Sunday, September 04, 2016

TRYING TO REASON WITH THE HURRICANE SEASON: Hurricane Hermine


It was a delightful week on board until Hurricane Hermine threatened to show up. Which meant I need to start thinking about prepping the boat should it arrive. Adding to the tension was the fact that I would be away for the time the storm was supposed to hit. So should something happen to the boat it would be several days before I could get back to check on it. This was a similar situation to several years ago when Hurricane Irene hit the area. But, back then it was because I was working 250 miles away from the boat. This time I am retired but, will be 600 miles away and on another boat. Though the one good thing about my decision to scrub the sailing season is I never put on the sail so I did not have to take it off on prepping for the storm. Still being so far away from the boat and not being able get back to check on her post storm is somewhat disturbing. But, one can only do what one can the rest is up to the nature of the storm.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

POSEIDON SPEAKS TO ME: Part Four

So it has finally come down to this. Because of the battery problem which delayed launch. Followed by the surprise of the failed EP Controller. These issues had pushed the idea of sailing even further out in the season. Yes, I could just replace the controller but, Dave at Annapolis Hybrid Marine said they no longer use that controller because several others had  surprise failures too. They are using a new controller but it requires a bigger enclosure box. He had one in stock and I could have swapped it out pretty quickly. But, I had other considerations to take into account. Namely a girlfriends beach vacation and a cruise to Bermuda for my grand nieces wedding reception that would take me away from the boat for additional weeks. I'd not be able to start to fix  things  until mid September. Since I'd probably be pulling the boat in mid October anyway it would not leave much time for sailing even if the weather cooperated. So I decided to scrap this sailing season and use BIANKA as my floating harbor home. I don't have to put the large sail up and I have plenty of projects to keep me busy. Plus I could jump over the side for a refreshing swim anytime. Actually, It's not a bad place to be. Perhaps Poseidon is right.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

POSEIDON SPEAKS TO ME: Part Three

I called David at Annapolis Hybrid Marine the U.S. distributors for the Thoosa 9000 systems.  Since the Key switch did not seem to be the issue I began thinking of other things that might easily resolve the problem. One was to disconnect the B+ of the battery to hopefully reset the controller. David said that was not necessary. I then mentioned that the power contactor relay might be bad. David ask if I had a multimeter on board. Of course I did. He suggested I remove the cover to the controller box and he could guide me on making some voltage measurements. This of course means emptying out the starboard locker and squeezing my way to large frame down below in the summer heat to access the controller box. I had not had to do this in eight years of electric propulsion operation because the system was so reliable. But, now it had to be done. I then asked a question that saved me some aggravation. In preparation of my journey down below I asked how many screws hold the cover of the controller box and are they Phillips? David replied no they are Torx (star) type screws. I did not have any Tork screwdrivers on board so I would need to buy them. But, at least I had not found this out after contorting my body down below after emptying out the locker. So it was a row back to land to get a Torx screw driver set to continue trouble shooting.


At the store I had several choices of Tork tools. The first one I picked up was a compact set that folding into the handle. It looked like it would do the trick. Though something told me that maybe I had better have a backup.


So I also bought another Torx set that had a screwdriver type handle with interchangeable bits. 
 Good thing I did this because I found that with the compact folding set it was difficult to access and turn the screws at the rear of the case. Where as the set with the screw driver handle was much more secure and made it easy to turn the screw. But, even then I found the controller box was just a little too close to the battery charger case to use the handle.  I was however able to use just the Torx  bit and a pair of small vice grips to turn the screw enough to remove it.



