Headed home soon

There are still a lot of things left to do on the boat, but we’re almost done with the things the insurance company needed us to do. It’s not been for lack of trying to get them done, stuff just takes time.

The most recent task completed was replacing the batteries in Opus. Previously, she had lead-acid batteries. They are fine for many things, but they do require maintenance – refilling with distilled water and they aren’t sealed. This means that the could tip over and spill acid in the boat, which is bad. Even worse is that they can offgas during charging and that gas is a combination of oxygen and hydrogen. You know, the stuff that caused the Hindenburg to burn? It’s combustible with the slightest of sparks.

So we replaced them with three “AGM” batteries. This had several advantages. The first is that one of the old batteries was going bad and would soon need to be replaced. We could have replaced it with another lead acid battery, but those are “old technology”. You shouldn’t mix lead acid with AGM batteries because of differences in how they like to discharge and charge. Before I go any further, I should explain how the batteries on Opus are set up.

There are three batteries. Two of them are hooked together to act like one. These are “deep discharge” batteries, aka “house” batteries. They aren’t intended to output a lot of power in short bursts. They are the “slow and steady” batteries that take a long time (relatively speaking) to discharge and are used for most of the electrical stuff in the boat such as lighting, the solenoid for the propane system, the radios, the chart plotter, etc. The third battery is the “starter”. It is used to run the starter motor for the engine. It has to output a lot of power, but only for a short time (10 seconds or so).

The starter battery is like a sprinter, the house batteries are like marathoners.

And that’s why we couldn’t do something smart like put in an AGM battery for the starter battery and move the old starter battery to replace the house battery that was going bad. Further, our battery charger doesn’t have one setting for the starter battery and another setting for the house batteries. It wants them all to be the same type.

So we decided to replace all three batteries with AGM batteries, which are sealed batteries. No maintenance to speak of. They had the further advantage of larger capacity, so we can go longer between having to charge them up (though it then takes longer to charge them again, too. Nothing is free).

You would think that this would be an easy matter. Disconnect the old batteries, pull them out, put the new batteries into the battery cabinet, reconnect the cables, and voila! Done. Nothing is ever that simple on a boat.

How many cables do you think goes to the batteries? It would make sense that there would be one for the positive terminal and one for the negative terminal, right? multiply that by three batteries and you’d expect a maximum of 6 cables. Further, the “rules’ say that one cable is red (the cables that go to the positive terminal) and one cable is black (the ones that go to the negative terminal). How difficult can this be?

Except… there are 10 cables in there. 3 of them are red, the rest are black, which makes no sense because I know all 3 red cables go to the house batteries. Where are the red cables for the starter batteries? (if you’re curious, the 3 red cables that go to the house batteries are one cable from the charger to the battery, one cable from the battery to the rest of the boat, and the third one is used to tie the two batteries together to make them act like one, larger, battery. The same is done for three of the black wires). Ok, the house batteries are hooked in, but why are all the starter battery cables black? At least ONE of them has to be going to the positive terminal or else the starter won’t work.

We eventually were able to determine what was the function of 3 of the black cables. Two of them were, indeed, SUPPOSED to be red. Another, was definitely supposed to be black. That left us the fourth wire and we couldn’t figure it out. So, we made the assumption that it also was supposed to be black. However, not being complete dimwits, we turned off every bit of power in the boat, disconnected shore power, turned off all the switches, and then connected the cable. Nothing bad happened, so that was promising.

One person positioned themselves next to the batteries and the other person went to the control panel and turned the switch to the “1” position (which connects ONLY the engine battery). Almost immediately I heard “OFF! OFF! OFF!” Yes, I was the dummy at the control panel and I turned it off immediately.

We had guessed wrong. the last wire was ALSO supposed to be red.

