Pachuca Circumnavigation

This blog began in late 2006 with the planning and preparation for a circumnavigation of the world in my 39-foot sail boat Pachuca. It then covered a successful 5-year circumnavigation that ended in April 2013. The blog now covers life with Pachuca back home in Australia.


Pachuca in Port Angeles, WA USA

Monday, December 25, 2017

Panels Working OK

I went through another cycle of lowering the house battery bank voltage then seeing what the new solar panels could deliver under full sunlight.

On Sunday afternoon I made a quick visit to the boat to cover the solar panels with blankets then put a load on  the house bank by leaving  the refrigerator and chart plotter on all night.
Protecting the connections under the starboard solar panel

Shading the panels with wool blankets

I returned at 10AM the next day to find the house bank at 12.8V and the regulator on "boost".   I increased the load on the battery bank by turning on the steaming light and two rarely-used power hungry incandescent lights then removed the blankets and rushed below to look at the situation.

The ammeters was showing a disappointing 7 amps.  Without panicking I tested each panel by shading its partner with a blanket.  Each panel was delivering 7 amps, according to the ammeter.

Fortunately I also had the service of the BEP monitor, which reports the net amperage going into the house bank.  From a series of carefully documented tests involving changes in the battery load vs net amperage, with the ultimate test of turning off the main switch so that with no load on the battery the BEP would be reporting  actual amperage from the solar panels,  I concluded that the solar panels were delivering 14.8 amps and that the ammeter was not capable of displaying more than 7 amps.

A few minutes later I was startled to see the BEP reporting 15.7 ... 15.8 ... 15.9 amps.  That was more like what I had been expecting.  But why the jump?  I looked at the controller and it had moved from "boost" to "absorption" phase, which must  result in the delivery of more current to the battery bank.

Later on I thought about the ammeter and realized that for years it had never reported more than 7.5 amps because of the limitations of the old panels.  Perhaps some corrosion had crept into the mechanical movement of the needle.  I plan to remove the ammeter and connect the positive wire from the solar panel directly to the regulator.

Also, today I found that the Victron Energy (maker of the regulator) "V.E.Direct to Bluetooth Smart dongle" had arrived in the mail.  This little $69 beast will allow me to read the current and past performance of the regulator through an app on my Android smart phone.  Between that and the BEP monitor I should be able to maintain a good picture of the solar panel situation.

Between the new battery bank of more than 1000 a/h and the new panels that deliver more than twice what the old panels did I should have no more electrical  power problems for the next few years.  I should be able to run the refrigerator, chart plotter, radar, lights, etc with impunity.  This will be augmented by the still-functioning Rutland wind charger which is of great help during the night and  cloudy days.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Solar Panel Replaced

After I commissioned the new solar panels in early November I noticed signs that things were not quite right. One day I noticed erratic levels of amperage being delivered to the house bank though the sunshine was relatively steady.  The wind charger was unsteady as usual, delivering 0-3 amps,  which would not explain the behaviour. The next time I visited the boat the amperage input was steady and normal.

But I had not seen the panels delivering more than 5 amps and I would not be satisfied until I saw about 15 amps being delivered.  The maximum of 5 amps that I had been seeing was normal given that the battery bank was always topped up with the regulator on "float".  The only way to test the system would be to lower the battery voltage enough to force the regulator to go into the "boost" phase and see what the panels delivered in bright sunshine.

Last week just before the Bunbury Cruise Information Dinner I visited the boat,  covered both panels with heavy wool blankets, turned on the refrigerator and chart plotter, then left the boat for the night. 

At 10 AM the next day Stephen and I visited the boat to find the house bank down to 12.7v and the regulator on "boost".  While Stephen watched the instruments below I uncovered the panels exposing them to full sunshine.  Stephen reported a delivery of 7 amps.  I joined him down below, confirmed his finding, and grumbled that 7 amps was disappointing, as though only one panel was working.  Stephen suggested that we investigate this by covering one panel at a time.

We covered the port panel and the voltage dropped to 0v.  We then moved the blanket to the other panel and the voltage resumed to 7v.  OK, so the starboard panel was not producing.  We then checked the voltages at the end of the connections that were part of the panels and confirmed that the port panel was at 7v and the starboard panel was at 0v.  Note that none of my wiring was involved in this examination.

