29 January 2020

Boat Projects in Paradise

Living on a boat, especially in the Caribbean, can be heavenly. Every day I am grateful for this lifestyle. There is, however, far less lounging on the beach with a mojito than one may assume. The adventure and relaxing segments are necessarily heavily intermingled with constant attention to the inner and outer workings of the vessel to keep her looking spiffy, functioning well, and sailing safely.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Quite a few boat projects were tackled back in November in the immediate weeks after Argon was  launched in Grenada. Most days since then include at least a sprinkling of boat chores or logistics. Some days are consumed by projects. Here is a sampling of fairly routine boat maintenance and repairs we have tackled recently during a couple of weeks in Antigua - often at anchor, sometimes tied up at Nelson's Dockyard in English Harbor.

Electrical:  Solar Panel Performance


We have four flexible panels mounted on the bimini and dodger with a total rated capacity of 385 watts. We should be able to depend on around 100AH (Amp-Hours) of energy from these on a typical Caribbean sunny day but the generated energy has been somewhat sub par. Step one was to clean all of the connectors and terminals between the panels and the controllers with alcohol. The good news is that our primary panel (the 135w on the bimini) is now doing great, as is the port side 100w panel.  The not so good news is that we're still getting a little less energy than we should and it's clearly because the starboard side 100w panel is just not performing. We've cleaned everything we can on that panel and we sadly conclude that the panel is failing.

All of the connectors for the solar panels were cleaned with alcohol.



Amperage readings in collected over the course of a day showing peak of about 17 amps midday - less than what it should be if all solar panels were functioning well.

Being the nerds we are, we plotted the net income of Amps from the panels for each daylight hour (over several days).  If that starboard panel was performing, the peak would be well over 20A. Seventeen is the highest we record. The main power consumers are the fridge and our work laptops. The fridge is probably using about 60-70 A-H per day (depending on how many ice cubes we can have in our drinks). Our work laptops have 130w power bricks and they need to be plugged in quite a few hours a day. The end result is unless we can get ashore for powering the laptops part of the day, more is going out than is coming in and we still need to run the engine periodically to make up the deficit.


Electrical:  New Windlass Switches (again!)

When at anchor in Maine, USA a few years ago, we learned that the up and down switches for the windlass are woefully unreliable when our windlass suddenly started paying out chain - potentially very dangerous. Now, as a precaution, we now always keep the breaker for the windlass off except when preparing to set or weigh anchor. And, despite replacing the switches with better quality ones, they continue to eventually start to fail after some time. It's not surprising really considering the location way up front on the bow where they are regularly being blasted by salt water waves while sailing. While in Antigua recently, Bob replaced the pair yet again (and purchased another set of spares for when these fail).


Crouching in the bow locker replacing the windlass switches (again).

IT Support:  Flaky WiFi Router

Starting around Martinique, we noticed that our trusty Bullet Wifi Router was starting to not work reliably (even when we could find some wifi to hijack). Bob was down in to a locker again (this time the transom locker) to get access to the network connection to the Bullet. He put a PoE (Power Over Ethernet) tester inline to see if the Bullet was getting power. It was. And... it was also working now.

Bob squeezing in to the transom locker to access the wifi network cabling.



The PoE tester inline with the Bullet. Plenty of power going through.

The diagnosis: Just interrupting and reconnecting the bullet "fixed" it - meaning we have a flaky connection. Bob cleaned the connectors with alcohol and it's been fine... until today. As we edit this blog and get ready to upload, the Bullet is wigging out again. It may be time to just cut the wires and re-crimp new connectors. In the meantime, we will clean the connectors again and cross our fingers. Mobile data has been our front line strategy for connectivity anyway as it has been rare that we can use the Bullet to slurp up some free wifi.

Cleaning:  Polishing and Waxing

The continual salt and intense sun are formidable opponents to a clean and well functioning boat. Salt spray while sailing gets everywhere and given our need to conserve water, we welcome the occasional heavy downpour for a good rinsing. In addition, it is necessary to rid the surfaces of salt before tackling the polishing and waxing. 

Quite a bit time is spent addressing rust spots on the stainless steel and keeping it shiny with extra attention needed in small crevices, around screws, at the base of stanchions and inside turnbuckles. As with waxing the gelcoat in the cockpit and on deck, this is normally done in the morning and late afternoon hours to avoid the intense heat of midday.

This pic is taken shortly after a welcome rainstorm. We sometimes get out on the deck with sponges during heavy rain to clean off the baked on salt. The cool freshwater rinse of our sweaty bodies is a bonus.


Cleaning off the extra stubborn rust spots and polishing the bow roller.


Shiny bow roller. (I wish I took a before picture too.)

Some of the tools and products for waxing and polishing. Flintz for routine stainless steel polishing; OsPho for the more difficult rusty spots; ScotchGuard wax and 3M light compound-wax combination for the gelcoat.

Bilge and Sump Cleaning

Ah, that important albeit dirty, stinky gully beneath the floorboards... We finally made ourselves pull up the flooring, get on hands and knees, and scrub out the bilge, rinse, repeat. And, while we're down there, there is the sump receptacle that catches the grimy shower and sink water. Cleaning the pumps carefully with a toothbrush to get out all the crude accumulated in every corner restores faith in their reliability. We also used this opportunity to test the manual bilge pump - check!


