Wednesday, February 29, 2012


One of my on going projects is labeling various things on board to make it easier for me and others to find them or understand what they do. I find that a Brother PT 1290 label maker is a very useful item to carry on board for such projects.

It does not take up much room and can make labels in various sizes and colors for ones needs. For example sometimes when I am up on the foredeck about to drop the anchor and I have forgotten to turn on the windlass circuit breaker. If I have crew on board I may have to shout back to them to turn on the breaker. If they are new crew they may not find it to easily. So I have labeled it so it will visibly stand out:

Likewise various bottles and containers in the tool locker or galley are worth a label to be able to identify them easily:

Since I have electric propulsion I also try an make some of the tools I use around the high amperage batteries a little less prone to shorting things out. I use electrical tape for this. Unfortunately, this often obscures the size markings for the tools. But, some labeling with the P Touch labeler soon remedies the problem:

I also use it to label wiring, panel circuit breakers, plumbing lines and a myriad of other things on board that I might want to label. In short it just comes in very handy and useful on board to label anything..

Sunday, February 26, 2012


So another unseasonably warm winters day has me back on board looking at the fourth battery in the electric propulsion system. I bought with me again the Centech Battery Analyzer.  It's really easy to use but, in the previous test I did not have the cold cranking amp spec for the 8A4D battery entered into the Centech tester. So I decide to redo the test since it's pretty easy to do. Here is the video:

As you can seen the results are pretty much the same that I experienced earlier which I noted in a previous post. The battery tested OK. I also bought along a load tester and hooked it up to the battery. It also confirmed that they battery had over 1100 cold cranking amps available.  I then hooked up an external 15 amp charger to the suspect battery and it too like the Dual Pro charger said the battery was bad and failed to charge it completely.  So it's a dilemma to me how bad the battery really is and what to believe as far as testing vs chargers. I am suspecting that having the Paktrakr battery monitor connected over the winter has sulfated the battery a bit. Then adding the optional data collecting cable added an additional load which sulfated it more. Enough so that it has a problem charging. In attempting to measure the additional current load with my digital volt meter I accidentally blew the internal fuse on it. So I'm not exactly sure how much the data cable additional draw is. So for now I have disconnected the Paktrakr from the battery and have the solar panels charging the the bank. I will see how things look the next time. I have an idea on how I may remove the sulfated material off the battery grids but, I will need to rearrange some of the battery cables and need to order some 2 AWG crimp connectors to make some jumper cables first.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


There was good news and bad news this week about BIANKA's upcoming sailing season. In the mail from the town came the approved 2012 mooring permit. So BIANKA has a home port to come back to when not out cruising.  It's a sure sign that start of the season is in sight. There was more good signs as I pulled into the boatyard yesterday:

The good sign was that the moorings were starting to be lined up and the boatyard was getting ready to be put them out in the harbor. Some had new chain. Some had new pennant lines.  Some just needed a new coat out anti fouling paint.

Then came the bad news. My town requires that the moorings be inspected every season before they are dropped out of sight onto the harbor bottom. I think it is good idea and also makes sure that only secure and reliable moorings are dotting the harbor. Which may have been why there was so few boats lost or damaged in the harbor when Hurricane Irene came to visit showing us her bad side.  As I was getting out the car one of the guys working the boatyard came up to me and said I need to show something on your mooring. This is what he showed me:

Yeah, it's looking a little worn at the bottom shackle attachment point on one side where the chain connects to the mooring. BIANKA having survived Hurricane Irene might not be so lucky next time with the mooring  looking like this. Some of this damage might have been a result of riding the Hurricane too. So it looks like a new 300 plus pound mooring is in BIANKA's future along with some unexpected expense for Capt. Mike. Though it's still cheap insurance if another storm like Irene should head this way.

Monday, February 20, 2012

BATTERY INVESTIGATION PART THREE: Overnight Charge & Battery Analyzer Test

So a few days later I came back on board to see what was going on with the problem battery in the 48 volt string. Here is a video of what happens when I plug in the Dual Pro Quad charger. It first goes through a quick self test then measures the battery voltage and checks the charge and then displays the results on an LED bar on front of the charger for each battery in the string:

I decided to leave the charger on overnight and see if that last battery bank would come up to a full charge. Below is a video of what I saw when I came back on board the next day:

Battery 1 (most negative battery in the string) definitely still has a problem. At the suggestion a fellow named Arby over on the electric boats group I bought a Centech battery-analyzer. It seemed like a good idea to buy one. This device measures the voltage, internal resistance of the battery and the capacity including the Cold Cranking Amps. I tested the suspect battery and the next one up in the string and also the highest (most positive) battery in the 48 volt string. Here are the results:

                                                VOLTS  mOHMS  CC AMPS
BATTERY 1 (SUSPECT)       13.03     2.34         1273
BATTERY 2                           13.62    2.42          1437
BATTERY 4*                         14.45    2.43          1724

* Reading taken soon after shutting down charger which may explain the higher numbers in volt & CCA readings. Also note I did not take any readings off of battery 3 for this test. 