I contacted Battery World and we arranged a visited on Wednesday of this week.  I met Brian at the gate and soon we were on the boat.  After peeling back the Bimini cover Brian probed both panels and confirmed that the starboard panel was dead.  We removed the 6 bolts holding the panel onto the frame and soon we had it loaded in his van.  I asked him what to expect next.  Brian would check the panel but unless he found a simple fix a replacement panel would probably have to wait until after Christmas. 

Late on Thursday morning - the next day - I got message  that the panel was faulty, which I had expected, but they had a brand new replacement panel in the shop ready for pickup, which was a very big and surprise.  Brian told me that while discussing the problem with KT, he ask if they could send a replacement today.  To their credit KT sent the replacement almost immediately. 

No doubt KT will be most interested in determining the fault because according to what they told Brian, they have never had one of their panels fail.

I picked up the panel, went to be boat, where the first thing I did was check out the voltage under sunshine.   I read 21.5v under partial shading, which was good enough for me.  I then worked methodically without rushing, and two hours  later had the new panel mounted, connected, cables tidied up, tools put away, and cockpit swept of aluminum shavings from the drilling.  Because the house bank was full and the regulator was at "float" stage another test with the house bank low enough to put the regulator into "boost" phase would have to wait until my next visit. 

But I am optimistic.

Battery World O'Connor's handling of the matter was exemplary, and I cannot speak highly enough of them and, for that matter, KT.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Ready for Sea

Ship's chronometer repaired

Progress on boat projects has been by fits and starts over the past winter because the house renovation effort demanded first priority.

In June I had the new house batteries installed and in July with Stephen's help I mounted the new solar panels then managed to haul the boat out of the water for three days of hull maintenance.  Soon after that I managed to find time to change the engine oil and filter.  I also removed the canvas spray dodger and bimini to Debbie at Ocean Canvas for repairs of zippers and snap locks.  And about a month ago I delivered the boat's chronometer to Jim, a clock repair man in Guildford.

The chronometer had been of particular concern to me.  It had begun to stop intermittently and it appeared to me that the electric drive mechanism had to be replaced.  I was wondering if a clock repairer would take on an electric drive replacement.  Repair of the clock was important to me because the inscription on the brass surface described is a retirement gift from my colleagues at Murdoch Univeristy.  Jim did a wonderful job.  He even purchased new hands for the chronometer but decided that the original simpler ones looked better.  I told him how much I appreciated his restoration because the chronometer meant a lot to me. "I know" he replied.

As the bathroom renovation wound down I had opportunities to spend a day or two at a time on the boat and in the last two weeks everything came together when Debbie delivered the repaired canvas ($260) and Jim delivered the repaired chronometer at the quoted price of $70.

Work on installation of the new regulator for the solar panel took two visits. During the first visit I simplified the wiring by removing the switch by which I had been able to direct the solar power between the House and Starter banks and also direct the wind charger  power to both banks simultaneously.  All power from the sun and wind is now directed to the House bank because that is the one that requires replenishment while cruising and I know that I can always join the two battery banks if the Starter bank is too weak to start the engine.
Panels joined under starboard panel

Victron Controller

On my last visit I confirmed my doubt that I had gotten the polarity right in wiring up the solar panels because the output cables were not labeled + and -.  Over a 5-day period the House bank voltage had dropped from 13.7V to 13.3v and no power was going into  the bank. I reversed the  polarity and soon everything was working well.  (Yes I know, as Stephen pointed out I could have saved myself a lot of trouble by probing the cables with the volt meter.)

I also mounted the chronometer and finished installing the repaired canvas. For good measure I replaced the LED light strip in the head.

Unless there is a surprise in store Pachuca is ready for sea, with 1020 a/h of new AGM batteries in the House, a new 230 a/h AGM battery in Starter banks, solar panels that rate at more than double the output of the older ones (150W vs 65W), and a new Victron controller with MPPT technology.

I plan sea trials to see if the the new can support without battery drain  normal cruising electrical requirements including running the power hungry refrigerator.

On a final bright note, during last weekend's "open house" Peter Austin asked me if I needed crew  for the sail from Fremantle to Bunbury in the coming Bunbury Cruise.  He beat beat me to it because I had been planning to ask him.  After we agreed he asked if his son Tom could come too.  Yup!  Then he asked if Stuart a long time mutual sailing friend could join us too.  Yup!  So there could be four of us making the sail.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


October 2017 Edition
Last July I was greatly honoured by being chosen as the Fremantle Sailing Club's Cruiser of the Year.

