A fast and simple passage—mostly

We continue to make excellent time south. We crossed to the eastern side of the Gulf Stream early this afternoon, and are now pointed pretty much straight at our destination of Port Everglades, Florida

Today’s weather had the wind complete its shift from northwest to east while continuing to blow a steady 15 to 25 knots. Even though this has been our first cloudy day on the passage, it has been the first day we haven’t had call to complain about the cold either! The seas are a bit lumpy, but not anything intimidating or uncomfortable. Other than a light sprinkle of rain, it has been good.

The only excitement of the trip so far occurred yesterday. We set the mizzenmast staysail to take advantage of the quartering wind, and for the better part of an hour everything was smooth fast and happy sailing with just the mizzen and jib. I was looking out behind us, and saw the “cat’s paw” ripples of an approaching wind gust. Since the wind had lightened up a bit, I was thinking this was a good thing. Not so much.

Although the wind gust wasn’t that strong, it was at least 30 degrees off the direction of the steady wind. This immediately backwinded both sails, and spun the boat around. The lightweight nylon of the staysail did not survive this abuse. It took us quite some time to sort out the resulting mess and get moving along again.

Right now we are about 300 Miles due north of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, and about 130 miles off the coast of Georgia. Our arrival at Port Everglades is going to be 36 to 44 hours, sometime Saturday before noon. Everybody is happy and healthy, so all is good!

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Finally, Sailing South.

We the dock left Annapolis at 7:30 yesterday morning, and have been sailing continuously since. Strong west to northwest winds have been powering us along a lot faster that our usual average speeds, we are running pretty steady at 8 to 8.5 knots. We are staying near shore so even with 20 knot winds, the seas are pretty flat. We could push a bit faster, but this is comfortable.

Nothing exciting to report. No interesting wildlife sightings, and the weather, although breezy, has been quite clear.

It looks like we are on track for an arrival late Friday night in Fort Lauderdale. We are looking forward to warmer temperatures. Our windy weather is being driven by the cold front that passsed by Richard hours ago, and it is chilly!

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Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

All the projects that we need to do are done, and the last of the stowing and packing is happening. We have our crew aboard, and the weather looks good for an afternoon departure tomorrow for a non-stop trip down the bay and out into the ocean straight down to Port Everglades, Florida.

Yesterday we mounted our new jib. After over 50,000 miles the old sail has been getting a bit tired and out of shape. This new sail is also a little bit bigger than the retiring canvas and matches the original dimensions that Amel used on the boat. It has been built with a radial design and specially adapted cloth designed for long life in this application, D-P Pro Radial. An all polyester woven cloth, it was a mid-price point that came well recommended from the sailmaker for a sail of this design.

Dave Benjamin at Island Planet Sails has done a good job on our Amel canvas in the past. We expect this one to be just as good.

For the first time in a long while we will be traveling with crew. Our friend, fellow sailor, and fellow Amel owner, Aras will be along to help stand watch. Having a watch schedule of 3 on/6 off is a lot more relaxing than 3 on/3 off.

Our weather forecast looks excellent. All the models agree that we should have 3 or 4 days of good fast passage making weather. It is a bit unusual that all the weather models agree in detail so far out, especially this time of year. Almost makes me suspicious of what they are saying, but we will take what we get!

One more frontal passage tomorrow morning, the wind then turns around to the north west, and off we go toward points south.

The weather routing software has us staying inside of the Gulf Stream this trip. We’ll see if that holds up.

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What a Difference…

What a difference two weeks makes! It hasn’t been our choice to linger in northern latitudes this long, but rather the choice of our insurance underwriter.

Our old insurance carrier wanted us north of Florida until November 1st, our new carrier says November 15th. The timing here is focused on avoiding the worst of the tropical storms. This time of year two weeks really changes things. Cold fronts roar across the continent more frequently, following each other closer, and reaching further south. Our weather window for a comfortable ocean passage south gets tighter.

Toward the end of this week (or next at the latest!) we will be heading south. First making the 150 mile run south down the Chesapeake Bay to Norfolk, Virginia. Once we get there we will wait while we seriously watch the weather for an opening to run south.