The voltage of the suspect battery 1 is a little low but, not overly so. The internal resistance seems OK compared to the other two batteries in the string tested. The Cold Cranking Amps available is certainly lower but, it's not a completely dead battery. I've once again disconnected the Paktrakr as this problem did not show up until I added the optional data recording cable to it. I'm sure it added an additional load to the battery beyond the Paktrakr's 25 milliamps but, I doubt it was that great. Still I'm trying to eliminate what might have caused the sudden change in this battery. Next warm day I'll be doing a load test on the suspect battery.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


I was on someone elses boat recently and came upon this scene on the deck:
Now the batteries may have been dead as far as the boat owner may be concerned but, maybe not totally. Still there is no excuse for a situation like this. A little movement and that chain  would make a nice buss bar with all the current remaining in the batteries flowing through it. Pretty soon you would have the makings of a pretty good boat fire. All I'm saying is be careful where you stow things even if only temporarily.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Memories, they can't be boughten.
They can't be won at carnivals for free.
Well it took me years to get those souvenirs
                                                                          -John Prine
When I travel I'm always on the lookout for souvenirs of the trip. I might buy something on occasion but, only if I know I will be able to use in my day to day living.   I don't need something that is just going to sit around on a shelf  and become part of ones "stuff" taking up room and serving no useful purpose in my life. But, if I know I can really use something I might buy it. For example a number of years ago I bought a bag of salt from one of the then local residents of Salt Island in the British Virgin Islands while on a cruise in the area. I still have some left and use it when cooking along with memories of that trip.

Though my favorite type of souvenir is something I find myself either snorkeling or walking along a beach . Best of all they are free and free is good! I have a small stainless steel sugar spoon that I found snorkeling near Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands years ago. It's on board BIANKA being used. Though I wonder how it came to be on the sandy bottom where I found it. What kind of boat did it fall off? Who dropped it? It will always be a mystery but, will also trigger a memory for me of the day I found it. My most recent trip to Culebra was no exception. While swimming around one morning I spied this souvenir laying on the bottom:

I know it's just a cheap plastic clamp. But, I found it near the boat on the bottom of the harbor in Culebra. It still works and I'll use it on board for something. When I do, it will bring back memories of the trip to the Windward Islands. At the very least it's better to have it on board BIANKA than to have it remain just a piece of plastic on the harbor bottom in Culebra. It's just my kind of souvenir.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Screw the Grammys! This is what I'm listening to tonight:

You know Capt. Mike has got his toe tappin' tonight!


I used a warm weather window to go back on board and see if I could figure out why the most negative battery in the 48 volt EP string was not charging like the other three. When I left it's voltage had not risen past 12.9 volts. So when I got back on board I plugged in the Dual Pro charger and lo and behold the indicator light went almost immediately up to 90% and the voltage was reading 13.5 volts.

This was a good sign because when I left it a few days ago only two of the red Leds were lit showing it 30% charged. As you can see in the photo above the other three batteries in the string are near 100% charged. Don't know what changed in the two days since I was last on board (Though I did unpower the Paktrakr Battery monitor which does take it's power from the lowest battery before I left last time.) but, things were moving in a positive direction. I thought now that the battery bank was up near  90% charged as shown on the Dual Pro display. It would be just a little while before it was charged up near the other three. So I took a nap.
When I got up about an hour later things were still showing 90% but, then a while later the LED display showed the charge only at 70%. Now things were going in a negative direction and the puzzle continues. It was getting late and colder so I hooked up the Paktrakr battery monitor again and left the boat while I pondered what was going on:

1) I still may have a connection issue with the battery bank though I did clean the battery connections on the last visit. I'll clean them again on my next visit.

2) I'm wondering if the load of the Paktrakr is the cause of the problem. The load from the basic Paktrkr is 10 ma. Though I just recently added the ESR-1 data cable which has some data storage capabilities in it. Though I find it hard to believe the current draw could be that great to cause the battery to start to fail. But, it is the only new item added into the mix.

Soon as the temperatures warm up again I'll head back to do some more investigation. Something about hanging around a couple of hundred pounds of lead on a chilly day makes it not the most warming experience.


Thursday, February 09, 2012


As I usually do during the winter I check up on BIANKA almost on a weekly basis. The warm winter this year encourages me to do that even more. So it while I was on board earlier this week I fired up the Dual Pro Four charger to check on how balanced the battery bank was. I notice that the most negative battery in the string was not charging like the other three. It was not getting over 12.9 volts. The next day I went back on board and cleaned the battery and charger contacts and the situation was the same. This is the first issue with the batteries I've had in almost five years since converting to electric propulsion. So I can't complain. Tomorrow I plan to head back down with another external charger and see if it is an issue with the Dual Pro charger or if the battery is really at fault.

Sunday, February 05, 2012


Buckets of rain
Buckets of tears
Got all them buckets coming out of my ears
Buckets of moonbeams in my hand
You got all the love honey baby
I can stand.
                                                                                              -Bob Dylan
Well, Capt. Mikes sojourn to the U.S. and Spanish Virgin Islands is over and it's time to get back on board and do what needs to be done. Most of the boats in BIANKA's harbor are pulled and winterized and that means it's time for Capt. Mike to check and renew BIANKA's stock of buckets. Buckets are useful things on board a boat.

