Holiday progress day 9: Electric Motor reliability

Well not much progress today because we nipped home last night as our old Diesel engine was being collected today. The forecast had also helped make the decision with another storm coming through.

So rain nearly all day for the time we were in Manchester, rain for the journey back to Beaumaris and rain most of the evening.

The key progress is emotional, with the sense of freedom from having an engine sitting in our trailer, waiting to be sold. As we were driving back we were remembering all the expensive work we would have had to do in order to get what was a good engine working.

  • The survey required the raw water seacock to be changed. That was bonded in so thoroughly it needed cutting out with a hole saw. Possible with the engine in (although the two cockpit drains would have been much more difficult).
  • the survey warned that the cutlass bearing was worn and that the stuffing box needed to be repacked. We found that the propeller side of the coupling to the gearbox needed to be cut off (and so would have needed a replacement). We also found that the propeller shaft is too long to slide out because of the skeg, so we would have had to lift the engine for the propeller shaft to come out under it, that would have meant cutting off the rusty original engine mounts and replacing them.
  • the survey warned of a leaking fuel filter, would we then have found that several of the valves in the various fuel lines were seized and would we have felt we needed to add inspection hatches to the fuel tanks, replaced all the fuel lines and thoroughly cleaned all the system and all the fuel? As we did that we might have noticed and been concerned about the very rusty fuel vent fittings and the condition of the fuel filler hoses.
  • In this process would we have noticed and dealt with the rusty paraffin fuel tank for the boat heater (that failed and spilt paraffin everywhere just as I arrived at the recycling centre).
  • When would we have taken out the hot water calorifier (heated by the engine or by a mains system condemned in the survey) that was buried behind the paraffin tank, under the rusty fridge compressor and under the unreliable water pump? Because when we did take it out, we found it rusty and leaking out of sight.

In short, because everything around the engine wasn’t replaced with the new engine, we would have had large costs to get afloat with this engine and far more over time to get it to a point where it would be reliable with the many problems with the setup diesel supply (particularly water in the fuel and no way to get it out, modern problems diesel bug growing due to the use of bio-diesel and no way to get it out, old sludge in the tanks causing blockages in the pipes before the filters).

We are more and more glad that we took the plunge and decided to go fossil fuel free from the beginning rather than first fixing what we had. So we have not spent any money on fixing the diesel but all on preparing for where we believe all yachts need to be going – fossil fuel free.

Again we have been watching more YouTube videos and seeing more people having problems with diesel fuel, the old idea that diesel engines are this magical safety device because they are always reliable just isn’t the case for lots of people. Also the amount of nasty, cramped, smelly maintenance and the impact that has on sea sickness and morale needs to be acknowledged more openly in the sailing community.

Obviously, at the moment we have very little to be sure of in terms of the reliability of our electric motor system, how dependable will it be. However, from all we have studied so far we are quite confident. We will have a good installation of a brushless motor, that will be in as dry a place as possible, with potential backup batteries and tools/spares for making cables.

We have come to realise that the Rival 38 centre cockpit has a number of really good features for a reliable electric motor installation.

  • the bilge is really deep and large. So even if we get a lot of water on board it is going to be a long way from the motor or the batteries, we have made this so it is visible for checking as well as making it possible to access the pumps and hoses (initially we are fitting both an automatic large capacity electric pump and updating the original manual pump)
  • the motor compartment is not accessible from the companionway steps (but instead from the corridor to the aft cabin). Very often these steps lift up for access but that also means there is potential for water to get into the motor compartment whether it be from spray or people climbing in with wet clothing etc
  • the motor compartment is large enough so that our batteries, motor and controller can be right next to each other, so short cables that we cann easily inspect that don’t go through bulkheads where they can get damaged or through bilges where they can get wet.

We are also implementing a few things they we hope are best practice to help with the reliability

