to finish the new supports for the foot of the mizzen mast, cut and fit the backing plates for the forward stays and running backstays. Also need to finish repairing the pillar drill to make the tangs (and order the bolts for them). Then we can add the FR4 backing plates (and the on deck “mushrooms”, do the drilling for the chainplate dyneema loops and then make all the chainplate loops and shrouds/stays.

All that will allow us to finish the aft cabin, at least for the moment. The bed head needs finishing as it is part of the mizzen mast foot support. We need the step onto the seat to get to the bed, cabin sides need insulating (ceiling etc can wait as can the headlining). Then a quick paint and we can move back in (hopefully the work Jane is doing at home to remodel the bed mattress will be finished).

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 🙂

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 🙂

Our Scandinavian challenges part 1

For a while now we have been watching YouTube Videos that have made us want to sail the Norwegian Atlantic coast and visit some of the thousands of islands and Fjords, we have also long fancied visiting the Baltic. Particularly:

  • Juho with Alluring Arctic has spent two years spent entirely above the Arctic Circle, his experience and videos are amazing. We are not tempted to believe that we can become expert with skis (or even want to) or that we would want to spend a winter so far North. But there are so many places he has shown that would be wonderful to visit, even without going as far as Svalbard
  • Erik Aanderaa with his No Bullshit Just Sailing slogan. His video Sailing Haugesund to Lofoten- Around the Norwegian Sea pt.1 is a particular favourite.
  • MJ Sailing spent last summer sailing up to Lofoton (see their Northern Europe playlist)
  • Sailing Uma are wintering in Norway at the moment (I don’t know how they have managed the 90 days in 180 Schengen rule). Their videos are exceptional quality.
  • Ran Sailing have spent the year a little further south around Sweden and it too looks beautiful (both the Baltic and Atlantic coasts).

The challenges for us

In many ways we would love to plan for a couple of years of our eventual retirement cruising the Baltic and Atlantic Coast. There is so much beauty to see, so many places to explore. We could imagine needing a couple of summers to explore both coasts, while retreating some considerable distance South for the winters.

However, this is going to be a huge challenge for us. In this first post I’ll tackle one of those:

First, Schengen

We are living through the nightmare that is the tragic national self harm that is Brexit, and especially the appalling choices made by our government to go for such a hard Brexit. It is obvious that they never thought through (or maybe are capable of understanding or only care about their own pockets) the implications for Northern Ireland, for the Fishing Industry, for UK citizens who have retired to the EU, for musicians touring etc etc. If we were 5 years older and had been retired a few years we could have spent unlimited time exploring Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the rest of the Baltic.

Now, we will need to tightly plan 3 month summer cruises. Options to cope with bad weather are going to be a lot more difficult, at the end of your 90 days we have to be somewhere where we can leave direct to somewhere outside Schengen. That needs to be somewhere we can stay for another 90 days without going back into Schengen (or it needs to allow us get to other places outside Schengen until the 90 days are up). While attractive to visit, 90 days in either the Faroes or St Petersburg doesn’t really appeal (safe wintering also being a factor).

90 day cruises means more summers will be needed if we are to get to the countries and beautiful cruising grounds that we have seen are there without rushing.

MJ Sailing got as far as Lofoten from the UK in one summer, mostly using coastal hops. However, they didn’t get to spend much time there or have time for the amazing cruising grounds to the north. What is more to stay within the 90 days they spent hours and hours motoring to make fast enough progress.

Our situation is different. We have a more powerful electric motor than most electric boats, and a large battery bank, however, we need that battery bank for everything, not just for the electric motor. Coastal hopping with lots of motoring is possible for us, but only if we moor-up with mains power to charge the batteries for more than 12 hours between trips (realistically probably safer to assume 2 nights if we have pretty fully drained the battery bank). Anyway, we don’t want to spend our time motoring, we want to sail. We also want to anchor rather than always need to get a shore-power hookup. It isn’t just about a preference for remoteness, we can’t afford to pay harbour fees every night.

