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

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Different Solar Controller

I investigated on the net the Powertech MPPT solar controller that I had purchased and was disturbed by the adverse reviews.  I then did more investigation and began to wonder if I really wanted the latest MPPT rather than the older PWM technology. The issue was reliability.  It appeared to me that the MPPT techonogy involved a lot of clever technology that rendered, in my terms, high-strung equipment that was more likely to fail than the staid old PWM equipment.  That was fine for $700 equipment, but would be OK for $250 equipment?

This afternoon I visited Jaycar requesting a refund and I explained to Daniel the manager my reasons. referring to my simple Arrid controller that had supported me through my 5-year circumnavigation through many gales and storms and was still working well.  I told him that far out at sea I valued reliability more than glitzy performance.   He conceded that PWM controllers are more reliable because they rely more on hardware and less on electronics.  After some discussions I agreed to have a look at the Powertech MP-3722 PWM controller and accepted it with a $40 refund.  The controller has only a 1-year warranty but Daniel told me that he would make things good beyond 1 year.

One advantage is that the PWM version is smaller than the MPPT version and might slot in physically nicely in place of the Arrid.

Back at the house I googlesnooped Powertech the company and found it to be a serious Taiwanese company of world wide stature.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

New Solar Panels and Controller

For a while I've been seeing signs that solar panel (photovoltaic) technology has been getting better and better and I thought that it was time to upgrade Pachuca's solar panels in conjunction with the battery upgrade.  I did some googlesnooping (new word) and found that Battery World sold panels that were slightly narrower and longer than the existing panels but would fit comfortably on the boat's cockpit frame.  I ordered two of the panels during my next visit to Battery World and they were  delivered to the shop a few days later.

The panels have about the same area as the current panels but they are rated at 150 watts each compared with the 65 watt rating of the current panels.  This is significant: more than doubling the amount of solar power on a cruising boat is a very big deal.  Noel Brennan the Franchisee offered me a generous discount and I got both of the panels for $700.
Note Dimensions on box

A few weeks later I realized that I would need to upgrade the boat's solar panel controller to take 30 amps, given that the rated 300 watts of the pair of panels would deliver 25 amps (Yes!)  After some research I visited Jaycar in Midland looking for a particular Powertech model and was lucky to have a very switched on man attend to me.   He recommended a solar charge controller with the relatively new MPPT technology, given that it would deliver 30-40% more power to the batteries.  He explained how this magic worked and it made sense to me, thus seemed worth the extra $30.  So I purchased a Powertech MPPT solar charge controller, model MP-3735 for $259.

Later I had another googlesnoop and read the following:

The most recent and best type of solar charge controller is called Maximum Power Point Tracking or MPPT. MPPT controllers are basically able to convert excess voltage into amperage. ... With a PWM charge controller used with 12v batteries, the voltage from the solar panel to the charge controller typically has to be 18v.
New Controller

So the magic is attained by utilizing the excess voltage to amperage, something an ordinary controller cannot do.  Another web site confirmed efficiency gains up to 30%, and the following site specifies gains in the range 10-40%:

I am not absolutely sure that MPPT will be useful for my 2-panel setup but at an extra cost of $30 it is worth the shot, particularly if I am correct in thinking that the panels are wired in series.

I'll begin the installation of the new solar system in the next few days.

Strapping Down the New Batteries

The batteries amidships in below the seats are strapped down with strong webbing from my old lifelines and for good measure a board securely fastened using hinges.  The batteries cannot slide around because they rest inside perimeters of wood.

Starboard Battery

Port Battery

Under the cockpit I was able to use the original strap down system but had to put rubber packing above the shorter Fullriver battery aft, under the autopilot linear arm.
Under Cockpit

Closeup under cockpit with Fullriver battery aft under linear arm

House Battery Bank Upgrade

During the Bunbury Cruise last February I was not happy with Pachuca's electrical power situation.  I had left Fremantle with all batteries fully charged and two days later found myself short of battery power and forced to run the engine about 1 hour per day to maintain the voltage.  I knew that the house bank's four 230 a/h gel batteries that had been installed  in New Zealand in 2008 were getting long in the tooth and I would have to face the prospect of replacing them.