The exact date of our departure is right now being driven by the delivery of two international packages that are delayed in customs clearance. New dodger canvas is on its way from Amel in France, and a new sail is coming from Siri Lanka. Bet you didn’t know that Siri Lanka is a center of sail manufacture these days.

The delay does have a bright side, we get to enjoy the glory of colors that the deciduous forests of northeastern America show every fall. If you are from some other part of the world, and have never experienced it, all I can say is: You have no idea! Hillsides lit up with yellow and red as far as you can see. All the more precious because it is so fleeting. A complex mix of rainfall, temperature, wind, and other stuff combine to make the peak of color quite unpredictable by calendar. You just have to be there.

This year had regular steady rain all summer, making a great growing season, which leads to a better than average color show.

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Amel owners, as a group, are highly suspicious of changes to design decisions made by the builder. This is a good thing, as a rule, because almost all of the decisions made by Amel in the design and construction of their boats are excellent ones. There are areas where technology marches ahead and it is appropriate to revisit the original ideas.

In our case, it was time to revisit things in our electrical system. As we have previously reported, a lack of required spare parts pushed us into deciding to retire our old Onan. We took a step back and evaluated how we used this unit, and if there were better alternatives for us and the way we used our boat.

What we had…

Our Amel is not especially complex for a cruising boat of her size these days. We have 220VAC power outlets in each cabin, two air conditioners, clothes washer, space heaters, and a water heater. Unusually, Amel installed a parallel 120V AC system that we feed only from a 2kW inverter. Other than a few specialized items, this is mostly used for the microwave in the galley.

When away from the dock, we have been running our 6.5kW Onan for about 2 hours every other day to charge batteries, and make water for our routine use. (We have a 40 litre/hour watermaker that draws about 25 amps at 24V). Once a week or so, we’d add another hour to the cycle to run the laundry and make the extra water needed for that.

The Onan fed 220V AC to two battery chargers, one 70Amp unit in our Victron inverter/charger and a 100 Amp unit from Quick. The highest output I ever saw from these units combined was about 120 Amps in total, or about 3200 Watts, about half the capacity of the Onan. In five years of cruising on Harmonie we have run an air conditioner away from shore power exactly once. So we have never really used any more than half the output of the generator.

Our 3kW Victron inverter charger easily drives all of our routine AC needs, including startup loads for the air conditioners. We didn’t need a 6.5kW generator to keep us in the life style to which we have become accustomed.

What We Wanted

Once we realized we were looking at a unit significantly smaller than the original installation, many options were open. Our criteria looked like this:

  • Minimize fuel use to extend our operating time away from supplies.
  • Reduce weight
  • At least 95 amps of 24 Volt charging capacity. (Minimum recommended charge rate from out battery manufacturer)
  • Minimum capacity of 3kW
  • At least as quiet as the old unit.
  • Minimal modifications to existing infrastructure.
  • Good integration with our existing Victron monitoring equipment.

What We Got

Very different in look and function…

We settled on a generator quite a bit different than the original. We decided on a WhisperPower M-GV 2 variable speed DC generator. Here is a bit of the thinking involved:

  • Since we were using our generator almost exclusively as a battery charger, doesn’t it make sense to have a generator actually DESIGNED primarily to charge large battery banks?
  • The capacity of the unit was well matched to what we were looking for, 150Amps at 24 Volts, or about 3.5 kW.
  • The weight of 140 kgs was very attractive, as was the specified fuel usage. A reduction of about 100 kgs, this has put our boat on an even keel for the first time.
  • The drive engine for this unit is a 2 cylinder Kubota Z482 engine, a well known and very common system of proven reliability.
  • WhisperPower is a Dutch company spun off from Mastervolt a number of years ago when Mastervolt decided to get out of the generator business. They are not well known in the US, but are a significant presence in the European yacht and alternative energy market, especially as a high-end OEM supplier.
  • Connecting to our Victron system with a simple relay connection, our main electrical monitoring panel can start and stop the generator either manually, or automatically based on the state of the batteries.
  • The permanent magnet alternator technology is far simpler than the field coil system used in synchronous generators. No routine maintenance is required on any moving parts other than the Kubota engine.
  • Being fully water cooled means a full sound shield can be installed and the engine room is cooler, and quieter than before.
  • We are able to use the waste heat from the engine to heat our domestic hot water, giving us hot water underway for “free.” This used to be done from our main drive engine, but that was of limited utility since we didn’t really need much hot water underway, and never ran the drive engine at anchor.
With the covers popped off, maintenance access is excellent.
The “PowerCube” takes shore power of any voltage and frequency, or the output from the generator, and converts to the proper voltage to charge the main battery bank.