This probably means that if we want long enough to explore a Schengen cruising ground in some detail we will need to make long direct passages. Then we only check-in to a country as we arrive at the area we want to cruise in, then our 90 days are all spent where we want to cruise rather than getting there. That has significant implications for the boat, our skills and passage making. The difference between getting to somewhere like Lofoton using coastal hops (much of it protected by islands) or a direct passage from the Faroes is huge.

So for that beautiful area of Norway north of the Arctic Circle we could, perhaps, sail from the UK to the Faroes (not part of Schengen) and then onward towards the Lofoten Islands. We then would have to depart Norway within 3 months, again potentially doing this as a long passage rather than coastal hop south. Part of the significance of this option and what increases the challenge, the difficulty is that is just not what cruising yachts have been doing. Everything works on the assumption of getting somewhere like Lofoten by coastal cruising with occasional overnight passages.

We are very attracted to longer passages and to spending a larger proportion of our time actually sailing than seems the norm. We have a boat that is well suited to it but are very short of experience. An estimate of 90% of time anchored rather than sailing is often quoted by live aboard cruisers (not sure if they all count hours or if they mean nights). So this is a big deal which will require a lot of preparation and be a significant challenge.

Generally, if cruisers are forced to switch from coastal hops to direct passages to cruising grounds then this is going to change things for many people – but maybe few want to visit these places. Or maybe they are happy to spend a lot of time and money motoring to meet the schedule. Or perhaps they will pay others to deliver their boat for them. That is not an option for us a) financially b) where would we live while someone is delivering our home and c) we don’t want to fly due to trying to be Sustainable.

When it comes to the Baltic I’m not sure. A first summer route via Copenhagen (one of my favourite cities in the world), up to the Stockholm archipelago, through the Göta Canal and back to the UK would make a great 3 months summer cruise. But what about if we want to spend the summer in the Eastern Baltic? Could we get as far as Finland before starting to count our 90 days? Is it possible to sail into the Baltic without checking in at either Denmark or Sweden? Still Denmark, Finland, the Baltic States, even Russia and then back to Denmark in 3 months is possible, even if tight.

So we could be looking at needing 4 summers to explore a significant amount of Scandinavia. Something like:

  • Denmark, Stockholm archipelago, Göta Canal: winter in the UK, maybe based near Falmouth
  • Norwegian Coast and Fjords towards Lofoten and back: winter in the UK, maybe based around the Solent for a change
  • Eastern Baltic: winter West Coast of Scotland/Northern Ireland
  • Faroes, Lofoten, Northern Norway: winter head south and onwards to the Caribbean

But there are other options. You could include an Atlantic circuit. So instead of a UK winter head down to the Canaries, then the Caribbean for December, then the East Coast of the US before crossing back but keeping North of the UK to get to Norway but it would be a rush to arrive for any summer in Norway.

Obviously, these Schengen rules are not new for people from countries outside Europe. However, I suspect these cruising grounds have not been so frequently visited by non-Europeans. I’m very interested in different experiences and views as well as ideas for reading and research

In part 2 I’ll look at the other key challenges these cruising grounds have for us (particularly heating and renewable energy).

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.

Lessons from the Vendee Globe and other trends

We are really enjoying watching the Vendee Globe (single handed, non stop, no outside assistance round the world race). Our key sources are the official website tracking and their YouTube Channel but we are also enjoying the content from Sea Wolves.

The weather has clearly been unusual and fits with this article about Jimmy Cornell where the guru of sailing routes around the world writes:

In 2010 I sold my Aventura III and, as I was 70, felt that the time had come to call it quits. That didn’t last long and by 2013, with accelerating climate change increasingly making the news for those who were prepared to listen, I decided to get another boat and attempt to transit the Northwest Passage. Described by scientists as the “canary in the mine” of global climate, whatever happens there eventually spreads to the rest of the world. I did manage to transit this once impenetrable waterway, now opening up as a consequence of climate change. I also saw the consequences of global warming affecting the local population. With mission accomplished, in 2017 I sold Aventura IV, and that was it. But not for long, as three years later, with climate change surpassing the worst predictions, I decided to put retirement on hold for a bit longer and try something completely different. Like sailing around the world on a fully electric boat along the route of the first circumnavigation 500 years previously.