  • The motor is brushless for no maintenance and high efficiency. It is air cooled to keep our moisture (we will need to monitor temperature and might need exhaust fans)
  • All our battery banks are going to be in boxes that are watertight from below with a top that means any drips from above will not make it in. Build from epoxy coated plywood with a strong timber frame that does not allow battery movement but does allow air circulation for cooling.
  • The motor frame will have a watertight undertray and a lid that directs any drips clear of the motor.
  • Our batteries that are connected in series will have automatic battery balancers to ensure they are evenly charged. Those in parallel will have huge busbars and identical cables for equal loading.
  • We are over specifying all our battery cables and have a full size professional crimping tool to make the best possible connections.
  • Most of the batteries (5 out out of 8) have a bluetooth BMS and I will be monitoring this automatically from our Raspberry Pi system
  • All our solar chargers, battery balancers, battery monitors are from Victron with bluetooth capability so we can monitor them from their app and from the Raspberry Pi system
  • The SignalK system on the RaspberryPi will allow us to add a number of sensors to monitor temperature, humidity etc of everything, so we should know if there is a problem in any battery, bearing, motor, motor controller etc
  • We are installing a dripless seal for the sterntube. This should minimise maintenance and the chance of any salt water coming into the engine compartment.
  • We are installing an Aquadrive. This absorbs all the thrust from the propeller which means the engine and the bearings are free from these loads. It also means that the alignment of the motor is not critical. Both these mean that the motor will be on very flexible mountings so there should be much less vibration in the motor frame as well as in the boat. That should help avoid things shaking loose.
  • We plan to install an automatic dehumidifier for the motor compartment so keep the air in and around the motor plus electronics as dry as possible.
  • The cockpit floor is removable for lifting diesel engines in and out. All our electric stuff is small and light (heaviest individual items under 40kg). Even the motor in it’s frame is under 70kg and we can put it in the frame in the corridor next to where it will go. So we will use a more secure sealant on the cockpit floor, it would be possible to get it up but not as easy as it has been.
  • We will have a much more sealed bulkhead between the motor compartment and cockpit locker. So when you put wet ropes, fenders, sails in there it will drain into the bilge directly and not splash through lots of holes.
  • We are re-routing the vent for the main water tank so it doesn’t go through the motor compartment (reduce chances of water ingress)
  • The boat does not have a working electrical earth at present, we will make sure it is implemented and tested to protect the systems from galvanic corrosion.
  • All new composite cockpit drains and seacocks should reduce condensation and with much higher quality hoses should be more watertight.
  • We are not in a rush and so we can take the time to build it up slowly, carefully and with clear layouts and documentation
  • As we are doing all the work ourselves we know how it is installed and how to maintain it

Despite all that there are still some risks:

  • The biggest is the motor controller, the wiring is complex (for us, fortunately we can bring in our son who is an electrician). Also they are programmable and we don’t have the tools to reprogram it (particularly for regen but potentially also for things like throttle response and max revs)
  • We don’t manage to generate enough electricity to charge the batteries enough (separate updated blog post on generation to come)
  • We do something stupid with one of the expensive components so we need to spend a lot of money replacing it (eg shorting a battery, wiring something wrong).
  • Something we have not thought of

Compared to our lack of understanding of diesel engines this feels like a comfortable place to be 🙂 We think that overall we should be more reliable than diesel, better to live with and because of these be both more convenient and safer than a diesel engine while obviously being incredibly better for the planet.

Holiday progress day 2 #Epic

The weather changed our plans today, and kept changing them. We thought it was going to be wet most of the morning and then it wasn’t. So we cracked on, then it become more and more clear that from late morning tomorrow is going to be very wet. So it became something of a race.

By lunchtime we had 11 holes in the hull and I was writing “More and bigger holes in our boat” by about 5pm we had finished all the preparation. We have been following a guide from West Systems: Repairing machined holes in fibreglass

Jane had done most of the grinding the outside of the holes. The idea is to make the hull around the hole about 5mm thinner and then taper this to make a circle about 15cm diameter where the paint and gelcoat has been removed.

Meanwhile I was sanding the inside around each hole. This doesn’t need to be deep, you just want to be sure that the surface is ready for epoxy resin to stick to it.

Then I used the dremel on every hole to flare them out on both the inside and outside. The idea is that the hole becomes a bit of an hourglass shape. Then you fill it with thickened epoxy resin (resin with wood flour added to make it peanut butter consistency) and once set it is held in place by it’s shape as well as the bond with the original grp.

For the larger holes West Systems recommend creating your own resin “puck” by allowing some resin to go hard in a plastic cup the right size. We were short of time and didn’t have plastic cups the right size. So instead I used hole saws to cut pucks out of the FR4 sheet that I have bought to make backing plates from. FR4 is very dense fire resistant epoxy fibreglass.

We then cleaned around all the holes with a acetone type of liquid and washed it off.

Then an epoxy race began. Our bio-epoxy resin is a 2:1 mix of resin and hardener and it has a limited time before it starts to harden.

First task was to coat all the exposed fibreglass inside and out with standard resin mix. This ensures all the bits of fibreglass get wet with resin to improve the bond.

Jane did the inside and was rushing from cabin to cabin with her pot of resin while I followed up on the outside.

  • 3 holes in the aft heads
  • 2 holes in the motor compartment
  • 2 holes in the galley
  • 1 hole in the saloon
  • 3 holes in the forward heads.

With floorboards up and stuff cleared out of the way it was a bit of an obstacle course.

The next step was to add wood flour to the resin to thicken it up. We got a bit nervous and I don’t think we really got it as thick as would have been best.

It was thick enough for me to fill all the small bolt holes (4 around each main hole).

