Tuesday, September 30, 2014

ANOTHER SOLAR PROJECT: Cockpit Ammeter Junction Box

Temporary cabin meter setup
With the purchase of the new Renogy 100 Watt Solar Panel. I finally got the gumption to get going on another long overdue project. namely moving the Solar Panel Ammeter from inside the cabin where it was temporarily mounted over ten years ago to a more useful cockpit location. Though like many projects my procrastination had the benefit of an improved idea over my original thoughts. For example I had purchased a Cable Connect Waterproof Enclosure Case Junction Box for another project. The measurements were metric and since I think through the dimensions I found the box was too big for my original plans.
 Original Kings LORAN mounted

But,  sipping a beer one day I looked at the space where the original Kings 8001 Loran unit used to reside and found that the waterproof junction box fit very nicely between the still installed Kings mounting bracket. AHA I thought the box would be perfect for the solar panel ammeter moving project. So it began.

 First I decided where on the waterproof box I would mount the ammeter and marked it out:

Then using a hole saw I cut out a hole for the back of the meter to fit through:

It was not quite the right size so out came the trusty Dremel Tool and using a cutting drill I was able to enlarge it slightly to the proper size. Once that was done I carefully removed the front panel of the meter to mark where the mounting holes would need to be drilled to secure the meter:

Once that was done I mounted the meter:

I used Anderson Powerpole connectors for most of the connections behind the panel in the junction box. This will allow for easy trouble shooting or changes in the future should I need to do so:

With the ammeter installed now I could easily see how many amps are heading into the 12 volt house bank and how I can improve on the amount of current by repositioning the movable Renogy 100 watt panel or repositioning the boom:

I also thought up another useful addition to this project that I will post about as soon as some parts arrive to implement it.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


BIANKA was doing well energywise with my homemade solar bimini that contained just two 75 watt Siemens 12 volt solar panels and two 60 watt 48 volt Kanaka panels. But this year I added a second Engel refrigerator/freezer and the 150 watts of 12 volt solar available was having a hard time making it through the night without the Morningstar Solar Controller having flashing red lights appear on it's charge panel in the wee hours threatening to cut off power to the ENGEL coolers. Cleary a little more power would help. Yeah, I could fire up the Honda in the evening to charge things up a little more. But, that would be a little fuelish and something I try to limit doing.  So an additional solar panel seemed like the best solution and something that I was thinking of adding anyway. As I looked at the possible choices of Solar Panels  for installing on BIANKA. I came across the Renogy® 100W Monocrystalline Bendable Solar Panel. This panel looked like it would solve a lot of issues I had about adding a new solar panel to the boat. Namely the weight and where to mount another panel. Since the Renogy panel only weighs four pounds it's light enough to move around. Since it can also bend a little I could easily move it and lay it on the deck in a location to receive the highest energy from the sun. It also claimed a 20% efficiency rating.  It sounded too good to be true but, I bought one to check it out. First take a look at whats in the box:

After unboxing the panel a small sticker on the plastic membrane says to remove it:

The big junction box that was the norm on early solar panels has been replaced by a thin raised piece of plastic with two wires coming out of the ends with MC4 connectors on the ends:

The panel has six small brass grommets situated around the panel so you can secure it or hang it depending on your mounting needs:

The holes are a little small but, I was able tie a bowline through them using some 500 lb paracord:

This will make it easier to secure the panel as I move it around the boat or hang it to use as an occasional solar shade.  The photo below shows the comparison in size of the 100 watt bendable Renogy panel next  to one of the 75 watt Siemens panel on the right:

 The Renogy panel also weighs only about four pounds compared the the Siemens sixteen. This makes it ideal for being able to move around the boat to get maximum exposure on the panel. That's not easily done with the rigid heavy panels like the Siemens and others. Here is an example of moving the panel off of BIANKA'S solar bimini and laying it on the deck for better exposure to the sun:

With a little adjustment of the angle I was able to get some decent amperage out of the panel without too much effort:

5.15 amps is pretty good considering the optimum operating current according to Renogy is 5.70 amps.

NOTE: The panel comes with MC4 waterproof connectors on it's output wire but, you will have to purchase two more MC4 mating connectors and wire them to hook it into your system.

So far I am very impressed with the Renogy panel it bends nicely to the curve of the deck and seems rugged enough to move around without breaking. You might be able to step on it as long as it was fully supported underneath but, I really would not recommend it. It is smaller than the 12 volt 75 watt Siemens panels I installed  back in 2002. This shows the advances that have come along in solar panel technology over past twelve years.  Whether or not the Renogy panel will hold up as well as the Siemens panels is yet to be seen. But, so far I'm very pleased with the purchase and it's operation.

Saturday, September 20, 2014


I recently mentioned the anchor swivel's pin that was approaching a "yikes" moment. Since I had a spare on board I looked to replace it. It had been attached for as long as I have owned the boat and normally should have been a five minute replacement job. Except for one thing the pin of the shackle that attached the swivel to the anchor was seized and no amount of PB Blaster, wrenches and even  micro torch supplied heat could move that shackle pin. Looks like that five minute job just got a little longer since I was going to have to cut this shackle off too in order to replace the swivel. But, what to use? It's a tight space around where the anchor and shackle lay. A hacksaw would be awkward to use in the confined space take quite a bit of time even if I had a new blade which I did not. Enter the Dremel 200-1/15 Two-Speed Rotary Tool Kit with a pack of heavy duty cutting disks. I am able to power the Dremel a number of ways on board. One is with my on onboard Honda EU 2000 generator which is really over kill for the power requirements of the Dremel Tool. Another is with the AIMS 1500 Watt 48 volt Inverter I installed last year. Though for most jobs I just use the 200 watt 12 volt Powerstar Inverter that I bought back in the 1980's. It not a pure sinewave inverter but, it powers the Dremel Tool quite nicely for all sorts of quick projects.  The Dremel made short work of cutting through the swivel that was attached to the seized anchor shackle as shown here:

Once the old swivel was out of the way I could start to work on the seized anchor shackle.  I probably should have used a  Dremel 1-1/4-Inch Reinforced Cut-Off Wheel but, even the Dremel 420 Heavy Duty Cut-Off Wheels  I used did the job. Though I did have one or two disks break in the process. They still cut through the swivel and shackel quite easily despite not being reinforced. I was impressed.