I suppose that the selection committee was attracted to the narrative of a middle aged office worker teaching himself to sail, setting an ambitious goal of sailing around the world, then actually doing it.  I think too that my voluntary activities with the club since my return from the circumnavigation also helped.
Article on Page 6

What I wasn't told at the time was that the nomination puts me in contention for Cruising Helmsmen magazine's COTY (gulp!).
Trophy evocative of a sail, FSC and Cruising Section emblems at top

Last week I was presented with an imaginative and elegant trophy by Bill Burgess, Commodore of FSC which I will always display with great pride.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Hull Maintenance

Annual hull maintenance has seemed a waste because I kept finding the antifouling and anodes in reasonably good shape, so this time I decided to forego the springtime hull maintenance and see what an 18 month span would be like.

I decided to take the club's wintertime offer of the first 5 days at the hardstand for free and booked the boat for haulout on Monday with splashdown in Friday.  This may appear to look like 5 days but it yields closer to 4 working days.  It was going to be a tight schedule and given the vagaries of the wintertime rains it was likely that I would have to extend the hardstand time.

The hull was in remarkably good shape, given that the boat had been in the water for 19 months.  I asked the yard worker who had pressure cleaned the hull if it had been a particularly difficult job and he said No, the marine growth had not been unusually bad.  He also commented on how good the anodes looked.  The propeller had also been in good condition.  Two days earlier I had put the engine into forward and reverse in the pen to ensure that the propeller was not too fuzzed up with growth to provide drive and found it to be OK. 

The schedule was tight.

On Monday afternoon I took the propeller and shaft back to bare metal using a wire brush attachment on my angle grinder then had a good look at the anodes.  They looked remarkably good after 19 months.  The yard man who had pressure washed the hull had commented on how good they looked and this was confirmed by a fellow sailor who commented on the generous number of anodes protecting the propeller and shaft.  I removed the large circular anodes protecting the metal part of the skeg, wire brushed it, and found that they had plenty of weight and heft - at least 80% of the original material, by my reckoning.  On that basis I decided to wire brush the other anodes and put the boat back into the water with the same anodes.  This saved me about $140 and perhaps 2 precious hours of work, largely in drilling the center holes for the big skeg anodes.  I finished the day by beginning the unpleasant and dirty job of scraping down the hull.
Large anodes being inspected

All anodes retained (notice anode at rear of shaft)

Primer on propeller and shaft.  Dynaplate ground shoe for HF radio above

Ready for splashdown

I spent most of Tuesday scraping down the hull.  The water pressure cleaning does a marvelous job of removing most of the self-ablating antifouling, but there is no substitute for scraping down every square inch of the lower part of the hull to remove lose flakes of old antifouling and tiny surviving barnacles.  I used a respirator and finished the day with blue hair and a blue face.  I also managed to put the primer coat on the propeller and shaft.  It was important that I do it on this day so that I could lay down the top coats on Wednesday and Thursday.  And I masked out upper part of the hull using two types of tape.  I had been lucky with the rain but I knew that showers were expected overnight and was concerned that the tape would deteriorate in the moisture.  (Fortunately it didn't.)

On Wednesday I rolled on the first coat of antifouling using a 10 liter can that I had purchased at Yacht Grot for $450.  That job took 6 hours because the hull has hungry, the antifouling was thick, and the rolling had to be done very slowly.  I also put the first topcoat on the propeller and shaft.
(The metal primer and Velux Plus topcoat are by Marlin Yacht Products out of Trieste.  It is very expensive but goes a long way, four years so far and enough for another two.  I highly recommend it.)

On Thursday I rolled on the second coat of antifouling, with two new 4-liter cans at hand (at $200 per can).  The second coat always requires less material and rolls faster, so I managed to finish that job in about 4 hours.  I also put the second (and final) topcoat on the propeller and shaft.

Friday morning was a very busy time for me.  The boat was scheduled to be hoisted on the slings at 12 noon and be held there for 30 minutes while the crew had lunch and I worked frantically to put 2 coats of antifouling on  the parts of the hull that had been covered by the props holding the boat up.  I arrived early and used what time remove the masking tape around the hull, replace the DOT boat registration sticker on the side of the hull (I had not displayed a current DOT license in about 3 years, risking a $500 fine.), polish the stainless steel bowplate, and remove the marks left on the upper part of the hull by the lifter straps when the boat had been hauled out.  Cleaning those strap marks is not easy with an old paint job but in a timely visit by Kim from Mandalay, next to my pen, to see how I was doing, he introduced me to "Scuff Off", a liquid cleaner that its works like magic.