With the controller case finally removed I gave David another call and armed with a digital multimeter I was able to start trouble shooting.  There is not much to a Thoosa 9000 system. There is of course the battery bank, motor, key switch and a box holding the controller and a few other components.
But, even inside the controller box there are many components that one finds with a diesel engine system. There is a relay, fuses, connectors. The one main different component is the motor controller. In my case it is a Navitas 400 unit. Under Davids guidance I carefully connected the multimeter ground to the B- battery connection in the box. I then checked the voltage at the power relay connections. Which was the component I thought was the next culprit after elimination the key switch. I measured 55 volts which was full battery voltage on both terminals.  David explained that it looked like the the relay was good because 55 volts on both terminals means the coil of the relay is not open. What happens on turn on is after the Controller does it's self check it grounds one side of the relay which then allows full battery power to the controller. This was not happening. So it was time to look at the controller. There were two status/fault lights on one side of the controller neither one was on. David then instructed me to probe two pins on the multipin connector  to the controller module.  There was 55 volts across those pins. This meant the controller module was getting power. So the diagnosis is the controller is bad. David mention this had happened to other units and as a result they were no longer using the Navitas controllers because of these mysterious sudden failures. Stil I had gotten eight trouble free years out of this one and could easily replace it but, I was thinking it might be best to upgrade to the new controller David mentioned. Trouble is the new controller is larger and won't fit in to the current box. He said I also needed to check if the new slightly larger box dimensions would fit in the current space. I'm pretty sure they would but, I want to make sure and while I'm at it I want to mount it so I will be able to have enough roof to use the Torx screwdriver handle to remove the cover in the future.

 So a quick ten minutes of probing and the problem was quickly diagnosed. Compared to the hours I and some diesel mechanics I had hired in the past spent scratching our heads working on the diesel it was a breeze. Unfortunately, it is getting late in the season and I would be away for several weeks. So I had a few things to think about before I decide to move ahead with a new controller box which I'll share in an upcoming post.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

POSEIDON SPEAKS TO ME: Part Two

It was already mid July BIANKA was late in getting launched because of the previously mentioned 48 volt Battery bank issues. The new batteries were now in place and I was anxious to bring the boat out to the mooring and get away from the dock. Being at the dock was certainly convenient especially when loading over 500 pounds on new 8A4D batteries on board. But, in summer the breeze is not always coming from the most favorable direction for working on the boat. It was also one of the reasons I had not attached BIANKA's sail to the mast. As it turns out this was a good move. I had bought it on board in it's sail bag and laid it at the bottom of the mast. My thinking was it would be much easier to install it on the mooring with the boats bow pointing into the wind.

I was finally ready to untie the lines after a months delay. I had four brand new batteries on board. I had reloaded the cockpit lockers with all the "stuff" I had removed to load in the new batteries. I was ready to shove off. All I had to do was hit the main power switch on the controller box then turn the Key Switch in the cockpit.  This tells the controller to engage the contactor relay which provides battery power to the controller  which then provides power to the motor.  The main power switch lit up as normal. I then turned the Key Switch expecting to hear the loud click from the controller box that tells me the contactor relay had closed. But, instead I heard nothing. I turned the Key Switch again still nothing. I tried a few more times making no progress. It was mid morning and looking to be another hot humid summer day.  I was sure that after eight years the Key Switch had finally succumbed to the elements. I'd easily fix this at the mooring I thought. So I told the boatyard folks to tow BIANKA out to the mooring and they could have work dock where BIANKA had taken up space for the week.

I then went to the dingy dock where I kept my eight foot Porta Bote dingy and rowed out to the mooring. I was so confident the the corroded Key switch was the problem that I  spent a day or two doing other things on board before I looked at the switch. When I finally removed the switch things did not look that bad. I removed the spade lug connectors from the back of the switch and tried to short them together for a quick check but, it was still not working. Perhaps there was a lot of internal corrosion inside the connectors I thought. So I cut the connectors off and stripped the wires and twisted them together. Still not action from contactor relay. Uh oh I thought this is still a little more serious. My thoughts now turned to the contactor relay. Another simple fix if it was bad. But, I would have to open the controller box which meant I would have to remove everything again from the cockpit locker and squeeze my large frame down below in the mid summers heat. I was not looking forward to this but, it would need to be done. But, first I thought I'd give a call to David DiQuinzio Chief Technical officer at Annapolis Hybrid Marine U.S. distributors for the Thoosa systems and get his thoughts. 