So the configuration for the house batteries makes complete sense. 2 red cables plus the jumper cable on the red terminals of the house batteries, ditto for black on the house batteries. The starter battery is ONE cable on the negative terminal and THREE cables on the positive terminal. Those three are SUPPOSED to have red markings on them, but all four are dark black.

Oh, why was he yelling OFF OFF? He could hear the sizzling as the short started to fry insulation and wiring. Fortunately, we were fast enough to prevent anything truly bad from happening. If I had been by myself, it would have been a lot, lot, worse. The sequence would have been connect up the wire, walk through the doorway to the nav station, turn the switch on, run back to the battery, hear the sizzling, run back to the nav station, turn the switch off. By that time, there’s a good chance we would have had an electrical fire on board.

Fortunately, the batteries are all sorted out. We have boots on order to cover the terminals so that they can’t be shorted as well as strapping so that they can’t move around on a pitching boat.

The only other real job to do for the insurance company is one that I’m still waiting for the proper parts for. I understand it’s on back-order, so after a bit over a month of living on Opus, I think it’s time to go home this week for a month.

Opus may be the new lady in my life, but I really miss the important lady who’s been keeping the home together. It will be good to see her.

Once upon a day so dreary

While I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door…
— from “The Raven” by E.A. Poe

It truly is a dreary day. The skies are grey and fat raindrops hurl themselves in suicidal fervor upon the decks and windows. It’s a good day to be doing cabin chores, to whit cleaning up the place. However, like the erstwhile protagonist in Poe’s immortal poem, things seemed to hound me today.

I started with doing dishes, and promptly spilled some dirty dish water over the counters. No sooner had I cleaned that up and continued in cleaning my few dishes, when I spilled dirty dish water on myself. And that set the tone for the day.

So it’s through a plethora of boat bites and scrapes that I slowly straightened up some of the cabin which had, once again, fallen into some amount of disrepute while I was chasing down the battery charger. Unfortunately, the battery charger still eludes me, so likely the cabin will be straight for only a short time while I go looking for it again.

Meanwhile, with the cold and dreary day, it was a fine day for chicken soup, though honestly the noodles and chicken sounded far more appetizing than the soup until I sipped some and realized a hot liquid was exactly what I needed, though I could have done with less salt in it.

Anyway, back to trying to hunt down the battery charger after spending the day straightening up, cleaning up, and neatening up some cables. Perhaps tonight will be straightening up the nav station, temporarily.

A Salt and Batteries

Just when you think you’re seeing the finish line, more stuff gets added to the list.

Although the wind is what moves a sailboat, there’s still a fair amount of electronic equipment aboard – radios, navigation instruments, lights, etc. The power for these comes from batteries which are, in turn, recharged either through plugging the boat into shore power or by running the engine.

Right now, Opus has Lead-Acid batteries. These are the old-fashioned kind where you have to add water to them occasionally and where recharging them can lead to hydrogen gas escaping – which can be explosive when exposed to a spark. There are other downsides to them too, such as the potential to spill acid if they fall over, etc.

Newer battery technology are either AGM or lithium batteries. Both are “sealed” so that they don’t leak if tipped, don’t require maintenance.

In addition, there are two kinds of “drains” on a battery. One is the slow, steady, drain of the “house” batteries. This is the kind of drain that, say, lights or radios put on the battery. They aren’t asking for a lot of power, but they do ask for a lot of time. The other kind of drain is represented by trying to start the engine – it’s a LOT of power being needed for a short amount of time.

Opus has two “deep-discharge” batteries for the house drains (lights, radios, etc) and one battery for the starter drains.

Unfortunately, one of fthe batteries is going bad. I could replace it with another lead-acid battery, but due to some other factors, it’s better to upgrade them all right now. However, that leads us to another boat search as I look for the <deleted> battery charger.

You see, the boat has a battery charger that takes power from the shore power and uses it to recharge (or keep charged) the batteries. It’s a box roughly cigar-box sized and it should be easy to find.