Then I was rushing around finding props so that on the outside each hole could have plastic (we reused plastic bags from various packaging), then a square of foam (cut from a damaged form square we have used for temporary flooring) and then a timber prop to hold it in place.

As I covered each hole in this way Jane was suffling through the cabins putting in some thickened resin, then the FR4 puck and then more thickened resin, with a short pause to mix up another batch of resin.

We finished at about 8:30pm (not the colour comes from the wood flour, the resin is clear).

Fortunately, Jane had made a lasagne at home and brought it frozen so we tidied up a bit and then sat outside in the dark eating lasagna and drinking Sainsburys £4.85 wine. Then final tidyup and showers.

We can do the inside fibreglassing even if it is raining and the outside can wait for a fine day.

Overall we are absolutely stoked that we got this much done in a day. This was a huge day for progress towards being able to float (and the work on the stern tube flange this morning a huge milestone towards getting the motor working).

Another new toy

Some eagle eyed people might have spotted a new toy in the back of our van in the last post.

Recently we were looking at the most environmentally safe way to remove the old anti-fouling paint. What we found is Peelaway Marine which sounds a lot better than the most common DIY methods of sanding/scraping which are both incredibly time consuming and also create lots of waste either as toxic dust or loose shavings. The professional method is to use some form of sandblasting and in theory it should be done inside and properly collected. However, walking around our boat and the yard it is obvious that in the past lots of antifouling has simply ended up in the gravel.

The Peelaway Marine product is particularly attractive as it comes with a “blanket” that you cover the paste with after application. The waste then comes away attached to the blanket. This seems better than other chemical solvents we have seen which still create a lot of mess.

As we were looking at this it was clear that applying it with an airless spray gun was going to be a huge time saver as well as doing a better and more economical job.

If you remember way back to January when I wrote about Anti-fouling paint the most environmentally friendly option seems to be SeaCoat SEA-SPEED V 10 X, however, that needs to be applied by spray.

When we added up all the painting that we need to do:

  • Anti-fouling removal paste
  • Anti-fouling
  • Lots more sections of the bilges
  • interior woodwork
  • deck
  • topsides we decided to be more honest and realistic with ourselves and recognise that the topsides (sides of the boat above the water) really are going to need to be painted, they are too old for a clean and polish to be enough

and considered our poor painting skills and time constraints we decided that it was worth buying an airless spray before doing any of the work (and especially better than doing lots of painting without one and then finding it is essential for the Sea-speed or the topsides).

Besides the speed and quality there are a couple of other advantages for us:

  • We have lots of painting where access is tricky or you need to keep moving platforms to stand on. So the potential to use an extension wand is very attractive as is less need to squeeze into the tightest depths.
  • Some of the paint isn’t very nice stuff. These keeps us much cleaner and separated from it during the process so safer for us.

We know nothing about these but some research led us to Wagner HEA products as being much cheaper than the typical commercial products. In the end we decided to go for their more powerful 350M product due to the wide variation in viscosity of the paints we need. We got it from https://www.paintsprayer.co.uk/

The fact that you simply dunk the hose in your can of paint and then get painting was attractive as a way of reducing mess and waste. Even the small amount of paint that ends up being flushed out is reasonable given that you waste quite a bit with paint trays, rollers and brushes. We will just need to get organised to paint as much as possible each time we load it up.

Hopefully over the next few years we will feel that we will get good value for money from this (we will also be able to use it for our sons home so it will get other uses too).

We will let you know how we find it.

Painful irony?

So depending on how I feel in a moment it is painful or amusing or frustrating or sad or just ironic that the blog post to sell our Diesel engine is currently the most popular on Sustainable Sailing.

It does highlight that for us, it is important to get afloat and demonstrate that an older boat, switched away from fossil fuels and refitted for a lower impact on the climate is practical, enjoyable and sustainable.

We are not engaged in some hair shirt, self inflicted punishment on this journey. In so many ways we find that living more sustainably is a really positive thing for ourselves as well as for others.

Fortunately, despite all the refit work this is not just about something positive in the future. We are also enjoying the journey to that future. While we are working on the refit we have already got a comfortable place to stay away from work and in a beautiful location.

Hopefully, we will soon sell the engine, ideally to someone who will be able to retire a less efficient one, who will benefit from this engine while using it very little 😉 In the meantime the money will be able to go towards more sustainable things for Vida 😉

Friday progress #21

So we have come of age 😉 21 today. Not too bad, we are still a month away from owning Vida for a year and we were unable to visit for nearly 4 months due to the lockdown.

We arrived late last night (slightly delayed by a poorly signposted diversion). We had to sneak in quietly, as another couple from the NWVYC were asleep in their motorcaravan, in the carpark 🙂 So just the essentials to carry to and up onto the boat at 10:45pm.