TO BE CONTINUED

Monday, August 15, 2016

POSEIDON SPEAKS TO ME: Part One


Well, this ninth season with electric propulsion has certainly been one of two steps forward and one step back. Looking back at how things have gone it certainly seems as if the Gods are conspiring against BIANKA venturing too far off the mooring after eight years of pretty trouble free operation. To recap:

Spring outfitting was going well as usual until a few days before I was planning to launch. I plugged into grid power to do one final charge in the boatyard before launch when I noticed one of the batteries was not reaching full charge. Some further testing showed it was going bad and would need be replaced.

Since all the batteries in the bank were eight years old replacing only the bad battery created my first dilemma. By only replacing the bad battery in older 48 volt battery bank results in the older batteries degrading the new battery. So in a few years I might have to replace all of the batteries again. So I decided since the battery bank was eight years old I'd replace all of them now. So that's what I did.

Unfortunately,  shipping damage made two of the new batteries unusable and required replacements to be ordered further delaying installation of the new batteries. Poseidon must have had Thor or whoever the God of shipping is throw the batteries around in the truck to damage them.

Since I would be removing the old batteries. I decided now would also be a good time to reconfigure the position of the batteries so they will be easier to access and service in the future. But, I needed to extend the the battery platform to do this. This was the time to do this but, it meant an additional delay while I worked on how to extend the platform.

Once that was done it was time to install the new batteries which went well. With the new batteries installed and rewired it was time to head out to the mooring. I turned the systems main power and then the key switch to engage the contractor relay. Nothing! For some reason the relay was not energizing and providing battery battery power to the controller and motor for operation. Poseidon is laughing at this no doubt.  I'd been at the boatyards work dock for a week and the boatyard was getting antsy for me to move out of the way.

I thought it would be a simple problem with the Key switch that tells the controller to engaged the contactor. Certainly eight years with the switch exposed to the elements had caused the switch contacts to fail. Something I could easily fix while at the mooring.  It was now already well past July 4th I was also anxious to get out to the mooring where I would also be able to jump off the boat for a swim in the summer heat. So I told the boatyard to tow BIANKA out to the mooring where I thought I would be able to quickly fix the switch issue and finally start the sailing season. Unfortunately this was not to be the case...


TO BE CONTINUED

Monday, August 08, 2016

THE COST OF RECYCLING


With the brand new 8A4D batteries on board BIANKA I was faced with what to do with the old batteries I still had in my possession. These included the four old batteries that made up the propulsion bank along with the two new 8A4D batteries that were damaged in shipping.  I knew the two damaged batteries and the one bad battery from the propulsion bank should be recycled ASAP if only to make some room in my garage. I called the local place I usually recycle metals to and asked what they paid for the large 8A4D batteries. They said six dollars. Hmmm, only six bucks for over one hundred plus pounds of lead batteries?  I decided to call another scrapyard nearby and there I was told they pay twenty eight cents a pound. So my 8A4D would make me thirty six dollars each. It really pays to shop around even if you are just recycling.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

BATTERY INSTALL 2016

The sailing season has been delayed while I deat with the damaged battery SNAFU. Two new 8A4D batteries arrived to replace the two that were damaged in the original shipment. The only difference is that the batteries probably have different manufacturing dates. When I ordered the original batteries the battery company said it could provide batteries manufactured the same day. But, now that probably is not the case. Whether or not it will make that much of a difference only time will tell.
So I loaded up all five hundred and twenty pounds of batteries into the car and took them to the boatyard.

I had BIANKA launched because it would be easier to load the batteries into BIANKA while floating at the dock.
I did make some major changes in the placement of the new batteries. I reversed the location of the the terminals of batteries one to three. I just turned them around so all terminals are located along the port side. Battery four was off by it's self next to the other batteries facing aft on the starboard side. The was because the engine stringer which held up the original battery platform did not extend far enough aft to allow for the fourth battery so I installed it next to the other three. Unfortunately this also meant I had to empty out two cockpit lockers to do any maintenance on the pack instead of one. It was a real pain.
By building a metal extension battery holder out of slotted angle iron and extending it off of the existing platform:



I was able to line up all the battery terminals on the same side and make them easy to reach after only emptying one of the cockpit lockers. This will make for much easier access and maintenance in the future.