Two days of searching and I have yet to find it. I know it’s on the boat because I have a control panel that monitors its operation. Meanwhile, the whole boat is, once again, a mess as I’ve been moving things from here to there to over there so I can pull up floor boards, bunk boards, etc., all to no avail. So the search will continue today, as will cleanup of the boat.

The constant mess and uproar is definitely getting to me. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll bite off only one project at a time and see that through to completion before going on to the next one.

I Think I See The Finish Line

In order to keep myself sane and remembering where the various projects are, I’ve been using a whiteboard to track things. It has been full of chickent scratches, stars, Xs, in shades of black, green, and purple. It seemed that just as I would get near to finishing a task, something would happen and I’d have to add a few more things onto the whiteboard.

It never seemed to clear.

But, over the last few days, things have been clearing up and now I think I see the finish line to complete all the insurance-mandated things that I can right now.

It’s a good feeling to think that maybe, maybe, there’s an end to this gerbil running in the exercise wheel and never getting anywhere.

There are really only three tasks remaining.

The first is getting the propane system working properly. We worked 1/2 a day on that and finally got it to the point of plugging in everything and… the system gave off alarms. We checked our wiring. Seemed right, but the system still gave us alarms. check it all again. Still alarms.

Finally it was getting late and we knocked off the time being. Josh went home and I… I couldn’t leave well enough alone and went back to trouble shooting. Eventually I decided to try something radical – let’s reset the whole control system. It SHOULD have reset several times when we removed power, but let’s try it again now, manually.


Wait for it…

Almost there…

Just a little more patience…

System reset and… no alarms. Everything’s fine.

That was this afternoon. This morning was working on the heating system for the boat. We managed to get everything hooked up and tried to start. It tried. It really did. It huffed. It puffed. It blew a little black smoke. The pump pushed fuel into it. We heard the igniter ticking.


Wait for it…

Almost there…

Just a little more patience…

Errors codes and it shut down. The error code was no flame detected, aka failure to start. So now we are faced with three possible options.

  1. Send it in to Wabasto main office for servicing – likely to be around $1,000, plus shipping.
  2. Junk it and purchase a new one, likely to be about $4,000.00
  3. Ignore the problem and leave it disconnected, which is likely fine for the summer, but fall and winter not so good when at anchor.

So that’s going to be a conversation with Anne tonight to plan out what we want to do.

The third task is replacing the safety lines on the boat. We are awaiting some hardware that is needed to do the job, and I’m hoping that will arrive tomorrow or Saturday so we can get to cracking on that one. I’ve already cut myself twice on the “meathooks” of the fraying safety lines and it’s not fun.

When you can’t find the nail…

So last post was about, “for want of a nail…” and I still can’t find the nail. However, I’ve grown tired of searching for it, and McGuyvered a solution that takes the strain off the lines. That allowed me to complete one portion of the job and move on. The stuff near the companionway is done, other than stringing a NMEA183 data line from the multi-function display and from the radar to the chart plotter so that all the information is available in one place.

But the exciting news is that the AIS is in and the chart plotter has been moved to the nav station. Essentially, all the electronic pieces that we’ve been trying to get moved around the boat are in their proper places, and even better, a lot of the boxes that have been cluttering up the salon are now on their way off the boat.

Much of the equipment still needs to be connected to each other. Some connect via wires, some connect wirelessly. The topology still needs to be ironed out. We’ll get there…

The big question is getting position, heading, pitch, and roll information from the AIS. I know, what the heck is the AIS doing providing that information? Doesn’t it send/receive position information to other boats? Well, yes, yes it does, but it also has the position, heading, pitch, and roll information. I just need to figure out how to get it to feed that to the chart plotter and then we’re in business.

In addition, the AIS unit is now the primary radio. The old radio is still on board, but it is disconnected from the antenna (and power). It can be put back into service by reconnecting the antenna and putting the fuse back into its power line, so that’s the backup radio to the primary one.