At about 11 AM when I knew that I was about ready I visited the office to confirm my splashdown.  The yard manager had no idea that I was going back into the water.  I told him that I had made the booking over a month earlier and that I my boat was supposed to be hung on the slings over lunch time. He did some creative scrambling and managed to get me into the water as planned. 

I had not had time to visit my pen to make sure that the ropes were in correct position and telephoned Brenda who on short notice came to the boat to pick up a short boat hook in order to pick up ropes out of the water and when I arrived at the pen there she was ready to pass over the bow ropes, fended off the bow which was about to touch the jetty, the stood by while I attached the springers and stern lines that she had set up. 

For the record, I used about 16 liters of antifouling.

I got home tired but very satisfied that everything had gone to schedule.  I had been unbelievably fortunate with the rain, which seemed to happen at night then magically stay away during the day.

HF Antenna Cable

Removing the solar panels presented an opportunity to tidy up the connection between the HF radio cable and the backstay, which acts as the boat's antenna. 

The connection is a crude one, with bare wire held tightly to the backstay using universal clamps.  Crude but effective, because I was speaking to South Africa twice a day until I reached Cape Leeuwin at Australia's southwest corner. 
Connection above insulator

Spacers in place

I removed the clamps, cut off the partially corroded bare wire, exposed fresh wire by cutting back the insulation, sanded the backstay, then clamped the wire to the backstay. 

I then replaced some of the separators that maintain a gap between the HF cable and the non-antenna part of the backstay.  This gap minimizes the leaching of the transmission energy from the antenna cable to the backstay, presumably through inductance.  The spacers are sections of fuel hose and everything is held in place using thick plastic cable ties.  Very effective.

Holes Drilled

Late last week I drilled 6 holes to accommodate the new solar panels, which for me was a very big deal that had been worrying me for a while.
Hole template on rickety platform

Each side of the cockpit frame has three straps running athwhartships upon which a solar panel rests.  Each strap has a hole at each end through which a bolt passes through to the panel frame, giving a total of 6 bolts per panel.

The new panels are narrower and slightly longer than the old ones, meaning that the distance between the holes on each strap would have to be reduced slightly.  The task that I dreaded was drilling through the thick and very hard stainless steel material which for me has as always been a challenge at the best of times, and more difficult now because I would be working aloft.

To minimize the drilling I decided to use three of the existing holes for each panel, thus there was the choice was between fixing the panels near the center line of the boat or spreading them out and leaving a bigger gap at the center.  I decided that the result would look better with the panels spread out.  That meant that I would use the existing holes on the outboard edges of the straps and drill new holes on the inboard side.
New holes on right side (inboard) side of straps

New hole at left

The first problem was to find a fast and fool proof method of marking the distance between the new holes.  In the garage I found an aluminium strip of suitable size and at the boat cut it to span the panels.  I then drilled a hole at one end of the strip, fitted it to the panel using a bolt, then with a pencil carefully traced out the other hole on the aluminium strip.  Drilling aluminium is easy and I was able to drill the hole to within 2 mm of the required span.   I now had a template and used the same procedure to trace out the hole locations on the cockpit frame.

Then Stephen and I visited a tool shop where I got good advice on the drilling technique (very slow speed, no lubrication) and the best drill brand.  I suggested a second, smaller bit for a pilot hole and the salesman agreed.  I would need to center punch the material to avoid my drill bit dancing around so I also purchased a new punch.

On the day when I had everything ready Stephen arrived at the boat with a heavy wooden block.  His job was to use the block as backing while I center punched.  This was necessary to avoid bending the straps or, worse, breaking the welds that held them to the frame.  In order to raise myself to working level I set up a rickety system using the boat's boarding ladder with a small foldout ladder on top.

Once the hole centers were puched and I had partially drilled the first hole to make sure that the punches were deep enough I thanked Stephen for his help and proceeded to work on my own.

After 3 hours of patient work spread over two days I managed to drill the holes without breaking either of the bits.

Fitting the panels should be easy.  Each panel has 3 pre-drilled holes on each side.   I'll bolt one of the center holes of the panel to the center inboard hole on the cockpit frame and when the panel is orientated correctly I'll drill the other 5 holes on the panel through the holes on the stainless steel strapping.

There is no substitute for good planning.

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