Cleaning of the sump and bilge.


Thorough cleaning of the Rule 1100gph bilge pump.

Cleaning:  Corroded Propane Tanks 


We have two small (10 pound) propane tanks for our stove/oven. When one empties, we arrange for a refill asap to be sure we never run out completely. With regular use one tank lasts 2 to 3 months. The base of the tanks have corroded severely (but luckily the integrity of the tanks remain) causing some damage to the locker as well as lots of noise as they bounce around while sailing. We searched for fiberglass replacements in Antigua but no luck. In the meantime, the locker was cleaned out and we were able to secure a makeshift new base for the tanks out of cut up pool noodles. (One day I'll do a blog on all the various uses of pool noodles on a boat.)


The base of both propane tanks have corroded.

Cleaning: The Bottom


Argon started off the season in November with a smooth, freshly painted bottom. Despite the effective anti-fouling paint, regular scrapping of barnacles and algae growth is needed to prevent growth from getting out of hand. A dirty bottom can dramatically negatively effect a boat's speed also.

Regular snorkling with a scraper or brush to keep the bottom clean.

 

Inspecting:  Air Conditioner and Steering Mechanism


As we were docked at Nelson's Dockyard for several days, were were able to plug in to shore power - yeah! In addition to not having to monitor and ration electrical usage continually, we could even turn on the air conditioner! But since this would be the first time running it since April, we did an inspection first.

Argon's air conditioning unit is below the forward V berth thus requires the bed to be cleared and mattress to be pulled out.


Inspecting the air conditioning unit - all working well!

At the opposite end of the boat.... we cleared out the aft cabin. The aft cabin functions as our storage closet on board holding all sorts of things including water and diesel jugs, side panels for the cockpit, 2 guitars and other music gear, deflated paddle board and paddle, charts, storm sail, fishing poles, pool noodles and cockpit cushions. We have not used this space for its intended sleeping berth for several years.

Once cleared, the back access panel is removed to allow inspection of the steering mechanism and the vented loop for the sump.

Steering mechanism looks mostly good except for...

Collar seal around the rudder bearing is torn. Luckily no water is seeping in and although not urgent, its replacement is important. Add to the list.

New Dock Lines and Eye Splicing

Ninety feet of 3 strand dock line was purchased to make 2 new 45 foot dock lines. Bob has gotten quite proficient with various types of splicing.


Making eye splices for the new dock lines.

Re-attaching the Jib Furling Drum


Furling in the jib had been oddly difficult and upon examination, we realized the furling drum was not attached properly since Grenada. The pin which sets the height of the drum was not going through the hole it was supposed to. It was going through a larger opening in the rigging toggles allowing the drum to wobble and turn very hard when the line had a heavy load. On a low wind morning while docked we took down the jib to enable lifting of the mechanism and re-attaching it properly. Then the jib was re-hoisted and furled before the winds kicked in.


Adjusting the jib furling drum on a low wind morning while docked at Nelson's Dockyard.


Oh, And Still On the To Do List...


We have since finished our time in Antigua and have started a new boat chore list including: cleaning the bottom of the dinghy, addressing issues with the toping lift, lazy jack refit, rudder collar seal replacement, more stainless polishing and gel coat waxing, cockpit teak cleaning, water tank sanitation, pad eye retrieval and fabrication, sail track car/bearing inspection, vented loop replacement, etc... Ah, the luxurious cruising life!

The dinghy desperately needs a good bottom cleaning. The algae growth is very stubborn and not easily scrubbed off the hypalon surface. The outboard needs to come off and the dinghy brought on land or on a dock with an assortment of chemicals and elbow grease.

We need to retrieve a broken pad eye out of the boom which will entail removing the main sail and tilting the boom forward (hopefully).
The topping lift will be a whole project blog to come. But the short version is that since getting the new main sail in Grenada last November, we're having a lot of trouble with the topping lift getting fouled on batten pockets and reefing rings on the leech of the main sail due to the increase in roach. More than once, the fouled topping lift prevented the mainsail from being swiftly dropped - one time while we were approaching some dangerous reefs. After much consideration of options, we have decided to remove the topping lift and make some other modifications. Stay tuned for a forthcoming blog on how we will manage sans topping lift.

The topping lift hanging up on one of the frictionless Antal rings for the reefing line.

And Now for that Mojito...


In between boat projects, day jobs, and sailing, there is much to enjoy! This is a unique and eclectic lifestyle indeed. Consistent attention to maintenance, repairs and inspections is just part of the cruising lifestyle and enables us to appreciate the more relaxing aspects of island life.

It is not all work! (But perhaps while we are in the water, we should scrub the rudder and water line...)





2 comments:

  1. Love your blog and projects.
    who is mfg of solar panels?
    Alan J. Benet
    T4100 La Retreat ajbenet@ajbenet.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Alan - Hope all is well! These are Solbian flexible panels with Genesun brand controllers. We are overall very happy with them.
      Linda and Bob

      Delete