So much is _almost_ done. The only real roadblocks now is getting the fire extinguishers retagged. That might have to wait until I get my car down here so I can carry them off to be retagged.

Of course, there are other big jobs still to come, but the initial ones, the ones mandated by the insurance company, are almost done, finally!

For want of a nail…

Not a lot of progress today. I feel like I’m Don Quixote tilting at imaginary things.

When we started the work to look at the depth sensor and water speed sensor, we took a panel off the bulkhead at the companionway in order to trace the wires up to the three instruments that are there. The top instrument, it turns out, was only there to keep the water from coming in through the hole – there were no wires going to it. The middle instrument had wires going to it, but the instrument itself is so damaged that it basically is useless. The bottom instrument is multi-functional and can display water speed and depth. it was even hooked up to the two sensors and working fine. I need that instrument to translate the sensor signals into data that the chart plotter and other instruments can read and display.

In the process of tracing the wires, we removed a plastic plug from the back of the multi function display that (theoretically) acted as a water seal, which I don’t care about since if there’s water getting to that part of the instrument, then the boat is sinking and the water level is already up over the decks. More importantly, though, that cap acted as a strain relief for the wires so that they’re not pulling on their connection to the internal parts of the instrument. That is kind of important.

We finished all the work on the instrument and are reassembling it and, well, that plastic cap is gone. I’ve been searching for it for the last 3 days and I can’t assemble the last bits until I find it, or McGuyver up some other way of taking the strain off. Then I can put the panel back, mount the arm that the Radar display is now going to swing on, and then Bob’s Your Uncle and that job gets crossed off the list. But I can’t find that plastic cap. Maybe Tuesday I’ll accuse the mechanic of falling in love with my plastic cap and eloping with it.

Another task that has me stymied are the safety lines. They need replacing. I have the Dyneema line to replace them. I have the time to work on it, since I can’t find that plastic cap. What I can’t find are my “fids”, which are the tools used to splice lines together (in this case to make loops in the dyneema). I know I packed them, but I can’t find them anywhere.

GRRRR this is frustrating!

Finally feeling like progress is being made!

I’ve been living in a boat that feels more like the abode of a “hoarder” than a sailboat. There have been boxes stacked up to the point where I had the vee berth and the nav station and part of the galley to live in, and had to pick my way around boxes to move between those places.

Yesterday was a productive day. Although no project was finished, a number of them made substantial progress and I can see the salon table again (though still can’t use it at the moment).

There was nothing I couldn’t have done in time (with some requiring an assistant), though some of it took 2 people to do since it required being in two places at the same time. However, I hired a professional to do a lot of it. He has the advantage of experience. He didn’t have to think his way through things because he’s already done them before – plus he has the tools to do it! Me, I often had to figure out what needed to be done, look through my tools, and then figure out a way to McGuyver a way to get something done, and that all takes a lot of time.

We got most of the electronics mounted and now they’re mainly just waiting for power and/or an antennae to be run to them to make them operational. At the same time, we’ve removed an old chart plotter that wouldn’t even power up, which made the helm station a lot less cluttered.

The boat electronics are being centralized. All the important equipment is going to be at the nav desk down in the cabin, protected from the elements and potential thieves. At the helm station (and scattered through the rest of the boat if needed) we will put an iPad that is using WiFi to display needed information. When the race or cruise is over, walk the iPad down below and watch a movie on it or something. We’re also installing a waterproof USB charger so that the iPad can stay charged there at the helm.

For the radio, we’re similarly installing a wireless system so that the radio microphone can be moved around the boat wherever needed. It will have a charging cradle at the nav station as well.

The AIS is installed, though it still needs power and a hookup to the antennae, and then it needs to be programmed.

I’ve now had first had experience of “meathooks” on the safety lines, opening up a gash on my left arm. Of course, that happened the same day as the replacement safety lines arrived. I still have a bunch of splicing to do to prepare the new, dyneema, safety lines to be installed – that’s awaiting being able to use the cabin table to work upon.