It is good to see so many of the competitors in the Vendee Globle are working to raise awareness of climate, ocean and water issues. Many are also contributing to scientific research on issues such as plastic in the oceans, water salinity & temperature etc.

There are also a number of competitors using electric motors (they have strict standards of being able to motor at a set speed for a number of hours) and renewable energy charging of batteries (solar and water generators being the most common).

However, it does highlight for us that planning to sail around and about the planet in a few years time that conditions will not be as people have come to expect. Trade winds are not as reliable, both big storms and large areas of doldrums are becoming more frequent and more extreme.

We think we are starting to see some trends in the responses to this. Some get a lot more coverage than others. These are most obvious where people look for their own balances between safety, comfort (and for some luxury) and cruising area.

The trend that has been going for a long time now is to bigger boats and towards catamarans. There is a significant industry push with lots of publicity towards 45 foot plus fast catamarans. This is typified by the Sailing La Vagabonde channel and approach. To cross oceans safely (and cruise around the Bahamas during hurricane season) they use the very latest weather reporting which they access while at sea (Predict Wind) plus they get professional routing advice (such as when the crossed the Atlantic bringing Greta Thunberg back to Europe a year ago). They rely on the combination of up-to-date weather routing (in some cases with shore based professional forecasters giving individual routing advice) and a fast 48 foot catamaran to avoid the worst storms.

Another approach, is again for large catamarans but with the focus shifted from lightweight high performance towards luxury. A good example would be the choice of a new Seawind by Sailing Ruby Rose. Their focus has been on a mid performance catamaran designed to be spacious and luxurious while at anchor to fit with an approach to safety which avoids risks. So while faster than their existing 38 foot monohull they will be staying out of danger though a more cautious approach about timing and planned routes rather than on speed and dynamic routing. It does mean long periods in marinas and anchorages waiting for good weather, it does mean a lot of motoring to keep to passage timetables and it does limit the cruising grounds somewhat. It remains to be seen how far that will continue to be possible as the climate emergency continues to disrupt the weather patterns that have been stable for hundreds of years.

Of course a question is where that leaves everyone else who has neither £0.5 million to buy and the money to maintain a large catamaran.

Many will continue to follow the popular US market of slower, cheaper catamarans, many of them ex charter boats (such as Gone with the Wynns) and for the most part cruise in the Bahamas, Caribbean etc. With significant upgrades some will still cruise the world but for the most part need to make careful downwind passages and expect to motor or motor sail a lot.

We believe that another option, for years popular among those without lots of money, is for a well found older monohull. These can come from an era when you had neither the weather information nor the speed to route around storms, so they needed to be able to cope. With modern improvements such as Jordan Series Drogues for survival in the worst storms and better weather information they provide a more cost effective option and one that should allow cruising to continue as the weather becomes ever more unpredictable.

As the older systems such as diesel engines on these boats fail, sustainable conversions will become more common – as we see on Sailing Uma, Beau and Brandy, Spoondrifters, Learning the Lines and so on. They don’t get the publicity because there is not the same amount of money to be made from them, by the industry. They are not aimed at the wealthy wanting luxury. However, as an option to be able to go cruising in the face of climate change and be part of the solution rather than the problem they are a great option (the only option other than a DIY build?)

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.

Into 2nd wave lockdowns

So a quick update on where we are at. The situation for Manchester is still chaos without agreement between the national and local governments regarding the level of lockdown we should be in. However, we are expecting to be more restricted soon (bearing in mind that Manchester has had it’d own lockdown for months anyway). As for travelling to Wales it is hard to find clear guidance as to whether the Welsh government have now made it illegal to travel from either tier 2 (High) or 3 (Very High). We took the view that it would have been wrong to go on Thursday when a ban was expected from 6pm on Friday (still unclear if that has happened). There now seems to be an expectation that a Welsh “Circuit Break” ban for a few weeks will be announced in the morning. We are working on the assumption that we might not be able to get to the boat again this year.