This time that included one of our Natures Head Composting Toilets. We took it home last time as it was getting full and we decided to continue to avoid using any shared facilities, so took it home to empty. Again Composting Toilets prove to be by far the best toilet during a Pandemic. No capacity limit. No need to use anyone else’s facilities.

Anyway, after a good sleep we got stuck into our first task. Removing the Cutlass Bearing. Really the last key piece that needs to be removed (so it can be replaced with a new one) in order to progress with the electric motor installation. This is the part closest to the propeller, it is a bronze sleeve with rubber insert that slips inside the stern tube that is built into the boat.

So I had bought these bits.

A 1m long 24mm diameter threaded rod. To go on the inside end a lock nut then two washers, one with a 24mm hole to fit snugly and then one with the right outside diameter to fit inside the stern tube but not inside the cutlass bearing. So this gets pushed in from inside the boat until the threaded rod appears and the washer is snug against the inside end of the cutlass bearing.

On the outside I have a 63.5mm stainless steel tube that goes around the end of the stern tube to push against the keel. Then a huge 70mm diameter washer and another nut.

On site I used a hole saw so that I had a piece of wood to protect the keep from the stainless tube.

Here you can see the outside nearly ready to go.

It proved to be a really hard task, we tried tightening the outside nut (had to file flats onto the threaded rod so we could use a spanner to stop it moving). Got it really tight but no movement.

Tried using our short section of propeller shaft and a hammer from the inside to knock it out. No movement.

Tried to cut the cutlass bearing lengthways with the Dremmel. Managed to cut a lot out but still it didn’t move.

Then rather than hit the propeller shaft with a hammer I used the shaft itself as a sliding hammer down the stern tube. It worked!!! Took until about 2:30pm but finally we managed to get it out.

This is the sterntube without a cutlass bearing.

This is the Cutlass Bearing, you can see where I had cut it and trimmed it with the Dremmel to try to free it.

With that done we could get on with other jobs.

First up was more cleaning of the old cockpit locker and diesel engine bay. After several hours it is now mostly clean enough for sanding and painting.

After working on part of the cleaning together I moved onto the glass windows of the wheelhouse. We have noticed a few leaks and wanted to fix those and check their condition.

The corrosion wasn’t too bad. The seals were pretty rubbish though and several of the screws rather loose. I cleaned and refitted using a neoprene strip 6mm thick. We can plan something better for the future now we know what is there.

Last job of the day was to fit the first two uprights that will become the sides of the motor and battery compartment. We wanted to add some additional strength to support the cockpit, particularly on the port side where there is a footwell for when you are steering. Plus we need uprights to fasten the sides that separate the motor space from the cockpit locker on one side and the corridor on the other.

These will be epoxy coated and fixed in place, more will added when we are sure where the motor mounts will go.

The new space for the motor and batteries is going to be a lot narrower than the old. So we can extra space in the cockpit locker and in the corridor to the aft cabin.

I’ve set them both vertical which turns out to nearly perfectly line up from the engine bearers to the flange that the cockpit floor bolts to. Now these are in place I’ll be able to remove the old corridor side which is going to make access much easier.

It is now horrible outside, the wind has got up and it has been raining hard for 3 hours. Yet we have left the cockpit floor and cockpit locker lid off to continue to air them out (yet again a significant improvement in the smell). So good that we have a wheelhouse above). You can see how much cleaner they look. Once they are painted it will make such a difference!

Eventually the cockpit floor is going to be bolted down more permanently (because we don’t need to take it out to fit an electric motor) with two new, bigger, drains fitted in the rear corners. Until then it does provide lots of light and makes it easier to get the larger timber in.

As we move to boxing in the cockpit locker we will need to build a ladder, probably on the aft bulkhead in order to get in and out.

Next a good sleep, a lie in and then back home to work.

Thursday progress

In my earlier post Stuffing box flange is off! we achieved the job that has been worrying me most during lockdown. So with that done we spent the rest of this extra day off clearing more debris from the diesel engine and preparing for the electric motor.

This is the stern tube where it emerges from the back of the keel (after we removed all the paint). This is the same tube that, on the inside, we removed the stuffing box flange from. So it is a bronze tube about 1m long fibreglassed into the structure of the boat. The propeller shaft runs through it.
After help from the Rival Owners Association with think the 3 holes, in a line, are from something fitted in the past to cut ropes that would otherwise get caught around the propeller.

The single hole is matched with one on the other side and these should have grub screws in them to hold the cutlass bearing in place.

This is the cutlass bearing. It is a bronze tube about 20cm long that fits inside the stern tube. It contains a rubber bearing with grooves cut in it. This is what the propeller shaft turns in. The grooves allow water in as a lubricant and for cooling.