Today will be mostly mechanical work on the engine, steering system, and hopefully the propane system At that point, we’ll be ready to go until winter, at least mechanically and electrically. Oh, and the wind and water sensors need to be ironed out as I’m not getting indications of wind speed nor direction nor our water speed. Also want to see if we can hook the radar to the chart plotter since the radar display is inside the cabin and, therefore, unreadable from the helm.

Things that will still need to be sorted:

  • Mattress cushions for the two aft bunks
  • Refrigeration of some sort for the galley
  • Potentially replacing the head witha composting one
  • Some blackout curtains or something for the sleeping berths to allow good sleep during the day.
  • Insect netting for all the openings.
  • Water maker so that we don’t have to carry water for long distance cruising
  • Solar power or other electrical generation equipment

After that it’s tinkering with the interior to get it the way we like.

LED lighting (again)

Has it really been 5 days? Well, a couple of those were taken up with running up and back to the comfort station. Apparently soy milk does not agree with me and my stomach!

I’ve been doing some more research on the LED lighting situation – how to design the system. It would normally be an easy thing – you simply buy the white/red LED lights that have a built in switch. But… (there’s always a “but” to make things difficult, isn’t there?)

Those lights that have the switch in them are 6 1/2 inches across. The current holes in the headliner is 3 inches across. The lights with the switch in them requires 3 inches of clearance. The current headliners have 1 1/2 inches of clearance. If I used the lights with switches they would require I enlarge the holes in the headliners AND they would protrude a bit from the headliner. Not an aesthetically pleasing installation. Oh, and did I mention that they are almost twice the price of the LED one I was considering?

So after doing some poking around, this is what’s been decided:

The lights under consideration have three wires to them. There’s a common ground and then two power lines. If you apply power to one of the power lines, the white LED turns on. If you apply the power to the other power line, the red LED turns on. Don’t apply power to BOTH of them at the same time. The manufacturer warns against that.

At the nav station I have two switches. One switch energizes the starboard cabin lights. The other switch energizes the port cabin lights. All the cabin lights are run in parallel like a christmas tree where if one light burns out, the rest keep working.

What we’re going to do is use an external switch at each light. Push the switch to towards the bow of Opus and the red LED will be selected. Push the switch towards the stern and the white LED will be seleccted. Put the switch in the middle and neither light will be selected. The switches at the nav station will still energize port or starboard, or maybe I’ll put all the lights on one swich, freeing up a switch to use for other things (I can run all the lights off one switch since the LED lights draw far less current than the current incandescent ones).

Most other things are just waiting for supplies to arrive, although hopefully tomorrow I’ll be taking Opus over to the boatyard so that it can be worked on there. Having a professional working on it will make the work go a lot faster (plus there is stuff I just can’t do alone).

I also had a talk with the border folks to see if I can, somehow, commute back and forth rather than living on the boat, but I’l write more about that in the Captain’s Corner blog.


The flow of parts is starting to become a river, but that means decisions need to be made. Case in point is cabin lighting.

If we were going to be sailing only during the day and then be moored/docked/anchored at night, the decision is easy. I wouldn’t have to be concerned with preserving night vision. However, Opus is also intended to be a racing sloop for big, multi-day races wherein she’ll be sailed day and night. This means she needs dual lighting systems in the cabin. White light for when we’re relaxing. Red light for when we’re racing at night.

Why red light? (actually, it could be blue light too, according to the latest research I’ve read) White light destroys your night vision. After being blasted by the white light, it can take a long time for your night vision to fully recover. Red (or blue) light doesn’t have that same effect. For racing, this is important as you don’t want your crew to be blind on deck at night.