How We Will Use It

Based on our testing so far, if we start charging when the batteries get to 30% discharged (70% SOC) and run them up with the generator to 7% discharged (93% SOC) that will take almost exactly 90 minutes of run time to put 107 Amp-hrs (3 kW-hrs) of energy into the batteries. This would have the generator start off at full output for about 30 minutes, and then taper down to about 25% output over then next hour. This will keep the engine running at its most efficient for most of the cycle, with a chance to cool down a bit at the end before shutting down.

Based on our historical usage, this will happen every other day or so. On a good sunny day, the batteries will then be fully topped off with the solar panels by the end of the day.

How much of this we will automate, we have yet to determine. The Victron monitoring system lets us to automatically start and stop the generator based on state of charge of the batteries, DC power usage, AC power usage, Battery voltage, inverter temperature, inverter overload, … Pretty much anything except phase of the moon! Automation has its advantages, and potential problems. We’ll see how those play out in the real world.

For more…

If you want more of the gory technical details, see this link on our project pages…


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The Best Sailboat Racing Team Outfits

Every serious sailboat racing team competes on two levels. One, of course, is who’s boat is faster. The other is who can look best out on the race course. This usually consists of color coordinated foul weather gear, and such.

A local all female racing team on the boat named More Cowbell has taken this to a new level:

And for those of you who might not get the reference for the name:

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Power Up!

After a huge amount of work over several weeks, we had our big day: The first test run of our new generator. Spoiler Alert: It worked!

A few weeks ago we we had our old generator lifted out of the boat, and sent off with the recycler. It had done a great job, and lived a long live, but the availability of spare parts was a serious issue.

Our last view of our trusty Onan, hanging from the yard crane…

Bert Jabin’s Yacht Yard did a fantastic job getting all the heavy lifting and logistics done. Really a first class outfit. The new generator dropped in with as little effort as the old one took to leave.

The new generator on its rebuilt foundation looking all shiny and ready for the next 25 years of powering our boat! The install is clean and neat.

There was a lot of serious thought and calculations that went into the decision of what kind of generator we wanted. We have gradually been moving our boat from a 1990’s electrical system to something more appropriate to the 21st century.

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Fall Settles In

The colors of autumn are beginning to tinge the trees here in eastern Maryland. For us, this can only mean one thing: Time to head south! That will happen in a few weeks, but in the meantime we are once again putting the final tie downs on our fall maintenance and upgrade projects.

We have been working hard on one major, and several minor, projects that are finally coming to completion. Our major project is the installation of a new generator into Harmonie‘s engine room. This major change to our boat’s electrical system has resulted in a long cascade of changes, modifications, and upgrades. From the outside, little has changed, but on the inside Harmonie has undergone a major refit and changed from a boat with a 1990 energy system, to one with a system as modern as any 2020 model year vessel.

Bill has spent 8 hours a day for weeks buried in the engine room (his version of a “man cave”) rerouting wires and plumbing, and making the structural changes needed to accommodate our new generating system. 25 years of modifications and repairs were all brought up to standard, routed in a logical fashion, labeled, and made neat and clean. A master breaker box was installed to collect all the main circuit breakers that had been scattered in various places around the boat.

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Until it Breaks?

We have had a number of discussions with boat owners recently about out maintenance practices, especially around our generator, and I have been surprised by what I heard.

The Issue

What we were discussing was one of the scheduled maintenance items for our Onan generator. Onan’s recommendation is to replace the shaft bearing every 5 years. Onan’s reasoning is while this is a sealed bearing that is “lubricated for life” the grease used gradually dries out and loses effectiveness. Catastrophic failure of this bearing would likely cause a lot of collateral damage and could destroy the generator. Because of this, the maintenance schedule for this task is based strictly on calendar time, and not operating hours.