It needs replacing and we managed to get the rubber insert out but not it’s bronze tube. It seems that we will have to make a couple of lengthwise cuts in the cutlass bronze tube so that we can get it out. Then the new one should just slip in. H’mm, we will see how easy that is.

Then we made some more holes in the cockpit. Top, semi circular is where the holder for the old engine gear lever/throttle was. We will take it home and prep it for the new tiny electric throttle.

The rectangle below that is from the autopilot which we have removed for cleaning and to get easier access to all that wiring.

Below that a round hole and a square hole were from two vents, we think they were for the fridge compressor. We will be blocking them up.

The rough, round hole on the left is from the manual bilge pump. We are taking it home to service, we think it will be fine, it just needs a new plastic ring on the outside as the current one was broken. All the pipes for the bilge pump will be new and routes differently so that we have access to the skin fitting where they exit the boat (we will have it a bit higher too and it will have a proper valve on it).

To do these jobs we removed both the cockpit locker and the cockpit floor for light and access. Jane did some cleaning, to get rid of the diesel stains where we have removed the fuel tank from the cockpit locker. It is now so deep only her head pokes out from it. Steps are going to be needed, at the moment we climb across the empty engine room from the corridor on the left of this picture.

This is looking from the corridor across the engine bay to the area Jane was cleaning. It looks very different. Before the whole area was as dark as the darkest part in this picture. When we have finished cleaning it will be sanded and painted to look pristine. Then a new vertical bulkhead (“wall”) will separate this locker from the electric motor room.

Meanwhile I cut the big piece of wood and fibreglass out from the side of the corridor. It was the support for the fuel tank (and an edge to stop the tank slipping into the corridor. Yet more saving of weight and taking out smell (untreated wood soaking up diesel for 42 years, yuck!).

That big chunk came from the left of the floorboard in the next picture.

In the bottom left of the picture you can see a cut out in the bulkhead which was for the fuel tank tap. This is the bulkhead at the aft end of the chart table which you can see in the picture. We are having a smaller chart table so that you sit facing forward (back leaning against this bulkhead). So we are going to trim the width of the bulkhead to match that tap cutout. Another step towards making the corridor to our cabin wider and easier.

We have now measured and we should be able to store two bike frames (with wheels taken off) in this space to the side of the corridor. We will probably hang them from hooks.

The right side of the corridor as you look in this picture will also move as we don’t need as much space or sound insulation for the electric motor.

Finally, we have been able to make lots of progress around the boatyard. Here I’m partway through removing the storage box we built around it while storing it in the cockpit since we lifted it out in February (see Diesel engine is out. Zero fossil fuel cruising on the way). We hadn’t expected it to be stored there so long. Tomorrow, the yard are going to life it out and down to the ground. Then we can sell it 🙂

We were also able to sort a few things with the other people who work around here. Steve is going to clear away the stainless steel and old diesel and he has sold the rigid dinghy that came with Vida for us.

Trevor is preparing to fit the new toerail (it will look a bit like an escalator handrail), before lockdown Gary got the preparation done by cleaning and filling the joint that the toerail covers with special flexible epoxy resin. This will be a lovely job to have finished as it was in progress a year ago when we bought Vida.

Only after we removed the autopilot and came below did we realise that this has left a big gap to be filled between the galley and the cockpit locker. Planning the rewiring is quite a big job as our electrical system is going to be so different, plus the switch panel is moving to the other side of the boat. We are intending to fit plastic tubes as conduit for all the wiring so that it is possible to pull new wires through in the future. However, we have both 240volt AC and 12volt DC to do and they need to be kept separate.

Sustaining Electrics

We have had lots of comments that salt water and electrics are not compatible. We also see lots of YouTube channels who find that their electronics (laptops, hard disks, cameras etc) do not last well in salt water environments.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. So what are we doing about it?

First, we need to recognise that Salt Water and Diesel are also not compatible. Also that diesel engines still need some electrics (very few modern diesel engines can be started by hand).

Second, there is a lot that can be done to help electrics survive better and to be more sustainable in our use of them. So here are a few things we are doing that particularly relate to the electric motor.

  1. Keep salt water out of the boat.
    1. Reduce the number of holes in the boat. We are down to 2 seacocks which are for the cockpit drains and so there is no opening from them into the interior of the boat.
    2. Change the traditional stuffing box to seal the propeller shaft with a modern dripless seal. The stuffing boxes always leak a little, right next to the motor which is clearly a bad thing.
  2. Actively dry the air, we will be fitting and electric dehumidifier into the motor compartment so that the air used to cool the motor will be dryer. The model we are looking at (Ecor Pro Dryboat 12) removes the moisture in an warm, damp exhaust to the outside (so we don’t need to have a water drain inside). A side effect is warm, dry air that can be used to warm the cabin, dry clothes etc.
  3. Box in the motor. While not fully sealing the motor (it is air cooled so needs air flow) we will make sure that it isn’t directly open to the bilge and that the air into the motor compartment comes from drier parts of the boat (such as the aft cabin which is far from the entrance and from wet clothes lockers). The compartment will be fully sealed from the cockpit locker where wet ropes, fenders etc will be stored. Also fully sealed from the galley where we create steam.
  4. Keep other water away from the motor compartment. So no plumbing at all. No water pump, no hot water tank etc.