So, back to the issue of lighting. Right now the cabin is illuminated with white incandescent lights. These are power hungry and, of course, white. I want to replace them with White/Red LED lighting. LED lighting is a lot better for power consumption, which is important when you’re sailing for several days and don’t have some (alternate) means of recharging your batteries – you want to keep the amount of engine running time (the engine is used to recharge the boat batteries) to a minimum since you have to carry fuel to power the engine.

Rather than buying a bunch of LED lights (which are about $100.00 or so each) and then finding out whether they’d work, we ordered ONE light to try out, and it’s a good thing that we did. The light works well and it fits in the existing holes in the cabin headliner. However (isn’t there alway a however or a but?)…

The LED light has three wires and no intrinsic on/off. One wire is common, it’s attached to ground. Then, depending on whether you want white or red, you apply power to one or the other of the remaining wires, and that’s where the difficulty comes in.

Right now, Opus’ wiring only has two wires going to each location. That means I can turn the light on or turn the light off from a switch at the nav station. I can NOT select whether it should be red or white. Also, it would supply power to all the lights on one side at the same time. The current system has a “master” on/off at the nav station and an individual on/off at each light. The new LED light doesn’t have an on/off at it.

So… what to do… the choices are:

  1. Use two switches at the nav station. One supplies ‘red’ power, one supplies ‘white’ power.
  2. Use one switch at the nav station that provices power to all lights, then put a switch at each light to select “red”, “white” or “none”

Choice one can be further broken down as right now the nav station can supply power to the “port” and ‘starboard’ lights independently. I could set it up where port lights are red, starboard lights are white. However, that still leaves the problem of they are _all_ either on or _all_ are off. “All” meaning all of the same colour.

An alternative is that the “Port” switch at the nav station is repurposed to “white” and the “starboard” switch is repurposed to “Red”. This has advantages of all lights can be either red or white. However, we again have the problem of all the lights are on or all the lights are off. A second drawback is that it allows all the lights to have BOTH the red AND the white lights on at the same time – something the manufacturer says not to do.

Choice 2 has the drawback of more complexity and expense since now I have to wire in (and mount) a switch next to each light. However, it overcomes the difficulties of option 1 and uses the existing wiring runs to each light. It does have the drawback of a light being accidentally set to “white” during the day so that at night, when power is turned on, that light blinds people.

This will take some thought.

Keep pushing the pawns forward

Progress is being measured not by the completion of tasks but instead it is measured by any forward motion at all on any of the myriad fronts.

It seems the “completion” is a somewhat slippery and elusive quality. Just as I think one thing is getting close to “finished”, fate decides to drop another little present, or should I say “challenge” in my path. Fortunately, help is on the horizon.

We’ve decided to contract out some of the work and I had an opportunity to talk to the mechanic earlier today. Some things just require a second person. Case in point is that the idlers for the steering are said to have problems. However, to witness this and therefore derive a solution requires that I be (a) in the machinery space to see the idlers in operation, and (b) up at the helm turning the wheel, both at the same time. Sure, the answer would be to make a friend on the dock and have them turn the wheel while I witness, but it’s pretty much a desert around here for people.

So some things are just up to the whims of the fates whether I’ll make any progress or not. I can only hope and wait, and be prepared for when things offer opportunities. Or else contract them out, of course.

They will, hopefully, begin the work at the end of this week or the beginning of next week and it should take a few days to maybe a week to get it all done. Then, finaly, we can go sailing!

Speaking of sailing, Quijote is home. Who is Quijote? She is a Hallberg-Rassey 39(? 38?) that I’ve crewed on a number of times, owned by Captain R. Mercer. Originally intended to do a circumnavigation of the Pacific, COVID put a sudden stop to it while she was waiting in Mexico for the right season to continue on westward. Unfortunately, borders remained closed and after sitting in a boatyard in Mexico for a year, it was time to bring her home. I was supposed to crew, but COVID made that a non-starter for me too. Well, they have brought Quijote home from La Paz, Mexico to Seattle by way of Hawaii. You can read about it above under the “friends” menu.