After removing the swivel I tackled the stuck shackle pin. Rather try and cut through the crown which would have required two cuts to remove the shackle. I decided to see if I could just cut through the one lug of the shackle where the pin screwed into. Perhaps just cutting away enough of the lug would allow the pin to be removed:

I was careful not to cut into the anchor shank. After a few partial cuts of the shackle lug I was able to easily unscrew the shackle pin:

Which still looked pretty good but, the corrosion that held it in place was pretty tenacious so it needed to be replaced along with the swivel.  I used some  Tef-Gel on the replacement shackle threads to help insure that I will not have to cut the shackle next time I have to remove it:

With the old swivel and anchor shackle replaced I could now sleep easier when BIANKA is at anchor:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


I don't spend a lot of time on docks with BIANKA. The boat lives on a mooring in the homeport and usually on the anchor or mooring when cruising. Though sometimes I splurge for an overnight stay here and there to re water or get provisions etc... Then there was the recent cruise where I entered a harbor at 9:30 at night tired from a ten hour sail where a lot of hours where at the helm. I was not in the mood to try and deal with anchoring and did not want to disturb the other boats by firing up the generator to recharge the batteries. So I tied up to a marina dock for the night. The good thing about it I'd be able to plug in the DUAL PRO 4 charger to charge and balance BIANKA's 8A4D AGM batteries that make up the 48 volt propulsion bank. So that's what I did. As soon as I'd finished plugging in I went to bed exhausted.  A couple of hours later I woke up to answer natures call and noticed steady green lights on the charger which meant that all four batteries were fully charged.  Glad to see that. Then a few hours later when I woke up again I noticed that one of the batteries had a single red light on. This indicated that the battery was only 30% charged. This was not good but, I still tired thought I would deal with this in the morning. In the morning the light was still on indicating the battery was only partially charged. There were two possibilities as I saw it. One I had a battery that went bad during the night or that something was wrong with the cable from the Dual Pro charger to the battery. I was hoping for the latter to be the issue and it was.
I used my instrument panel at the helm to first  check the individual battery voltages and found they were all very close. So it looked like the battery was fully charged. So my attention shifted to the battery charger. I thought it might be a bad connection on the battery but, as I touched the fuse holder that the Dual Pro has in line I felt it somewhat warm. It turns out that the fuse was not seated all the way and had become loose enough that a bad connection occurred triggering the charger to interpret this as a poorly charged battery.

At first everything looked normal:
But, as I started to check the holder it just came loose:

I had not actually fiddled with this holder since I installed my instrumentation panel at the helm. Which must have been over a year ago. But, obviously I had not seated the fuse properly back then and it had finally become loose enough to make a bad contact. I reseated it and the charger reacted normally. If you compare the picture below with the first fuse picture above you cane see the difference in spacing on the left side of the fuse:

This all goes to show that sometimes what looks like a major problem might not actually be so bad. In fact it might be just a little thing like a bad contact on a fuse that is the issue.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


BIANKA already has a bimini made up of solar panels. Two 75 watt 12 volt panels charge the house bank batteries and two 60 watt 48 volt panels help charge the propulsion bank. The panels have served me well but, this year I added an addition  Engel Marine Fridge Freezer unit and the two 75 watt 12 volt panels could use a little help. I find myself having to fire up the Honda 2000 generator on occasion. Something I did rarely with just one Engel in operation.  so I ordered a  Renogy® 100W Monocrystalline Bendable Solar Panel to add a little more power for solar charging.

I should have it in a few days and will connect it into the 12 solar controller and see how much it helps with the additional load the new ENGEL refrigerator has added. What convinced me to try it  was it's lightweight and the ability to move it around the boat in order to get access to the most sun.   Unlike the panels on the solar bimini which are rigid frame units the new panel has some flexibility that allows it to conform to curved surfaces like the deck. It looks like it will help a lot.  I'll report on how well the new Renogy panel works as soon as it arrives and I get a chance to play with it which should be in a few days.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


On the morning of  September 11, 2001 BIANKA was at a dock just up the river from the World Trade Center in New York. What that morning was like is chronicled here.

Friday, September 05, 2014


So since I got a late start on my cruising plans I headed out as soon as my schedule was clear.  When I got to Mattituck I was looking at a pin that held the swivel to the anchor chain. It was looking somewhat iffy. I had  new replacement shackles and swivel on board. So I thought when I got to my next destination which was Three Mile Harbor on Long Island I'd pick up a town mooring and replace the anchor swivel and shackles.  I arrived at the channel to the harbor at just about sunset and by the time I got into the harbor after dark. I could not find the town moorings so I picked up and vacant one. In the morning I gave the harbor master a call to ask where the town moorings were located. He replied that the town trustees had decided not to put them in this year. Once again my assumption that the moorings would still be available turned out to be my mistake. Luckily, I was able to get on another mooring thanks to a local boatyard who had a spare mooring available due to the owner being away. At least I was able to replace the anchor swivel at a leisurely pace. But, it was a reminder not to assume that things that were there before will still be there on your next visit.