We are also considering sustainability when it comes to other electronics such as used for navigation, general computing, entertainment etc.

Here our intention is to avoid integrated proprietary solutions in favour of low cost, open solutions. Also to use wireless communications where possible.

So our key platform will be Raspberry Pi single board computers. These do not require fans, can be installed in fully waterproof cases and run off 5Volt DC so are easy to power from our battery banks. They can be used for navigation (using OpenCPN), communication between sensors (such as wind speed, boat speed, AIS etc using SignalK as well as wired connections), entertainment (video etc), work (office software, video editing etc etc).

All the software is free and open source which is always far more sustainable than closed proprietary solutions that companies can stop supporting (or the companies can disappear). Even if you are not a programmer you still benefit from this.

Waterproof screens are now widely available and replacement screens can be bought anywhere (anything with an hdmi connection will work). That compares to replacement screen needing to be bought from B&G or Garmin or Apple.

As Raspberry Pi computers are cheap (the most powerful, more than we need is £74) and can be used for so many tasks, we can have several meaning we gain redundancy.

More and more sailors are switching from the very expensive dedicated units such as from B&G, Garmin, Raymarine and instead using the phone, iPad or tablet. However, these are generally not very waterproof and as they are all in one units they are expensive to replace.

Instead we can have a “dumb” but waterproof screen and keep the brains (the Raspberry Pi) separate, away from the elements. If there is a failure we haven’t lost the whole unit bit can easily replace just the broken part.

The open source element also allows a great deal of integration For example I can write code to access our Batteries Management systems over bluetooth from our Raspberry Pi (and make it available to the boat management system) without needing to wait for our unknown brand to be supported by the navigation system supplier. Others have connected sensors for temperature, humidity and much more.

There are a number of new sensors for sailing becoming available eg wind sensors from both OpenWind and Calypso that are solar powered and wireless. Both can be connected to Raspberry Pi systems. This should prove more reliable that systems requiring wires up the mast for power and data signals.

Whilst the (very expensive) integrated systems from B&G etc are very sophisticated they also tie you into an ecosystem that does not have sustainability at it’s core. To gain that you need to have more control yourself which is what the OpenSource approach gives.

Plus neither we nor the planet can afford to keep replacing Macbook laptop computers every year or two.

Measurements confirm layout choices

So I recently wrote Cabin Refurbishment: Part 4 Layout, however, at that point we hadn’t been on Vida for over 3 months during which time our thinking has been evolving. So our ideas were based on memory and the drawings which are a little inaccurate for the internal layout.

So, yesterday, we took lots of measurements :=)

Galley: In order to fit the worktop extension flap we are only going to have reduce the height of the bulkhead by about 50mm. We will be able to hinge the flap so that when it is in the up position it will cover the top of the bulkhead and so there will be no visible hinge to trap food, that will make it easier to keep hygienic.

Chart Table: We do want to keep a chart table suitable for a standard folded chart. The existing chart table is much, much larger than that, but sadly not quite big enough for an unfolded chart. We have enough space for a forward facing chart table with a permanent, forward facing bench seat (with storage underneath it). We will be able to have a shelf under the chart table to fit the sewing machine, without reducing knee room. This should end up being a comfortable place to sit when you are on watch (between getting up every 15 minutes for a full look around the horizon).

Corridor to aft cabin: The space at the outer starboard side (where the fuel tank was) is long enough to store both our bikes (providing we remove the wheels first). That means we don’t have to spend money on folding Bromptons (at least initially – folding bikes are a lot easier to transport ashore and can be kept with you in shops for security). We will fit it out with shelves to maximise the storage space around the bike frames.

It means that long term we can have at least one full-size bike for use on the indoor trainer for exercise 🙂

The changes to the chart table and turning the engine compartment into the motor room mean that the corridor can be widened, enough to make it practical for a foldaway sea berth. We can also add an opening porthole to the side of the cockpit to provide natural light and ventilation to the corridor as well as easier communication from the chart table or sea berth to the cockpit.