During the cruise I mentioned my power situation while visiting friends aboard their modern 11.6m boat  and was surprised to hear that they never worried about battery power: they left the marina with a full charge and that was it.  From memory, they do not augment their voltage with solar panels or a wind charger.  That sealed it for me: I would replace the house batteries during the coming winter.

I got a break in March Brenda's when son Brenda's Stephen purchased a battery analyzer, something  that had seen only in the hands of professionals.  We used it to check the house batteries and got the following results:

1. Forward stern battery
13.42V, charge 98% , ir=16.6 m/ohm, CCA 180 amps, Health 0%, REPLACE
2. Aft stern battery
13.34V, charge 98%, ir 3.7 m/ohm, CCA 800 amps, health 18%, REPLACE
3. Starboard cabin battery
13.46V, charge 98%, ir 4.0 m/ohm, CCA 735 amps, health 15%, REPLACE
4. Port cabin battery
13.26V, charge 98%, ir 6.4 m/ohm, CCA 455 amps, health 06%, REPLACE

The batteries were basically dead and it was a wonder that I had gotten any life out of them at all.  I had known that the 9 year old batteries needed replacing but it was good to confirm this before embarking on the replacement project.

I then did some research on lithium batteries and although their Total Cost of Ownership is lower than that of other battery types I was not too impressed with the high initial investment and did not want to deal possible charging issues, so AGM batteries it would be.  The boat had been set up in New Zealand using great ingenuity for four large batteries and high (920 a/h) total capacity and I wanted to keep that configuration.  

Two problems remained: (1) finding AGM batteries of a similar size that would fit in the boat, (2) finding someone to remove the old batteries and fit the new ones.  The batteries weight in the order of 75 kg (165 lb) and I was not going to risk my back by moving the batteries myself.

Fortunately Battery World in O'Connor had just what I needed.  I purchased 3 x Century C12-270DA deep cycle 270 a/h AGM batteries and 1 x Fullriver DC210-12 210 a/h AGM battery.  The Fullriver battery was required because the Century batteries were slightly taller than the gel batteries they were replacing, and would not fit under the boat's autopilot linear drive ram (3 mm too high).  And of great value to me was that their personnel would handle all of the installation at no extra charge.  The Century batteries cost $715 each and the Fullriver battery cost $679 yielding a total price of $2824.  I purchased the batteries  on 1 May 2017 and they were installed three days later.

Gel batteries under cockpit ready for removal

Lifting one of the gel batteries
Gel battery being unloaded using the handy plank
Bringing new Century AGM battery on board

I later made two visits to the boat to strap down the batteries.  This required some design work because three of the new batteries were taller than the old ones.  Even though Pachuca never rolled or was even knocked down during the circumnavigation I felt that I should keep up the standard of the boat as fit for blue water cruising anywhere.
New starboard battery

New port battery

Pachuca now had 1020 a/h capacity in the house bank vs 920 a/h previously.

I was extremely pleased with the service provided by Noel Brennan and his team at Battery World, O'Connor.  They were great to deal with in the planning, and performed a flawless installation.  I also did a spot check on the Net of the prices of the batteries that I was purchasing and theirs were consistently the lowest.


Under cockpit: Century in front, Fullriver aft, under autopilot linear arm

Friday, February 3, 2017

Water Pressure Pump Again

I visited the boat yesterday to find that the brand new water pressure pump was dead as a doornail.  This put me through a round of testing and remedial work that spanned two days.
Pressure Pump on left

I confirmed that the pump was OK by supplying it with power from the nearby house battery.  Then I tracked the problem to low voltage from the main battery.  I changed a connector on the main feed wire and that brought up the voltage to more than 13.5V.  However, the pump would still not work. 