Fortunately we left her in good shape, the most watertight yet. So we are not worried about any problems on board.

We have some jobs we can do at home, while many of these are not urgent as far as launching is concerned they will at least allow us to feel we are making some progress while we can’t get to the boat.

Propeller Shaft: I wrote about the pitting issues in my last post. As none of the pitting is where bearings or seals go we decided to try to tackle it. Where there is pitting which is probably caused by electrical currents – either through poor earthing (electrolytic) or by currents between dissimilar metals (galvanic) – we are going to remove it. Pitting encourages more corrosion. The best way to avoid corrosion in stainless steel is a bright mirror polish and to have not used any other metals (eg saws or files) to achieve it.

So I have started removing the pitting using the angle grinder with a flap sanding disk. None of it is deeper than about 1mm. So far I’ve done about half of it (starting with the worst bits).

Once I have used the 80grit flap sanding disk to remove the pitting the shaft is no longer perfectly round and is definitely not smooth or polished. So I have 50m of a 25mm wide strip of 80 grit Emery Cloth. Using a strip of this wrapped around the shaft it should be possible to get it pretty smooth and round. I then have finer grades to remove the scratches before using a paste with a cloth to polish it as smooth as possible.

That should keep me busy for hours. A new propeller shaft would be a simpler solution but this should be perfectly serviceable for a few more years and saves waste.

Motor Mount brackets: I have the 4 angle brackets that will be bolted to the original engine bearers and which the flexible mounts will be bolted to. Just got another 10 or more holes to drill in them (10mm). That will leave only the 4 holes in the motor frame for the flexible mounts (not quite sure what size they are and the position isn’t finalised yet).

Domestic Battery Box: I’ve got to make some cut-outs in the timber for the nuts where the leads bolt to the busbar so that the busbars can be fitted. I can also make a lid (and adjust the design for a new expectation that the batteries will be lowered into it via opening the cockpit floor).

Motor Throttle Our motor throttle has a 6mm square shaft and I need to make or find a control lever for it. Trying to find something that doesn’t cost much, is reliable and doesn’t look clunky.

Motor Controller Heatsink: I want to get a really big and effective (and cheap) heatsink for the controller (because apparently they get really hot). My idea is so mount this through the (to be built) bulkhead between the motor compartment and the cockpit locker. This way the heat gets put into the cockpit locker while the controller is away from it in the motor compartment.

Dinghy: Jane has nearly finished the cover for the dinghy. I need to get and fit removable launching wheels to get it over the mixture of rocks and shingle where we will launch it.

Solar Panel mounts: I should be able to make everything I need to mount the solar panels to to the boat both on the wheelhouse roof and at the guardrails.

Propeller: We have the propeller at home and it still needs a lot of cleaning. One day money permitting we will replace it with a Bruntons Autoprop Ecostar, until then cleaning it is.

Emergency Steering: The two part emergency tiller (if the wheel steering breaks) has probably been in storage under the after cabin bunk for the whole life of the boat. There has been a little corrosion which means the parts no longer fit together. So we will fix this.

Consumer Unit mount: We now have a consumer unit for the mains power. We have a place for it which will allow us to access the trip switches. It is quite large as we have one switch for each of the 13 sockets we will have around the boat, we are running a separate wire to each rather than a ring main. However, it will need to be lowered for full access so I’m making a wooden frame for it to slide up and down in.

Navigation and control systems: I have plenty of fun planned getting Raspberry Pi computers sorted to run the chart plotter and other navigation software. I want them to interface with all our instruments, with the battery management systems, the solar charge controllers etc. We will have an indoor and an outdoor Pi so we can see everything when steering or when below. The indoor one will also be our entertainment centre and office computer.