Electric Motor Room: We need a cool name for this space that is going to be so awesome. Something that sounds like it comes from the Starship Enterprise 🙂 We have confirmed that the motor, it’s battery bank, the house battery bank, the two inverters, the MPPT Solar controllers will all fit while still having good access to the only 2 seacocks in the boat (2 x 50mm Trudesign composite seacocks) for the cockpit drains.

After further study and thinking we are probably also going to fit an electric desiccant dehumidifier in this space so that we can improve the lifespan of all the electrics by drying the air thus avoiding them sucking in salty, humid air causing them to fail. More on this in the future, a nice side effect is that the dehumidifier also warms the air (and yes we will make sure that warm air gets directed outside the boar when we are in hotter climates).

I’m working on designs for battery boxes that fully enclose the batteries and hold them in place even in the catastrophic event of the boat rolling over. With the motor bank of 4 batteries weighing a total of 152 kg the thought of these flying around is terrifying.

Critically, we are going to be able to have really short and simple electrical connections between a) the batteries and motor b) the house batteries and the inverters with all fuses and master switches very accessible. We have some really chunky tinned copper (60 x 6 mm) for the main busbars so are very confident that we can get a really efficient house battery bank (that is very critical for 12 volt batteries connected in parallel where the current is very high) with a key focus on that connection to the inverters and also to the windlass as these are, by orders of magnitude, the items needing most power.

The route to our main 12volt switch panels (everything apart from the inverters and the windlass) is also simple as the panels will be above the entrance to the corridor (above the chart table, on the starboard side of the companionway). All the busbar connections for the lights etc will be accessible behind the switch panels above the corridor (there is a narrow space inside the edge of the cockpit), we will make them so that they drop down for easy access.

Forward heads: We feel we also have a measured plan for this space. We are sacrificing some, rather inaccessible, storage space for what will be a much more generous toilet, shower, dressing space.

The composting toilet will be on the port side, sitting on a raised platform which allows it to move outwards a bit. Above and behind it will be storage space for a hand washing machine and an electric spin dryer. As we won’t have the sliding door to the saloon we will be able to fit big handholds, on both sides, for when you use the toilet in rough weather.

The two big, awkward cupboards/wardrobes opposite, on the starboard side, will be removed. On the forward side there will be a narrow hanging locker/wardrobe for guest hanging clothes. Next to that the basin with vanity storage outboard and holding tank below.

The central section will be used (with full standing headroom and plenty of space) as the shower. The toilet and basin will be protected by shower curtains (although if it is rough you can sit on the toilet to shower). The shower drains straight into a sealed section of bilge which will be pumped directly into the larger holding tank.

There will be a hinged door to the saloon (will block off the basin when it is opened).

The hinged door to the v-berth will open and expand to be able to hide the toilet. When the v-berth is used as a guest cabin you can use the shower area with wash basin and hanging locker for getting dressed (with the toilet out of view). At night, if you wish, the door to the v-berth can be closed to act as a headboard. We will add a step to the lower part of the hanging locker to make it much easier to climb up into the v-berth when it is configured as a double.

We think the small loss of storage (which is currently very difficult to access and going to be very damp if you have a shower) is a small price to pay for a comfortable shower and space to get dressed when using the v-berth as a double.

The whole of this space will also be much lighter (thanks to the larger windows as they no longer have frames) and better ventilated as both windows have opening portholes.

Remember the best sustainable examples are attainable

Sustainability it a topsy turvy journey where contradictions abound and it turns out that this is good news for those of us trying to be more sustainable.

The loudest voices come from the privileged and wealthy, but they have least to teach us about sustainability. That is good news because most of us can’t afford what they are selling whether it be electric super yachts or anything with luxury in the description.

Those loud privileged voices who are desperately trying to hold onto and increase their wealth and power need to tell us that you can’t do what people have been doing for decades. They want you to forget about the Hiscock’s, and the Pardey’s with their multiple circumnavigations (without the benefit of so much modern technology – including reliable diesel engines).

The need to to tell us that our fantasies, our desires are essential needs (while selling what those fantasies are). That life without lightweight carbon fibre everything, without freezers, air conditioning, huge island double beds, space for large numbers of guests is impossible.

They believe that “sustainable” is a poorly defined term that they can throw around with impunity. They believe adding a solar panel or two to the options list makes hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on exotic materials, most often taking advantage of low labour rates and lack of rights, protections for labour and the environment, in some way sustainable.

Their business model depends on selling us more because they can’t compete on any other terms. Their only understanding of value is lower in sticker price than something that is massively overpriced. They run out of ideas other than bigger is better, most expensive is best.

Yet the reality is that none of this is sustainable, none of this is accessible and very, very few people can do it for long.

But the beauty is that now it is easier to find the stories from people who don’t control the media, who can’t buy exposure, who are not trying to sell us something we don’t need.