There is no question that this is a major job. The entire guts of the electrical side of the generator need to be removed to access the bearing. An intimidating job for the mechanically naive, and a major one even for an experienced mechanic. Because of this, many, maybe most, people have chosen to just ignore this item on the maintenance list.

Our Approach

In our thinking, if we take care of our boat, she will take care of us. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know we are constantly working one or another major, or minor, project on our boat. The thing that is important to note, is that VERY few of our projects are in response to an item that failed unexpectedly. All (well, almost all!) of our big projects are either preventive, or in response to an incipient failure we are heading off at the pass.

The idea of ignoring a recommended maintenance item and hoping that it will not matter is anathema to us. We routinely take our boat to remote and isolated places. We need to have confidence that all of our critical systems will support our plans.

Take it Apart!

One of the really important parts of the care for our boat is the philosophy: Just take it apart. If you roam around the boat, and on a regular basis you just disassemble and reassemble something it has a number of useful results. Maybe most important, is you learn how to do it, and gain a better understanding of the key parts and how they work and wear. You will find problems before they stop you in your tracks. You can be sure that you have all the tools you need to repair critical systems. You can compare your spare parts inventory to what you see needs work.

Different Strokes

Now, to be sure, different boats have different needs. A boat that spends almost all its time in close reach of supplies and professional mechanics can have a less stringent maintenance program than one that spends time crossing oceans or in remote places. For us, and for the way we use our boat, the “plan” of “run it until it breaks” is just not an option.

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In With the New…

We have a LOT of work going on right now, mostly electrical. Harmonie was ahead of her time when she was built, but electrical systems change quickly, and there has been a lot of water under that bridge in the last 25 years. As far as new boats go, our AC electrical system is pretty simple, but meets our needs well.

One of the tasks we took on was to bring our 220V AC electrical panel up to current standard. The Amel original was a bit dated in style, and the purposes of the many of the switches had changed over the years, so the original carved-in labels didn’t work any more. While the laber-maker stick-on labels are functional, they really aren’t “yacht quality.” Also, those odd ball Dirupter brand made-in-France circuit breakers are the very devil to find in the USA, and are insanely expensive when you do. Like $150 EACH.

But… the real issue with this panel was not apparent on the surface, but once opened up you can see…

Back behind the scenes is a total spaghetti bowl of wires. Dozens, and dozens of wires jammed in a space too small. None of them are labeled, except for the labels I have put on. Working on this mess is frustrating–at best.

Even if you can trace a wire, at its end you frequently end up with something that looks like this:

A large number of wires twisted together and soldered, then jammed under a compression terminal. It WORKS, but if something goes wrong, or heaven forbid!, needs to be changed, you are hosed.

In other places, you find multiple wires jammed into one terminal, and soldered. While this is marginally better than stacking four or five terminals on one screw, it makes any repairs or modifications extremely frustrating, and is totally unnecessary with a little advance planning.

Out With All That Mess!

I pulled all the wires out of the box, and off to the side. Removed the box, and mounted a pair of bus bars, and a terminal block. Now, with a proper back plane, we can reinstall the wires the right way.

Here we are, most of the way along. All the ground wires to one bus. All the neutral wires to the other, and the hot wires to the terminal block. No screw has more than two terminals under it, and no terminal holds more than one wire. EVERY wire is labeled. And not a drop of solder to be found.

After two days of fabricating, cutting, labeling and crimping, we have everything ready to go.

A pretty dramatic change on the inside. Neat, organized, with all connections visible and accessible for troubleshooting or modification. The change on the outside is less dramatic, but still a major upgrade in form and function from where we were.

There we go! That should keep Harmonie going strong for the next 25 years!

There are a bunch of other projects going on that we’ll post about as we assemble the information.

Safety Note!

There is an important issue here, especially for other Amel owners. Our boat was built with single pole circuit breakers, and we kept that here with this new panel.

This is important when it comes time to get 220V power from a USA shore power connection. With single pole breakers it is NOT safe to connect to a 50 Amp 120/240 Volt plug with two hot wires. We get our 220V power though our isolation transformer, which feeds our system with a single hot wire and a neutral, just like standard European power.

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