 Other than doing the install on the hottest day of the year the install went pretty good. There might be some tweaks I might want to do but, they could wait until the off season. The next step is to get the batteries wired up. I did have some concern that since I changed the layout of the batteries that one or both of the main battery cables would not reach the proper terminals. We'll see how that works out once I start wiring thing up.



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A BATTERY SNAFU!

I order four new 8A4D MK batteries and waited a week as they made their way up from Sanford Florida. They were additionally delayed by the fourth of July holiday weekend. I received a call from the shipping company that unless I had a fork lift I would have to come and pick up the batteries at their warehouse. OK no big deal and I could then drive right down to the boatyard and begin to install them.
  I drove the half hour to the warehouse and two employees bought the batteries out on a pallet with a fork lift. The four batteries were loosely wrapped in plastic but, they still  had cardboard boxes covering them.

The cardboard was a little beat up and I did check one of the batteries to make sure they had the right terminals. In my rush to get them loaded into the car I did not check the other batteries. I signed the delivery form and off I went to the boatyard with five hundred pounds of battery in the back. When I got there I started to unload the batteries it was then I saw this:


Two of the batteries had bent terminals! One had a misshaped case too.While they tested fine I was not about to take any chances with them especially on a boat. I really should have inspected each of the batteries more closely when I picked them up.  Obviously the shipping company had mishandled the shipment and caused the damage. I contacted ALT-ESTORE customer service from whom I had ordered the batteries who then worked with MK BATTERY and they arranged for two new batteries to be shipped to me. Capt Mike gives a tip of the hat to both companies for their excellent customer service.  One thing for sure is  next time I need new batteries for BIANKA's electric propulsion system I'll be checking the batteries before I sign off on the delivery.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

MY BATTERY REPLACEMENT CHOICE


A new set of batteries should be arriving today to replace the original eight year old 8A4D batteries on board BIANKA. Due to the failure of one of the batteries I thought it best to replace the whole lot. While the remaining batteries seemed to be in good enough shape they would only degrade the new battery.  This would require me to do another whole swap in a few years anyway. I looked into Lithium Ion replacements and the economics just did not quite make sense yet because of the increased price and other add on items I would have to buy like a new charger. I found a 48 volt 200 amp hour Lithium Ion battery for around $5000. For the same amount of money I could replace all my AGM's two times and still have a sizable chunk of cash for other boat needs. The AGM's should last me a minimum of sixteen years based on my experience with the first bank. If Lithium prices come down as they have been predicting I will revisit the issue but, for now I'm going with what has worked for me the past eight years.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

THE PAIN OF RECYCLING

Since my analysis has confirmed at least one bad battery in my 48 volt string I thought at least let's get that off the boat and recycled ASAP. Though the boat is on land I thought I'd be able to remove it.  Even though my Nova Lift hoist does not have enough line to place the battery on the ground there is part of a dock flotation pad close under the hoist area where I could drop the battery on it and then lift it to the ground where I could use my hand truck to take it to the car. Sounds like a plan!


I was able to easily remove the bad battery from out of the hold with the hoist and drop it down onto the flotation pad. The problem occurred when I tried to lift the 134 pound battery onto the ground. As I lifted it part of it grabbed onto a basket of fishing line also sitting on the flotation pad. As I moved about trying to get the battery to release from the basket I heard a pop in my thigh followed by a sharp pain.  Though in pain I was finally able to get the battery onto the ground and into the car. After consulting Dr. Google my painful symptoms pointed to a pulled Ham String muscle. Treatment includes rest and ice. Climbing the ladder to get onto the boat was rather painful so further battery removal and boat work will be put on hold for a few days while my leg recovers. It's been a two steps forward one step back kind of day.

TO BE CONTINUED