This is where we find the really inspiring stories of innovation in sustainability. Pretty much, all rescuing old project boats. So often choosing electric because the diesel wasn’t working and couldn’t be rescued. Often needing to work their way round the world (as the examples from the past often did). Fixing things with local materials, supporting local economies far from exotic resorts.

Look for the people who really engage with local people, watch for the way they refer to them and to their countries, customs, laws etc.

Look for the people who have bought boats for as little as $1. Who learn to be better sailors either because they don’t have much range with their electric setup or because they can’t afford to spend money on diesel – so they actually sail their boats.

There is plenty of good news. When we were looking for our boat, there was a huge choice of potential project boats to suit different preferences. There were boats whose sister ships have sailed around the world for under £5,000.

Of course you could spend more than 10 times that for newish boat the same length (but with more space and less weight carrying ability). You could buy something new enough that the teak decks will look beautiful for another 2 or 3 years before you have to replace them. You can find boats with more spent on the electronics alone than the value of the whole boat.

But if we want sustainable, then find the boats that need your love. Make sure it costs less than a new car to buy (good tip from Free Range Sailing).

Ignore the people who try to persuade you that time refitting a boat is lost compared to time working to pay for boat or that it is better to strive to pay for luxury for a couple of years rather than be out there into the future in something you and the planet can afford.

If we allow the privileged and wealthy to get into our minds and sell us their dreams then they get to enjoy the fruits of our labour without us, and to add insult to injury they will do so at great cost to the planet.

Oh and you don’t have to be the typical young couple with beautiful bodies and successful YouTube channels. It works well for us oldies too. While we refit we get to stay onboard in a beautiful place and not have to pay for holiday accommodation or campsites. We can look forward to a more secure retirement through needing less not worrying about finding more.

But on the other hand we looked at about 1/2 dozen project yachts within a few miles of Vida, ready and waiting for new owners to join the sustainable sailing revolution. Come on in, the water is lovely, accessible, affordable and you can help make it cleaner too 🙂

Should people convert yachts to electric motors?

In this generally good and fact filled interview (“Electric Engines on Sailboats: A Complete Guide! | Sailing Uma Interview“) there is the statement “If you have a working diesel, keep it” (at 40:30).

Of all the conversions of Yachts to electric motors, Kika and Dan of Sailing Uma, are possibly the most inspiring, they have more experience than pretty much everyone. They have built multiple versions, done some amazing DIY to get things working in ways they were not designed for and used them over years of cruising (20,000 miles I think they said). Their whole channel is full of brilliant and inspiring stories that spring from their characters which are lovely, positive, empathetic and so full of energy. Their videos around tourism and the environment in Haiti, of accessible sailing catamarans, of their responses to huge unexpected boat problems such as the keel nearly falling off the boat in the early days are great. We also find the way they have reworked the interior of Uma over the years really encouraging, it has helped us be much more adventurous with out own layout decisions.

BUT …

I totally disagree with this statement “If you have a working diesel, keep it”.

I fully accept several of their arguments

  • the key restriction of electric motor installations is the range
  • many people are wedded to the idea that their diesel engine is a significant safety feature (I think they are wrong to do so but they do think that)
  • that an electric motor would force significant changes on many people who cruise to a timetable

Yet, I think they have missed the key reason that nearly everyone with a yacht should be encouraged to switch to an electric motor. We have to stop using fossil fuels and do so fast. So the UN says:

Increased commitments can take many forms but overall they must serve to shift countries and economies onto a path of decarbonization, setting targets for net zero carbon, and timelines of how to reach that target, most typically through a rapid acceleration of energy sourced from renewables and a rapid deceleration of fossil fuel dependency.

I think by now most people reading this blog are aware of the problems with fossil fuels, if not here are a couple of introductions.

So I’m saying switch away from Diesel Engines because we need to stop burning fossil fuels and I recognise that will have an impact on how you can use your yacht. I’m sorry about that but it is tough. We have to change and the way of cruising with a powerful, pretty reliable (especially if we ignore the very common fuel problems) diesel engine has to come to an end as a rather short time period in the history of cruising yachts.

My rule of thumb is to replace your diesel engine with an electric motor if any of these apply to you:

  • Your diesel engine does not work
  • Your fuel system needs money spending on to solve problems with diesel bug or other sludge or water
  • Your diesel engine needs signifiant work doing on any aspect
  • Your diesel engine needs taking out to do work on your stuffing box, cutlass bearing etc
  • You use a lot of diesel

If after this you have a working diesel engine by all means sell it to someone who will use it less than you.

The impact of switching from a diesel engine in your boat to an electric motor is far more significant than just the reduction in fossil fuels. It has massive symbolic value to others. It causes a big, positive, shift in our own expectations and our commitment to change in every part of our lives. As such it is a step everyone should be considering.