After spending more time testing out the connectors and still measuring the required voltage I conclude from intuition more than electrical knowledge that the voltage from the feed wire was only a "surface" effect that disappeared as soon as a load was put on the circuit.  This suggested to me that it was time to bite the bullet and replace the 2-core wire from the main bard to the pressure pump.  I needed to do this anyway because I had noticed to my intense annoyance that the feeder cable was of ordinary house wire rather than the tinned wire required for marine use.  The individual wires at the ends of the cable were black from corrosion, and the corrosion had probably crept through much of the cable run

Swapping the wire was not an easy task, largely because the installation of the side batteries in New Zealand had required new flooring that covered up sections of the wiring paths.
Cable Breaks

First Break

Second Break

I purchased 10 meters of proper tinned wire and got to work

I used the old cable as a pull-through to get the new cable from the main board past the nav table into the port bunk space, saving me hours of work.  It was in the port bunk area that I found two sections of corrosion in the cable.

I soon gave up following the old path and routed the new wire along the upper part of the starboard side of the bilge, then to the pressure pump in the forward end of the bunk space

By 1 PM of the second day the job was completed and I spent an hour putting the cabin back together again.  The seat bases had to be put back into position, then every seat cushion, then 5 sections of the cabin flooring. 

This shoddy wiring had cost me plenty, not just the hours of work but more important, the replacement of a pressure pump that probably did not need replacement.  Fortunately the old pump is intact on my workbench  because I have not had time to do the planned post mortem on it.  If it passes the workbench test I'll keep it as a spare.

Wiring Diagram

My brother Arnold, and EE out of Georgia Tech, sent me a professional version of the block diagram that I used earlier to described the windlass and its battery charging circuit. 

My dream is to completely rewire the boat and with Arnold's help properly document the its wiring.

The next blog will provide an example of the need for a complete rewiring of the boat.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Pressure Water Pump

Last week Pachuca's fresh water pressure pump gave a hiccup: it stopped running but when I switched to the alternate water tank it started working again.  I was relieved that the pump was working OK but in the back of my mind I knew that these hiccups don't just happen then go away, and sure enough this week the problem manifested itself as "hard", as they say in the industry.

Rather than run out in a  panic to find a replacement I engaged in an inspection of the electrical environment, and whether the pump was receiving 12V of electrical power.  This led me into a journey into the rabbit hole, as it were, which took up a lot of my time and energy but came out OK in the end.

Pressure Pump at Left, Shower  Drain Pump Aboved
I was getting low readings of 8-9V delivered to the pump then in tracking the wiring I ran into the problem that when the boat's electrical system had been completely redesigned in NZ in 2008 a floor had been  installed to support starboard battery that obscured everything below it.  This is typical of professionals:  They want to do the work fast, well, durable at the sacrifice of maintainability.  Specifically, they set up wonderful systems satisfying the aforementioned criteria  at the sacrifice of the burden placed on some poor bastard sometime in the future.  What I found in this case was a fuse hidden below the level of the platform that had been set up in NZ in 2008 to support the heave "D" size port gel battery.  I removed the battery at great risk to my L4/L5 back problem then had to hack saw through part of the heavy ply-board support of the battery in order to drag out the fuse from below the floor.
Pressure pump and battery removed.

On another front, I powered the pump directly from the starboard
battery and found it to be DOA, or "Deceased", as the police say, rather than "Dead as a Door Nail".

I do not like systems where there is no "give".  In this case, there was no slack in the wiring servicing the pump.  It took me hours to track down the wiring underneath the sole (flooring) to the point where I could release slack at the end of the run.  This required the lifting of many sole boards. 

Eventually, and mysteriously, I wound up reading over 14V at the connecting wires and after some testing I concluded that the pump, which I had installed in Adelaide in 2008 during the outbound leg of the circumnavigation had to be replaced. I went to Yacht Grot and purchased a replacement Jabsco model 319395-0092  water pressure pump, which appeared to be identical to the Jabsco that I was replacing.   The pump puts out 2.9 gal/min (10.9 l/min) to 50 psi for what in this day an age regard as a modest $140.
Starboard Battery Out of Way on Water Tank

By the end of the day I had a bloody thumb and a working fresh water pump.

In doing the work I was pleasantly surprised at the effective way in which I had prepared both the port and starboard batteries for a possible rollover in the vicinity of Cape Horn.  The starboard battery had two straps and one board holding it down and the port  battery had two boards holding it down.
Port Battery Firmly Strapped Down

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