The above photo shows the collection I carry on board BIANKA. 

On the left is the ubiquitous five gallon bucket. I have several of these on board. One holds much of my diving gear, another is located on the starboard quarter and holds fresh water for rinse downs after a swim. They can also be useful in making a bird diverter.  Another is located in the Captains cabin where it serves as a small hassock/seat and holds extra canned provisions under it's lid. They stack easily and I am delighted when I find one floating in BIANKA's path while underway or on a beach combing walk.  I will always pick them up and find a use for them on board.

The middle bucket was an emergency purchase made from a Mattituck hardware store when the Wilcox Critterdon head had one of it's all to frequent breakdowns. Since I changed to a LAVAC head it has not had to be put into service but. remains on board just in case.

The bucket on the right is also one of my favorites because it is free! Capt. Mike thinks free is good especially when dealing with a boat's needs. I usually make these buckets from recycled anti freeze containers which in the fall are found in the boatyard by the hundreds:

Cutting off the top of an gallon jug makes for an excellent bucket with many useful purposes. NOTE: The top can also be used as a funnel. Punch a hole on each side and fit some 1/4" line with a figure eight knot on each end and you have a handle. Attach another lanyard to the handle and it becomes a very useful wash bucket in the cockpit. One that will last for years.

I also have a few around that I use to put tools and parts in when I work on projects down below. Like this bucket which is made out of an empty Simple Green container:

The bucket keeps everything in one spot and not rolling around the hull when I'm working.  Because the sides are very flexible they make great bailing buckets for the dingy or bilge too! Even if it does not last years (most of mine do) you can't beat the price and it's easy enough to make another one. Better still you are keeping another piece of plastic out of a landfill. I know it may be just (wait for it) "a drop in the bucket"  but, every little bit helps the environment and since it is useful on board the boat too that's not a bad thing!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012


"I mixed a drink and went out on the balcony to sit down. The town still looked deserted. Far out on the horizon I could see the neighboring island of Culebra, and from somewhere in that direction came the shuddering thump of explosions. I recalled Sanderson telling me that Culebra was an aerial
bombing range for the U.S. Navy. Once it had been a magic place, but no longer."
-Hunter S. Thompson, THE RUM DIARY 

Hard to believe that this peaceful little island was used for target practice by the U.S. military but, it was for many years. I had heard about the demonstrations against the practice on nearby Vieques but, had never heard about Culebra. The practice started in 1939 in preparation for World War II. It seems the topography of the island and it's beaches were excellent training grounds for the invasion of the Pacific Islands by U.S. forces. By 1971 the people of Culebra had had enough and started protesting. In 1975 operations were switched to Vieques.

Culebra to my mind has once again become a magical place and one that I hope to get back to soon hopefully with BIANKA. The magic on our second morning started for me as I awoke a little before dawn and witnessed a real nice sunrise to start the day:

Capt. Billy and Pat went into town looking to provision up with some ingredients for salads. Being an arid island most produce comes in by ferry from the Puerto Rico mainland. Though there was some mechanical problem with the ferry and it did not operate the previous day. Things were a little up in the air and the island suffered an economic hit because the Puerto Ricans from the mainland were not able to get the Culebra for the weekend as they usually did.  So the island was pretty quiet even though it was a holiday weekend.  We decided to take a  two hour tour around the island with one of the local taxi drivers. He took us up into the hills where we enjoyed some real nice vistas:

and traveled down to the other side of the island to visit some of the lovely beaches including Flamingo Beach. Which is just as pretty from the air:
as it is from the shore:

The next morning the magic continued as just before breakfast a beautiful rainbow seemed to emanate from the middle of the harbor:

Since this harbor was a known hangout for pirate ships it was very easy to assume that some pots of gold plunder might be located on the bottom of the harbor at the end of the rainbow.

Culebra has just about everything a cruising sailor might need especially those who don't need the nightlife of a San Juan or St. Thomas or some of the British Virgin Islands. There is a grocery store and a farmers market with a fellow who comes over by ferry one day a week. There will soon be two places where one can get fuel. But, a lot depends on whether the ferries are running. So one needs to be aware that schedules and supplies do not always coincide.  But, there are a few bars where one can go to mingle with other cruisers. Including one appropriately named The Dingy Dock:
A restaurant and bar with a great waterfront view. You can easily tell when it's happy hour by all the dingies tied up to the dock:

There is a convenient cut across the island with a lift bridge that is opened once a year to make sure it is working. It's height and water pipe prevent most cruising boats from using the cut.

It is however convenient to take a dingy to the other side of the island to visit some of the very beautiful snorkeling and dive sites around Culebra. Which is why we came here in the first place. Here are some videos I took with my GoPro camera snorkeling some of the reefs off of Culebra:

Though the videos do not really do justice to how nice most of the reefs around the island really are. Our original plans called for us to stop at Culebra and then head off to Vieques and finally sail the the Puerto Rico mainland and getting off the boat at Farado. But, once we got to Culebra the feel of the place and beauty of the reefs made us decide to just stay here for the rest of the charter. Culebra is certainly a place I will want to come back to.